best minimalist running shoes

In recent years, interest has grown in barefoot running and as a result, there’s been a huge explosion in the number of minimalist running shoes available.

In todays post we take a look at what minimal running shoes are, how they can benefit you before reviewing 5 of the best minimalist running shoes you can buy.

Pssst. Just wanna see our list of the best minimalist running shoes? Click here to read the reviews now.

What Are Minimalist Running Shoes?

Unlike cushioned or stability shoes, minimalist running shoes are designed to simulate the feeling of running barefoot…

Just like your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, granddaddy would have!

The term ‘minimal’ is a pretty broad term in the running world – while some runners will call lightweight running shoes minimal, for us, when we use this term we’re talking about low drop shoes.

However, even this can cause some confusion as a minimal shoe could mean either

  • A barefoot shoes
  • A true minimal running shoes

So what’s the difference between the two?

Basically, it all comes down to cushioning.

Barefoot running shoes often just have a thin sliver of rubber to separate your foot from the road and should have zero drop from heel to toe. There’s no support, no cushion just rubber and fabric.

Minimalist running shoes on the other hand will have the smallest amount of heel-toe cushioning and will have a drop of between of 4 to 8mm.

The minimalist movement first really started gaining momentum in 2009 when Chris McDougall released Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. In it he argues that for the last 3 decades we’ve been buying into the sports marketing machine, which in 2009 when the book was published was worth an estimated $62 billion.

Most importantly, McDougall believed that we’ve been getting our running footwear completely wrong! This statement seems to be backed up by a Newcastle University study that found that there’s no evidence to support the marketing message that specially designed shoes help prevent injury.

So could running in minimal shoes make you a better runner?

Benefits of Minimal Running Shoes

Okay, now you know what we’re talking about when we use the term minimal or minimalist running shoes now for the benefits of switching to a low drop shoe.

Let’s start with some science…

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that transitioning to minimalist running shoes helps improves running economy in experienced, traditionally shod runners by around 6%.

Other studies have also found some interesting benefits of minimalist running shoes, including:

  • Reduction in ground contact time which can help you run faster for the same energy output
  • A shortening of stride length which helps reduce injuries.
  • Increased stride frequency which again can help you move quicker for the same energy output.

Getting To Know Minimalist Brands

As the new category emerges so do some new challenger brands (to use marketing speak) that you may not have come across before.

In recent years the established brands such as New Balance, Brooks and Nike have starting jumping on the minimalist bandwagon.

However, if you’re looking to buy a pair of minimalist shoes don’t be put off by the new brands on the market as they’re producing some truly innovative running shoes!

Merrell Minimalist Running Shoes

The Merrell shoe brand is taking the minimal running market by storm!

We particularly like their mission statement:

We believe that nothing should get in the way of enjoying active outdoor adventures. So put down that game controller, put your phone on the charger for a minute, and check your excuses at the door. There’s a whole world you can leave your mark on. Run. Jump. Jog. Trip on a root and skin your knee. Just make sure you do your own thing. Do what’s natural.

Origionally starting out as a boot brand, they have slowly transitioned into making some of the best minimal trail and road shoes on the market. For example, Merrell trail running shoes are some of the toughest and most comfortable on the market (as you’ll find out in our review below).

Nike Minimalist Running Shoes

Out of all established brands on the market, Nike are the current leaders in the market with their Nike Free range proving to be incredibly popular with both runners and non-runners alike.

What we like most about Nike minimalist running shoes is that the offer some truly unique designs while the technology helps to promote a more natural motion from landing to toe-off, to help make you a stronger runner.

Best Minimalist Running Shoes

So you’ve read through about minimal running shoes (or prehaps you skipped here from the introduction) and you’re ready to find out which is the best pair of minimalist running shoes on the market.

How did we test the shoes on our list?

We spent a week with each pair of shoes on our list with each pair clocking up over 50 miles, including 1 long run of 15 miles each and some quick tempo runs.

1: Merrell Bare Access Arc 4


Our number one pick is the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4, a road shoe with trail like grip.

Reading the reviews online one thing becomes apparent really quickly – this is a seriously comfortable shoe! There’s no breaking in period for these shoes. Out of the box they feel great and are probably one of the most comfortable shoes for those who’re new to minimal running to try.

The design of the shoe hugs your foot; your heel will feel locked in, your midsole a given good support and the wide toebox helps to give this shoe a really natural feel through the footstrike.

Technical Overview:

  • Weight – Womens: 127g | Mens: 162g
  • Heel height: 13mm
  • Forefoot height: 13mm
  • Heel-toe drop: 0mm
  • True-to-size? Yes

>> Click here to check prices on Amazon <<

2: Nike LunarSpider LT 3

Nike LunarSpider LT 3

Coming in at number two on our list is the Nike LunarSpider LT 3, a relativley new shoe which is certainly packing in a tonne of features.

The Nike LunarSpider LT 3, like all shoes on our list, is light… super light! However, it’s in the way that the LunarSpider feels when on the foot that really sets this shoe apart.

Honestly, this is one of those rare shoes where you almost forget that you’re wearing a shoe!

If you’re looking for a minimalist running shoe that also gives a good level of arch support then you’ll want to consider this shoe over the Merrell Arch 4.

Technical Overview:

  • Weight – Womens: 167g | Mens: 198g
  • Heel height: 11mm
  • Forefoot height: 11mm
  • Heel-toe drop: 0mm
  • True-to-size? Yes

>> Click here to check prices on Amazon <<

3: Merrell Trail Glove 3


In at number three is the second shoe from Merrel to make our list, the Trail Glove 3.

As with all Merrell shoes, the Trail Glove 3 runs well straight out of the box with no breaking in time. The mesh upper provides enough ventilation to keep your foot cool even on the hottest days, while the sole provides just the right amount of cushioning allowing you to run everything up-to half marathon distance.

This is the lightest women’s and mens minimalist running shoe on our list – weighting in at just 127g for the women’s and 162g for the mens!

If we did have a complaint with the Trail Glove 3 it would be that the foam under the arch feels slightly built-up which may put some fans of minimal running shoes off. However, if you’re looking for a great running shoe to transition with from cushioned to minimal then this is the shoe for you.

It’s also worth noting that no animal products or by-products are used in the construction of this shoe making them one of the only vegan running shoes on the market.

Technical Overview:

  • Weight – Womens: 127g | Mens: 162g
  • Heel height: 13mm
  • Forefoot height: 13mm
  • Heel-toe drop: 0mm
  • True-to-size? Yes

>> Click here to check prices on Amazon <<

4: Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon

The second minimal trail running shoe to grace our list, the Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon has become the go-to trail shoe for many minimalist runners.

The grip on these shoes is simply amazing thanks for the use of Vibram MegaGrip technology and the low amounts of cushioning help to create a feeling of connectiveness when running the trails.

Technical Overview:

  • Weight – Womens: 153g | Mens: 179g
  • Heel height: 8mm
  • Forefoot height: 8mm
  • Heel-toe drop: 0mm
  • True-to-size? Size runs a little small

>> Click here to check prices on Amazon <<

5: Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

Experienced minimalist runners will find the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila to be an absolute joy to run in!

The fit is great and it’s without a doubt one of the most flexible shoes on our list. It’s another shoe where you soon forget you’ve got anything on your feet and gives just enough rubber to protect you from debris.

Lacking any kind of support at all, this is a shoe for those who’re already use to running in minimalist running shoes.

Technical Overview:

  • Weight – Womens: 136g | Mens: 183g
  • Heel height: 13mm
  • Forefoot height: 13mm
  • Heel-toe drop: 0mm
  • True-to-size? Yes

>> Click here to check prices on Amazon <<