Barefoot shoes and barefoot running exploded in the last decade, largely after the release of Born to Run by Christopher McDougall in 2009 in which the author concluded that modern trainers lead to more harm than good. While we’ll leave that up to the experts to decide, we can certainly help you find the best barefoot shoes in the UK.
When shopping for barefoot shoes or sandals you’ll need to decide if you want the shoes to be waterproof or wide-toed, and you need to think about their purpose - for example, running, hiking or even just casual walking. Our buying guide will take you through the main considerations and benefits to think about and show you some of our favourites from top brands like Vibram, Merrell and Vivo.
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Before we dive into the benefits of barefoot shoes, we must note that they are a hotly debated topic that many runners and scientists still disagree over. In the fight for barefoot shoes, people champion the fact that they encourage a low gait. This means you land on your midfoot or forefoot rather than your heel, which helps reduce the risk of overstriding - one of the main causes of injury to a person’s joints.
Additionally, the thinner soles ensure that you can feel the ground beneath you. While this might be uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re used to wearing thick, cushioned trainers, this will help you improve your proprioception, which in turn fine-tunes your body's mechanics, improving your perception while running.
In our buying guide, we’ll be looking at a bunch of different factors, including the exterior of the shoe, what you plan on using them for and the construction. By having that little bit more information, you’ll be able to make a better, more informed decision and therefore won't be wasting your money!
The first thing you need to consider is where you plan to spend most of your time in these shoes - road or trail. The main difference between the two styles is the soles. Most barefoot shoes are made with trail running in mind, so these are the most common option available. Trail shoes often have thicker lugs to provide more grip, making them sturdier on wet and less firm surfaces.
Road barefoot shoes are less common because, frankly, not many people like to wear them. Because running is such a high impact activity, especially on hard surfaces such as tarmac, many road runners prefer shoes with cushioned midsoles to protect their joints. That said, they’re not impossible to find. If you're unsure where you'll be running or hiking, look for a pair that cater to both.
As with all shoes, you’ll want to consider the materials involved in the construction. The outer materials of barefoot shoes are generally made of synthetic materials as they’re more flexible and breathable. Plus, they’re much better at repelling water, which is handy when you consider our country's climate.
The other alternatives are sandals, which, as you’re probably aware, have very little upper material or leather. These shoes are more suited to walking rather than running, although they’ll still work fine when exercising in a gym environment.
The other vital material that will need taking into consideration is that of the sole of the shoe. Now, most, if not all, will use rubber. It’s a favourite because it’s low cost, but the proficiency is also top-notch. The material is non-slip, relatively low weight, breathable and waterproof.
However, there are different variations of rubber. Two of the top options are EVA and Vibram. These are mostly rubber but blended with other components that strike a balance between durability and traction, and these are found on the more expensive, professional-grade shoes.
Next, you’ll want to consider the type of closure. Most of the shoes have laces, however, you often get the option of choosing between traditional (manual) or the more modern speed lace mechanism. These are structured like the classic style but use a toggle system that is squeezed and pulled, speeding up the process - hence the name.
Some shoes also offer slip-on options, which are quick and easy but can become loose over time, so might need replacing sooner. Of course, if you opt for sandals, then the closure mechanism will be the traditional straps. At the end of the day, as long as they keep your feet securely in place, then they’re doing their job!
When choosing shoes, people don’t often consider the size of the toe box (the front of the shoe). However, did you know that some narrow toe boxes can disable certain muscles in your feet? This leads the muscles to become weaker, which isn’t exactly ideal when you’re looking to set a new PB or trek your way to the top of Scafell Pike.
However, finding the exact width of the toe box can be difficult, but don't worry; we've made the process a little easier. After doing our research and reviewing the information from each company's website in our top 6 list, we've given each shoe a rating of either wide or medium.
If you have narrow or regular-width feet, then either option should be fine. If, however, you’ve got somewhat plumper paws, we’d recommend sticking to the wide-toed options. Comfort is everything when it comes to feet!
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FiveFingers Classic Trainers
A Must-Try Shoe Featuring Separated Toes
Primus Trail II FG
Firm Ground or Soft Ground, Take Your Pick
Bare-XF 210 V3
Road Runners With a Zero-Drop Design
Escalante 2.5 Running Shoes
A Responsive Base With Lightweight Breathable Fabric
Vapor Glove Luna 3
One of a Kind Leather Shoes With a Supportive Sole
Moab Drift Hiking Sandals
Ultra-Lightweight and Compact for Holiday Trekking
We're sure that whenever you mention barefoot shoes, the response is often "oh! Those gloves for your feet" or something similar. What many people don't know is that they're likely referencing the Vibram FiveFinger Classic. While there are many competitors nowadays, these are still the most popular, and at one point, accounted for 2% of all running shoe sales!
Many barefoot enthusiasts swear by these and have been wearing them since they were released. They are a learning curve, especially because of the separated toes, which supposedly allows you to have better contact with the ground. They're not for everyone, but we believe every barefooter should give them a try!
This unique offering from Vivobarefoot Primus Traill II comes in two different options, FG and SG, which stand for firm ground and soft ground. Here, we've opted for the FG, but the best pair for you will depend on the type of terrain you prefer to explore,
The biggest difference between the two styles is the FG don't have such deep lugs, meaning they're a little more versatile between road and trail. On the other hand, the SG will be much better suited to getting you out of bogs and mud.
While many barefoot shoes are for wearing in nature, this pair from Inov-8 works just as well on man-made surfaces. One of the best features of these shoes is the materials that offer improved breathability, which ensures your feet remain cool, dry and, most importantly, comfortable while you work out.
They have a zero-drop design, meaning there is no difference in height between heel and toe, and interestingly, these shoes also have a range of toe box options grading from the narrowest at 1 to the widest at 5. Plus, many folks comment on their sturdiness, meaning they should stick with you for a while!
The Escalante 2.5 is a fan favourite among Altra lovers. The outer material has a sock-like fit, as well as being completely breathable, comfortable and lightweight. Below that, the soles offer a soft, responsive base that is sure to improve overall performance.
Sadly, the shoes do have an issue with being a little flimsy making them not quite as robust or long-lasting as some of the other options. It could see you needing to replace them sooner than you'd possibly want!
The Vapor Glove Luna 3 from Merrell are a unique, one-of-a-kind build in the world of barefoot shoes. Their outer is made from leather, making them more akin to hiking rather than running, however, they do have the classic material underneath, with a Vibram sole.
They sport traditional laces and come in a lovely ultramarine blue colour. We wouldn't recommend any marine activities but these are a great option if you're willing to work within their boundaries. However, if you'd prefer something a little more flexible, then this might not be the best bet.
If you're in the market for some barefoot sandals, then these babies from the well-known outdoors brand Merrell are perfect. They're ultra-lightweight, weighing a measly 147 g, and super compact, making them ideal for those who like trekking both at home and abroad.
Furthermore, due to the nature of sandals, you won't have to worry about a smaller toe box. However, some buyers have found that the shoes aren't as comfortable as one might wish, making them a little annoying if you need to use them frequently.
A stunning hike of epic proportions can quickly turn into a long, arduous, miserable walk if you're not prepared. Having the right kit can make one hell of a difference when it comes to spending considerable time outside. Get prepared by reading some more of our buying guides on hiking essentials that will keep you safe, comfortable and happy while exploring the great outdoors.
Now that you've got a little more information on barefoot shoe options, it's time to strap yourself in and set off on the trails. It will be a learning curve, but here's to hoping these help you create a new PB!
Author: Lewis Clark
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