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"Minimal" Shoes...

So, what is a "minimal" shoe in your opinion?

It is the same as a "barefoot" shoe?

I'm forming my opinions on these terms as they relate to the current footwear options. What is your understanding of this "barefoot" running movement?

I believe that the actual definition of a "barefoot shoe" is any footwear with < 3 mm of drop in the heel or toe box. A
minimal shoe" is in the range of about 3mm-6mm drop.

I know a good bit of runners that wear them and use them. They do love them and the retailer I work for sells only minimal and barefoot in their running line (Outside of trail runners we have some beefy salomons and Brooks), so I see a good bit of it.

Many people are skeptical of it and it seems to not really fit people with serious foot issues. Apparently, also, a few recent studies have challenged the original study that led to the explosion in this market. I have yet to confirm this, I just heard it.

I dont own any shoes in this category and every time I try them on I just dont like them. To each his own in this world.


A wonderful fad.

I don't have a definition.  generally speaking, I think there is a spectrum of cushioning and support for stuff people wear on their feet.  the closer you get to barefoot, meaning the less cushioning and support and stability your footwear provides, the more you might be tempted to call it "minimal."  on the other end of the spectrum would be either very well-cushioned footwear, or footwear that provides a significant amount of stability or motion control or just plain old foot protection via more structured or stiff midsole materials, firmer materials for the body of the shoe, stiffer heel counter, etc., all the way up to mountaineering boots.

I don't think that minimal and barefoot are synonymous.  my wife and daughters now have running shoes that have relatively little cushioning, are very lightweight, and whose soles and midsoles are highly flexible.  they are minimal, but you aren't barefoot.  the fivefinger shoes, with separate toes and exceedingly little cushioning, are tantamount to walking barefoot with very minimal protection for the soles of your feet (one pair of fivefingers has some kind of mesh layered next to the sole that spreads the impact of hitting a pointy rock a little more, so it provides a little more protection for your feet).

I also can't speak to the 'science' behind minimal footwear.  However, I do have several hundred miles of personal experience to draw on - some with the fivefingers, some with relatively thin-soled water shoes and sandals.  the bottom line is that I like them, I think they have a place and serve a legitimate purpose.

First, I rarely run anymore.  too much impact, too much risk of further damaging one of my knees.  in the rare instances that I choose to run, I wear highly protective and well-cushioned running shoes with orthotics made by a doctor.  Having walked a lot in minimal shoes, I have concerns that using them to run regularly on hard surfaces would cause injuries.  the tribe chronicled in "Born to Run," a book that helped popularize minimal footwear, doesn't live in a heavily paved environment, nor do runners in Africa who often train barefoot. 

Second, introducing minimal shoes is not a quick process if you truly want to avoid hurting yourself.  minimal shoes alter your stride, whether running or walking, and they use somewhat different muscle groups.  In my case, with feet that severely overpronate, it took a number of months for my feet to get used to walking with little or no support without feeling sore.  it also took a number of months for my legs to really feel right walking long distances with minimal shoes.  also, it's probably not smart to wear minimal footwear in really jagged/rocky trails or when you're carrying a backpack that's pretty heavy; the minimal shoes just don't give your feet enough support or protection in those circumstances, IMHO. 

Third, dismissing minimal footwear as a fad, before engaging in real research or studies, would be a mistake based on my personal experience.  for me, minimal shoes represent a way to get my feet and legs stronger, more fit, and more resilient by working a broader range of muscle groups than I otherwise would with more supportive shoes or boots.  I'm a severe overpronator and I weigh over 200 pounds.  Years of running in highly supportive and cushioned running shoes (but not custom orthotics) exposed me to all sorts of severe injuries - stress fractures in my feet, tendinitis, muscle tears, torn cartilage in my knees.  with that background, the lack of cushioning and support with minimal shoes would seem to be an insane choice for me.  it just hasn't worked out that way.  i have walked hundreds of miles in the fivefingers, quite a bit of that on pavement or rocky trails, nearly always carrying somewhere between 15 and 50 pounds.  i also hike in much more supportive and protective all-leather boots, by the way, so I use the minimal shoes in moderation.  regardless, i haven't experienced stress fractures or tendon problems or usage-related joint or muscle problems.  (my left knee tends to get pretty sore lately. But, current pain started when i twisted the knee pretty hard during a hike). 

I started running and hiking on a regular basis about 5 years ago for recreation and conditioning and run between 3 and 5 days a week. For the first three years I had severe back pain the morning after an evening run and the afternoon and evening after a morning run. I tried orthotics, additional stretching, etc with no relief. I bought a pair of Merrill "barefoot" or "minimal" style shoes and gradually transferred to running in them and have no more back pain and what I would characterize as normal aches and pains after a long run. They do not work for everyone but at this point I don't want to run in anything but minimal style shoes. Just my two cents.

I believe that's what they call being 'lawyered'!!!!

Well said leadbelly, couldn't agree more.

"for me, minimal shoes represent a way to get my feet and legs stronger, more fit, and more resilient by working a broader range of muscle groups than I otherwise would with more supportive shoes or boots.  I'm a severe overpronator and I weigh over 200 pounds."

Are you talking to me :)

I agree with this completely.  This past year I've switched from wearing Keen Targhee's to Merrell Mix Masters and I feel so much difference not just on my cadence but also my stride - each step for me personally seems less strenuous with the Mix Masters. The Mix Masters aren't quite zero-drop but minimal and flexible enough.

Good stuff. I've been trying to avoid describing these shoes in terms of "drop" and "stack height," instead favoring a once-over of the overall construction of the shoe...looking for flexibility, a wide toe box, no heel counter, simplicity in design, etc...

I do this because, technically, some thing like Hoka One One shoes fit into many minimalist categories on account of their promoting a mid-foot strike and having near-zero drop, but they are not a shoe I would call minimal.

I guess I'm trying to cut through all the marketing BS, and I'm not finding it an easy thing to do...

By the way, I have experienced similar results from doing my runs in more "minimal" shoes. In High School and the Army I used to run in full on Nikes and New Balances, with the accompanying shin splints & knee pain; now I have a few pair of "minimal" shoes I employ for my runs/hikes, all in varying degrees of decay. If I know its gonna be a sloppy mud-fest, I wear my La Sportiva Vertical Ks or Vibram FiveFingers TrekSports; if I think the day will bring me a mix of trail and road, I go with my New Balance Minimus 20 Trail shoes.

All of these shoes are what I would call "minimal", but I have trouble assigning the term "barefoot" to even the TrekSports...I used to run around barefoot for nearly my entire adolescent life, and while the TrekSports come close to recreating that feeling of freedom, I'd still much rather just run actually barefoot if conditions allow...maybe I need to make me a pair of Huaraches...

I think "barefoot shoes" as a category name is the ultimate oxymoron in marketing. "Footskins" or "Footgloves" would be more accurate. I have Five Finger Bikilas and Merrel Trail Gloves, and I really like both, for different conditions, much like other posts here. If you are committed to this type of shoe, or even Minimal shoes, you will need more than one kind for varying conditions. Mine are "footskins" of varying thickness, the Trail Gloves offering a zero drop but a 3mm mid-sole for some absorption. The Bikilas have even less absorption material built into the sole. The only time I've hurt myself in these shoes was doing a 6 mile run on asphalt. I do not think these shoes and hard surfaces mix well, but trails? Mmmmmmmm. The freedom of movement and the stability are unmatched. You must ease into regular use, as LeadBelly warned, to avoid injury to untrained muscles, but once you're acclimated, the ability to maneuver across trails and uneven surfaces is incredible and very reassuring. Just take care to avoid sharp rocks. I prefer the more protective Trail Gloves for more technical, rocky trails.

I'll keep my boots, thank you.

Sweet! Keep 'em!

Can a bigger guy run in minimal shoes without sore feet or are these more for the slighter built guys?  I backpack in trail runners now but I feel like a lot of running in thin-soled shoes might mangle my feet.  What do you think PT?

personally, i think it's less dependent on size and more on the dynamics of how you run.  a larger person with a sound uncorrected stride might be OK.  a lot of large people have flat feet; while you can eventually get used to these, even with flat feet (i have virtually no arch and use doctor-built orthotics in regular shoes all the time), i think these could create complications.  

my running in these has been limited to beating traffic lights and doing sprints on grass fields.  they feel GREAT running fast on grass.  

Sage, that's a tough call for me to make. The strength of your feet is maybe the key factor here...if your arches have fallen, it is likely going to be a tough, uphill battle to get your feet where they need to be to run any kind of distance in something like a pair of Vibram FiveFingers. That said, if you already find yourself starting your runs with a mid-foot or forefoot strike, you may be able to transition to them very easily.

Keeping your feet from getting mangled is a matter of good foot placement--you'll need to watch your steps more closely--and toughening up the soles of your feet. Luckily, the learning curve is pretty steep; just a few trail runs in one of the more minimal offerings available will have you looking out for the places you don't want to step, stepping lightly, stepping with "correct" form, and listening to the feedback from your feet/legs...

The reason you see the skinny kids wearing these things more than individuals on the other end of the spectrum is possibly because it is perhaps easier for them to make the necessary changes to their gait. It is a process of adaptation and awareness...however, I'd actually posit that heavier runners might see the benefits from these changes more quickly, as the joints/tendons/ligaments which were before so strained are then allowed to recover...

I'm posting a review on a Scarpa 'Mountain Minimalist' trail shoe very soon. Has some of the advantages of the Five Fingers and similar shoes, but has a more solid midsole and little extras like a toe rand. Seems to be a good combination, using the best of both worlds.

Review posted. Hope it helps clarify the differences. 

I am a avid minimalist shoe wearer. I own, five fingers, new balance minimus, merrell barefoots and fila skeletoes. I can see where they are not for everyone but I personally love them and have never had a issue with them. I wear them running and just cimpleted a 30 mile backpacking trip in north georgia/tennessee with the merrell barefoots and they did great. t

"Barefoot" and "Minimal" are equivelant marketing terms, the former being the least descriptive of what is going on your feet! 

I do much of my road running and much of my everyday walking and hiking unshod.  In rough conditions I'll strap on the home made huaraches. Never owned a set of five fingers, but I like mittens better than gloves In colder conditions I opt for Merrels, and wool socks, till I get into wet winter conditions.

So, what is a "minimal" shoe in your opinion?

It is the same as a "barefoot" shoe?

I'm forming my opinions on these terms as they relate to the current footwear options. What is your understanding of this "barefoot" running movement?


a minimal shoe is no shoe at all,ask a horse how that works all depends on the terrain.also horses don't deal with previous injuries,they become glue.humans have a multitude of physical abnormalities,injuries that require special footwear,prosthetics(which would be a "maximal" shoe)the question is solely dependant on the physical attributes of each individual,so ,180 degrees off, its still dependant on physical minimal shoes is equivalent to no tofu and go barefoot.why waste time of contributors?

Minimalist is discretionary to whomever defines it. Also working in a shoe store, I would personally define minimalist stripping away nearly everything but maintaining some for of arc support, pro/supernation control, and heel rise. For "barefoot" shoes, little more than a strip of rubber, some straps, and the road/trail are what I'd call  the line between the two. Luna Sandals would be a fitting definition for "barefoot".

August 7, 2020
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