Footwear

The 7 Best Minimalist & Barefoot Running Shoes Reviewed – 2018

While the debate as to which type of running shoe is best, many runners have found benefit from minimalist or barefoot running shoes.

There are many differences between minimalist and traditional athletic shoes and it is important to find a shoe that works best for you.

If you’re not familiar with minimalist or barefoot running shoes, you may want to switch after learning more about them here.

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Quick Answer: The 7 Top Rated Women’s Barefoot & Minimalist Shoes

  1. Xero Prio Minimalist Barefoot Trail & Road Running Shoe
  2. Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner
  3. Vibram Women’s V Running Shoe
  4. New Balance Women’s WT10v1 Minimus Trail Running Shoe
  5. Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail Runner
  6. New Balance Women’s WT10V4 Trail Shoe
  7. Merrell Women’s Bare Access Arc 4 Trail Running Shoe

After a lot of research and our own testing, we’ve found the following running shoes to be some of the best available. The 7 top women’s minimalist running shoes are listed below.

Best Barefoot & Minimalist Running Shoes

 Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3Vibram Women’s V Running ShoeNew Balance Women's Minimus
editorschoice
Upper:Synthetic meshLycra stretch meshSynthetic mesh
Sole:VibramSyntheticVibram
Best For:Trail runningRunningTrail running

Barefoot & Minimalist Running Shoe Reviews

Xero Prio Minimalist Barefoot Shoes at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 11
  • Colors Available: 4 Options
  • Type of Design: Barefoot Inspired Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Running, Hiking, Walking, CrossFit, Weightlifting

The Xero Shoes Prio is our Editors Choice for the best minimalist running shoe and offers some of the best features of barefoot and minimalist running shoes. These shoes are extremely lightweight which can reduce fatigue while also being extremely flexible so you can get the most out of your run.

The wide toe box allows your foot to splay naturally with each step for more natural movement. The FeelTrue sole offers traction control as well as protection while running.

The heel of the Prio minimalist running shoes has “zero drop” making it one of the most natural feeling running shoes available if you are looking for minimalist or barefoot styles.

The fastening system on these running shoes mimics those of sandals. The instep straps help to keep the mid-sole in perfect alignments while you can also feel secure with the unique lacing system.


Merrell Women's Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner

Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 11
  • Colors Available: 8 Options
  • Type of Design: Barefoot Inspire Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Trail Running

These minimalist running shoes are inspired by the barefoot style, offering the best of both worlds.

The Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner offers a zero drop design for the most natural feel while keeping the foot, ankle, knees, and hips aligned naturally as well.

The sole and outsole are designed by Vibram for the highest quality minimalist running shoes available.

These durable running shoes feature a mesh upper so your foot can breathe during your run, keeping your feet cool. The Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner running shoes are designed with both fabric and textile products for the highest quality.

If you’re looking for a durable, minimalist running shoe, the Women’s Vapor Glove 3 might be just what you’re looking for.


Vibram Women’s V Running Shoe at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 10
  • Colors Available: 7 Options
  • Type of Design: Barefoot
  • Type of Activities: Running

If you’re looking for a minimalist running shoe that also offers cushioning, the Vibram Women’s V Running Shoe is designed with just that in mind.

These running shoes feature a durable synthetic sole with the proprietary Vi-lite midsole. This allows your foot to be supported but also have the natural feel that a minimalist running shoe should have.

The Vibram Women’s V Running Shoe features a pull tab closure that allows you to adjust the closure according to your needs. The upper is breathable with perforations that allow your foot to feel natural while running.

The sock liner is anti-microbial which allows you to keep feet dry but also healthy. This minimalist running shoe is designed with polyester Lycra as well as polyester microfiber.


#4 New Balance Women’s WT10v1 Minimus Trail Running Shoe

New Balance Women’s Minimus Trail Running Shoe at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 12
  • Colors Available: 3 Options
  • Type of Design: Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Trail Running

The New Balance Women’s WT10v1 Minimus features the proprietary Acteva midsole to offer a bit of cushion, even in this minimalist running shoe.

With a 4 mm drop, it is still classified as a minimalist design, but the drop allows for natural comfort. The synthetic Vibram sole with specially designed, flexible grooves give these minimalist running shoes great traction whether you are running trails or pavement.

The antimicrobial treatment on the interior of the Minimus Trail Running Shoe allows for not only comfort, but odor-resistance as well.

This shoe is extremely lightweight, as a minimalist shoe should be, but it is durable with great traction as well. Allow your forefoot to splay naturally in these minimalist running shoes.


Merrell Women's Glove 4 Trail Runner

Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail Runner at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 11
  • Colors Available: 6 Options
  • Type of Design: Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Trail Running

Not only does the Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail Runner offer a mesh upper for breathability, but the mesh lining does as well. These running shoes have a zero drop design with 4 mm of cushion.

While many trail running minimalist shoes have very little in the way of cushion, the Merrell Glove 4 gives you just enough to enhance the comfort of these already very comfortable minimalist running shoes.

The durable outsole features a Vibram design with synthetic materials. These shoes are made from both textile and synthetic materials to offer superior durability and comfort.

One of the unique features is the Trail Protect Pad that protects the foot from strong impacts. Even with the minimalist design, every effort has been taken to make these the best barefoot running shoes that are comfortable while providing a minimalist design.


New Balance Women's WT10V4 Trail Shoe

New Balance Women’s WT10V4 Trail Shoes at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 12
  • Colors Available: 3 Options
  • Type of Design: Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Running

New Balance helps athletes achieve all they want out of their running game with superior research and development of the best shoes, minimalist or not.

The New Balance Women’s WT10V4 Trail Shoes are designed to give you maximum performance while running, whether on trails or around the neighborhood. The rubber sole is designed to give maximum traction no matter when and where you are running.

The upper is designed from both synthetic and textile materials and features a unique mesh design to allow your foot to breathe even on the longest runs.

The no-sew design of the upper allows for natural movement within the shoe. The WT10V4 has been improved upon since earlier designs and it one of the best women’s minimalist running shoes available.


Merrell Women’s Bare Access Arc 4 Trail Running Shoe at a Glance:

  • Sizes Available: 5 to 11
  • Colors Available: 6 Options
  • Type of Design: Minimalist
  • Type of Activities: Trail Running

Merrell designs some of the best minimalist running shoes available and there’s a reason we are featuring two of their models in this list of top 7 women’s minimalist running shoes.

They offer quality, durability, as well as a great running experience. In fact, many if not all Merrell shoes are created to be Vegan friendly for those that look for that quality in running shoes as well as other products.

The traditional lace-up design offers flexibility as well as a secure fit. The upper is designed with breathable mesh as well as TPU features.

The sole of the running shoe is designed with EVA and to give the best traction available when running. The mesh upper works together with the mesh lining for maximum breathability. It features a zero drop design with 8 mm of cushion in the heal.


Women’s Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe Comparison Table

Running Shoe UpperSoleBest ForRating
Xero Prio Minimalist Barefoot Trail & Road Running ShoeSynthetic textileRubberRoad & trail running, hiking4.5 / 5.0
Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 3 Trail RunnerSynthetic meshVibramTrail running4.3 / 5.0
Vibram Women’s V Running ShoeLycra stretch meshSyntheticRunning4.3 / 5.0
New Balance Women's WT10v1 Minimus Trail Running ShoeSynthetic meshVibramTrail running4.4 / 5.0
Merrell Women’s Glove 4 Trail RunnerSynthetic stretch meshVibramTrail running4.1 / 5.0
New Balance Women's WT10V4 Trail ShoeSynthetic meshVibramRunning4.5 / 5.0
Merrell Women’s Bare Access Arc 4 Trail Running ShoeSynthetic textile meshSyntheticTrail running4.4 / 5.0

How to Choose the Best Women’s Barefoot & Minimalist Shoes – Buyers Guide

Best Barefoot Shoes

The 7 top women’s minimalist running shoes we’ve reviewed above have many features that are important when buying a pair of barefoot or minimalist shoes. But what features are more important?

Which will give you the best running experience?

The following 5 factors should be taken into consideration when choosing the right pair of minimalist running shoes for your needs.

Heel-to-Toe Drop

The heel-to-toe drop is the measurement, in millimeters, from the back of the shoe to the front. So, from the heel to the forefoot. While a traditional running shoe will have a heel drop of between 8 mm and 14 mm, minimalist and barefoot shoes have a much smaller drop.

Minimalist shoes will be in the range of 4 mm and 7 mm. Barefoot shoes have a drop of between 0 mm and 3mm. Minimalist shoes that are inspired by the barefoot design have heel-to-toe drops that are smaller than typical minimalist shoes.

Toe Box

The toe box is an important part of minimalist and barefoot shoes. These types of shoes are designed to let your foot move in more natural ways which includes a natural splay in the toes which each step. To allow for the natural movement, the toe box should be a bit more roomy than what is found in traditional running shoes.

Weight

Barefoot shoes, as well as minimalist designs, are some of the lightest running shoes available. The weight of many shoes can factor into fatigue you may feel after a long run, especially in the feet and ankles. However, with a lighter weight barefoot or minimalist running shoe, this can be minimized.

Flexibility

Made with highly flexible materials, the foot can move much more naturally in a barefoot or minimalist running shoe. Many of them you can even roll into a ball without straining.

When you receive your new minimalist shoes, try this test to see just how flexible they are. The flexibility creates a more natural feel when running.

Pronation Control

Because there is little cushion in minimalist shoes, and very little if any arch support, they are designed for those who have a neutral gait.

This isn’t saying that someone who under or overpronates won’t find benefit in barefoot running shoes. Minimalist shoes just won’t be able to support those with low or high arches.

Best Minimalist Shoes

FAQs About Barefoot & Minimalist Shoes

If you are looking for your first, or your next, pair of minimalist or barefoot running shoes, you may have some questions about the purchase or even how to use them. The top 5 questions we’ve encountered regarding barefoot shoes as well as minimalist shoes are listed below with our answers.

Q: What is the difference between minimalist and barefoot shoes?

A: Barefoot shoes offer the smallest heel-to-toe drop of any running shoe, sometimes even as small as 0 mm. Minimalist shoes offer an experience somewhere between barefoot shoes and traditional running shoes.

Both barefoot and minimalist running shoes allow the foot to move naturally, but you may want the little bit of added cushion included in most minimalist shoes.

Q: Is breathability important?

A: Breathability is very important and one of the features that make minimalist and barefoot running shoes so popular. Allowing your foot to breathe through a mesh upper and a breathable inner lining reduces fatigue and as well as reduces the chance of creating an odor problem.

However, if you typically run in the elements such as rain, breathability can be a problem when it gets your feet wet.

Q: Can minimalist shoes help with under or overpronation?

A: With little cushion, if any, in minimalist or barefoot shoes, they are made for a more neutral gait. While those who under or overpronate may be able to wear minimalist shoes with no problems, others may find there isn’t enough support. They are always worth a try if you’ve never worn a barefoot or minimalist shoe for running.

Q: What is the difference between forefoot, mid-foot, or heel striking when running?

A: A forefoot strike means you run more on the balls of your feet rather than landing on the heel or with the whole foot. This kind of running is good for quick speed but isn’t necessary great for long distance. A mid-foot strike looks more like running with a flat foot landing on the ground each time.

This is especially good for very long distance running as it reduces the impact felt on the heel and on the knees. A heel strike puts much of the impact of each foot landing right on the heel and is why traditional running shoes have more cushion in the heel. Heel strike running is not ideal for those who run in minimalist or barefoot shoes.

Q: How are minimalist running shoes different from traditional running shoes?

A: Minimalist running shoes allow your foot to act naturally when running. The natural movement of your foot is maintained whether you are running 1 mile or a marathon.

This can reduce pain that some runners feel with long distance running. Traditional running shoes are meant to keep your foot in a correct “posture” and may not be ideal for every runner.

Barefoot Running Shoe Tips

Need some tips on how to buy or use your new minimalist or barefoot running shoes? The following 5 tips can make buying and using your new shoes easy. Let’s take a look at them:

Tip #1: Research the Benefits

There are many benefits to running in minimalist shoes. Knowing what they are can help you not only decide if this is a good choice for you, but it can also tell you what results you can expect when trading in your traditional running shoes for barefoot or minimalist shoes.

Wearing minimalist shoes will usually reduce the impact most runners feet since the stride is much different and they can also help to avoid long-term injury. Your body will also have a healthier body alignment since traditional running shoes typically have a steeper heel-to-toe drop.

Tip #2: Look at the Rating System Index

There is a rating system put in place by the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research that helps you determine how a particular pair of barefoot or minimalist running shoes will work for you.

Points are given for the weight of the shoe, the height of the shoe at the heel, as well as heel to toe drop. Flexibility is rated on both the twisting flexibility and that of folding. Motion control technology used to stabilize the shoe will lose rating points.

Tip #3: Learn How to Run in Minimalist or Barefoot Running Shoes Properly

Wearing minimalist shoes while running requires a different stride than what is typically used when wearing traditional running shoes. Be sure not to put the impact of each stride on the heel. When running fast, run on the balls of your feet, and when running leisurely or for long distance, use a mid-foot strike.

Tip #4: Understand the Body Mechanics

Typical running shoes that have a steeper heel to toe distance place the foot at an angle, meaning the ankle is not in an ergonomic position.

With shoes that have little or no heel to tow ratio, the ankle is more aligned with the legs. This is just one benefit of having your ankles properly aligned when wearing minimalist running shoes. You also keep your lower body from taking the brunt of every foot strike.

Tip #5: Lace Your Minimalist or Barefoot Shoes Properly

You want your heel to be secure in the back of the shoe. Don’t lace or fasten them too tight as it will disrupt the natural movement of the foot. Minimalist and barefoot running shoes should fit very well, without extra room except for in the toe box. Be sure to buy wide or narrow shoes if you need the extra, or slimmer shoe.

Ready to Run Barefoot?

If you are looking to have a more natural feel when running, letting your feet move as they were made to, you may benefit from a pair of barefoot or minimalist shoes.

The women’s minimalist shoes we’ve featured here will serve you well, especially if you’ve used the buying guide to choose the right pair. Enjoy your run!

We hope this guide helps you select the best women’s minimalist shoes for you!

Support
Comfort
Value

The Xero Prio Minimalist Barefoot Trail & Road Running Shoe wins our Editors Choice for the best minimalist shoe with it's combination of support and comfort.

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