The Best Minimalist Shoes
Not all minimalist shoes are created equal. In fact, many of these shoes differ substantially depending on the company who produces them and what the purpose of the shoe is. Barefoot shoes for water sports are not the equivalent to a pair of minimalist trail running shoes. Furthermore, knowing what aspects separate minimalist shoes from conventional shoes is important so that you can make an informed decision about what kind of footwear to purchase. Below are some of the most common differences between barefoot shoes to look for.
Minimalist Shoe Offset
Offset refers to the heel to toe drop possessed by the minimalist running shoe. It can also be known as the heel-toe differential or heel-toe lift. This measurement is the difference between height of the heel and the height of the forefoot. Both of these heights are measured as the mid-sole and out-sole added together.
If a shoe has zero offset or zero drop it means that that the ball of the foot and the heel are both the same height off of the ground. If the offset was 5 mm it would be that the height of the heel is 5 mm taller than the height of the forefoot. Either the mid-sole or out-sole of the heel would thicker than the that of the forefoot sole (or both).
For barefoot running, having a zero offset is ideal as that is the closest to actually moving barefoot. Traditional runners commonly have a larger offset which leads us to heel strike first which is of course not good for your body.
The sole of the shoe refers to both the insoles and outsoles of the footwear. Minimalist shoes, especially some of the more experienced brands, tend to have a much thinner sole in order to mimic the barefoot running experience. Platform shoes could have a zero offset but wouldn’t feel at all barefoot because the sole would be so thick.
Many minimalist shoe companies list their sole type and thickness on their website where you can see what kind of shoes you are buying. Many minimalist shoes have 4 to 5 mm soles but they can range up to 14 or 15 mm depending on the company.
Barefoot Shoe Materials
As with normal footwear, minimalist footwear also has a wide span of materials used in their production. Some companies like Vivobarefoot and Terra Plana pride themselves on the “eco-matrix” of their shoes where they make portions of the shoe with up to 50% recycled material. Other companies like Vibram FiveFingers produce shoes with special materials such as kangaroo leather for barefoot trail running shoes.
The materials in the shoe make a difference if you’re planning on using the shoe for hiking, kayaking, running or every day use. When you’re browsing minimalist shoe companies, pick one where the materials for your needs or your beliefs.
This ties directly into the materials used. Make sure you’re picking the right shoe for you. Minimalist water shoes have thinner soles and less grip than minimalist trail running shoes. Using a shoe outside of its context is probably fine a few times but if you do it continually you’re going to go through footwear much faster.
Since many barefoot shoes have extremely thin soles its important to pick a shoe that fits your needs. The road and the mountains are too very different environments. The best minimalist shoes for work may not be the best for athletic activities.
Some minimalist shoes have removable insoles that can be washed. For others, the entire shoe can be put in a washing machine. When you’re making a choice, consider your needs and where you’re going to be using the shoes most.
Minimalist Shoe Comfort
This is a big one. Not all shoes are comfortable. We might like the way they look, but how the feel is infinitely more important. Choosing a pair of minimalist shoes relies on you to like the way they feel and the way they look. Shoes with individual toes for example often are met with some resistance as they look different and may not fit all feet. On the other hand, shoes that look normal may not meet your barefoot qualifications.
If you’re buying your first pair of minimalist running shoes picking internal comfort is the most important step. Your feet will need time to adjust to the new type of running style any additional hindrance can make the process of switching take longer.
When your feet have adjusted to a barefoot running style, investing in a wider variety of barefoot alternatives is a good idea. There is a wide range of options available but you want to make your foot health your number one priority.