10 Best Barefoot Running Shoes in 2021
Made for those who want to run as naturally as possible, barefoot running shoes have little to no cushion in them, allowing for maximum ground feel. Choosing the right pair is as critical as conditioning your body and feet to the demands of barefoot running. Otherwise, you might end up injuring yourself.
And if you’re on the lookout for the best of the best among barefoot shoes, this list is made just for you. Here, you’ll find different models from different categories that we’ve tested out ourselves to make sure they are worth recommending.
Overview of this guide
How we test barefoot running shoes
Having tried hundreds of running shoes, we know which ones are bad, so-so, and those that are really good. And in this list, we’re going for the finest ones.
Without our shoe testing lab and methodical processes, we couldn’t have done it. And to truly give you a fluff-free review, we always buy our shoes with our own money. To further our scrutiny, we also do the following:
- Clock up 30-50 miles in all the barefoot shoes we test to see how sturdy they are and how they run
- Cut them into sections and measure every aspect (like ventilation, softness, flexibility, stability, etc)
To generate a CoreScore of 0-100, we collect thousands of user and expert feedback to see how each shoe ranks against others.
The Xero Shoes HFS is so great, it tops this list after reigning king in our picks for best minimalist running shoes. If you’re looking for the cream of the crop among barefoot running shoes, this is it.
Of course, it’s not without reason. First, the HFS stunned us with its comfort. For such a minimal design, we were blown away by the coziness and flexibility it provided underfoot.
Even better, it encourages a natural-feeling ride with its wide toe box. Our toes splayed comfortably, not once did we feel like they were restrained.
A lightweight shoe? This IS lightweight. At 6.8 oz, we were in awe. And on the run, we were even more amazed. It felt like air, we completely forgot about it! Even more, it was a marvel during sprints.
Its design may not be what we consider the “exemplar” of minimalism, but fret not, it doesn’t swear off ground feel. If anything, we felt everything underneath, allowing us to maneuver with ease.
Because of its minimalist style, we were quite skeptical about its durability. But after 50 miles of beating, it came out looking untouched. From the upper down to the outsole, it has NO wear and tear.
Best for trail
When it comes to the great outdoors, nothing beats Merrell. And this is further solidified by the Merrell Trail Glove 6. If there’s one thing about it that we can’t wrap our head around, it’s the versatility it offers.
Whether you’re hiking, running, training, or just walking around town, you can rely on the Trail Glove 6. It’s THE shoe for everything!
It killed it in the functions department, but wait till you hear about its grip. We paced it through light trails and wet conditions, and it’s been the absolute best. From the first mile down to the last, we were surefooted as ever. No slips at all.
Like the rest of the shoes on this list, it’s extremely light. So much so, we were just breezing through our runs without it dragging us down. It’s so light, it felt like socks.
The Merrell Trail Glove may skimp on weight, but when it comes to support, it doesn’t cut corners. Even on the most rugged terrain, it gave us all the stability we needed. Missteps are not in its vocabulary.
To seal the deal, the Trail Glove 6 from Merrell is sustainable. If you want to amp up your trail runs while saving the environment, get this shoe.
Best budget shoe
At $80, the Merrell Vapor Glove 5 is everything we consider great value.
As a barefoot running shoe, it’s beyond excellent. It gave us all the ground feel we could ask for. Taking everything up a notch, it’s also very versatile.
From running, hiking, gym training, and walks, it’s nothing short of superb. From the bottom up, our feet were not only cradled with comfort, they were also very supported. The fit is incredibly snug, we had NO issues with slips.
Speaking of fit, there’s more than enough space in the toe box, making the ride even more natural. Our toes had enough wiggle room, it was hard to feel uncomfortable in it.
Taking this shoe a step further is its grip. It’s a solid 10/10. On rocky terrain, the Vapor Glove 5 bit its way through fantastically!
And the perks don’t stop there. To be frank, we weren’t expecting much from a cheap running shoe, especially in the strength arena. But when we put it to the (rough) test, we were awestruck.
Wearing it down is so difficult, it’s even better than all the expensive shoes we’ve tried!
Best with toe pockets
In the world of barefoot running shoes, Vibram FiveFingers reigns supreme. And if you’re not convinced, we’re telling you, the KSO EVO is here to change your mind.
In terms of comfort, nothing comes close to this shoe. It has a glove-like wrap, and dedicated toe pockets, our feet were not only locked in position, they were also wrapped cozily.
The first time we put it on, we were already head-over-heels in love. The step-in feel has been fantastic, thanks to the plush-fitting upper that hugged our feet with cushiness.
And if you don’t want to switch gears from the road to the trail, or simply want one shoe for both, the KSO EVO can fit the bill. It’s traction is solid in both terrain, we never lost our step!
Stability is made even better by the rigid insole placed in the shoe. It kept our strides very steady, and our feet very supported, especially on uneven surfaces.
Above all, despite all the ground feel the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO permitted, our feet and legs never felt beat-up.
If you’re switching to veganism, we can’t recommend the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite II enough. It’s not just great because it doesn’t contain any animal product nor has it been tested on animals. It’s great because it performs with flying colors!
On both road and trails, it excels. The outsole has a claw-like grip, it’s hard to feel unstable in this shoe.
But what really took our breath away was the upper. Despite being made out of recycled plastic, it didn’t shy on comfort - it didn’t rub on the skin. If anything, it lodged our feet with pure softness.
You might think barefoot shoes don’t have much to offer in protection. But not this shoe. Despite its minimalist approach, our feet didn’t feel any poking from the sharp rocks and roots underneath. We were just blazing through the trails with confidence.
The Primus Lite’s fit was out of this world! From the rear to the midfoot, it was a sock-like wrap. In the forefoot, it was exceptionally roomy, taking comfort a step higher.
It’s not the lightest barefoot running shoes in our arsenal. But it’s not a deal-breaker because when we ran in it, it still felt like nothing.