What are Barefoot Shoes and Why Would You Run in Them?

I know that when I use the phrase “barefoot shoes” some people get really upset and they will email or call or post on social media, “You can’t have barefoot shoes. You’re either in bare feet or you’re in a pair of shoes.” I’m the first to agree with you. You are absolutely correct. Here’s the twist: barefoot shoes is a phrase that has developed out of the human desire to describe footwear that gives you the benefits and fun of being barefoot. We didn’t develop the term, no shoe company developed it. Barefoot shoes allow your feet to move naturally and to feel the ground without having to necessarily worry about damaging your feet. A style of footwear that gives you a barefoot-like feeling and barefoot-like performance.

I’m going to agree in another way too. The shoes that are sold and advertised to be barefoot, don’t provide the barefoot feeling and performance. In fact, there was a study that came out looking at people who were running in minimalist shoes versus people running in shoes versus people running barefoot. It showed that the people who were running in the minimalist barefoot-style shoes did not really change their form compared to how they ran in shoes, whereas people who were running really barefoot did change their form. Even toe shoes, the FiveFingers shoes from Vibram, people running in those, many of them did not change their form either because here is this fundamental problem with most barefoot shoes – they’re not barefoot enough. They still have enough padding and control that they don’t let your foot move naturally and they protect you too much from the things that you want to feel.

Your feet have a quarter of the bones and joints of your entire body. There more nerve endings in the sole of your feet than anywhere but your fingertips and your lips. That means you’re supposed to use these appendages. They’re supposed to bend, to flex, to feel the world. If you don’t let them do that, that’s going to lead to a number of problems.BrooksToeSpring

Let’s think about many well-known barefoot shoes and at the difference between those and barefoot sandals. Let’s dive into this. Many zero drop shoes on the market have the heel and toe at the same height, except for a big giant curve in the front. Your toes don’t naturally do that when they’re on the ground. You don’t need that. That toe spring doesn’t like to bend down the way your toes like to do at certain points when you’re running. How barefoot does that feel to you?

It’s really flexible in the forefoot in the upwards direction. That’s cool. Not so much where your toes are supposed to bend, but at the ball of your foot that’s flexible. The midsoles tend to be stiff as a brick from just behind the ball of the foot to the heel. There are some barefoot shoes that even advertise that they have a shank in the midfoot to keep the midfoot from moving. Your midfoot includes your arch, which likes to move, so that’s problematic.

Many minimalist shoes still have a lot of padding underneath the midfoot. Sometimes you need padding. If you’re going to be on a really aggressive trail and you don’t want to pay attention to what you’re stepping on or in. I can make an argument for using padding there, but it’s certainly not natural. The other thing about padding is if you have something that’s stiff across the back, if you land on something pointy your ankle collapses. This means you need ankle support because the sole made your ankle unsupported and unstable. If you don’t have that stiffness, you don’t have that kind of problem. The idea of barefoot shoes is just not as simple as people like to make it seem.

Let’s take a look at something like Xero Shoes. Take the Cloud sandal. This is crazy, crazy lightweight. It has our FeelTrue® rubber for great grip and our BareFoam™ for a little extra comfort. It rolls up and fits in your pack or your pocket. It takes up no room. It’s as close to barefoot as you’re going to get except for making your own sandals, our do-it-yourself sandal-making kit. You can get our 4-millimeter Connect sole, which really is just like you’ve replaced the sole of your foot with a bit of protective rubber. It’s still this amazing ground feel and great barefoot feel with just a layer of protection.

The Cloud Barefoot Sandal
4mm Connect Minimalist Sandal Sole
The 4mm Connect DIY Sandal Sole

Let’s talk about zero drop, we like to say Xero drop because there’s no elevated anything. There’s a slight contour. Even this little bit you could say, “Hey, there’s a little toe spring in here too,” except that there’s nothing that prevents it from going the exact opposite direction. There’s nothing here that prevents your foot from moving completely naturally.

The foot shape of the Genesis sandal
Why would you want to run in a pair of sandals instead of barefoot shoes? First of all, that freedom, that real natural movement. Secondly, the fit. Now, the narrowness of a minimalist running shoe isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But many people have wide forefeet. For some people that narrowness won’t fit their feet. Look at your feet and tell me if they are the shape of normal shoes and if they are, it’s only because you’ve been wearing pointy normal shoes for way too long. Look at our Genesis sandal to the left. If your foot isn’t shaped like they are, you can actually trim these with a kitchen scissors and get a perfect fit.

Another reason that you would want to run in these other than fit: freedom is another great reason. Oh my gosh, it feels so good to run in a pair of sandals just because there’s nothing else—there’s only a little protection and something holding it on your foot. It’s totally great.

The simplest reason I can say to try running sandals, is because of the freedom, the fit, the function, natural movement that you get, the feel, the natural feedback that you get with just enough ground feel so that you are getting feedback and just enough protection so you’re not worried. See our Z-Trail Sport Sandal sandal. It’s a little bit thicker, still great natural flexibility, but it’s designed to give you natural movement plus protection for aggressive trails with our FeelTrue® rubber, our TrailFoam™ to even out the bumps, our BareFoam™ to give you that extra layer of comfort.

The Z-Trail Sport Sandal

Natural fit, natural function, natural feel, natural flexibility, those are all the reasons that you would want to get in a barefoot product, but just be careful that you don’t get snowed by something that calls itself barefoot that frankly is no more barefoot than a pair of stilts.Xero Shoes Natural Movement Minimalist Footwear