Ultimate Guide To Barefoot Shoes; Everything You Need To Know

January 20, 2022
Inside this article:

Great job on starting your barefoot journey!

Now that you are on your way, you probably have questions.

Well, we have you covered. Whether you are new to barefoot shoes or have been wearing them for decades, this ultimate barefoot shoe guide will be perfect for you.

1. What are barefoot shoes

Barefoot shoes are designed to mimic the foot's natural ability to move while providing protection. Unlike the traditional shoes that attempt to control and stabilize the foot with extra cushioning, arch support and pronation control devices, these shoes do just the opposite! They force you to strengthen the muscles in your feet by distributing weight over a wider surface area, it mimics the feeling of being barefoot.

A barefoot shoe has the following seven features:

  1. Zero Drop
  2. No Toe Spring
  3. Low Stack Height
  4. Wide Toe Box
  5. No Extra Support or Stability
  6. Lightweight & Flexible
  7. Securely Fitted

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Not sure what these words mean? Click here to learn more about what makes a shoe 'barefoot'.</p>
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Are minimalist or barefoot shoes good for you?

First, they allow your feet and lower legs to move like they were intended to. Our feet and lower legs (and bodies) are designed to absorb the shocks from travelling over different surfaces, so those muscles you feel working in your legs when wearing zero drop shoes are doing what they're supposed to do. This leads not only to less pain, but this has also caused them to be linked to helping with everything from carpal tunnel and plantar fasciitis, to reducing the effects of heel spurs, knee pain and even back pain.

Secondly, they can help strengthen your feet as well as increase flexibility and balance. They force our toes to spread out which can help undo some deformities that develop.

Finally, it's just more fun! Going barefoot or wearing barefoot shoes opens up a world of sensation and movement by letting you feel the ground and your feet working naturally.

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Still curious? Click here to go deeper into the benefits of wearing barefoot shoes.</p>
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Difference between 'Barefoot Shoes' vs. 'Minimalist Shoes' vs. 'Maximalist Footwear'

'Minimalist footwear' is a term that refers to one end of a spectrum with 'Maximalist footwear' being on the other end. Since a barefoot shoe aims to mimic being as close to barefoot as possible, they fall at the extreme end of the minimalist side of the scale.

So you can say that all barefoot shoes are considered 'minimalist', but not all minimalist shoes are 'barefoot'.

On the maximalist side of the scale, you have something like the Hoka Ones that have an 8-12mm heel-to-toe drop and are very inflexible.

Learn more - Still curious? Click here to check out our deep dive into the differences between them.

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Still curious? Click here to check out our deep dive into the differences between them.</p>
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Are barefoot shoes right for you?

Normal, healthy people who are physically active should be fine using zero-drop, barefoot shoes. That said, remember that you've been wearing conventional footwear with a tapered toe box for a long time. It will take a while to adapt to a new movement pattern.

I believe everyone should have the opportunity to go barefoot more often and move more naturally - however, it's not always appropriate for people with health conditions.

The human foot is a sophisticated structure. If you have serious concerns about your feet, get help from experts who can make personalised recommendations. Here's a list of movement experts who have a minimalist philosophy you might be able to help you.

In my opinion, though, the benefits of wearing a barefoot shoe with a wide toe box far outweigh any risks.

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Still not sure? Click here to read our full article on Barefoot Shoes: Are They Right For You?</p>
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2. How to choose the right barefoot shoes

Since you'll likely be buying your barefoot shoes over the internet, it's a good idea to get acquainted with your feet ahead of time.

Feet are as individual as their owners, so just because something is "barefoot" doesn't mean it's appropriate for you. Here are the most important considerations when looking for new footwear.

Choosing the best barefoot brands for you

When choosing a new pair of barefoot shoes, I recommend starting with the style of shoes you wear most often. If you wear Vans, it wouldn't make much sense to go with a pair of Vibram minimalist running shoes. A pair of Xero Shoes Aptos might be a better option.

It is also helpful to consider what the time of year is. Buying a super-thin running sandal in the middle of winter might not be the best decision.

Once you have an idea of what you are looking for, measure your foot carefully according to our guide. That way, you will know which zero drop shoe brands/sizes are good options for you!

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Want to know which are the best barefoot shoes? Check out the results of the Golden Toe Awards as voted for by the community.</p>
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Measuring your feet

I can't emphasize enough the importance of measuring your feet before purchasing. Every brand has its method for making shoes, and not every design will suit every foot. You'll wind up with things that don't fit, paying return shipping and having to look for new options, causing you to waste time and money in the long run.

There are two easy ways to measure your feet:

  • Method 1: Wall Method - Most Accurate
  • Method 2: Foot Tracing - Least Accurate

It's important to consider your foot volume and foot shape as these two factors will affect the specific brands you should buy.

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<p>Want to measure your feet? Check out our Complete Guide To Barefoot Shoe Sizing.</p>
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Know your foot shape

No two feet are alike, making it hard to fit a shoe based on sizing alone. There are several distinct shapes of feet, so finding the brand that makes the ideal shoe shape for you is critical.

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<p>Want to know the best barefoot shoes for wide or narrow feet? We break down the best brands for different feet in our Barefoot Shoe Sizing guide.</p>
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How much cushioning do you need

Remember the Minimalist/Maximalist spectrum I mentioned earlier? You get to decide how far along the spectrum towards the 'minimalist' side of you go. It's not an all-or-nothing, one size fits all story. There isn't a right or wrong answer and your experience will be unique to you and your goals (which may and probably will change along the way).

The best advice I can give is this: Head in the right direction.

As long as you opt for a zero drop minimalist shoe with an extra-wide toe box, the cushioning is secondary. It might take some trial and error to figure out the level that works for you initially, especially if you're walking on hard surfaces a lot. But, if you stick with learning from those experiences, then you'll find yourself progressing nicely towards your goals.

Remember, it's about how you move, not what shoes or sandals you wear. Think of your shoes like training wheels for a bike - they help you get started but once you're moving in the right direction, you'll eventually want to ditch them so there isn't anything limiting how fast or slow you can go. There's nothing more useless than a pair of fully barefoot shoes you can't wear for whatever reason.

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Still not sure how much cushioning you need? Check out our longer guide on how much cushioning you need.</p>
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3. Transitioning to barefoot shoes

What to expect from your feet

It takes time to change the way you walk and a minimalist shoe is not a miracle cure. Even the best barefoot shoes are not a short-term fix.

Habits, like walking on your heels or walking with an unusual gait, still cause problems whether or not you are using barefoot shoes. It is important to train your form.

Over time, your feet will likely get wider and more muscular as your barefoot training progresses. Remember, you're asking your feet to do things they are not used to doing. The increased ground feel may be slightly uncomfortable at the beginning, especially if you go fully barefoot with little cushioning.

Remember, there is a difference between discomfort and pain. You absolutely should not feel any pain. If you do, take a step back and go for a minimalist shoe with more cushioning. The phrase 'no pain no gain' might work in the gym but will only lead to more pain when it comes to natural movement.

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<div class="heading-small">Learn More πŸ€“</div>
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<p>Still unsure about what to expect? Check out our in-depth guide to what to expect when transitioning to minimalist shoes.</p>
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How to speed up progress

Wearing minimalist shoes or sandals is a big leap forwards, but there are other important considerations too.

Barefoot-friendly socks

It turns out that socks can make almost as much of a difference as shoes in allowing your toes to be as natural and straight as they should be. Many of the brands making minimalist shoes also make socks.

Re-align your toes with toe spacers

There are other accessories to help speed up your progress too. Toe spacers have a variety of advantages for your feet and can help you feel comfortable in barefoot shoes more quickly. They help align the toes and promote blood flow to the foot. When the big toe is aligned you can use your arch more effectively. They relieve pain from bunions and help prevent further deformity.

Balance beams & boards

Balance boards and beams are an effective and fun way to work on your foot strength and overall body awareness. Balance boards are particularly useful if you are new to barefoot training, or are looking for a fun addition to your barefoot routine. Oh, and they also can make for beautifully unique pieces of furniture!

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<p>Want to know the best barefoot balance beams and Boards? Check out our recommendations here.</p>
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Sensory mats

Sensory mats stimulate your feet by giving them varying textures to stand on, forcing them to move more dynamically. This is important because the typical surfaces we move on (like concrete) don't provide enough variance to use the muscles in the feet.

They can be especially great for those who work on their feet all day or have a standing desk, as it helps to avoid postural fatigue, underuse and overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis.

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<p>Want to learn more about sensory mats? Check out our guide to the best sensory mats on the market.</p>
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Foot strengthening exercises

Aside from wearing your new favorite shoes, there are specific strengthening exercises to speed up the regaining of the natural movement in your feet. This can be especially important if you're intending to start running barefoot as the loads on the body can be intense.

There is also an entire network of modern, movement focussed experts with a 'barefoot' ethos who have amazing free content and services to help guide you on the path!

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<p>Want to accelerate your progress even quicker? Check out the list of the best natural movement courses out there.</p>
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4. Buying tips, tricks and hacks

Since we're typically buying online there's always going to be a risk that we'll get it wrong since we can't physically try them on for size, especially if it's our first purchase.

When I started with barefoot shoes, I wish that I had known all these hacks. They would have saved me a lot of time, money and return shipping fees!

  1. Free Returns with PayPal - This amazing hack from PayPal means that PayPal will provide a free return shipping label or refund the cost of sending it back on eligible purchases. All you have to do is purchase your barefoot shoes through PayPal!
  2. Try Before You Buy With Amazon Prime Wardrobe - Prime Wardrobe lets you try shoes on at home before you buy them. You get seven days after your last item arrives to try on items at home, and send back what you don't want to keep free of charge. You only pay for what you keep.
  3. Cheaper Prices on Facebook Groups - There is a thriving second-hand market for barefoot shoes and sandals on Facebook! It's a great resource for finding shoes in areas that are hard to ship to.
  4. Reddit for Reviews and Advice - One of the best life tips I ever learnt is that when looking for real reviews and opinions on ANYTHING is to type it into google followed by the word 'Reddit'. And it's the same for barefoot shoes.
  5. Get Deals on Amazon Warehouse - Amazon Warehouse resells millions of like-new, open-box, and pre-owned items that have been returned by customers at a great discount.
  6. Sales & Coupon Alerts to Your Inbox - Every week, we compile a list of all the brands that are on sale here and send out a weekly summary to our subscribers! You can sign up at the bottom of this page. We also have specially negotiated discount codes for most of the big brands out there so always check it out before you buy! Brands like Xero Shoes, Vivobarefoot and Merrell often go on sale so this is an easy way to not miss out on the best value.
  7. Check Real World Images - Shoe websites can be quite bad at showing the correct colours of their shoes. So I always type the barefoot shoe model name into Google Images and on Instagram to get an idea of what they look like in real-world conditions.
  8. Get Mens/Womens Shoes Instead - If you have bigger (or smaller) feet, don't be afraid to go for the mens or womens model of the same shoe or sandals!
  9. Ask the Brand - Don't be afraid to ask questions to the brands themselves. They're there to help. Just make sure to give them the information they need like your foot measurements/shape and what other brands or models did or didn't work for you in the past.
  10. Look for a Local Retailer - If you're lucky to have a physical retailer that stocks minimalist footwear, you're the envy of the community. Start there if you have the option!

5. Maintaining your minimalist barefoot shoes collection

They might be expensive, but I like to think of barefoot shoes as a good investment because if you look after them properly they'll be with you for a long time.

Depending on the material of the shoe, the way that you should clean them will be different. For example, leather shoes should be spot cleaned only whereas fabric barefoot shoes can take a more thorough clean by being dunked in warm, lightly soapy water.

Once cleaned, you'll want to protect them with special treatment. Again, depending on the material, you'll want to use different treatments. Shoe wax helps keep leather hydrated while also preventing water from seeping into its pores. Good quality waterproofing sprays help keep fabric shoes breathable and protect barefoot shoes from moisture.

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<p>Want more information on how to maintain your barefoot shoes? Check out our barefoot shoe maintenance guide.</p>
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6. Changing the fit of your barefoot shoes

Perhaps your feet have gotten bigger and your need a little more room in your shoes. Or perhaps you simply opted for a model that was the wrong size or shape for your foot.

We've all been there, but, thankfully, shoes are can be easily modified to gain or lose a little space if needed.

Too big, use tongue pads, thick socks or heel grips to get a better fit. Too small and you can stretch your shoes with a wooden shoe stretcher.

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<p>Want to learn more about modifying your shoes? We wrote a deep dive into modifying your barefoot shoes.</p>
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7. The bottom line

Minimalist and barefoot shoes are a great way to regain natural movement and strength in your feet. By using this guide you can make sure that you get the right minimalist shoes for you every time:

  1. Understand what a barefoot shoe is and what the benefits are
  2. Figure out your own foot shapes and take measurements
  3. Know which brands and styles are right for you
  4. Get the best deal with our tips, tricks and hacks
  5. Strengthen your feet
  6. Maintain your barefoot shoes for the long-term

If you found this article helpful, please share it with someone who might also be looking to start their barefoot journey!

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