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Barefoot Shoes

By Kim Robson:

The human foot is a complex marvel of engineering designed by evolution over hundreds of thousands of years. Its 28 bones absorb enormous impact forces throughout our lives. So why are we so quick to put shoes on them?

Barefoot Is Always Best

Going barefoot produces a lighter, more natural stride. People used to walking barefoot tend to land with the forefoot or mid-foot, allowing for a more rocking motion of the foot, thus eliminating a hard heel strike and generating much less collision force in the foot and lower leg. With less impact and joint torque than wearing a shoe causes, barefooting reawakens foot muscles that have atrophied from a lifetime of wearing shoes. The result is a stronger body with less joint pain, better posture, more mobility, greater health and greater freedom.

A study by Sportscience  compared barefoot/minimalist running to running in modern shoes, and found the following:

  • Going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes that allow natural movement strengthens the muscles of the feet and legs by requiring balance and stabilizing movement.
  • Evidence shows that many ankle and knee problems may be linked to the artificial way of walking created by overly supportive shoes.
  • Less supportive shoes may help strengthen the arches by requiring the muscles of the foot to hold up the arch. Regular use of arch supports may weaken or atrophy foot muscles.
  • Going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes can lead to a more natural gait. Barefoot walkers often strike mid-foot rather than strike with the heel (often seen with cushioned shoes).

For more information, check out The Society For Barefoot Living.

But Let’s Be Realistic

There are lots of places and situations where we simply can’t go barefoot. Luckily, there are lots of options for minimalist “barefoot” shoes that are socially acceptable almost anywhere. To qualify as a “minimalist” or “barefoot” shoe, it must meet these criteria:

  • No Heels — In other words, FLATS. The heel and the rest of the sole must be the same thickness throughout.
  • Flexible — Our entire foot (not just our ankles) is designed to flex and bend as we walk. Shoes should allow for natural movement of the foot.
  • Wide or Open Toe Box — When barefoot, our toes spread out, working to improve balance and stability. Shoes should not constrict the toes.
  • Sticks to Your Feet — You should be able to shake your feet without your shoes slipping off. So, flip-flops and mules do NOT qualify. The shoe shouldn’t require the foot to work to hold it on.

Some Examples of Barefoot Shoes


Toms classic espadrilles are my personal favorite go-to for soft-sided, thin-soled, lightweight shoes. A “normal” looking shoe that’s as comfortable as slippers. No athletic shoes. Also, for every pair purchased, Toms will donate a pair to people in need around the world.

Toe Shoes

“Toe” shoes are minimalist running shoes with separated toes, intended to support barefoot-style running by protecting the foot from rocks and road debris while allowing for natural, dynamic movement. Funny-looking, but their fans swear by them.

Vivo Barefoot Shoes

Wide variety of minimalist shoe options for dress, athletic, amphibious; and casual shoes for men, women and kids.

Xero Shoes

Minimalist shoes, sneakers, athletic sandals (like Teva) and huaraches in adult sizes.

Amphibious Shoes

Inexpensive minimalist option, great for growing feet, fun patterns for kids, versatile, quick-drying.

Yoga Slings

I just got a pair of these for ten bucks at the drugstore to replace my old flip-flops, and I absolutely LOVE them. They’re super comfortable and lightweight, and with the hidden elastic bands over the arch and around the back of the heel, they will NOT slip off.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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