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If you are a frequent user—or at least familiar with—minimalist running shoes, you would know right away that the name implies to the amount of cushioning placed in the midsole of the shoe. Minimalist running shoes are identified by a low stack height and zero arch support, which make them unideal for overpronators. Several minimalist running shoes on the market are specifically targeted for either road or trail. In this article, we will discuss the minimalist trail running shoes.

Minimalist trail running shoes are a bit of an enigma. On one hand is the idea (often a misconception) that trail running shoes are typically constructed with more material. On the other hand is the distinct characteristic of minimalist shoes to have zero to a little amount of midsole. Therefore, the combination of these two distinct categories makes for a unique, albeit unusual, running shoe.

What to look for in a minimalist trail running shoe

When looking for a suitable pair of minimalist trail shoes, one should take into consideration the following criteria, to ensure a comfortable and safe ride on the outdoors:

  • Flexibility. A good-quality minimalist shoe is able to be folded on itself. When a minimalist trail running shoe can be folded with the heel part touching the toe part, then you have got yourself a flexible shoe. This quality allows for more mobility and also promotes a more natural foot movement. On the trails, this is especially helpful when frequenting lightly treaded surfaces.
  • Fit. In a minimalist trail running shoe, the fit oftentimes makes up for the lack of cushioning. A shoe may either be close-fitting or snug. When choosing the best minimalist trail shoe, go for a pair that has a tight fit, especially in the heel area. A well-constructed shoe will allow the foot to move freely and endorse more stability on various terrains.
  • Outsole. A good minimalist trail running shoe should not sacrifice an efficient grip and underfoot protection. In selecting your minimalist trail shoe, an ideal pair would be one that has a sufficient amount of lugs that allow for grip in both soft and hard trails. Some trail shoes also use specialized rubber in the outsole that makes uphill and downhill runs easier.

Popular minimalist trail running shoe brands

best minimalist trail running shoes
Best minimalist trail running shoes - November 2019

Vibram FiveFingers

The Vibram FiveFingers brand has established their niche early on as a shoe manufacturer for outdoor activities, including trail running. Designing their shoes as minimalist, the brand aims to create footwear that replicates the feeling of being barefoot. Vibram FiveFingers shoes work under the concept of barefoot running as helpful in reducing foot pain—including plantar fasciitis and ankle sprain—because the lack of cushioning encourages a natural footstrike.


Another minimalist running shoe manufacturer, the Vivobarefoot brand utilizes a unique shoe technology that aims to promote optimum biomechanics and posture. These factors are aided when a person walks and runs barefoot, which is what the shoes strive to recreate. The minimalist trail shoes produced by Vivobarefoot are specially-designed to meet the demands of the changing terrains of the outdoors by helping the foot with balance and foot placement accuracy.


The minimalist trail shoes from Merrell are designed to be durable enough to handle any running style, as well as the unpredictability of the terrain. Because of the minimal construction, these shoes encourage flexibility and agility, but not at the expense of protection. Merrell’s best minimalist trail running shoes aim to provide a running experience that is natural and free, in a lightweight and sturdy package that gives full ground contact.

Frequently asked questions

Why should I choose a minimalist trail running shoe over a traditional one?

A minimalist running shoe is more suitable for neutral pronators who need less or no arch support. As a trail runner, a minimalist trail shoe will allow for a wider, more natural toe splay. This quality is especially useful when you run for long periods of time, as it keeps the foot comfortable for longer.

In addition, a minimalist trail running shoe encourages a midfoot or forefoot strike, as opposed to a heel strike. With such a construction, this kind of shoe would be beneficial for competitive trail runners, who need more speed. A quicker pace could be offered by a minimalist trail shoe as it does not allow for the extra weight that is usually brought by heel-striking.

Is a minimalist trail running shoe less protective?

There is no significant proof that minimalist trail shoes are more susceptible to foot injuries compared to conventional trail shoes. In fact, as minimalist trail shoes promote proprioception, there is less risk of getting injured as the foot has an improved gauge and feel of the ground. Moreover, there are runners who feel more comfortable with the sensation of barefoot running, and therefore are able to run more efficiently.

Overall, the risks of trail running are more or less the same, whether one runs in a minimalist or a traditional running shoe. The protection you receive will still depend on your performance level and the steps you take to safeguard your foot.