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The Cheap Minimal Shoe / Cheap "Barefoot Shoe" Review Roundup
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September 6, 2012
3:12 am
Forum Posts: 2045
Member Since:
February 22, 2010
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This article is up to date as of June 2014!

Many of us are looking to try barefoot running or other barefoot activities...yet few of us are willing to go barefoot in an urbanized world of hot pavement, road gravel, and broken glass.

Solution: minimal shoes, sometimes known as "barefoot shoes".

True minimal shoes are made with zero drop (the heel is not raised relative to the toe, as it is with all traditional shoes), no arch support, a thin rubber sole, and zero to minimal padding. The idea is to provide protection against the sharpest rocks and glass shards—but to still…

September 6, 2012
3:43 am

Very timely article for me - I'm still healing a broken baby toe and can't wear my beloved Vibrams, but likely *can* do some light hiking. Lack of footwear shall not hold me, my husband and Toby down!

September 6, 2012
3:51 am
Phocion Timon

I started out with a pair of Walmart's $13 sneakers; they were lightweight and wide enough. The soles became as flexible as skin after a month. After a couple of years they wore out but Walmart had stopped selling that particular wide-enough shoe. If the current shoes would fit, I could really enjoy spending $13 every two years on running shoes.

I now use the expensive (~$90) Leming Footwear(.com) shoes but man, are they comfortable. Thin, lightweight, and very, very flexible.

September 6, 2012
4:06 am
Danny J Albers

Was actually about to write up something like this on my own blog as I use a variety of water shoes for the same reason and I totally agree, the ground feel is unmatched in a 10 dollar pair of cheapies.

Now I will just link to yours LOL

September 6, 2012
5:13 am

Ive been running barefoot for about 2 years now, and also run in KSO Trek VFFs when on gnarly trails. I also ocassionaly run in VivoBarefoot EVOs - a great minimalist shoe, very well made, but of course, a little pricy. For work, I wear VivoBarefoot Dharmas - which go quite well with dress/suit trousers. They are extremely comftable and have lasted me 2 years (and still going), so well worth the price tag!!

September 6, 2012
6:31 am

I've had a pair of Vibram KSOs for a couple of months. They certainly seem durable, though I feel like I should have gotten at least one size larger. Everything fits like a glove, but my big toes really don't like being compressed for more than a few hours of casual use. I have to wear Injinji socks or apply pieces of paper tape to select locations on my feet when running in them because the seams on the inside are irritating and sometime cause pain and blisters.

I also have a pair of flat soled sneakers that cost $12 at Wal-Mart similar to the ones in the photo above on the right. They could be used for running, I suppose, but they would not last very long. The uppers on mine are starting to separate from the soles after a couple of months of easy use.

September 6, 2012
7:12 am
Jamie Fellrath

Here's an article I wrote a while back on the solution to this problem that I found: Japanese Tabi.

September 6, 2012
7:14 am
Jamie Fellrath

Sorry, for some reason my link didn't work.

Trying again.

September 6, 2012
8:06 am

Jazz shoes--the kind of shoes dancers wear for performance and practice--work well, too. Cost runs about $25-$35 per pair, they come in leather or fabric, and while they don't come in a rainbow of colors (no need for distracting colors on footwear when you're dancing in line as a Rockette). There are styles for women, styles for men, and unisex styles.

They have very thin soles that feel barefoot for walking. They sre thin enough to roll and put in your pocket. No arch supports or hard shanks, because dancers need maximum flexibility for their moves. They look great enough to wear on the streets of NYC without attracting negative attention over ugly footwear. The only problem is they tend to run small, so it is best to try them in person at a brick and mortar store (or by ordering 3 or 4 sizes at an online store that is liberal about returns). Just google "jazz shoes" to see what the possibilities are.

September 6, 2012
8:28 am

Thanks for acknowledging the chuck-taylor/converse option! I wore a pair to walk/run all over Europe last year and they pack small, are inexpensive and don't look so "sporty" that they can't be worn with normal clothes.

I laugh when people spend $85 on fancy five toe shoes when my shoes have essentially the same "features" - no false arch, no extra padding, no heel lift. There's plenty of room to spread my toes out and they're flexible but firm enough to protect me from bits of glass and rocks.

As for "jazz shoes" - most are designed to be worn indoors, on hardwood floors... often with suede soles. This is a terrible surface for street-walking! And, lots of folks are likely to run into jazz shoes that have a thin footbed, but an added heel lift, or the terrible split-sole blochs that were marketed in the mid 90's.

September 6, 2012
9:16 am

While they are not cheap, I have to admit I love my SoftStar shoes - also extremely minimalist, and they also work as both workout shoe and look good with clothing. Just another idea...but yes, water shoes often seem to work well for minimalist shoes. I read one article where someone who ran in the winter wore waterproof socks and then dive booties or something similar - let his feet stay warm, yet kept them dry as well while still giving him a pretty good minimalist/road feel cover for his feet.

September 6, 2012
9:49 am
Forum Posts: 47
Member Since:
June 14, 2011
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Some good advice!  I picked up a pair of cheap 'water shoes' a couple of years ago.  They are of a very basic neoprene design and give a good 'barefoot' experience whilst in and around water.  I do use my VFFs in water as well.


My main footwear is a pair of cheap canvas deck shoes (not unlike Vans in appearance), that cost be £15.  They are very comfy and do the job well.  Thin soles and low 'collars' around the ankle give full mobility.


When trekking in the hills I still stick with my trusted VFFs.  They've proven time and again that they are up to the job, come snow or rain.  The only problem is with cold ankles but I've a mind to get and old wetsuit and cut off the ankles to make myself a pair of gaiters suitable for them.


As for my weekly sprint sessions, again come rain or snow, I am physically barefoot.  I sprint on a road that is well maintained and that I trust won't have anything lurking underfoot.  Nothing feels like that fast-foot feeling of barefoot sprinting.

September 6, 2012
12:03 pm
Chris B

I, for one, would love to see your "no-string-between-the-toes" way of tying your Invisible Shoes. I am a full-time barefooter and have been for well over a year now. Since I don't run, I have more chance to carefully place my feet on trails and therefore can get away with it easier. (grin)

For those few places with vigilant "shoe police" though, the sandals would be easiest - especially since they can fold up and fit into a pocket or purse, but I find myself sticking to my moccasins because I hate the thong thingie.

September 6, 2012
12:51 pm

Google jazz shoes anyway. Not all of them have raised heel beds. They come in lots of styles and configurations, ranging from high heels to no heels. As for city streets, I've been walking comfortably around manhattan in mine for a couple of years, and it is not likely that any of the shoe options recommended here will be greeted with approval by mainstream foot experts.

As for suede soles, another option for near barefoot shoes are suede moccasins and booties made by native American cobblers. I'm referring to the kind where the sole is made from the same exact material as the upper. Minnetonka used to make these (and they may still make them), but individual crafts people make them too, for native fairs and pow wows. They are made of suede, an animal skin, but you can wash them in the washer (however, don't put them on the dryer).

September 6, 2012
12:55 pm

I'm glad this came up because I've always wanted to try some type of barefoot shoe. However, my feet are flat as pancakes. As it is, I have to wear orthotics or I get shearing lower back pain. So, am I out of luck, or is there some version of these that would work for me?

September 6, 2012
7:34 pm

I'm wearing a pair of Asics wrestling shoes right now. Only cost $25 and I've gotta say, I love these things.

September 6, 2012
11:34 pm

1. invisible shoes.

i also didn't like the nylon thread. + it worn out.
so i bought some elastic in a fabric store. i rethreded them. mine looked more like "glidiator" shoes than a thong. (pretty cool looking).

the sole is a little too thin & pliable for me. (not for cushion). they flop around too much if you try to run. so i only wear them while walking.

2. Luna Sandal

i got them because Ted was pretty cool.

the sole is thicker (1 cm) so stiffer so do not flop around as much as invisible shoes.

i wear them most of the time.

last time i went on an easy 2 hour hike, i was surprised my skin (corn) got pretty sore. (joints were fine.) i wonder if this is because the shoes do not stay put like normal shoes so they rub too much @ foot bottom.

3. (inexpensive) Jazz shoes

they has split soles so you can point your toes better. flat plat form so you can stand on toes briefly).

but they are designed for studio floor. for some surface they soles are slippery.

4. vibram 5 toe

these are the best among. i wear them to Long Fist (where stay put & foot protection are important)

they are a little hot in summer.

i don't know how some can run in barefoot sandals. they don't stay put & flop too much.

walking or trail hiking is ok. except my skin @ bottom of my feet get sore. go figure.


September 7, 2012
6:36 am

Looking at the photo of Scott Jurek, I am reminded of all the amazing things Chris wrote about him in BORN TO RUN. For some reason, though, I imagined he would have a better running gate than that. Either that moment in the photo was an exception, or he's just gotten lucky, being young and all, to not have severely injured himself by now.

September 7, 2012
7:29 am

Greatresource here! Anyhow, I found some Merrels for $40 at my local Marshall's. They use the same materials as vibrant ! Such a steal! I will say they only had 3 sizes. Lucky for me the display size fit me like a glove!

September 7, 2012
8:44 am
Marisa H

I am consistently able to buy Vibram Five Fingers on sale online for $37. I'm on my second pair. The non-sale price is usually $49. I go for Sprint or Classic. The other styles, yes, are more expensive, but probably unnecessary unless you need a completely enclosed foot.

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