The benefits of minimalist footwear are astounding, so it’s not surprising that a million and one different companies are vying for a share of the market. I’m a barefoot connoisseur who has experimented with several brands that work best in different settings — from casual and hardcore training to running and lifting — and I’d like to guide you to the best brand for your purposes. Here are four different kinds of the best minimalist footwear for every budget.
1. Earth Runner Huaraches
Earth Runners are among the most reasonably priced minimalist shoes on the market, but shoes is a misnomer. Huaraches, like sandals, are the default footwear that humans have sported throughout most of history. Their simple design has an elegance that complements a pair of slacks just as well as your running shorts. They’re highly portable, and they’re comfortable to wear in any setting.
As a bonus, Earth Runners have conductive metal inserts that keep you grounded, which recent studies have shown to increase circulation and mood. They don’t offer toe protection, but that only forces you to pay closer attention to the trail ahead of you.
You can spend between $70 and $100 to find a pair that works best for you. Factoring in value, practicality, and aesthetics, Earth Runners may be the best for your buck.
2. Vibram Five Fingers
Vibram Five Fingers are crazy cool, and they fit like a glove (I’ve actually fallen asleep in them on several occasions). People either love them or hate them. But the best thing about Vibrams, aside from feeling like a ninja while wearing them, is the sheer variety. They have every color under the sun to go with every activity, from boating and cross training to running and everyday life. Vibrams even have hemp options for the eco-friendly crowd.
These funny shoes take a little practice to put on, but this pales in comparison to the benefits. The barefoot mimicry that Vibrams provide enhances the strength of all foot muscles, which improves your balance and agility. People have even rebuilt arches in flat feet by wearing Vibrams regularly. These shoes are pricey, ranging from $70-$150, and are prone to tear if not rotated regularly. But Vibrams are available for every type of activity, and their variety offsets the price. Plus, the cool factor never fades.
3. Merrell Trail Shoes
Merrell’s minimalist options are among the snazziest available, as well as the most durable. Merrell offers a fair compromise between cushion and natural foot movement, offering the best protection for your toes and great insulation from the elements.
Merrell’s barefoot options have slimmed down in recent years, but several of the styles translate well from the trail to urban life and can be worn interchangeably. Added protection in the toe box makes these shoes ideal if you’re lifting heavy weights. Merrell shoes are a great transition from ordinary shoes if you are new to the barefoot world. With prices starting at $85, they are a good investment for their durability and functionality.
4. Xero Shoes
Xero Shoes are lightweight minimalist sandals that you can assemble from the comfort of your own home or purchase pre-fit. They are easily the most reasonably priced minimalist footwear available, and for the price (ranging from $20-$60), you get extraordinary quality that is extremely customizable.
Xero Shoes are great for casual city wear with oodles of styles and colors to match your preference, and they fair very well on the trail, as even ultra marathoners attest. As if Xero Shoes’ weren’t versatile enough, the company sponsors The Red Ladies rafting team of Colorado; water sporting is another strong suit for this handy minimalist shoe.
These shoes are a great option for those who are on the fence about the benefits of bare footing; Xero provides the essence of bare footing with the greatest claim to quality and the biggest bang for your buck. As a bonus, Xero Shoes is the only minimalist company that designs their own outsole rubber, FeelTrue. True to their tire sandal inspiration, Xero offers a 5,000 mile warranty on their soles.