Are Minimal Shoes For You?

Article by Lucas Rockwood

Minimal shoes mimic the experience of being barefoot while still providing some degree of protection and support. These shoes are designed to have a wide toe box, a low heel-to-toe drop (or no drop at all), and a flexible sole to allow for natural foot movement.

Minimal proponents argue that most shoes put your body in unnatural postures that lead to movement imbalances that can increase your chances of injury. Since most of us have worn restrictive shoes for years—or decades—the transition to a more natural foot-shaped shoe can be difficult and even painful. Since the goal is better movement patterns and less pain, it’s important to ease into the process and understand the complications that might arise.

3 Characteristics That Define a Minimal Shoe

1. Zero Drop

Traditional running shoes often have a significant heel elevation, which can encourage a heel strike and alter the natural alignment of the foot and lower leg. In contrast, minimal shoes aim to create a more neutral and natural foot position by minimizing this height difference or eliminating it altogether. This is known as zero heel-to-toe drop. This, combined with a more flexible sole, allows your feet to feel the ground and provides greater sensory feedback, which some experts believe can improve balance and proprioception.

Benefits: helps to fix anterior pelvic tilt and the up/down stream effects.

2. Wide Toe Box

A wide toe box allows natural toe splay, improving balance, stability, and push-off. It enhances toe flexibility and strength, reducing the risk of foot conditions. The increased comfort from extra room prevents toe compression and accommodates variations in toe size. A wide toe box supports natural foot mechanics, promoting a more efficient gait and reducing joint impact. Overall, it promotes foot health, comfort, and a more natural running experience, potentially enhancing performance and reducing the risk of foot problems.

Benefits: helps prevent bunions, overlapping toe, hammertoe, corns.

3. Minimal Support

Minimal running shoes have a minimal amount of cushioning compared to traditional running shoes. The purpose of this is to provide a more direct connection between the foot and the ground for a more natural running experience. The reduced cushioning promotes a more efficient running form, as it encourages a forefoot or midfoot strike rather than a heel strike.

Benefits: creates natural strength in your feet, ankles, and lower legs.

How to Transition Safely

Transitioning into wearing minimal running shoes should be done gradually to allow your feet, muscles, and joints to adapt to the new style of footwear. Start by incorporating minimal shoes into your running or walking routine gradually. Wear them for short distances and gradually increase the duration and distance over time. This allows your body to adjust to the different mechanics and demands of minimal shoes.

Initially, alternate between your existing running/walking shoes and minimal shoes. This allows your feet to adapt gradually and reduces the risk of overloading certain muscles and structures. As your body adjusts, you can gradually increase the amount of time you spend wearing minimal shoes.

During your transition, it can be helpful to add foot and leg strengthening exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles and tissues. Toe curls, calf raises, and foot arch strengthening exercises can help prepare your feet for the demands of minimal shoes.

Be mindful of your running/walking form when transitioning to minimal shoes. Aim for a midfoot or forefoot strike rather than a heel strike, as minimal shoes are designed to encourage a more natural foot strike pattern. Focus on maintaining an upright posture, engaging your core, and taking shorter strides. Pay attention to any discomfort or pain during the transition. If you experience excessive soreness, pain, or discomfort, take a break and revert to your previous footwear. Allow your body to recover and gradually reintroduce minimal shoes once you feel ready.

If distance hiking or running is your goal, be sure to increase your mileage slowly. Abrupt increases in distance or intensity can be too much too soon. Follow the 10% rule, increasing your weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week. Remember, the transition process may vary from person to person. It’s important to listen to your body, be patient, and gradually progress at a pace that feels comfortable for you.

Choosing The Best Brand for You

While plenty of brands now offer minimal shoes, the exact characteristics can vary. Some shoes may have slightly more cushioning, or a slightly higher heel-to-toe drop while still being considered minimal. As with any type of running shoe, you should always try on different options and find the shoe that best suits your individual running style, foot shape, and comfort preferences.

Popular brands who specialize in these types of shoes include Altra, Vibram, Merrell, Vivobarefoot, Xero, and Inov-8. While mainstream brands including New Balance, Asics, and Nike also offer less cushioned options. Here are some important considerations and what worked for me:

Minimal Shoes

For city walking or more casual activities, try going “full minimal”.



I wore these for years and loved them. They are surprisingly strong and last way longer than most minimal brands. Once I moved on to longer distances running, I had to transition.

Merrell Trail Glove

Merrell Trail Glove

For streetwear and gym workouts, these are great. They also look pretty nice compared to most minimal shoes, and they feel great too. But for anything more than light, short jogs, they didn’t work for me.

Minimal-ish Shoes



This brand has a cult following among distance runners because of the zero drop and wide toe box. This isn’t a true minimal shoe as the sole is big and supportive, but this type of minimal shoe is the only thing that has enabled me to run distances longer than 5km. I’ve now completed three marathons in Altras.

Transition Shoes

For impact exercises, like running, jogging, walking, start slowly and consider a transition shoe.



This brand is exploding in popularity probably because it’s minimal-ish. The wide toe box and slightly elevated heel with ample cushioning allow more people to quickly get into a different type of shoe without going hardcore into minimal land.

Toe Separators

Toe Separators

Once you’ve bought a pair of minimal shoes, if you find that your toes are sliding around in your foot-shaped toe box (wide), try using toe separators like Awesome Toes corrective spacers. They are designed for activewear and are worn inside shoes while walking/exercising.

Watch out for any back pain, knee pain, or feet problems as you transition to minimal footwear and remember, your distances, your activity, and your unique body all require different considerations. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do, always focus on what works for you.

Safety Disclaimer

This guide is for educational purposes only. It’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or podiatrist to determine the most suitable shoe type for your individual needs.