Recent research has raised questions about how good traditional running shoes are for our feet. After all, humans were able to run long before cushioned midsoles were invented, and our feet and legs are well-adapted to running long distances without help from shoes. Some of these studies suggest that running as close to barefoot as possible has a number of benefits, including strengthening your feet and legs, and limiting overuse injuries such as Achilles tendinopathies and plantar fasciitis.
Riding this wave of research, minimalist running shoes are becoming increasingly popular. Even if you aren’t interested in switching over completely to minimal shoes, working a pair into your shoe rotation might be a good option. There is other research suggesting that running in different types of shoes also helps avoid injury and build strength.
We have compiled a list for you of the best minimalist running shoes. These shoes are not “barefoot” shoes, but they do have minimal cushioning and typically a 0 to 4 mm heel-to-toe drop, meaning that you will have the perfect in-between of barefoot running shoes and traditional running shoes.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
1. New Balance Minimus 20v7 Trainer
With the New Balance Minimus 20v7 trainer, you’ll experience the perfect fit. Even people who have difficulties finding shoes that fit the shape of their entire foot well won’t have that problem with the 20v7. The toe box is especially accommodating without sacrificing fit, and the shoe is supportive all the way around the foot.
Thanks to nylon-infused yarn, the knit upper forms a barrier around your foot, giving you protection and lateral support. With the monomesh windows, you’ll experience increased ventilation, keeping your feet dry and comfortable.
Finally, the Vibram outsole provides good traction and helps you feel the ground, helpful for both running and strength training. Plus, the asymmetrical collar made from molded foam provides a more natural heel fit, making this a great minimalist shoe with a snug fit.
- Solid sole
- Great traction
- Can help you feel the ground more
- Runs a bit narrow
- Fabric can be unsupportive
Best Minimalist Shoe for Pavement
2. Altra Escalante 2.5
The Altra Escalante 2.5 will give you the snug, secure, and stable fit you need during your runs with an internal midfoot strap and sleek heel cup. In addition, your feet will stay comfortable with the breathable knit upper. Altra’s EGO technology will give you increased durability and responsiveness, helping you perform at whatever level you need or want.
Like all Altra shoes, the Escalante features a zero-drop platform; advocates of this claim that zero-drop shoes promote a midfoot-striking stride, which in theory makes you a more efficient runner and less likely to get hurt. One way or the other, your toes will be happy with the foot-shaped toe box that allows your toes to spread out, which is especially helpful going up or down hills.
Finally, the innerflex grid-like grooves in the midsole increase the shoe’s flexibility, allowing for increased speed and improved performance. And all of this in snazzy version with 360-degree reflectivity and sleek color patterns.
- Wider toe box is comfortable
- Light and cushiony
- Nice energy return
- Great protection
- Conforms to the foot well
- Some heel slippage
- Stock laces are often too short
Top Minimalist Shoe for Trail
3. Altra Superior 4
If you loved the previous versions of Altra’s Superior trail shoes, you’ll enjoy the Superior 4. As a Runner’s World review notes, the Superior 4 is Altra’s lightest trail shoe yet. And the weight gains have not come at the expense of quality and durability.
A redesigned upper wraps the foot and adds security and support. Plus, the foot-shaped toe box will permit your toes to spread out naturally, giving you added stability and comfort.
Similarly, the zero-drop platform places your heel and forefoot at the same distance from the ground, meaning that you will naturally gravitate toward proper, low-impact running form. In addition, the outsole now has improved traction with the sticky MaxTrac rubber, and the canted lugs positioned beneath the metatarsals will give you added traction at toe off.
Finally, the gaiter trap permits a strapless gaiter attachment, so that you can keep debris out of your shoes on even the most rugged trails. If you are looking for a lightweight and fast trail shoe, the Superior 4 is the way to go.
- Light, responsive, and comfortable
- Nice, snug fit
- Stretchy, breathable, and durable upper
- Great traction
- Foam midsole can break down
- Not a good option for over-pronators
Best Nike Minimalist Running Shoe
4. Nike Free RN Commuter
We can’t say enough good things about the Free RN Commuter. If you’re looking for a nice snug fit—a “sock” like fit—you’ll find that with these shoes. Plus, you can customize the feel to suit you perfectly. The adjustable toggle-and-hook closure allows you to transition between running and other activities seamlessly.
The upper is lightweight and pliable, making it easy to pack and comfortable to run in. At the same time, the bootie construction will give you the snug and secure fit you’re looking for in a minimalist shoe.
Finally, the wide webbing will wrap your midfoot, giving you extra protection, and the tri-star outsole pattern will provide you with flexible cushioning. If you’re looking for a shoe that is flexible for both running and gym use, you’ll find all-day comfort with the Free RN Commuter.
- Lightweight rubber sole
- Great, comfortable fit
- Easily adjustable toggle lacing
- Light and flexible, but with plenty of cushion and support
- Runs small
- Poor traction
Best Minimalist Shoe for Men
5. Adidas Solar Ride
If you need a supportive shoe that is designed for longer runs, the adidas Solar Ride are the ones for you. The mesh upper is designed to be breathable while at the same time adding stitched-in reinforcement to provide targeted support.
Plus, the flexible cushioning will give you a comfortable run, no matter how long you’re going. Similarly, the bounce midsole will give you a spring in your step, delivering a bouncy yet efficient ride.
Finally, the rubber outsole is specifically designed with enhanced impact zones. You’ll experience ultimate durability and traction no matter how hard you push your limits with the Solar Ride.
- Great design
- Good variety of colors
- Can run a little large
Best Minimalist Shoe for Women
6. New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Solas
The Fresh Foam Zante Solas are the epitome of bounciness, flexibility, and lightness. If you want to up your game for tempo runs and fast training, you’ll love the incredibly sleek, sock-like fit of the Zante Solas.
Fortunately, you won’t have to sacrifice cushion and support for the ultra-lightweight Fresh Foam midsole. Similarly, the hypoknit upper provides targeted areas with stretch and support for extreme flexibility.
Finally, the one-piece upper will secure your foot with you barely knowing that it’s there, providing the epitome of silky support. You’ll get the ultimate dynamic fit with focused freedom of movement in your forefoot.
- Very lightweight and flexible
- Great fit for the upper—no seams to rub
- Plenty of cushioning
- Just right fit—true to size
- Could have more color options
- Cannot fit orthotics
Top Value Minimalist Running Shoe
7. Altra Solstice
If you’re looking for a highly adaptable minimalist shoe, you’ll find that in the Altra Solstice. As Runner’s World notes, it’s the chameleon of lightweight running shoes—comfortable enough to keep on even after you work out.
Low, fast, and foot-shaped, the Solstice is great for training miles and races alike. With a zero-drop platform, it’s designed to improve running form. Plus, the foot-shaped toe box allows your toes to relax and splay naturally, providing optimal comfort, stability, and power.
You won’t have to worry about sweating in these shoes with the breathable fabric lining that also offers a great in-shoe feel and a quick-drying mesh upper. Plus, the tongue and collar are lightly padded and the rest of the shoe is cushioned, providing a comfortable, flexible, and lightweight response.
- Extremely comfortable for a zero-drop shoe
- Nice, wide toe box
- Lightweight and no friction points
- Nice amount of cushion
- Lack durability—can only last for a short period of time
- Lacing system could be better
- Weak heel
Best Minimalist Running Shoe for Flat Feet
8. Brooks PureCadence 7
Called a “stability trainer for everyone” and supportive shoe for short-distance runners and marathoners alike by Runner’s World, the Brooks PureCadence 7 provides you responsiveness and flexibility without losing any support.
Brooks’ lightweight GuideRails support technology will guide your hips, joints, and knees to align properly. This means that many runners won’t experience knee or hip pain when using these shoes.
Thanks to the stretch-woven upper and soft internal bootie, your feet will feel comfortable and unrestricted, giving you a close-to-foot fit. In addition, the rounded heel will provide better alignment, meaning that you will minimize stress on your joints.
Finally, the BioMoGo DNA cushioning dynamically adapts to your stride and the flexible soles breaks up impact away from your feet, giving you a plush feel underfoot and a smooth ride.
- Great lightweight feel
- Comfortable and supportive
- Snug fit
- Great for short- and long-distance runs
- Some issues with durability
Best Minimalist Shoe for Wide Feet
9. Altra Torin 5
The Altra Torin 5 is ideal for running a longer race like a half or full marathon as well as being a great shoe to add on extra mileage. If you’re looking for great performance as well as a shoe that is going to fit wider feet, the Torin 5 is an excellent option.
The Torin 5 will help you increase your speed without sacrificing on comfort. Thanks to the mesh in the upper, you’ll have enhanced breathability while the new midsole cushioning is flexible, soft, and cushioned, making the Torin 5 great for everyday training and longer races.
In addition, the synthetic heel will provide durability as well as flair, so you can stay secure and stylish at the same time. Finally, the footpod technology’s unique outsole and midsole pattern mirrors the tendons and bones of your feet, allowing them to flex where they naturally would, ideal for wider feet.
- Do-it-all shoe from 5ks to 100s of miles on the trail
- All the benefits of a minimalist shoe with plenty of cushioning
- Knit material in forefoot is breathable and flexible
- Wide toe box
- Traction could be better for wet conditions
Top Cushioned Minimalist Running Shoe
10. Saucony Kinvara 12
If you want lots of cushioning while still getting the benefits of a minimalist shoe, the Saucony Kinvara 12 provides the perfect marriage of the two. The 4mm heel-to-toe offset helps you run more naturally and rely less on the cushioning and stability of the shoes.
At the same time, the PWRRUN midsole provides the best cushioning—lively, responsive, smooth, and strong. If you want an energetic but comfortable ride, the Kinvara 12 is a great option.
Finally, thanks to a lightweight upper, you’ll have a seamless flexible feel with fewer layers in the shoe. Plus, the mesh upper is breathable yet supportive, reducing fatigue while keeping your feet dry.
- Comfortable “pillows” inside the shoe on the upper that hug the foot, making the heel more locked
- Great cushioning system
- Nice and lightweight
- Great daily trainer
- Can run narrow
Best Waterproof Minimalist Running Shoe
11. Topo Hydroventure 2
If you need a shoe that can withstand lots of rain, puddles, and maybe the occasional shallow stream crossing, you’ll like the Topo Hydroventure 2. With a single-layer eVent waterproof upper, you can keep away the wet without sacrificing breathability. At the same time, the 3mm drop means that you’ll be able to move through your favorite trail with natural foot movements.
Thanks to the fully gusseted tongue and forefoot rock plate, debris on the trail will be no obstacle. Plus, the outsole features deep and generously spaced lugs to give you the best traction in wet and muddy conditions.
Finally, the Hydroventure 2 has an attachment for Topo gaiters if you want to keep sticks and stones out of your shoe. And you’ll experience a cushioned, yet responsive ride, especially with the 2-density injected EVA midsole that is softer near your foot and more responsive on the bottom.
- Functional, waterproof upper
- Durability and stability
- Upper can be a tad stiff
- Can run large
Best Neutral Mimimalist Running Shoe
12. Merrell Bare Access Flex 2
The Merrell Bare Access Flex 2 is an excellent option for a reliable and affordable neutral minimalist shoe. It provides the comfort and support you need across a variety of running conditions.
Featuring shock-absorbing cushioning, the Bare Access Flex 2 offers comfort and durability during high intensity workouts. The mesh upper keeps you cool with its breathable material, while the dual-directional flex-groove EVA midsole maximizes agility and stability.
Thanks to its construction, you’ll experience a great feel for the terrain and enhanced stability in your stride. Finally, the TPU film heel counter provides added security.
- Great lightweight feel
- Great in wet environments
- Good toe box—not too wide
- Can feel bulky
- Fabric on the upper can wear out
Top Cold Weather Minimalist Shoe
13. Altra Lone Peak 4 Low RSM
The Altra Lone Peak 4 Low RSM can handle any inclement weather you throw at it. Thanks to the eVent upper, you’ll experience 100% waterproofing as well as great breathability. You’ll not only be protected, but also comfortable in a plethora of conditions.
In addition, the MaxTrac provides the grip, traction, and durability for any gnarly terrain, while the TrailClaw canted lugs give you the best traction from toe off. Similarly, the 4-Point GaiterTrap technology allows you to attach a gaiter easily to prevent debris from getting into your shoe.
Finally, you’ll get to experience all the benefits of a durable trail shoe in a minimalist model with a footshape toe box that allows your toes to splay naturally. And the zero-drop platform encourages you to run with proper form.
- Good heel hold
- Extremely comfortable
- Amazing waterproofing—can withstand rain and snow
- Great grip
- Sturdy and resistant
- Sole can run too thin
- Can wear out quickly
Best Kids Minimalist Shoe
14. Nike Free RN 2018
The Nike Free RN 2018 is all about comfort. Thanks to the circular-knit spandex upper, you’ll be able to move naturally while still experiencing a snug fit. Similarly, the Dynamic Fit system has a wide, stretchy strap and comfort collar that hugs and supports your ankle, providing the stable-yet-adaptive fit you need at the ankle.
The co-molded midsole is made of two different kinds of foam—a soft foam and a denser foam—so that you get both comfort and durability for the smoothest possible ride. The tri-star pattern also allows natural foot splay and provides balanced cushioning underfoot so you’ll be encouraged to run naturally, but not at the expense of your comfort.
Finally, the minimal molded sockliner imitates the curvature of your foot, adding support, while the anatomical heel is rounded to encourage a natural range of motion. To top this all off, there is texture added under toe and heel to enhance traction.
- Lightweight and breathable
- Great shoe for running and everyday activities
- Excellent cushioning
- Wide at the toe for a perfect fit
- So light, it feels like you’re wearing nothing
- Poor traction on slick surfaces
- Can run small
- Bottom of the soles can wear out quickly
What are minimalist running shoes?
Minimalist running shoes, also known as low profile running shoes, are the intermediate between traditional running shoes and barefoot running shoes. Minimalist shoes have minimal cushioning, a reduced heel-to-toe drop (typically 0-4 mm), and reduced or no arch support.
What are the benefits of running in minimalist shoes?
Consistent runners tend to prefer shoes with a reduced drop and less of a bulky heel, which you find in minimalist shoes, because it helps strengthen your feet. As RRCA and USATF-certified running coach Sean Coster notes, kids in third-world countries are often great runners because they run barefoot, developing “a low arch and a stable foot.”
How do I transition to minimalist running shoes?
Do it slowly! You want to give your body time to adjust and adapt. You may also want to consider what surfaces you’re running on. Instead of going straight to asphalt and concrete, consider trying dirt and grass to assist in the transition to minimalist running shoes.
You’ll want to give your foot some time to develop enough foot strength, which also means being aware of your speed at first too. Make sure that your body slowly transitions to a shoe with a minimal drop.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t buy a minimalist running shoe?
If you need more support or stability in running shoes due to your age or health conditions, a minimalist running shoe is not going to be the best fit for you. If you’ve had foot injuries or problems in the past, you should be especially careful.
How should minimalist running shoes fit?
Minimalist running shoes should fit snugly or “fit like a glove,” as the saying goes. They should be tight and secure without too much additional space around the toes. This is different from traditional running shoes.
Do I need to break in minimalist running shoes?
That will vary from model to model. All shoes benefit from a little break-in time, but most modern shoes are pretty good right out of the box.
What will take time is breaking your feet into minimalist running, and you need to be careful about this. If you have been running in traditional running shoes, there is a good chance you have de-conditioned feet. You likely have weak fascia, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones, as well as reduced strength and range of motion in the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. You need time to break in your feet!
An analogy may help. Switching from traditional running shoes to minimalist shoes is like an office worker switching to manual labor. Both require a transition and breaking-in time. Wear your shoes as much as possible around the house for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be able to run in them. But slowly work up how long and how hard you’re running in them.