The best minimalist running shoes are designed for runners interested in going barefoot safely. While there are some brave runners who actually head out without any shoes at all, most understand the need to protect their feet from the many dangers found on trails, pavements and roads. You can go with a barefoot running shoe or a minimalist running shoe, but most runners prefer the latter.
I personally wear minimalist shoes for a portion of my weekly runs and races. I enjoy having the bounce in my gait and more control while running.
When you see people walking or running around with those shoes with the funky toes, it looks interesting. Many non-runners have picked up on this style for walking because they like the way it looks. Runners wear these shoes because they provide the minimum amount of cushioning and support. Very little material sits between your foot and the ground below, so you have some protection without interfering with the natural movement and strike of your foot.
You may be protected from stepping on glass, small rocks and other obstacles when you run, but these shoes will not stop you from suffering an injury or banging your feet against large rocks or hard tree roots.
If those funky-toed barefoot shoes aren’t going to cut it for you, a minimalist running shoe is your next best option. These shoes look like normal running shoes, but they are designed to allow a more natural feel without as much cushioning and motion control that you would get from other types of running shoes.
If you are just starting out with barefoot running or just want to give it a try, the best minimalist running shoes are your starter shoe choice. You can gradually ease into a more authentic barefoot running shoe if you decide that you want to build up strength in your feet and feel as natural as possible when you go out for a run.
If you want no support at all and just minor protection from glass and other debris, you need a Xero shoe. These shoes offer a thin sole with sandal-like structure on the upper portion of the shoe. They are not really running shoes, but running sandals. They don’t provide any support, so don’t start out to this extreme.
Most runners will go for something slightly more supportive and more like a typical running shoe design, such as the Minimus Hi-Rez running shoes from New Balance. These shoes offer no differential between the heel and toe, so you get a straight shoe with minimal protection and the look of a standard running shoe. This is a good transition shoe if you want to maneuver from a standard running shoe to an authentic barefoot running shoe with no support at all.
You don’t want to jump right into a full-fledged barefoot running shoe and head out on the trails or around the neighborhood. You need to develop the strength of your feet and learn to watch out for obstacles that could lead to painful cuts, such as broken glass and other debris left on the ground by unthoughtful pedestrians.
When running in minimalist shoes, be sure to listen to your body and pay attention to aches and pains, especially in your lower legs. I would run in minimalist shoes each time I went for a run. However, I have found too many miles in minimalist shoes causes my tendons and muscles in my lower legs to become very tight and sore, increasing my risk of injury. Other runners find they can wear these types of shoes exclusively. Every runner is different. The goal is to find balance that works for you.
Minimalist running shoes may not be a good fit for you if your feet demand more support. For instance, if you are significantly overweight or tend to have a heavy over-pronation, you may be at risk for injury if you don’t go with a running shoe that provides more significant support.