How to Find the Best Minimalist Shoes (for Adults and Kids)

How to Find the Best Minimalist Shoes for Adults and Kids

I’ve been all about the barefoot shoes (or just being barefoot) for years. But there are some times and some places where barefoot shoes just won’t cut it. Thankfully, there are now many wonderful options for minimalist shoes that look like “regular shoes.” These shoes don’t offer quite as much foot freedom as true barefoot shoes do, but they can be socially acceptable in almost any instance while still supporting natural foot movement.

The Problem With (Most) Shoes

Turns out that just like many other aspects of life that we take for granted (like mobile phones, fast food, and bottled water), our shoes can often do more harm than good.

There are entire books that talk about the problems associated with long-term use of positive heel and overly supportive shoes. As we spend (or should spend) at least half of our day on our feet, our footwear options can affect us more than we realize!

Why Are We All Wearing Heels?

Walk into any popular shoe store. Over 90% of the shoes have heels!

Don’t believe me?

It’s easy to think that only women’s high heeled shoes are “heels,” but almost all shoes are these days! A shoe with a heel is technically when the heel is higher than the toe of the shoe. Even “flats” and athletic shoes often have 1/4 to 1/2 inch heels!

All About the Angles… of the Ankles

Let’s flash back to geometry for just a minute. Bad memories? No worries, we won’t stay there long…

First, for the purpose of this illustration, I’m assuming that people generally want to stand up straight. If you prefer to walk with your body at a 45 degree forward angle this doesn’t apply to you.

Pretend a person is standing with flat feet on the ground. The ankle joint is at a 90 degree angle. Now imagine that this person is temporarily frozen so no joints can move. Now imagine we put heels on that person (or even just put a wedge under that person’s foot). Since the ankle can’t bend, what happens to the rest of the person?

Ten points if you said his or her body leans forward!

And the higher the wedge/heel added, the more forward the person leans. But since we don’t like to (and can’t) walk around like that, what does a person do? Unfreeze the person and he or she adjusts and stands up straight. But not without changing angles of the ankle and thus the pressure on the knees, hips and even pelvic floor.

And the smaller the person, the bigger of a problem this is!

As movement specialist and biomechanist Katy Bowman explains (read her whole post about it here):

The shorter the foot wearing a heeled shoe, the greater the angle upon which the foot is set. When it comes to putting kids in heeled shoes, it bears emphasizing:

  • The higher the heel, the more forward the body is projected
  • The shorter the foot, the more forward the body is projected
  • The taller the body, the more forward the body is projected

Kids are short, but they also have short feet, which is why it drives me crazy to see a child’s shoe with a heel the same height as their parents’. The short foot of a child “magnifies” a heel’s effect—even a heel of seemingly inconsequential height. Which means that… the angle between the standing surface and the foot would be much greater in the child than in the adult.

Walking on Sunshine (or Padding)

Another problem with a lot of non-minimalist shoes is the overage of cushioning. In many shoes, we don’t feel the ground at all! Ever stepped on a rock in your running shoes? Did you feel it through your shoe?

Supportive and cushioned shoes encourage the wearer to land on the heel of the foot when walking or running, since the shoe absorbs the impact. This changes the natural step and posture (watch babies who have just learned how to walk to see the difference!) and creates a different walking pattern.

Harvard scientist Dr. Daniel Lieberman did a study that explains why:

Lieberman and colleagues analyzed the running styles, or gaits, of five groups of people — U.S. adult athletes who had always worn shoes, Kenyan adult runners who grew up barefoot but now wear cushioned running shoes, U.S. adult runners who grew up wearing shoes but now run barefoot or with minimal footwear, Kenyan adolescents who have never worn shoes, and Kenyan adolescents who have worn shoes for most of their lives.

And they say they found a striking (pun intended) pattern:

Most shoed runners, which would encompass 75% or more of Americans, strike their heels when they run, experiencing a large and sudden collision force an average of 960 times for every mile they run, “making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries.”

The Foot Isn’t a Vacuum

As nothing in the body exists in isolation, altering a person’s walking pattern will have an impact on joints above the foot (mainly knee and hip) as well.

Even things like arch supports, which seem like a good idea, are controversial in the foot world. Some experts recommend them routinely. Others claim they can actually cause the problem they are meant to fix by over-supporting the arch and causing the muscles in the foot to get weaker from lack of use.

The Benefits of Wearing Minimal Shoes

Studies (like this one) have compared barefoot/minimalist running to running in modern shoes and have found:

  • Going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes that allow natural movement strengthen the muscles of the feet and legs by requiring balance and stabilizing movement. This also may reduce injury risk if done regularly and carefully.
  • Some evidence shows that many ankle and knee problems may be linked to the artificial way of walking created by overly-supportive shoes. Simply changing to more natural footwear options can help alleviate these problems.
  • Less supportive shoes may help strengthen the arches by requiring the muscles of the foot to hold up the arch instead of providing support that causes the muscles to atrophy.
  • Walking barefoot (or in barefoot shoes) can lead to a more natural gait. Barefoot walkers often mid-foot strike rather than strike with the heel (often seen with cushioned shoes).
  • Removing the heel lift of most shoes helps the Achilles tendon and calf muscle stretch and lengthen. Some experts say this may reduce injuries, such as calf pulls or Achilles tendinitis caused by short, tight tissues.

So, if our feet aren’t meant to be confined to cushy rubber soles all day but social norms frown on walking barefoot in most places, what are the alternatives?

Thanks to several innovative companies, we don’t have to actually be barefoot to get the benefits…

What are Minimalist Shoes?

This post details the benefits of being barefoot (or as close as possible), along with barefoot style shoes examples. In recent years, many minimalist shoes have emerged as great alternatives. These aren’t quite as good as barefoot shoes, but they are close. And they are typically much more socially acceptable! A shoe qualifies as a minimalist shoe if it:

  1. Is Zero-Drop– This means that the heel and the rest of the shoe are the same height. This one requirement makes minimalist shoes surprisingly hard to find!
  2. Bends Easily– The foot is designed to bend when we walk, not just our ankles. Stiff shoes don’t allow this natural movement of the foot.
  3. Doesn’t Squish Toes– When we walk barefoot, our toes spread out to improve balance and stability. Shoes that squish the toes restrict this natural movement. Minimalist shoes have what is called a wide toe box to allow toes to move, even in the shoe.
  4. Stays on the Foot– It isn’t natural to have to hold a shoe on the foot with our muscles while we walk. As much as I love regular flip flops, they aren’t minimal shoes! It takes some foot gymnastics to hold them on the feet while simultaneously trying to flex the foot while walking. A good minimalist shoe should attach to the foot without slipping or requiring the foot to hold it. (Thankfully, many flip flops have backs that accomplish this!)

Best Minimalist Shoes for All Ages

While in an ideal world, we would all have the chance to walk around barefoot in perfectly soft green grass every day, this certainly isn’t always the case (though if you have the option to, go for it!).

For those of us used to wearing cushioned, protective and heeled shoes, switching to barefoot and barefoot alternatives requires a careful adjustment period to make sure that the muscles of the feet and legs have time to adjust. This book explains how to do it safely.

Thankfully, there are some great barefoot and minimalist shoe options available. These are the ones our family wears (for sandals and barefoot shoes see this post)….

Vivo Barefoot Shoes

This company makes a wide variety of minimalist shoe options for all ages. All of their shoes satisfy the criteria above. They carry the only great option for mens dress shoes I’ve seen. I also love their kids dress shoes, sneakers, and women’s flats. For littles, their Ultra kids shoes are great.

Pros: Many great options for dress shoes, athletic shoes, and casual shoes.

Cons: Pricier than traditional shoes.

Where to get: I find the best prices on their website here.

Sizes & Styles Available: All sizes from toddler to adult. All styles from dress shoe to sandal to athletic shoes.

Xero Shoes

This company also makes minimalist footwear that meets the criteria above. I really only like their Teva-style sandals, but they have some sneakers as well.

Pros: Great sandals

Cons: Not a lot of styles. Don’t love their sneakers.

Where to get: I always order styles with free returns from here so I can try them on.

Sizes and Styles Available: Adult sizes only. Sandals and sneakers.

Water Shoes

These are specifically recommended by Katy Bowman as a really budget-friendly minimalist option. They are really inexpensive (around $10) and great for growing feet. We often get these during the summer, especially for younger kids who outgrow shoes quickly. Kids love these colorful water shoes and there are some really cute adult ones as well.

Pros: Really inexpensive, fun patterns for kids, versatile.

Cons: Not as durable as some other options and not very trendy.

Toms

Though not specifically designed as a minimalist shoe, Toms classic shoes are actually a decent option for those wanting a “normal” looking shoe that doesn’t offer too much cushion or have a positive heel. They are also incredibly comfortable, and apparently pretty popular right now. I like that they also donate shoes to those in need around the world. Toms certainly aren’t the best option, but they offer most of the benefits without being too weird.

Pros: No positive heel. Minimal arch support. Protect the feet. Lots of options.

Cons: Not for working out. Slightly constrict toes. Do have some cushioning and won’t necessarily help correct a heel strike.

Sizes and Styles Available: Stick with the classic flats and avoid any of the newer styles with a raised heel. Available in adult and kid sizes.

Sanuk Yoga Slings

These aren’t the best option but they are really comfortable and seem to be popular. They have more cushioning than some of the other options, but hold the foot and have a flat sole.

Pros: Very comfortable
Cons: Lots of cushioning

Minimalist Shoes: Bottom Line

Thanks to researchers like Katy Bowman and Dr. Lieberman at Harvard, we are starting to understand how modern footwear is negatively affecting how we move. As more companies create minimalist shoe options, it will get easier to find alternatives to traditional heeled shoes. When possible our family chooses minimalist alternatives and also makes sure to spend time barefoot!

Have you tried any of these shoes? What are your favorite shoes and why? Haven’t yet, but will? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Isn’t walking barefoot only good for “natural” surfaces like soil, sand, etc? I thought the larger issue is we cannot properly walk barefoot on cement, asphalt, etc. because there is not “give” to the surface.

    • people used to walk on hard packed earth, rock, etc. Those are natural, and very hard, surfaces. Our feet adjust to what we are walking on.

      • I would say most people did not walk on hard packed earth and rock all the time, though. And if you haven’t been roaming barefoot on those type of surfaces since you learned to walk, it might be in your best interest to transition slowly. 🙂

        • I definitely agree that there should be a slow transition, as well as additional research into the proper way to walk/run barefoot, as it is completely different from “conventional” way to walk/run. Also, a good book to read is Born to Run. Although I have not read it yet (it’s on my “to buy” list) I have heard the author speak about barefoot running and it is incredible how your foot is designed to take the shock force…no shoes required. Also,the author goes into depth about a certain Indian tribe in Mexico who, for fun, run 200 mile ultramerathons, even into their 70s and 80s…over purely rock mountains. So, the average foot can actually hold up to walking/running on hard surfaces…with proper transition and training. I can personally say that after transitioning to barefoot walking/running, I no longer get knee/hip/back/shoulder pain from walking long distances while in town, grocery shopping, ect. AND I was always told that because of the structure of my feet, I would always need to wear high arch support shoes…I now wear shoes with no arch supports and no longer have arch pain 😉

      • I’ve done civil engineering work. Hard packed earth is MUCH softer than rock (concrete). Think of it this way: How hard is it to drive a nail into hard-packed earth? How about rock…drive a nail in?

    • This is an informative article for healthy feet and especially for little ones. People with flat feet have to be more careful with choices. And those like myself with major feet fibromas or those with planters fasciitis should never wear flat shoes or flip-flops. There are more adults who have feet problems than there has been in many many years. Is there a research document on shoes for these folks? Thanks for all your care and wisdom.

      • I would definately delve into more research on barefoot walking and the ailments that you suffer from, as I’ve heard of many people actually healing/reducing their plantar fasciitis by barefoot walkinh, as the tendons are no longer stretched unnaturally from striking with the heel. I personally had (undiagnosed) arch pain that my chiropractor believes may have been plantar fasciitis, that has disappeared completely since switching to barefoot walking (the only time it flares up is when I where “good” shoes with a “decent” arch.) The only people who I believe would have an issue with barefoot running/walking are those with structural anomalies in their feet, such as arthritis, bone spurs, ect.

      • My husband has struggled incredibly with plantar fasciitis for years (over a decade?). He has flat feet and remembers always wearing special shoes with arch support since even childhood to compensate for this. A few months ago, it began flaring up again. Just tonight, we were discussing one of WellnessMama’s articles about shoes, and he realized that since he’s been spending more time at home – going barefoot – his fasciitis has only improved!! Now our goal is to save up for some of the flat “toe shoes” for him 🙂 I absolutely LOVE this website! We are grateful, Katie, for all of your diligent research!

  2. Well I’m glad to know that I’m not actually messing up my feet. My mom used to always nag me about my shoes not having enough support and that I’d get foot problems. I’ve always worn shoes like flip flops or flimsy flats with no arch support. I’ll definitely have to look into the minimal running shoes. I have some pretty majorly supportive ones and I think they are what makes my feet/calves hurt after a run. I never had a problem until I got “properly fitted” running shoes. And I love Toms! They are super comfy.

  3. In looking to help my MIL who has very damaged feet from using inserts and support her whole life, I came across “correct toes” (google it), which space your toes out, when barefoot, or fit inside of wide toe box shoes. The videos on their website show how the toe spacing corrects the arch falling, and reverses bunions, and reverses permanently squished toes, and morton’s neuroma, etc. It recreates the foot that the shoes molded, slowly pushing the bones back into the optimal position they had before they were damaged. It has also been studied for helping elderly people improve their balance (reducing hip fractures from falls). I suggest it for those whose feet are already very damaged.

  4. I bought my first pair of Converse (orange ones!) to go with the Hawaiian shirts that were the uniform at my last job… I soon had 8 colorful pair and wore them daily in spite of being on my feet for 9-10 hours walking around a concrete floored, retail store… At first they hurt a bit, but soon I’d adapted… Glad to know that I was actually doing the right thing!!!

  5. Are the runners in the photo for sale? I only see a different style on their website.

    • They are… they are the Quantum style with leather straps…

  6. I really want to purchase the Hera to be my summer shoe. The fitting suggestion says “accommodating to a wider foot” .

    I was hoping you could give me some insight….I have a narrow foot and am now wondering if this would be a good shoe for me. Do you by chance have a narrow foot? And if you do have a narrow foot, I am assuming they are just fine since you say they’re your favorite. Thx!

    • My foot is definitely narrow to average… not wide at all and they fit great…

  7. What about Sanuk? They were my go-to shoe during pregnancy simply because they were comfortable, and after reading this article, I think I know why.

    • I love my Sanuk shoes, especially the yoga mat flipflops!

      • Vivobarefoot are my favorite minimalist shoe! I have the running shoe and the jing jing which are adorable and go with everything!

  8. Great article!! I love my Vibrams. My cool sister turned me onto them when i confessed that every running shoe i tried made the balls of my feet fall asleep. Now I wear my vibrams everywhere except church!

  9. I’m wondering if I made a mistake or if my comment about soft star shoes was not approved?

    • I’ll check… if there was a link, it may have been filtered out and be in a folder…

  10. yet another great article! Way to go!!!! your blog is such a blessing in my life. Thank you for sharing your findings!!!

  11. Merrel also makes great minimalist shoes. They look like normal shoes only they have the 0 heel, extra wide ball and plenty of room for the toes.

  12. thanks for the info, looking into new shoes for summer. I was hoping there would be some info here for us who have to wear steel toes boots to work. I currently wear Dr. Martens and they have a low heel ( for boots) so I guess that’s a good start!

  13. I love Toms! So glad they made the list.
    The chiro I work for just talked me into orthotics. I had a feeling these things would probably worsen the problem over time and cause me to be dependent on them, but he assured me that there was no fixing the problem anyhow. What am I supposed to do with these orthotics now? Especially the pair I bought for my running shoes . Grrr.

    • I know this is but the anecdote of one fat lady, but I got orthotics from my chiropractor years ago when I was a runner and it did nothing but cause more issues. I eventually developed a full on case of plantar fasciitis and a problem with my knee on the same foot. I went to see a podiatrist, who gave me a pair of custom orthotics (Well I shouldn’t say “gave” since they were $600!) and I continued to run and my foot continued to deteriorate to the point where just walking for 20 minutes is tortuously painful. Recently I discovered the only shoe I can walk in for any length of time without pain in an old, beat up flip flop – the heel is soft, but not that soft, and there’s barely any arch support.

      As far as what to do with the orthotics, if they’re custom made, not much you can really do. You could try them and see if they are helpful for awhile?

      • Thank you for mentioning that you also had plantar fasciitis and a knee problem as well since that’s what happened to me. Just thought I was falling apart! But I also have high arches and can only wear flat shoes. My Sanuks are great! Thanks again!

  14. I’ve worn orthotics for over 30 years. Started when I was 10 or so. My arches are very high, and I’ve always picked the flattest shoes I can find. Barefoot hurts me terribly. However, I recently went to the good feet store. They want me to spend $1000 for their system. This is interesting at least. I don’t know if I could do it.

  15. I love my Five Fingers! I go barefoot most of the time. However, as someone who wore black Five Finger Sprints with a black and white dress to my rehearsal dinner (my mom vetoed my blue ones as the “something blue” for the wedding the next day) I think they go quite nicely for dressy occasions! 😉

  16. I think you should add some VIVOBAREFOOT shoes to your list!

    It’s interesting that you have toe separation as a good thing! It’s quite unnatural for your toes to be separated in that way and it doesn’t makes sense from a thermal protection point of view. Your toes need to be free to splay and recoil so they can offer maximum natural shock absorption.

  17. I do love my OluKai laceups.
    What about those of us who work standing up on hard surfaces? Something with a neutral footbed and some thickness to the sole might be really nice.

  18. Thanks for the info! Do they make any of these shoes with non woven fabric uppers? I work at a hospital and we are require to have a shoe without a fabric upper to protect our feet from needles and such. But it would be nice to wear a shoe that keeps my joints healthy when I’m on my feet for 8 hours at work!

    • I have some brown leather NB minimus shoes that look almost “normal.” They’re still my minimal “dress shoes.” Maybe that would work for you.

    • Soft Star does!

  19. Sorry to nit-pick a very helpful review, but I was under the impression that the NB minimus does have a very slightly elevated heel–something like 4mm. I had a couple pairs that I found very helpful during the early stages of moving toward barefoot, but as I grew more accustomed to it, I started noticing even that little bit encouraged a little bit of heel strike. It was a good transition shoe, though.

  20. I am interested in Soft Star shoes….would like some input before deciding to purchase them.

    • I really really love them. My whole family wears them. They have amazing costumer service. If you order a pair and they don’t fit, you just mail them back and they send you whatever size you wanna try next. You are only out the shipping! My daughter has a range of thier shoes. I have their mary janes and boots, and my partner has the dash run amocks (he got them in black and wears them to work).

      • Thanks so much! That is really great to hear–I will probably try a pair soon.

  21. I am just so happy I came across your website !!! You are a daily inspiration to me, and I thank you so much for the time you invest in this ! I am just starting up a family and you have given me great ambitions! Keep it up 🙂

  22. Good post! I think a lot of people will find this very helpful when trying to find new footwear. I just started wearing the New Balance Minimus and love them to death. They’re so comfortable, yet don’t force me to rely on them, and do feel that my feet are getting better at walking and careful stepping. My favorite thing about them is the wide toe-box. I always have trouble finding shoes that don’t crowd my toes, but this time there was no doubt in my mind that my toes would be okay in the shoes. They were affordable, too.

  23. Oh I have serious want happening now for the juil flip flops! Super cute with the earthing tubes! I May have to save up for these, but since I spend all summer in flips, these look like a winner!

  24. Ah. I have always loved walking around barefoot. In fact, it’s the first that happens when I get home from work…shoes get removed. It matters not if I have to wander around the front to potty the puppy or pick up the mail…take the wash out… I prefer to be without shoes. I am looking forward to testing out your shoe recommendations for when I absolutely must wear them. =) Thanks!

  25. As an former athlete, I’ve noticed a huge difference in strength , balance , and coordination of core and lower body from running barefoot. I recommend everyone to do so! however; treat the muscles in your foot like any other muscle. Too much and you’ll be aching for weeks!

  26. I have a wide foot with a very high arch. I have had injections, foot surgery and paid for expensive orthopedic inserts. None of these gave me much relief for bad cases of bone spurs and tight tendons. But one day, about 10 years ago, I bought a pair of Birkenstocks. They may not be everyones cup of fashion tea, but the relief is amazing. I wear only Birkenstocks 24/7. If I do ever wear other shoes or need to go bear foot for extended periods of time, the pain is still there. So I put on the Birkenstocks and I’m pain free by the end of the day.

    • I LOVE my Birkenstocks. I have the sandal types and the clog types for winter. I have some pretty serious knee issues and my orthopaedic surgeon told me I was wearing the best shoes I could for my knee issues. I have 6 sandal type Birkenstocks, and 2 or 3 clog type styles. I still have quite a bit of knee pain, but I’d almost bet it would be way worse in regular shoes!

  27. Hi 🙂 I love. Being barefoot when I am able and will be switching to a barefoot show as soon as I can. (Actually I have a pair of TOMS on the way) but my son who is two has to wear AFOs (for ankle support) but he is barefoot beside when we are in public. Do you think possibly keeping him barefoot or in barefoot shoes will help strengthen his ankles?

  28. I love the lace up look of your earth runners. How long ago did you get them? I can’t seem to find them their website.

    • I got them last year but they are doing some updates, so they might not be on there now…

  29. Do you have any insight on flat-footed folks? My husband is a runner and flat-footed. It seems like the barefoot thing would make sense for people with “normal” (I hate to use that word, but I think you get what I’m going for here) feet, but perhaps people with arches on the extremes would struggle. Do you know any articles you could point me toward about runners for flat-footers?

    • Google Katy Bowman online and you will find a lot of info about shoes and feet. Yes, flat feet will benefit greatly from going barefoot. There are many simple exercises for your feet you can do to help stretch and strengthen them, as well as a few alignment tweaks to help gain your arch back again.

  30. i got my first pair of five fingers and have a question. it feels like my baby toe is squished in there, but when i take my foot out, my baby toe looks exactly how it feels, but it feels uncomfortable. any ideas? is this normal or do i need to change sizes? my other toes are fine.

    • You might need to go half a size bigger… I noticed this at first with one of my pairs but it seemed to go away as the shoes were broken in…

  31. Does anyone know where to get baby/toddler grounding shoes? I know barefeet is the best but once it gets cold, I probably need to put something on my 12 month old!

  32. I find that if the surface is really hard (like the laminate floors in my house) I cannot walk around on them all day without developing some serious heel/plantar pain. I feel like I need a middle ground at least for awhile – something a bit cushy, not necessarily having any lift on the heel. Any suggestions? I am fairly overweight, so I suspect that is a lot of the issue I’m having.

  33. What about boots or shoes for colder climates? I live in New England and it is to cold half of the year to wear open or thin shoes.

    • Try Lems – they have a boot and just came out with an all-leather one too. I love them in the winter except mine aren’t waterproof (I got them before they sold the all leather version). They have a bit thicker sole but still very flexible (esp compared to most boots!) and a zero drop heel to toe.

      I also wear their nine to five shoe to work every day!

  34. I bought sneakers that have a Prop 65 cancer warning on them. I am wondering if the new balance sneaks you recommend have the same cancer warning? The company I bought from (Avia) says the cancer causing material is in the glue that holds the shoes together, and that many sneaker companies use the same glue, just don’t disclose it. Do you know anything about the Prop 65 status of the shoes you recommend? Thanks in advance Katie!

  35. Any thoughts on shoes for winter weather that fit the bill? Toms are just too… cold… and all the other options I’ve run across are really only useful in warm to moderate weather. I live in VT and the winters can be brutal. Help! 🙂

  36. I use Vibram 5 fingers.I have fibro and they are a great help.

  37. Classic Converse (not their new “get dirty” line) are the all-time classic flat foot shoes for men and women. If I wear shoes with an elevated heal my back hurts, but never when I wear Converse.

  38. my son, now 4yrs old has collapsed arches and has been wearing orthodics for a year. I did not feel good about getting them but also am no expert. he also does physical therapy to help strengthen the arches with exercise and stretches. anyone have any other ideas that could help?

  39. What about kids? I’m trying to find the best shoes for my toddler.. Are there earthing shoes for kids??

  40. Some of your comments make sense, others don’t. There’s no logical way that running on cement or other human-made surfaces would be good for your feet merely because ancient or indigenous people walked/walk/run barefoot on rocks and such. The two cannot be compared. Any nature-made surface, no matter how hard, is still going to have a level of porousness AND irregularity that human made surfaces are not going to possess.

    A huge part of the advantage of walking/running over natural surfaces is that your foot is being asked constantly to make endless, unexpected, random micro-adjustments. That doesn’t exist in human-made surfaces and is one of the reasons that walking/running on something like a treadmill (which has a completely uniform surface) is absolutely terrible for your feet and hips and knees and other parts of your body. Running barefoot or in minimalist shoes on a treadmill, for example, is not going to completely solve physical issues simply because the human body is not built to deal with the completely uniform nature of a treadmill surface.

  41. Could you tell me the brand of the last photo? I’ve been looking for a similar sandal for a long time and can’t find that style on either Juil or Earth Runners…probably an older style but just wanted to ask if it was a different brand.

  42. Hello! I stumbled upon your blog while researching shoes for a new job, working front desk at a hotel. I’m going to be on my feet, mostly just standing, not walking much, for an 8 hour shift, with breaks of course. I’m 43 and I am about 150 lbs overweight, and I am really concerned how I’m going to do this. I am not used to being on my feet, it’s been a long time since I’ve worked. I’ve been looking at various shoes with lots of cushion and support, then ran across this entry in your blog.

    Do you have any advice for me, as far as what kind of shoes I should try. They have to be black. Thank you in advance!!

  43. So all this sounds great in theory, and I so want to be able to agree, but why is it that I have gone barefoot most of every day for years (stay home mama, barefoot around the house and yard). And mostly in completely flat flip flops, flat ballet shoes, barefoot running shoes (Merrell), and Converse when I wear shoes, but my feet have been steadily getting worse in the past year or two? I’m only comfortable now in shoes with no raised heel, but with some arch (hard to find). Cushion isn’t such a big factor to me, but I can’t handle anything without an arch anymore. I am not a runner, but as a mama I spend a lot of time on my feet, walking, standing, getting up and down from the floor, lifting children etc. I am currently pregnant, and all my foot issues are magnified. I’m not being contentious, just curious. I really like the idea of staying close to barefoot, and it makes a lot of sense to me, but I’m confused about what I’ve experienced.

    • This information may be practical for 105 lb. Ethiopian and Kenyan males and females but does not relate to out of shape, oversized and overweight 21 century Americans. Yes, if our walking paths are plowed and disced fields, (actually very benefical for strengthening the ankle’s side-to-side motion against sprains)… or on sandy beaches..(great for increasing calf and thigh strength),, or on thick grassy lawns..(theraputic values) or dusty footpaths..then your colleague’s analysis is spot on. However, those conditions are not realistic for the vast majority of 1st world nations who’s reality is unnatural and unyielding walking surfaces. Perhaps one needs to simply consider the enormous pressure of a triangular driveway limestone rock when driven into the heel of a typical bare foot. This is the reality of our civilized world. I suggest searching out a great podiatrist might be the smartest move of those who buy into this analysis. L. Ray Dent, ret practAnal Eng.

  44. Dear Mama,

    I need to know what are the best kind of shoes my husband should wear for Housekeeping at the Hotel and Casino job he is at. Will you please send a picture as well. Thank you for your time.

    Heather

  45. The Minimus shoes look comfortable, with plenty of cooling ventilation which probably help prevent odors and infection. But wearing copper inserts in the soles of the shoes? Stick a penny in your shoes if you believe there’s any genuine health benefits.

    If I’m ever caught outside in a lightning storm, I can only hope someone else not too nearby has chosen to provide a solid ground to earth.

  46. I was looking for some Adipure barefoot shoes, which are getting harder to find, perhaps due to that Vibram lawsuit, when I happened upon your article. Great stuff. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the barefoot argument…I transitioned slowly and as recommended and have not only not had any problems, the problems I was having (tight calves/Achilles tendon) are completely gone. Even though I had good arches before, they are even more pronounced. It is unfortunate that a lot of negative publicity has influenced some manufacturers…this isn’t for everybody but it sure would be great if they would keep making the shoes for the rest of us that want them. I think a lot of people that are attracted to this sort of thing are already athletic – and so tend to think the warnings/recommendations only apply to people just getting into exercise and not to them…when people ask about my shoes and question me to the point it comes up, I’m quick to tell them there are many benefits, but also much potential for injury (up to and including a fracture) if you don’t transition slowly to let all the new muscles and tendons that you typically don’t use much become accustomed. You don’t need to be afraid of this – it is kind of like an Ironman would literally probably kill me if I was forced to finish it because I haven’t trained for it. I have a pair of Vibrams now and two Adipure…the Vibrams are good once I get them on; I think I might have purchased a pair that is slightly too small. I also have wide feet…so since the Adipure are more bendy, stretchy and easier to put on I most often use them…they’ve gotten nearly impossible to find, though, so if you hear anything I sure would appreciate hearing about it! I will probably have to do the Vibrams if I can’t find the Adipure…thanks for recommending your fave and also thanks again for a great article…!

  47. Hi,
    I have plantar faciatis and was told never to go barefoot. But 2 years worth of physical therapy, arch support, and stretches haven’t healed it. I’m wondering if you have advice on how to strengthen them. It seems like going barefoot could help heal them but how do I ease into it? Also, do you think the earthing mat would help heal this? What stretches can you suggest? Thanks so much!
    Christina

  48. What kind of minimalist shoes do your kids wear or what do you recommend? We live in a colder area so closed in shoes are required 8 months out of the year.

  49. Hi, just finished reading through the comments. About 10 years ago, after having painful plantar fasciatis, I discovered Kalso Earth shoes. They have a slightly negative heel with arch support. It only took a little time to get used to them but my pain quickly disappeared and has not returned! I’m surprised that no one commented on this brand. I have five different types of their shoes and they are awesome. I know a few people who love their birkenstocks, including my daughter, but i haven’t tried them myself yet. I am interested in the mininmalist type of shoes so maybe I’ll just have to save up and try a pair of those too.

  50. After developing severe foot pain and only feeling relief for the week I went to the beach and ran around barefoot, I stumbled across the Merrell brand when looking to buy some Vibram five fingers. The Merrell barefoot / M-connect series is a natural-looking, zero-drop/barefoot shoe and I’ve got too many pairs (about a dozen different styles and colors). Within three days of wearing my first pair, my foot pain was GONE. I would recommend the Merrells over the New Balance Minimus – I felt that the NB shoes were flimsy and cheaply made and they definitely did not fit my foot as comfortably as the Merrells (but that’s just me). The Merrell barefoot shoes have several cushioning options, too.

    I also really like the Altra brand for athletic shoes – the shoes can look a little strange, but boy oh boy are they fantastic. Also barefoot/zero-drop, these shoes have light, moderate, and high cushioning – the moderate cushioning makes you feel like you’re walking on pillows and fluffy clouds! They come in a variety of colors, too, and styles for different needs.

    I’m looking forward to trying some of the flip flops you recommended, Katie!

  51. I love the kigo flits! It is by far the best minimalist shoe and super cute too. I also just ordered a pair of the Earth Runners Alpha X sandals with conductive slip on laces. Haven’t gotten them yet, but I’m super excited to try them.

  52. I guess this explains why I’ve always noticed Asians and White people in flip flops almost always have very healthy feet arches, and well-developed foot “structure” (strong ligaments, and bones) contrary to what I’d expect, since there are lots of blogs “berating” flat shoes.

  53. I really appreciate this information on how to know whether or not my shoes are healthy for me. I had no idea that wearing high heels could be causing me the pain I have in my feet. It is interesting that the shoes that most resemble going barefoot are actually the most beneficial. I will have to keep this in mind next time I go shoe shopping, thanks for the information!

  54. I tapped on the link you have for Earth runners but don’t see the style you have picture…that was kind of bummer because they’re super cute!

  55. I have plantar’s & young bunions..seems hard to find a minimalist shoe to accommodate the toes. with cold weather coming,I will need a closed shoe. any advice…Toms can be too snug by the toes & run smaller as well.

  56. Someone may have asked this already, but I didn’t see it. How do these work for those who work on concrete floors in retail? I work in a giant retail store and and as constantly running back and forth. I’ve been wearing things like converse or other minimum support shoes and while my feet don’t hurt per se, my ankles and right knee does. So it makes me ask, okay this may be better for my feet but what about my knee and ankles? Anyone have any advice?

    • It depends. Hard surfaces like concrete are hard on your body, but the effects can be minamalized by proper barefoot walking. Let me ask you a question: are you currently walking heel to toe, or ball to heel? The answer should be the latter: ball to heel (and some barefoot walkers believe that you should only walk on the ball of your foot, which is what I try to do.) Let me ask you another question: have you ever noticed how dogs/cats walk? They have evolved to walk on the ball of their foot (the pad.) Cat’s and dogs will almost always out-run a human. And they have less chronic pain than we do (unless they have arthritis.)

      The reason why walking ball to heel (or exclusively on the ball) is so much more effecient and reduces pain and inflammation is because the foot is designed to take the shock into the muscles, tendons, and ligaments when we walk on the ball. To demonstrate, jump in place five times fast and when you land, land on your heals. Hurts doesn’t it? Now jump in place naturally, landing on the ball of your foot and slowing your downward force using your muscles (like jumping rope.) The latter way of jumping is more natural and doesn’t hurt, because your using your muscles to absorb the weight of your body as it comes down and disperses the shock throughout the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Bonus: you are building muscles!Walking is the same as jumping in place, except with forward motion. The “normal” way of walking has only your joints absorbing the shock, which causes ankle, knee, hip, back, and neck pain. The joints are not designed to take the shock, your muscles are. Also, have you ever watched a baby learn to walk for the first time? They walk on their “tip toes.” Only after observing adults and other children (and strapping on conventional shoes), do they begin to walk unnaturally: heel to toe.

      The process of reteaching yourself to walk naturally takes time, experimentation, and patience but it’s well worth the effort.

      So do your body a favor and walk naturally: ball to heal. <3

  57. All advice goes out the window when you’re forced to wear safety boots on work sites. There are different classifications, however, irregardless of actual workplace hazards the typical footwear is 1/2-3/4″ soles with steel toes and a bottom steel plate running the length of the shoe (shank). Most of my work happens on fully carpeted floors and finished walls… yet we’re expected to wear these tank-shoes on our feet just because “It’s the law”.

    So yea, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay out because no one is losing a foot, however after 30 years in these shoe-coffins, who takes the blame and responsibility for the chronic lifelong injuries developed? The worker.

    Oh and it’s beyond the feet. These things change your posture and walking gait. Your bones and muscles are affected right up to the top of your head.

    Ladies, you must understand why your construction-worker husband needs foot massages in the evening.

  58. And what do those of us with extremely narrow feet do? I can’t keep what is considered an average width shoe on my feet, feel like I’m trying to walk in flippers, or walk right out of them.

  59. I would love some information on how the material our feet touch affects our body. We hear things about footbaths and how many pores we have on our feet and it seems to me that we should make sure our shoes/floors are natural materials (leather, wood). I wonder if it is toxic to have our feet in polyester and plastic all day?

  60. I think wide toe box isnt the right word. It’s foot shaped toe box.

    Plenty of wide shoes still taper in at the toe joints. This can lead to bunions! Some people get lucky and only have the bunion affect at the distal phalanx toe bone which isnt nearly as horrible as a bunion at the metatarsal phalanx.

    A good test for shoes is to remove the insole if possible and stand on it. If your toes slay over the edges the shoe will squeeze your toes and is not a foot shaped toebox shoe

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