Zero-drop running shoes became popular in the early 2010s with the release of the book, “Born to Run.” Designed to mirror a more natural way to run, zero-drop shoes promised to reduce the chance of injury and increase running efficiency.
While these claims have been questioned in the intervening years, the zero-drop running shoe is here to stay.
If you want the best overall, we like the Altra Escalante 2.5. This lightweight model provides a natural running shoe with “just enough” cushioning and a sleek design.
But depending on how much cushioning you want – and your needs based on terrain, mileage, and other factors – the best zero drop running shoe could be different.
We’re reviewing the 10 best models in the industry so you know which shoes are right for you. Read on to see our favorites.
How We Chose These Shoes
Finding zero drop shoes isn’t hard – they are usually sold as zero drop or minimal running shoes. But to find the best we looked for several factors.
First, we wanted a shoe with some cushioning. In our experience, it’s hard to run in a true “barefoot” style shoe. Most runners’ bodies just aren’t ready for a shoe that doesn’t offer some protection against the pounding you feel running on hard surfaces. So while the cushioning in the shoes we found varies, they do have some protection.
We also wanted running shoes that were durable. Zero drop shoes are still a fairly new shoe category. New brands have tried to get in on this market without prior experience making running shoes. That’s why we like Altra and Topo. These brands are well-enough established to know they make quality products.
Finally, we chose a mix of zero drop shoes that are specialized for different types of runners. This includes racing shoes, walking shoes, trail shoes, and (like we mentioned) different amounts of cushioning.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Altra Escalante 2.5
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Altra Paradigm 6
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1. Altra Escalante 2.5
Let’s start with the best overall. That distinction goes to Altra’s Escalante 2.5.
Like prior versions of the Escalante, it’s a good-looking shoe with an energy-returning midsole and the foot-shaped design Altra uses in all their shoes.
Compared to older models, it is overall a bit stiffer, and adds more weight. These changes complement the Escalante 2.5 quite well. It’s better balanced as a result, giving you more control as you run.
Another difference is that the upper and midsole feel narrower. Because of this, those with wide feet might want to try another shoe. That being said, the toe box itself is nice and wide.
It’s an odd combination, to be sure. Most of us with wide feet need space other than just the toe box. But if you can fit comfortably in the Escalante 2.5, you’ll be in for a treat.
This shoe sports extraordinary breathability. Your feet stay cool and dry, with sweat being all but eliminated. The midsole features EGO foam that is durable and provides a nice energy return as you run.
The outsole of the Escalante 2.5 is what makes it so versatile. It boasts a unique design that hugs all kinds of surfaces.
Men’s are 8.8 ounces, while women’s are 7.4. The shoe doesn’t have as much flex as you’d expect. But this serves to make it more durable and responsive.
Overall, you get a well-crafted running shoe that’s both affordable and reliable.
- Excellent balance
- Highly durable
- Snug fit in midfoot and heel
- Narrower than prior models
2. Topo ST-3
Topo’s ST-3 is a running shoe designed to give you a responsive, lightweight ride. They’re almost like wearing a thick pair of socks.
The overall design of the ST-3 will make any minimalist happy. Materials are thin, yet sturdy. This lends to the shoe’s flexibility. It easily and naturally conforms to your foot’s movement as you run.
But if you want cushioning, the ST-3s may not work. Since Topo was going the ‘as little as possible’ route, there isn’t much in the way of midsole cushioning. It simply doesn’t offer much comfort when you run. But that’s the heart of minimalist shoes – your running stride needs to change to allow your feet and ankles to do the shock-absorbing they evolved for. If you aren’t changing your stride, these shoes may tend to hurt after a while.
The breathability of the ST-3 is nice. The upper provides your feet with plenty of ventilation. This goes hand-in-hand with the low-profile design.
At just a little over 7 ounces, you’ll be more apt to go the distance. But again, only if cushioning isn’t that important to you. I could see runners really benefiting from the ST-3 in that regard.
Topo’s ST-3 has reduced in price recently. The savings alone make it worth a try. You’re getting a fine running shoe, albeit with a couple of potential issues.
But the toe box is wide and roomy. And the rest of the shoe provides a snug fit.
- Great breathability
- Highly flexible
- Limited cushioning
Most Cushioned Shoe
3. Altra Paradigm 6
Altra’s Paradigm 6 sports a roomy toe box that comfortably houses your foot. It has a high stack height thanks to its well-cushioned midsole.
You’re also getting Altra’s StabiliPod technology. This helps add a level of support that keeps your foot in a natural position if you overpronate.
Cushioning is fantastic, too. The Altra’s EGO midsole provides a soft ride as well as good energy return as you run.
Those with wide feet will instantly fall in love with the amount of room offered. The spacious interior is perfectly cushioned, too. Your feet are less apt to get fatigued when running long distances.
With so many positives to say about the Paradigm 6, there are a few negatives. For one, it’s a pretty pricey running shoe, nearly double what you’d pay for Topo’s ST-3.
It’s also quite heavy, clocking in at over 11 ounces for men’s, and 9.2 for women’s. Depending on your preferences, this can be quite the detriment.
And lastly, the sizing of the Paradigm 6 tends to run a bit small. Because of that, you may want to order the next half to full size up in order to get a good fit.
- Plenty of cushioning
- Spacious toe box
- Comfortable fit
- Sizes run small
- Heavy for a running shoe
Best for Pavement and Concrete
4. Topo Magnifly 3
If your running surface of choice is road, you’ll appreciate Topo’s Magnify 3. This is thanks to its multi-density midsole. It’s complete with two levels of cushioning, giving you greater comfort on hard surfaces.
Running feels incredibly natural, with the zero-drop design playing a big part in that. Your foot is allowed the room it requires to properly toe-splay, thanks to the wide toe box.
Another bonus is the flexibility of the Magnifly 3. The upper and forefoot provide lots of give, helping add to the shoe’s natural feel. This all comes together to help make running much more beneficial.
The fit is another area that deserves praise. While your feet have room to move, they fit nicely in the midfoot and heel. This equals a perfectly snug fit where it’s needed.
That being said, you’ll want to play around with sizes. Magnifly 3s tend to run a bit small, so you may need a half size or more to get a comfortable fit. But once you find it, you’ll have an excellent running shoe.
Design-wise, the Magnifly 3 isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. Its stylings are pretty boring compared to other models. But if looks aren’t important, you’re getting a quality-made trainer.
- Good cushioning
- Roomy toe box
- Sizes run small
Widest Toe Box Zero-Drop Shoes
5. Altra Torin 5
Wide toe boxes are common for zero-drop shoes. Your foot needs to be allowed plenty of room for proper toe splay.
With Altra’s Torin 5, you have one of the widest toe boxes on the market. You’re given a spacious interior that lets your foot breathe, with plenty of room for your forefoot.
As its name suggests, there’s a great deal of cushioning here. The Torin 5 has a comfortable bed that is – as the name suggests – quite plush and soft.
Another area that has been given a lot of attention is the Perf-X inner sole. It takes the brunt of each step, with excellent shock absorption. If you often suffer from achy feet due to the hard impact of the ground, you’ll like the Torin 5.
The weight of the Torin 5 is manageable. It’s not the heaviest of running shoes, but it’s not the lightest, either. Men’s weigh 10.1 ounces and women’s 8.5 ounces.
They are well-crafted, and offer a lot of benefits to runners. And if you’ve been pining for a pair of zero drops with lots of toe room, you’ll love what these bring to the table.
- Spacious toe box
- Lots of stability
- Durable sole
- Too roomy for some feet
Top Minimalist Zero Drop Shoe
6. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite
Runners looking for a true minimalist experience will likely be pleased with the Primus Lite. But it’s important that you’re ready for a drastic departure from cushioning and support.
The Primus Lite is probably best served for veteran runners who have years of miles under their belts.
Upon first step-in, you can tell the Primus Lite feels different. That becomes even more evident when you actually run. Bottom line, if you like running barefoot, you’ll like the Primus Lite.
These are as close to barefoot running as you can get without, you know, actually going barefoot. A 3mm minimal outsole is all that separates your feet from the road. Otherwise, you have a mesh upper and wide toebox.
These best-selling shoes give you just enough protection from road debris, but offer plenty of flex and ground feel for a true minimal experience.
The downside, though, is that for such a minimal shoe, they are expensive. And if there were more padding and cushioning, I might have been able to develop a liking for them.
My feet also got incredibly hot and uncomfortable in them. They feel funny with every step and stride, too, as they don’t flex like traditional shoes.
- Emulates barefoot feel
- Nice color options
- Minimalist design
- Feet sweat quickly
Top Walking Zero Drop Shoes
7. Merrell Trail Glove 5 Sneaker
The Trail Glove 5 delivers incredible grip, making them perfect for off-road travel. If you enjoy taking runs off-road, then you know the need for a good pair of shoes.
You want something that offers stability and support. And your feet need to be comfortable at all times, as well. More often than not, that equals a heavy pair of hiking boots.
Well, you can leave those boots at home, as Merrell has seemingly done the impossible. They have delivered a comfortable hiking shoe that’s lightweight. It weighs less than 7 ounces and is very high-quality.
Its construction is mostly synthetic, and the sole is rubber. The grippy texture helps you traverse various landscapes with ease. And I made sure to try them out on the road, too.
Concrete feels great, and walking never wore me out. I ran in the Glove 5 on road and they worked well.
These are a very affordable pair of shoes. Considering everything you’re getting, it’s a great value.
The only downside is that Merrell has said that this version runs large, so order a half size down from your normal size.
But if you want a solid, well-crafted pair of versatile walkers, the Trail Glove 5s are a good choice.
- Exceptional grip
- Highly versatile
- Walking feels better than running
- Sizing ½ size large
Best Stability Zero Drop Shoes
8. Altra Provision 4
Altra once again breaks the mold to deliver a unique pair of shoes. The Provision 4 is a cushioned, zero drop shoe – but this is one of the most supportive shoes in this category.
At just 8.2 ounces (men’s), they are lightweight and versatile. And yet your feet stay supported in all the right places. Runners who overpronate will appreciate the added stability in this shoe.
The Provision 4 features a Contour Footbed. This serves to keep your foot feeling comfy and relaxed. And there is lots of cushioning to keep your foot in place during movement.
Another big plus is the mesh upper. This allows for plenty of ventilation, cooling your feet as you walk and run.
The Provision 4’s sole uses a rubber FootPod. It sports a unique pattern that offers excellent grip. You get much better control as a result.
I love the wide toe box on deck here, too. The quarter also provides a good amount of room, so your feet never feel cramped. It’s the perfect balance of freedom and support.
Those with wide feet will definitely want to give the Provision 4 a try. If you have trouble finding a good-fitting shoe, you’ll like what’s offered here.
The only potential downside is the price. The Provision 4 is not cheap by any means. But then again, this is one fine shoe you’re getting, too.
- Excellent cushioning
- Wide toe box
Best Lightweight Zero Drop Shoes
9. Merrell Vapor Glove 4
Merrell makes an appearance once again, this time with the Vapor Glove 4. It’s a shoe that closely resembles Vivobarefoot’s Primus Lite.
But that’s where the similarities end. Breathability is much improved here, allowing your feet the freedom to move as much as you like.
You won’t have to worry about sweat interfering with your run. And thanks to this, your feet don’t get fatigued, either. Helping with this is a body that’s incredibly lightweight.
Weighing in at just 6 ounces, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing shoes at all. This barely-there design plays a big role in the Glove 4’s overall versatility.
The Vibram sole is nicely-textured and helps to grip the road. Each step is highly-responsive, giving you total control of your movement.
You won’t find a lot of stability here, however. Being a minimalist shoe, its materials are quite limited in terms of cushioning.
The overall design of the Glove 4 is also worth mentioning. There are several styles and colors available, each of which is unique and attractive.
You’ll also love the price. It’s a solid value that makes the Glove 4 worthy of your consideration.
- Great ventilation
- Wide toe box
- Grippy sole
- Limited cushioning
Top Cheap Zero Drop Shoes
10. Inov-8 Bare XF 210 V2
Zero drop shoes can be a pricey investment. But if you know where to look, you can get a quality pair that won’t break the bank. That’s where Inov-8’s Bare XF 210 V2 comes in.
It’s a highly flexible shoe that offers incredible grip and control. The build quality is completely synthetic, but that shouldn’t deter you from giving it a look.
The forefoot and outsole are the real stars of the Bare XF. They are very pliable, providing plenty of give where your feet need it the most. This greatly minimizes resistance, allowing you to move with much more freedom.
You’ll appreciate having an improved gait, as these shoes work to give you more natural movement. Whether walking or running, your feet move fluidly. And the rubber compound sole helps with this a lot.
Workouts in particular will benefit from this unique grip. If you’re lifting weights, for example, you’ll have better control over your stance. This gives the Bare XF a high level of versatility, both indoors and outdoors.
As implied, this is a very affordable shoe. If you see them out in the wild in your size, you’d do well to pick them up.
The only drawback, in my opinion, is their styling. They aren’t the most attractive shoe you’ll come across.
That being said, you’re probably only going to wear them to the gym or out for a run. Considering the favorable pricing and function, looks aren’t really all that important.
- Lots of flexibility
- Improved gait
- Excellent grip
- A bit of an ugly shoe
What Are Zero-Drop Shoes?
Zero-drop is relatively new terminology for shoes that are of equal height, from heel to toe. In fact, it’s a word that was first introduced by Altra, a brand that makes several appearances in this guide.
Most shoes are designed to have a higher heel than all other areas. Altra wanted to construct a shoe that broke away from this norm. And in developing zero-drop shoes, they succeeded in doing exactly that.
Why Wear Zero-Drop Shoes?
Our feet are naturally level when we aren’t wearing any footwear. The ball of our foot is of equal height as our heel. By investing in a pair of zero drop shoes, you are allowing your foot to return to its natural state.
As a result, this makes your movement much more natural. Your feet are straighter, as they are supposed to be. But why would you want to do this?
Well, traditional shoes use artificial supports that do a lot of the work for us. We’re often unaware of it, but our feet are losing out on important strengthening due to this.
The longer you wear zero drop shoes, the stronger your feet will become. This will help you have more natural stability and less foot fatigue.
Instead of relying on a shoe to give us support, our feet will provide it for us. We will then become less susceptible to injury.
How to Transition to Zero-Drop?
Because we have become so accustomed to letting shoes do most of the work, it can take several months before we’re ready to regularly wear zero drops. In some cases, this transition can take years.
Remember, the goal here is to strengthen your feet to where you don’t need artificial support and stability. It’s best to start out running in a pair that has a lower heel than your current running shoes. Alternate between the two until you are comfortable just using the new pair.
You can continually buy shoes with lower heels until you’re ready for zero drops. This might be the safest route, but it’s admittedly the most expensive.
If you are looking to transition with just a single pair of zero drop shoes, you should check out this article. It has a wealth of knowledge and experience that will serve you well in your endeavors.
Whichever route you ultimately decide on, it’s vital to your health that you don’t rush it. Just to give you an idea how risky it is, veteran runners who thought they could speed up the process ended up injured for months.
Take your time. In this instance, it isn’t a race.
Why Trust Us
Ben Drew has been running for over 15 years. As a former running store owner, he has run in every type of shoe including zero drop shoes. At the store, he found that Altra made some of the best zero drop shoes, based on personal experience and customer feedback and sales. That’s why we feature those prominently here. Ben knows that zero drop shoes aren’t for everyone, so in this article he included a mix of shoes for all types of runners and walkers.