Best Minimalist Running Shoes Compared

Last updated: September 7, 2021

Running Shoes / Best Minimalist Running Shoes Compared

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One of the most recent trends among runners is the use of minimalist shoes. The inspiration behind this is that the foot experiences a more natural movement when running. A minimalist running shoe eliminates added cushioning, making more space for toes to move freely. The feet are also left to feel the running surface more. 

Minimalist shoes come with low heel drop, making them lighter and more flexible than ordinary ones. Because your running movement is more natural, your feet feel the impact of the terrain more and send signals to the brain on how to run better effectively. 

Lightweight
Xero Shoes HFS
Xero Shoes HFS
Breathable
Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2
Vegan Friendly
Merrell Trail Glove 6
Merrell Trail Glove 6
Most Stylish
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
Best Rated
Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO

Best Minimalist Running Shoes Compared and Reviewed

If you want to experiment or transition to using minimalist running shoes, we have reviewed the best ones available as rated by other runners. Check it out, we’ve rated them against purpose, durability features and more.

1. Xero Shoes HFS

Key Features

  • 0mm drop
  • 500 Mile warranty
  • Vegan friendly
  • FeelTrue rubber sole
  • Foot-shaped Design

Reasons to buy

  • It is breathable
  • Quite comfortable
  • Lightweight
  • Stylish design

Reasons to avoid

  • The upper fabric is not durable
  • Tightening laces can be challenging

The Xero Shoes HFS delivers a lot in such a minimalist design. It features a wide toe box that improves surface contact. Your toes also get enough wiggling room without the shoe feeling loose. This toe box delivers a perfect balance between comfort and protection.

Lightweight is another impressive aspect of the shoe. Weighing 6.8 oz. for a man’s shoe size 9, this shoe is lighter than most of the other minimalist shoes. The weight reduces further when the insole is removed. 

Xero Shoes HFS comes in a 5.5 mm amazingly low stack height. You can reduce this to 3 mm height by removing the 2mm insole. The shoe feels very close to the ground. Removable insoles also allow you to use your inserts.

Its upper part comes in breathable mesh, while the heel and toe area is synthetic leather. These two features make the shoe both comfortable and durable. However, this mesh fabric is not durable as it wears off quickly.

If you have wide feet and are looking for a minimalist running shoe, then Xero Shoes HFS will be a good choice for you. Due to its features, the shoe is an ideal choice not only for running but also for unilateral lower body training and deadlifting that require maximum ground contact.

As expected with a minimalist shoe, the durability is not very impressive. The shoe is available in both women’s and men’s sizes.

2. Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2

Key Features

  • Breathable fabric
  • Rubber sole
  • 7mm drop
  • Anti-fatigue inserts
  • Features Vibram MegaGrip rubber
  • Ultralight TPU mesh

Reasons to buy

  • The mesh drains well and is breathable
  • The upper is highly flexible
  • It comes in a Vibram sole
  • Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

  • Cushioning is too sturdy for trails with rocks

Are you a highly technical trails runner who loves speed and looking for minimalist running shoes to match your needs? If yes, then Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 is an excellent option for you.

The shoes’ Vibram Megagrip outsole has a lug depth of 3.5 mm and is quite sticky. It makes it smooth, running down quickly down a hill. However, the lug makes the shoe not suitable for running in mud. But you can easily remove stuck without staining the shoe. 

Equipped with a toe cap, you don’t need to worry about stubbing. The ultralight hydrophobic TPU keeps the shoe free from dirt and also makes it very flexible. Thanks to the TPU, Norvan SL 2 easily folds in half, making them great for rock climbing.

Owing to the absence of a rock plate, the shoe features an Anti-Fatigue insert. The collar’s design prevents as much debris as possible from getting inside. It has a 7mm drop which is the highest in this review, but also why this is an excellent choice for transition.

The heel stack height is 19mm, while that of the toe is 12 mm.

Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 shoes are pricey, but you get value for money. With the shoe’s versatility, quality construction, and materials, you will make a great decision by choosing this shoe as a minimalist running pair or transitioning into minimalist running shoes.

3. Merrell Trail Glove 6

Key Features

  • Drop: 0 mm
  • Vibram rubber sole
  • EVA Foam insole
  • Bloom performance midsole
  • Features a rock plate

Reasons to buy

  • It comes in a durable Vibram rubber outsole
  • Features a protective, flexible plate
  • Very versatile
  • Environmental friendly

Reasons to avoid

  • It doesn’t give as much contact with the ground.

This minimalist running shoe features a Vibram 3 mm rubber outsole. The outsole provides cushioning and support while still maintaining the close-to-the-ground feel that most minimalist shoe owners seek. It is a lightweight choice that only weighs 7 oz. 

The Merrell Trail Glove 6 delivers versatility and outstanding performance, all in a minimalist trail shoe. Its upper part is made of recycled mesh, making the shoe incredibly breathable. It uses traditional lace closure, and the laces are 100% recycled. 

With Merrell’s Barefoot 2 construction, your feet stay in a natural position when running. Besides, the Bloom performance midsole is composed of 10% biomass makes the shoe environmentally friendly by giving out clean water from the green water.

Its upper mesh is made of almost half of recycled materials. The mesh is also breathable and has a soft feel such that you can wear the shoe without socks. Even better, the realigned, more robust overlays on the sides make it better at resisting snags and scapes.

A protective rock plate is included in the shoe’s underfoot. Although protective, the shoe is still flexible and adapts fast to different terrains. When it comes to traction, this shoe delivers excellent all-around performance.

With such qualities, Merrell Trail Grove 6 minimalist shoe is a good choice for running, training, hiking, and even running errands. 

4. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Key Features

  • Firm lacing system
  • Rubber sole
  • Features Multi-ply upper material
  • Moisture-wicking material

Reasons to buy

  • Lightweight
  • It has a breathable and flexible upper part
  • Vegan based construction
  • Sleek, beautiful design

Reasons to avoid

  • Expensive
  • Feet tend to wobble

If you are a vegan or transitioning into a vegan lifestyle, this shoe suits you. Its making does not involve any animal product, and neither is it tested on animals. In addition, it’s a comfortable choice for both trail and road running. 

The outsole of the unit comprises 10 % algae-based compound, 45% natural rubber, and 45% synthetic fabric. In addition, it has honey-comb shaped designs on the surface for flexibility and traction. The shoe lacks a midsole, and instead, the outsole serves as one.

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II’s upper comes with a mesh that uses Sorona, a plant-based fiber. This material is like the ordinary mesh, but it is environmentally friendly, especially after the shoe wears out. The shoe has ventilation and is stretchable to accommodate the shape of your foot. 

Non-toxic material is used to cover the printed overlay system and helps the mesh maintain its original shape. In addition, the system helps prevent snugs and secure a proper fit. While it comes in a minimalist style, it still has a lot of protection.

Padding around the collar is done with a tinny wraparound piece. Even so, the shoe remains lightweight and does not constrict the foot. It uses a traditional lacing system. The laces are round and make it easy to adjust the feet. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II comes in 7 colors.

5. Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO

Key Features

  • XS TREK Technology
  • Ethylene-vinyl acetate foam sockliner
  • 0 mm drop
  • 5 mm stack height
  • Features toe sockets

Reasons to buy

  • Lightweight
  • It has an easy and quick lacing system
  • Equipped with XS tech
  • Breathable and flexible upper

Reasons to avoid

  • The sole is too thin

Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO’s outsole features Vibram XS Trek, which is a high-quality rubber. This makes the shoe durable because it retains its efficacy and doesn’t wear off even after use for long. Besides, the sole has drainage grooves, making them suitable for wet conditions. 

Probably the one feature that sets the KSO EVO apart from the rest is its toe sockets. With these sockets, your toes will remain highly engaged during running. They also provide a better avenue for toes display to facilitate better balance control.

The shoe’s sizing system is true to size. Its width is medium, while the length follows the regular measurements. Similar to most Vibram shoes, FiveFingers KSO EVO comes in a semi-curved curvature that imitates the natural shape of a human’s foot. 

5 mm above the ground, the sole comprises a 2 mm sockliner and a 3 mm rubber sole. This sole is made from one material, meaning that it is not designed to control running movement. 

On the other hand, the sockliner is made of Ethylene-vinyl acetate foam to provide soft comfort and make ground contact smoother and more manageable. 

Soft inner lining materials allow thermal protection. This makes the shoe provide warmth during cold seasons. The inner materials are also soft to the feet; you don’t need socks. 

When it comes to weight, this is one of the lightest running shoes available as it only weighs 8.5 oz. for women’s size 9. Compared to ordinary shoes, you will feel as if you have zero weight on your feet. 

In terms of traction, KSO EVO delivers thanks to close contact with the ground. It makes it easier to recover from sliding and maintain balance. 

If you are looking for the best minimalist running shoes that give you ideal protection while providing excellent ground contact, you will not go wrong with the KSO EVO. They are also suitable if you need a lightweight running pair that is affordable. 

6. Altra Escalante Racer

Key Features

  • AltraEGO midsole
  • Engineered knit upper mesh
  • 0 mm drop
  • FootPod Technology in the outsole
  • Weighs 6.8 oz. for Men, 5.7 oz. for Women
  • 5 mm Contour Footbed insole

Reasons to buy

  • Comfortable
  • It comes with a wide toe box
  • Very responsive
  • Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

  • Less durable compared to equally priced options

Similar to all other Altra shoes, the Escalante Racer has a 0 mm drop. This design allows your foot to touch the ground when training or to run naturally. 

Altra Escalante Racer comes with a wide round trademarked toe box. Therefore, it allows your feet to distribute impact and absorb shock and help you keep running. 

The upper part is knitted and seamless, meaning that there are no stitches that rub on your feet. It also does not stretch to hold your foot onto the midsole, even when accelerating. Due to this, the shoe’s fit is not the best in the market. 

A highly praised feature of this Escalante Racer is its responsiveness. It comes in a 22mm thick AltraEGO midsole that is firm and responsive. This feature allows you to maintain your running style even when running slowly. The negative side of this is that your feet put in more work than is the case when you run with more cushioned shoes. 

This zero-drop shoe is exceptionally lightweight as it only weighs 5.7 oz. and 6.8 oz. for women and men, respectively. The minimal weight combined with being zero-drop makes you feel as if you are running on bare feet. 

Factors We Considered When Choosing The Best Minimalist Running Shoes

Proper Fit

Minimalist shoes aim to give your toes as much free room as possible to facilitate a more natural movement. Due to this, the shoes sometimes feel like a glove, and it can be challenging to find an ideal fit.

Here, we have considered shoe models that allow this flexibility but still fit perfectly. A such, we considered toe-box width and shoe shape. We would also encourage you to try on the shoe you choose to purchase before making the payment.

Drop

Drop refers to the height difference between a shoe’s forefoot and heel. Minimalist shoes aim to reduce the space between your foot and ground as much as possible. Most running shoes have about 12 mm drop size.

We have considered the shoes with as little drop size as possible to ensure that you get the full effect of running on minimalist shoes. The shoes considered here have an 8mm drop size to make them more minimalistic.

Stability and Motion Control

With minimalist shoes, you will be going really low or entirely giving up on motion control and stability. The shoe will have less ability to lessen inward rolling and support the inner foot. 

As such, the best minimalist running shoes have few technologies which help with stability and motion control, such as rigid heel counter, elevated medial sole, supportive medial upper, multi-density midsole, and thermoplastic medial sole.

Other Factors

Other factors we considered are a stack height of 8 mm and below, 125g and below weight, and high longitudinal and torsional flexibility. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Run With Minimalist Shoes If I Overpronate?

If you have noticed or been advised by a specialist that your feet over-pronate, then you should avoid switching to minimalist shoes instantly. Instead, engage in a slow transition. The process will take longer, and you will need to be patient while noting how your body is responding. 

People who over-pronate need to go for shoes that offer more support than most minimalist running shoes. It is ideal for working on strengthening your core muscles during the transition so as to reduce the rate of over-pronation. 

Are Minimalist Running Shoes Suitable For Me?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to running shoes. We are all different, and the shoes that might work for one person might not necessarily work for the next. 

Minimalist shoes will work for most people when it comes to walking. However, more people might experience a challenge when it comes to running. Whether the shoes work for you might also depend on the level of cushioning in the minimalist shoes you choose.

Will Minimalist Shoes Change My Running Style?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to running shoes. We are all different, and the shoes that might work for one person might not necessarily work for the next. 

Minimalist shoes will work for most people when it comes to walking. However, more people might experience a challenge when it comes to running. Whether the shoes work for you might also depend on the level of cushioning in the minimalist shoes you choose.

Do I Need to Change My Running Schedule to Transition to Minimalist Shoes?

Minimalist shoes offer less cushioning compared to traditional ones. If you continue running on your usual program, you are bound to experience challenges. You will need to change the training schedule to allow your body more time to adjust to the reduced cushioning. 

Do Minimalist Running Shoes Last?

The lifespan of a shoe depends on various factors such as shoe weight, running style, and frequency of use. In general, a shoe that lasts 300 – 500 miles gives excellent service. If you run frequently, you will need to replace your running shoes often, whether they are minimalist or traditional.

How Will Minimalist Running Shoes Fit Me?

A good pair of minimalist shoes will have a loose fit but still, feel comfortable. They wrap the feet well but still leave enough room for you to stretch and make contact with the ground. If the shoes are too tight, then they will not facilitate natural foot movement.

Conclusion

Minimalist running shoes are gaining popularity because they allow runners to feel the running trail better than any other shoe. They mimic the natural foot movement when running barefoot, only that now you have protection from materials on the surface. 

The best minimalist running shoes should give you a natural running feel without compromising on quality. Ideally, a minimalist shoe should have a low drop height as possible, few flexibility technologies, minimal cushioning while remaining durable.

With the above, we trust that you will find the best minimalist running shoe for your needs. Remember to take your time to transition, as sudden changes can cause pain and injuries to your feet. 

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