Barefoot Running Shoes Pros And Cons

Wanting to get the best running shoes for your joints? But not sure of what will give you the right support? Barefoot running shoes offer a natural forefront strike that is said to lessen stress on joints. Here we look at barefoot running shoes pros and cons.

 barefoot running shoes pros and cons
Barefoot running shoes bend and flex

Barefoot running shoes are said to mimic our natural running form.

When running barefoot you’ll naturally land or strike the ground with a slightly flatter foot. According to experts, this natural stride means less stress and injury on knee and hip joints.

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What are barefoot running shoes?

Barefoot running shoes in this article refer to those with a minimal layer between the soles of the feet and the outside. They are not entirely shoeless shoes.

This take confers with the accepted international definition…

Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.

International panel of experts definition in “A consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes”, J Foot Ankle Res.

So, what are the best barefoot running shoes? Ones that bend and flex, have a uniform height, a wide toe, and a minimum thickness so that, when they are on, they feel like they are a part of your anatomy.

How do barefoot shoes differ from conventional shoes for running?

Simple answer is that they have less padding, less cushioning, and are more flexible than traditional running shoes.

How do barefoot running shoes work?

Biomechanist, Irene Davis, of Harvard Medical School (PubMed) explains that barefoot running shoes work similarly to running without shoes in that it involves predominantly a forefoot strike rather than rearfoot strike seen when running in modern (padded) running shoes. This video gives a visual to help explain:

Modern running shoes have become increasingly cushioned and supportive, and have changed the way we run. In particular, they have altered our footstrike pattern from a predominantly forefoot strike (FFS) landing to a predominantly rearfoot strike (RFS) landing. 

Davis et al, 2017, Journal of Sport and Health Science

Are these natural running shoes for everyone?

Are barefoot running shoes good for flat feet? Flat feet are no obstacle, according to the team at Xero Shoes.

Some people claim relief from shin splints and other foot pains after switching to minimalist shoes. They find their feet have “strengthened”.

James Speck of Fix Flat Feet explains reasons for switching to minimalist shoes.

Barefoot running shoes pros and cons

Benefits of barefoot running shoes

How is running barefoot or in minimalist shoes better than running in trainers? You ‘feel’ the ground underneath your feet when running barefoot or in minimalist shoes. This ‘feel’ is a mind-body connection involving the proprioceptive sense.

Christopher M. Norris PhD, in Managing Sports Injuries (4th Ed), explains:

Proprioception is the awareness of the body in space. It is the use of joint position sense and joint motion sense to respond to stresses placed upon the body by alteration of posture and movement.

In the case of barefoot running, nerves in the soles of our feet send messages back to our brains about space and touch to help us understand how our feet interact with the ground beneath us and coordinate our posture and movements.

When running in conventional shoes, the lack of this awareness known as proprioception means a greater risk of injury.

Physiotherapist and exercise scientist, Michael Warburton in Sportscience 5(3) explains: “Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble”.

Cons of barefoot running shoes

Protection. If you aren’t used to going barefoot the skin on your feet including the soles of your feet is probably soft.

The upside of conventional running shoes is the protection they provide. As Michael Warburtun concludes, they “play an important protective role on some courses, in extreme weather conditions, and with certain pathologies of the lower limb.”

You may need to transition to this style of running.

Transitioning to barefoot running shoes

If you are not used to going barefoot, you’ll need to transition into it. In other words, it requires a gradual adaptation. As James Speck mentions, it can take some time.

Switching to minimalists shoes could mean weeks or even months of adaptation and not everyone has this patience.

How to transition to barefoot shoes

Michael Warburton explains :

Thirty minutes of daily barefoot locomotion is a recommended starting point to allow thickening of the sole of the foot and adaptation of muscles and ligaments (Robbins et al., 1993). Begin by walking barefoot at every reasonable opportunity then progress to jogging, gradually increasing the intensity and duration (Yessis 2000, p.124).

Sportscience 5(3)

This applies to getting around bare feet as well as wearing minimalists shoes.

Also, maybe pick your terrains. You don’t want to run over spiky rocky country and it might be best to avoid wet and slippery areas when barefoot running unless you have the proper shoe for it.

If you have concerns, check with your physiotherapist or health advisor.

Today’s barefoot running shoes

There are new designs of minimalist style running shoes that mimic the barefoot running principles. These are mostly flat (zero heel to toe) and flexible with some built-in protection.

Most well-known footwear brands market barefoot shoes or some sort of minimalist footwear for running.


Brands in Australia

Barefoot trainers and runners available in Australia include brands of Tesla, Vibram, SAGUARO, Cook Nik and more.

Available in multiple color options, in men and women styles, you can check them out at Amazon.com.au – see details

The following are examples available at Amazon.com…

Whitin Minimalist Trail Runners

Available in multiple color options, these feature a wide toe box and a removable sock liner. Chose ones with or without a Velcro tightening strap. For the price, these can’t be beaten.

These weigh 12.3 ounces. The outsole is rubber.

What’s to love? The price! They are zero drop shoes. They are one of the best cheap barefoot running shoes going on the reviews given by wearers. Another one to look into if your budget is tight, it this cheap barefoot running shoe…the JOOMRA minimalist trail running shoe (see here).

The downside…these are not so lightweight when compared to others in this range that are available. Not for getting wet as they do not drain well.

See Real Owner Reviews at Amazon.com


Vivobarefoot Primus Trail SG

The SG stands for soft ground, meaning they are designed for off-road trails. These weigh 14 ounces. They have a puncture resistant sole with a gripping lug design suited to maneuvering wet muddy terrain.

They have a 3 mm performance insole that is removable (less weight) and so you can feel the ground beneath. Or, choose to leave the insole in for extra warmth.

What’s to love? If nature inspires you, you’ll appreciate that the manufacturer repurposes plastic (PET) “giving it a second life in our shoes and keeping it from entering landfill and our oceans”. What else? These are water resistant and drain easily to dry. They are also a wide fit for those with broad feet (like me). The best part is the traction they have in wet muddy conditions.

The downside… these are a little pricey and have a low volume in the toe box (though a wide toe box) that won’t suit some. The wide fit will also be a downside for some. Not as light as others on the market.

See the Latest Price at Amazon.com


Xero Shoes Prio

The Prio here is taken from proprioception. The shoes weigh 6.4 ounces (women shoes) and 9.0 ounces (men shoes). They have wide toe boxes.

The have an optional 2mm insole for added protection.

They feature thin flexible soles. The 5.5mm FeelTrue® rubber sole aids traction. They have a zero heel to toe drop.

What’s to love? They are lightweight and have a spacious toe box. They come with a 5,000-mile sole warranty.

The downside…these run small in size and most need to look at a 1/2 size larger than normal shoe size for a good fit. The simple look of this shoe may not impress some.

See Real Owner Reviews at Amazon.com


Nike Free RN 2018

This is a flexible road running shoe designed for the neutral pronator. It has a heel to toe drop of 8 mm, with a heel height of 21 mm and a forefoot height of 13 mm.

What’s to love? The underfoot features a responsive foam core for those who’d rather more support. It is lightweight for a road running shoe, weighing 7 ounces (womens) and 8.4 ounces (mens).

The downside…Outsoles are ethylene vinyl acetate and traction is not suited to wet surfaces. Stones getting stuck in the flex grooves can be an issue. Those with a broad foot may find it a little too narrow in fit.

Read Real Owner Reviews at Amazon.com



What is your favourite running shoe?

Feel free to comment below. We all have different shapes and sizes of feet, and when we find a shoe that suits us perfectly, we often love it to death. What have you found?


Info sources

Journal of Foot and Ankle Research | Journal of Sports Sciences | Med Sci Sports Exercise

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