The Best Minimalist Running Shoes:
How to Shop for Them

Here are some tips on how to find a pair of the best minimalist running shoes. 

Remember, most shoes will need to be replaced every 350-500 miles. (Unless you are running in a pair of Xero's shoes which have a 5,000 mile warranty on them!) With minimalist running shoes, you should be able to get more life out of them. If they are still comfortable and they aren't falling to shreds, I always hang on to mine and squeeze a few more miles out of them. 

Questions to ask yourself when considering which is the best minimalist running shoe for you: 

  • How big is the heel?
  • How much padding is on the bottom of the shoe?
  • How wide is the toe box?
  • Is there an arch support?
  • Is the length of the shoe big enough?
  • How flexible is the shoe?
  • Is it comfortable?

What to look for when shopping for the best minimalist running shoes:

1. The lowest heel-toe drop possible.

You want to minimize that heel as much as possible.

If you are just starting to transition to minimalist shoes find a shoe that has around a 4mm heel to toe drop. (You can find the ones that I recommend here)

If you are ready for a zero-toe drop then this best but you should not just jump straight into zero drop shoes without first transitioning. You can read about how to transition to minimalist running shoes here.                                                             

Something that you should be aware of: a lot of shoes will tout that they are minimalist with a zero-toe drop but then have this huge pad of foam on the bottom of the shoes. There is no toe drop but there is also no pro-prioception being allowed either.

So this leads us into…

2. Choose a shoe that has the least amount of material that you can handle between the foot and the ground. 

The best minimalist running shoes for your feet are the ones that have barely any padding on the bottom.

This might be something that you have to work towards but this will allow for those mechano-receptors to do their job in giving your body proper feedback.

3. No arch support.

Why? Because an arch support weakens the job of the foot's most intrinsic muscles. This causes them to atrophy and not perform as they should and leads to one of the most common running injuries: plantar fasciitis.

That means that practically all traditional running shoes are out of the picture.

4. A wide toe box.

This is one of those tell-tale signs of the best minimalist running shoes out there.

You need to give your toes enough room to naturally splay outwards.

As Dr. McClanahan suggests, take the shoe insert out of the shoe. Place your shoe on the insert. If your foot fits on it without your toes going past the edges than it is wide enough. If the toes do extend past, it is too narrow for your foot and will undergo modern day foot binding. 

5. There should be almost a thumb’s width between the toe and the front of the shoe

Your feet will be moving around as you run and you want to let them do their thing without having the tip of the shoe interfering.   

Also, if there is not enough space you run the risk of developing runners toe ( your toenail turns black and falls off – a common problem with long-distance runners).

6. The lighter the shoe the better in terms of running economy, VO2 consumption (how much oxygen your body needs to keep a certain pace).

However, the best minimalist running shoes, by their very nature are incredibly light so this should not be too much of a problem.

7. Flexibility.

Again, the best minimalist running shoes will be highly flexible. So flexible in fact that they can curl up into a ball making them easy transports for in between times that you can't be doing your most favorite thing but want to keep them around just in case. You know those times.

The main reason you want flexibility is to allow your feet to be able to move in their natural gait.

Also, if it is too inflexible it will cause your calf muscles to work much harder leading to problems such as Achilles Tendonitis.  

There are other benefits as well, such as substantially strengthening the leg (shank)  muscles.                                                                                                                                               

As a side note: if you do decide that only traditional running shoes are for you, then a more flexible a shoe in the forefoot area, the better it will be able to help dissipate the ground forces.  (Refer to the following pictures)

8. Comfort!

Even if you are not convinced on riding the minimalist train, remember that comfort is going to be the biggest factor that you should look at when buying a pair of running shoes.

There is not one single shoe that can fix everyone's problems.

You might be prescribed a certain long distance running shoe to fix your pronation or plantar fasciitis but if it doesn't feel comfortable on your foot, it's not going to help anything.

Only you can decide what is most comfortable for you.

Download this free minimalist shoe shopping checklist. It has prompts to ask yourself concerning each shoe you look at and a space to write down what shoes that you have found, which ones you want to try on, research reviews on, or buy!

Or just make it easy on yourself & Shop Our Running Shoe Store! All of the shoes in our shop check the boxes. 

Other Quick Tips:

  • Try new running shoes on later in the day as your foot tends to swell throughout the day.

  • When trying on the shoes at the store, lace the running shoes carefully. If the shoe is too tight it can cause the tops of your feet to become sore during runs and can unnecessarily squeeze your metatarsals (located on the top of your foot). However if the shoe is too loose you will be more prone to blisters so make sure you get the right balance of tightness!
  • If you wear socks while running then wear similar ones when trying on shoes. This will give you an idea of how tight the shoe will be when you are running.
  • Check insoles for rough seams or coarseness. This can cause blisters. The arch support should be smooth and transition into the rest of the insole smoothly and evenly. 
  • Depending on what surfaces you normally run on you will want to check for traction on the bottom of the shoe.
  • Don't be a brand snob. Sometimes all you need is to just try a shoe from a running brand that you have never worn before. 

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