Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoes
If you’re in a hurry and want to know what the best minimalist running shoes are, then I recommend the Vibram Men’s V Trail Runner Shoe for men and the ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners for women.
Barefoot running isn’t always the safest option for your feet, so finding the best minimalist trail shoes is important to ensure you have the same enjoyable experience but with sufficient foot protection.
I’ve put together a list of what to look out for, including the reviews and recommendations of the best barefoot shoes.
The best minimalist trail running shoes for 2020 are:
- Vibram Men’s V Trail Runner Shoe
- TSLA Men’s Trail Running Minimalist Barefoot Shoe
- ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners
- JOOMRA Women’s Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoe
- Oberm Men’s Trail Running Shoe
What Do We Mean by Minimalist Running?
Running barefoot isn’t ideal, especially as you never know what’s lying around on the ground these days. However, there are benefits to doing so.
Though an oxymoron, we sometimes use the term ‘barefoot running.” This doesn’t necessarily mean running without shoes, although some people do, but more running with shoes that mimic the feeling of running barefoot due to their design.
Defining Minimalist Trail Shoes
There are a few differences between minimalist shoes and normal running shoes that you should be aware of.
In regular running shoes, there’ll be around a 10-12 millimeter heel-to-toe drop. This means there’s additional padding beneath the heel and toes, to keep them positioned in line with each other. In minimalist shoes, the drop will be significantly smaller, and sometimes they won’t have any drop at all.
Zero-drop shoes keep your forefoot and heel at the same level as they would be if you were running barefoot.
Usually, running shoes sell themselves on the amount of padding and cushioning they have built-in, as pads absorb shock, protect the feet from impact and provide additional comfort.
Minimalist shoes don’t. Instead, they have very little, if any, cushioning built into the shoes, just as you wouldn’t if you were literally running barefoot.
Minimalist shoes are extremely lightweight. They’re made from the lightest of materials, usually incorporating lots of mesh-type fabric to allow for natural airflow and breathability.
The fabric used will usually be stretchy so that it can mold to the natural shape of your foot. Any laces on the shoe will usually be elastic, adding to the flexibility that your foot has while inside the shoe.
You won’t find any arch support in minimalist shoes, as they encourage your feet to strengthen and stabilize themselves. This can prove to be painful if you suffer from foot complications such as high arches or flat feet.
Why Use Minimalist Trail Shoes?
It’s important to point out that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to fully support that minimalist shoes are better for you than regular runners. However, if they work for you, then what’s the harm?
Here are some of the positives to minimalist trail shoes:
- They reduce impact force to promote a natural running style, strengthening the foot muscles and improving balance.
- Low heel-to-toe drops encourage you to land on your forefoot instead of the heel. Some runners believe that more foot injuries are related to heel striking than forefoot striking, though there is no scientific evidence to support this.
- The shoes help you to feel the ground beneath your feet, helping you to feel in touch with the terrain.
- Their lightweight design makes your feet feel weightless, improving stamina and increasing speed.
How Should I Prepare for Using Them?
It’s important that you don’t jump straight into minimalist shoes. They can take a bit of getting used to, especially after you’ve been used to regular running shoes for so long.
Stick to shoes before you try out minimalist sandals, as they’ll give you a bit more support to begin with.
Follow these simple steps to avoid injury:
- Prepare your feet: Learn to walk in the shoes before you start running. Walk over gravel, pebbles and uneven terrain, so your feet get used to the feeling.
- Forefoot focus: Encourage your feet to land on the forefoot instead of the heel, slowly stretching muscles and ligaments.
- Increase distance gradually: Start with short runs so that you don’t overdo it and cause injury. Every time you go for a run, increase your mileage by 10 percent for a gradual approach.
- Be cautious: Take care of where you run and which terrains you run over. If you feel continuous pain and discomfort, then stop. Trust what your body is telling you.
Dangers to Look Out For
There are both pros and cons to barefoot running. Bear in mind the following things:
- Remember that you won’t have sole protection from the shoes, so you’re at greater risk of penetration from foreign objects.
- Pressure is placed upon the plantar fascia, which could lead to developing plantar fasciitis.
- Barefoot running will give you blisters, especially when first starting, as your feet need time to toughen up.
The Five Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoes
If you’re a lover of barefoot running or you want to try out a new idea, I recommend you check out these shoes!
The unique design on the Vibram V’s is the way they fit your feet like a glove, covering the individual toes so you can have full foot control while running. Your toes are confined inside the shoe, and instead, can grip onto the surface as you move.
Rubber soles provide protection against uneven terrain, but it’s thin and flexible, so it mimics your foot and gives you a greater ability to feel the ground beneath your feet. The rubber extends over each toe, providing added toe protection and preventing painful toe stubbing.
Mixed polyester and spandex fabrics create the upper half of the shoe, allowing a more realistic barefoot feel as it hugs your foot to take its natural shape.
Padding in the forefoot, as well as by the ankle, provide some comfort and support for your feet, without restricting you from having that natural barefoot feeling.
These runners are available in sizes 6.5 to 14.
- Elastic quick-tie laces.
- Machine washable.
- Fit as expected.
- Can feel a bit weird around the toes at first.
The TSLA barefoot shoe has a zero heel-to-toe drop, providing the ultimate barefoot feeling. With no arch support built into the shoe, your foot muscles are stimulated into developing for greater balance and stability as you run.
Rubber outsoles grip effortlessly to the ground, giving you great motion control as you run. Also, the soles are non-slip, so you’re safe to run even in wet conditions.
Nylon material in the upper half of the shoe fits your foot snugly to mimic the naked feeling. Simply step into the shoes and go, as the material grips your foot like a sock. This works well with the PU shanks in the heels to support your feet as you run.
In terms of cleanliness, the upper half is dirtproof and will keep stains and dirt away so that your feet can breathe while you run.
The shoes are lightweight, weighing only 3.2 ounces, and are available in sizes 7 to 13.
- Large toe box.
- Elastic lace-up system keeps feet secure.
- Size runs small, so it’s advisable to order half a size bigger.
The insole on these ALEADER runners is fully flexible, molding to the shape of your feet to create a perfect barefoot feeling. These insoles are also breathable and allow for excellent ventilation, and the fabric mesh material helps to keep feet cool.
Mesh material on the upper half of the shoe is thin and stretchy, allowing a close fit that holds onto your feet securely like a sock. Plus, elastic draw-string laces allow further flexibility.
Unlike other barefoot runners, these have built-in shock-absorbing midsoles that protect against impact. This feature makes these shoes ideal for those who are new to barefoot running and wish to get used to the minimalist feeling gradually.
The rubber outsoles are durable and come over the front of the shoe to provide perfect toe protection. Unique square treads on the soles provide stability for each toe and help to grip all surfaces as you run.
These unisex shoes are available in sizes 6 to 13 for women and 5 to 13 for men.
- Wide toe box.
- Thin arch support—perfect for beginners.
- Ultra-lightweight at only 0.4 pounds.
- True to size.
- Advertised as having a zero heel-to-toe drop; however, arch support is still provided, which is misleading.
- The little toe can feel cramped with the shoe design.
Removable insoles in these JOOMRA shoes offer you arch support as you run but can be removed to allow for a more natural barefoot feeling. This is great for transitioning when you’re new to minimalist shoes.
Rubber soles help to protect your feet against uneven terrain; however, they’re thin so as not to compromise the minimalist feeling. The rubber expands around the sides of the shoe and toe area, to provide further protection to sensitive parts of the feet.
Circular traction marks on the soles help to grip the ground as you run, giving you good movement control on all types of terrain.
Soft, flexible mesh material on the upper half fits the shape of your foot tightly like a sock. Also, the material has air holes that promote natural airflow to your feet so they can breathe while you run.
These shoes are available from sizes 6 to 11.
- Elastic draw-string laces fit tightly around your ankles.
- Option to buy additional insoles.
- Wide toe box.
- Sizes run small, and it’s advisable to order one size bigger.
- The material can feel itchy and uncomfortable without wearing socks.
Zero heel-to-toe drops in these Oberm shoes provide the perfect barefoot running experience. This helps to support posture, balance, strength and reflexology in the body while running. Also, the feet remain in their natural position without any arch support features and can feel the ground.
Rubber soles offer some protection for your feet as you run amongst uneven surfaces, but are still thin enough to give you feedback from the floor and maintain the feeling of nakedness.
A mix of stretchy materials makes up the upper half of the shoe, giving your feet flexibility to move naturally. The material fits closely against your skin while allowing your feet to breathe.
A rubber overlay on top of the shoe protects against any loose pebbles that may flick onto the foot while running, and a toe cap protects the toes, too.
These shoes are advertised for men; however, they’re available in women’s sizes, too— 6.5–14 for men and 7.5–11 for women.
- Traction marks on the soles grip onto surfaces.
- Removable sock liner.
- True to size.
- Wide toe box.
- Ankle material can irritate the skin when wet.
The Perfect Fit
The best minimalist trail running shoes for men and my absolute favorite for men are the Vibram Men’s V Trail Runner Shoes. These provide the ultimate barefoot experience, especially as they support your toes individually to grip around surfaces as you run.
The ALEADER hiitave Unisex Minimalist Trail Barefoot Runners are my favorite for women. They support your feet in their natural position while providing some protection from bumps and uneven terrain. If you’re looking for shoes that’ll help your feet engage with the ground and feel every part that you run over, then these are the shoes I recommend.