"How can you be barefoot and be in a shoe?"
"Does that mean you're not supposed to wear socks with them?".
The term 'barefoot shoes' was destined to confuse. Let's unconfuse it...
Barefoot shoes are designed to mimic being barefoot without compromising on protecting your feet from the environment. Check out our Ultimate Guide To Barefoot Shoes if your new to the world of barefoot shoes.
They're shoes but with all the 'extra stuff' taken away.
Okay, so how much stuff needs to be taken away for a shoe to be considered 'barefoot'?
Here's a breakdown of what makes a shoe barefoot.
*before diving in, there's a difference between barefoot shoes and minimalist shoes.
1. Zero Drop
Traditionally designed shoes position your heels ~12-16mm (just over half an inch) higher than your toes creating a downwards slope.
The distance from the bottom of the slope to the top is what is called the 'drop'.
In contrast, zero drop shoes have no slope. No difference in height between the heels and toes. No 'drop'.
Instead, the entire foot sits level with the ground in the most natural and stable position, just like being barefoot.
This is sometimes called the 'heel-to-toe drop'.
2. Wide Toe Box
This is what makes barefoot shoes look different from modern shoes.
Instead of being tapered around the toes to create a slim look, barefoot shoes do the opposite and go wider.
A wider toe box allows your toes to spread naturally, giving your whole foot enough room to expand and retract inside the shoe under pressure.
3. Low Stack Height
Imagine every part of your shoe that is between your foot and ground. That is what is called the 'stack' and when you measure its height, you get the 'stack height' of the shoe.
A barefoot shoe aims to make the stack height as small as possible. This means that barefoot shoes have a very thin sole that is very flexible and give you great 'ground feel'.
In general, anything below 10mm (0.4 inches) is considered thin enough.
4. No Stability Or Motion Control Devices
Anything that 'does the work' for you is removed.
Remember, the aim of a barefoot shoe is to help you to move naturally and build strength and flexibility in your feet.
These include arch support, insoles, ankle support, extra padding, cushioning, and orthotics.