5 Best Barefoot Hiking Shoes in 2023

Paul Ronto
Paul Ronto on
5 Best Barefoot Hiking Shoes in 2023
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Any time spent in the great outdoors has an awesome way of soothing the mind, body, and soul. If you want to go to the next level, wearing a pair of barefoot hiking shoes will definitely do it. Get that awesome feeling of being as close to Mother Nature as possible, with you and the trail ground under your feet.

From the best-rated brands like the Chaco Ramble Puff, Xero, and the Vibram Fivefingers, you’ve great options to select from. Whether you’re into light hiking or some H2O adventures, we prepared the perfect pair of minimalist kicks that provided us with superb comfort and freedom of movement during our personal moments with the shoes.

To streamline your search, we’ve rounded up and tested the best sought-after barefoot hiking shoes for both men and women. HEAD to the article to see our top highlights with their in-depth reviews.

Best barefoot hiking shoes overall

What makes it the best?

The Vibram Fivefingers V-Trek is a complete package for hiking, trekking, and walking. Thanks to its ankle-high support, comfortable upper, and grippy outsole. Many people are sold by these shoes simply because it speeds them up, gives them the support they need, and protects their feet without losing connection to the ground. This shoe, however, needs some breaking in to achieve a precise fit. Furthermore, its unique structure requires a little bit of "getting used to".


  • Top-notch comfort
  • Superior level of protection
  • Powerful grip and traction
  • Glove-like fit
  • Incredibly Supportive


  • Long break-in period
  • Hard to put on
Full review of Vibram Fivefingers V-Trek

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Any color
Black (W7401)
Green (M7402)
Brown (M7403)

Best barefoot hiking shoes for water activities

What makes it the best?

"These are just badass shoes" perfectly carries the overall sentiment found in the reviews of the Aqua X Sport. Indeed, this grippy kick from Xero Shoes doesn't back down in wet environments, nor is it fazed by dryland in the heat of the sun. Its lightweight, aquatic design is also matched with tons of flexibility and comfort, making watery adventures extra exhilarating.


  • Incredibly tenacious
  • Lighter than the Mesa Trail
  • Super comfortable on day one
  • Effectively expels water
  • Dries quickly
  • Quite versatile
  • Air cool
  • Mighty flexible


  • Pricy for a water shoe
  • Can get odorous
Full review of Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport

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Any color
Moonlit Blue Orange (ARMMBO)
Black (ARMBLK)
Blue/Yellow (ARMBLY)

Best barefoot shoes for urban hiking

What makes it the best?

The Magna FG is a great zero-drop shoe that is versatile and can be worn for walking, hiking, and working out. It offers the typical natural feeling of a minimalist shoe thanks to its lightness, amazing flexibility, and enhanced sensitivity underfoot. It’s comfortable and works for those with wider feet too.


  • Extremely flexible
  • Super-light
  • Grips everything dry and wet
  • Breathable and comfy
  • Holds foot in place
  • Great ground sensitivity
  • Very versatile
  • Wide feet are welcome
  • More protected than other similar shoes


  • Laces are not durable
  • Too expensive
Full review of Vivobarefoot Magna FG

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Best barefoot hiking shoes for cold weather

Chaco Ramble Puff

What makes it the best?

They say that once you go minimal, you can't go back. While debatable, that saying is more believable with the Ramble Puff. Super for light outdoor excursions in the winter, this mighty comfy piece from Chaco takes you places with surefootedness at half the time. On top of all that, the shoe's low asking price is such a treat.


  • Cloud-like comfort
  • Cozy in semi-moderate winter conditions
  • Ridiculously lightweight
  • Grippy both indoors and outdoors
  • Supportive arch (women's version)
  • No-hands slip-on action
  • Budget-friendly


  • Underwhelming debris prevention
  • Flappy straps
Full review of Chaco Ramble Puff

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Any color
Cobalt Blue (JCH108125)
Hi-viz Green (JCH108942)
Red Clay (JCH108129)
Military Olive (JCH107475)
Arctic Chill Mult (JCH108956)
Arctic Chill Blac (JCH107979)
Storm Blue (JCH107477)
Black (JCH108888)
More colors

Barefoot hiking shoes with the best style

Lems Primal 2

What makes it the best?

Are you looking to expand your trove of light hikers? Then let the Primal 2 fill that void. Dubbed by Lems as “more flexible than your Yoga teacher,” this zero-drop shoe enhances barefoot expeditions without compromising underfoot protection. Give it a try—perhaps without its default footbed on—and make your minimalist trail quests even more exhilarating.


  • Comfy
  • Grippy
  • Featherweight
  • Sensitive underfoot
  • Highly packable
  • Tough outsole
  • Debris-protective


  • Uncooperative footbed
  • Subpar breathability
Full review of Lems Primal 2

Comparison of the 5 best barefoot hiking shoes

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# of colorways

One of our favorite parts about the hiking shoe industry is that it’s constantly changing and evolving. We can look forward to new styles, colorways, features, and footwear technologies each year. Lately, we’ve been enjoying learning about “barefoot” hiking shoes.

Barefoot hiking shoes are not necessarily a new idea. However, as of recently, barefoot hiking shoes have been getting a lot of attention. And for a good reason. Keep reading to learn about barefoot hiking shoes and why you should buy a pair (or not). 

Zero-drop or “barefoot” shoes

Zero-drop shoes are a type of shoe that has zero heel-to-toe elevation. In other words, the heel is positioned at the same height as the toes. Zero-drop shoes are commonly called “barefoot shoes” because they hold your foot in a more natural position, similar to barefoot.

Barefoot shoes require 0 millimeters of drop. This translates to zero heel elevation. Minimalist shoes range from 0 to 6 millimeters of drop. Some minimalist designs will even go up to 8 millimeters of drop. Therefore, all zero-drop shoes fit within the minimalist shoe category. However, not all minimalist shoe designs can be categorized as zero-drop.

On the other hand, traditional hiking shoe designs include a heel-to-toe drop ranging from 8 to 14 millimeters. Other differences between barefoot and traditional hiking shoes include:

  • Traditional hiking shoes also tend to be less flexible and less sensitive. 
  • Due to the lack of a cushioned midsole or thick outsole, barefoot hiking shoes typically weigh much less than traditional hiking shoes.
  • The toe box in barefoot hiking shoes is wider than in traditional hiking shoes. This allows your feet and toes to spread out beneath your body fully.

Heel Drop



High Drop: 9-12mm

  • Thick padding for cushioning 
  • More support
  • May inhibit natural stride
  • Heavier
  • Less ground feel

Mid Drop: 5-8mm

  • Ideal for neutral runners
  • Good place to start transition
  • Less cushioning 

Low Drop: 1-4mm

  • Lightweight 
  • Flexible and sensitive
  • Not enough support

Zero Drop: 0mm

  • Barefoot feel
  • Need time to adapt

Advantages of barefoot hiking shoes

The main advantage of wearing zero-drop shoes is that they can keep your foot in a more natural, “barefoot” position. In doing so, you can become less dependent on shoe technology to perform and instead rely solely on your legs and feet in their most natural state.

Enthusiasts of zero-drop shoes herald the design for many other benefits as well.

  • The design builds natural strength in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints in the legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Zero-drop shoes can improve posture and bring your body into a more natural alignment.
  • It can help reduce injuries and pain in commonly affected areas like the knees, hips, and back. 

Drawbacks of barefoot hiking shoes

Ironically, many drawbacks of barefoot hiking shoes come from their advantages. In other words, all the revolutionary differences that make barefoot hiking enthusiasts crazy about them are precisely what other people dislike. That’s why people tend to either love or hate barefoot hiking shoes.

Therefore, it's hard to say barefoot hiking shoes are better or worse than conventional hiking shoes. Nonetheless, depending on what side of the fence you belong to, you may focus more on the drawbacks of barefoot hiking shoes.

  • Zero-drop shoes lack cushioning in the midsole. The outsoles also tend to be very thin. This increases sensitivity and ground feel, which leaves your foot exposed to hard or sharp surfaces like rocks and roots.
  • Zero heel-to-toe elevation is a problem for heel strikers– those who make contact with the ground using their heel first instead of their midfoot.
  • The lightweight materials used in the minimalist construction of barefoot hiking shoes can have issues with durability. They also typically don’t have protective toe caps.
  • Many barefoot hiking shoes are not waterproof. Although many can be water resistant depending on the materials used.     

Transitioning to barefoot hiking shoes

Zero-drop or barefoot hiking shoes are relatively new to the scene despite being thought of as a more natural shoe selection. Most of us have been wearing conventional hiking shoes with some elevation change between the heel and toes without thinking twice about it.

That means our feet have become accustomed to the shape and feel of conventional hiking shoes over the years. That’s why switching to zero-drop shoes can feel like a drastic and uncomfortable change.

Therefore it’s critical to transition slowly to barefoot shoes instead of diving right into the deep end. If zero-drop shoes pique your interest and you want to try them, here are some tips to help you transition.

If you are nervous about the transition, try out a pair of minimalist hiking shoes with 2 to 6 millimeters of drop. If you enjoy how they feel, then go for a complete zero-drop.

  • To start, wear your barefoot shoes for short periods. You can switch back and forth between your new zero-drop shoes and what you wore in the past. 
  • Begin with short hikes on the easy trails. Maybe even consider wearing your barefoot hiking shoes to run errands around town or walk the dog. 
  • Gradually increase the intensity of your hiking and the duration you wear your barefoot hiking shoes. Do so by no more than 10% each week.
  • Overall, commit to a four to six-week transition to give your body ample time to adjust to the new style. Some experts and podiatrists recommend transitioning for even longer.
  •  It will be normal to feel soreness in your calves, ankles, feet, and elsewhere. Remember to perform self-care like stretching and massaging to help your body recover. 
  • If you experience pain throughout the process, pull back and reconsider the intensity of your transition process.

The potential risks of wearing zero-drop shoes

Like with most things in life, moderation is essential. Especially when transitioning to barefoot hiking shoes. If you skip taking the time to let your feet adjust to the footwear style, you could be putting yourself at risk.

Walking or running with no support on hard surfaces allows your foot to collapse. This can lead to intense stress on the foot and other parts of your body. The collapsing of the arches in your feet is called pronation.

Most of us naturally pronate when we walk or run. Pronating is when the foot rolls inward upon landing. The prime reason for pronating is shock distribution.

When we walk or run in barefoot shoes without support, our feet end up pronating for longer. Over time, this can alter the distribution of pressure and weight across the foot and lead to risks such as bunions and hammer toes, pain in the Achilles, heels, and arches, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, stress fractures, and shin splints.

Frequently asked questions

Are barefoot hiking shoes better than conventional hiking shoes?

It’s not up to us to decide whether or not barefoot hiking shoes are better than conventional hiking shoes. It comes down to the person, their preferences, how their body performs with barefoot shoes equipped, and how they feel after the experience.

Are barefoot hiking shoes waterproof?

Typically, barefoot shoes are not waterproof. For example, none of the barefoot hiking shoes included in this article are considered waterproof.

However, due to the materials utilized in their construction, barefoot hiking shoes tend to be water-resistant. They also are well known for breathability and drying out very quickly after getting wet. This is especially true for the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport.

Can I wear barefoot hiking shoes without transitioning slowly?

Yes, technically, you can. However, we do not recommend wearing barefoot hiking shoes for extended periods of exercise without transitioning slowly.

Diving into the deep end of barefoot hiking shoes without first transitioning can lead to injuries such as plantar fasciitis, metatarsal inflammation, stress fractures, and Achilles tendonitis.            

How we test hiking shoes

To pick our recommendations for this guide, we hiked 30+ miles for each pair of barefoot hiking shoes across different terrains. We also check and analyze the materials used in all the models inside our RunRepeat shoe lab. Here’s how we approach our selection process:

  • We purchase barefoot hiking shoes from a variety of brands. This guarantees that our comprehensive reviews are 100% honest and unbiased.
  • We use all these kicks in real-life urban hiking, water hiking, and other outdoor adventures. We check the shoes’ fit, traction, comfort, durability, and performance. Our goal is to get our best personal valuation of the model’s overall worth.
  • After putting in the miles and lab analysis, we give our final assessments based on our experience using the shoes in the field.
  • We collect some more useful data by chopping up the shoes and looking over their interior.
Paul Ronto
Paul Ronto

Over the past 20 years, Paul has climbed, hiked, and run all over the world. He has summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races as well as 6 marathons. On average, he runs 30-50 miles a week in the foothills of Northern Colorado. His research is regularly cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, etc. On top of this, Paul is leading the running shoe lab where he cuts shoes apart and analyzes every detail of the shoes that you might buy.