The Best Barefoot Shoes Review

We took seven of the best barefoot shoes and put them in head-to-head tests to figure out what was the best for each activity. We took them running, hiking, surfing, climbing, weight-lifting and just wore them around the house. We scored each in six key categories: barefoot feeling, warmth, traction, foot protection, breathability, comfort and fit.

If you have been swept up in the barefoot running movement or just want to learn more about it, you will want to check out our Barefoot Show Buying Advice article article.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab May 8, 2011

Top Ranked Barefoot Shoes - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 7 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Read the Review
Video video review
Vibram FiveFingers Classic
Vibram FiveFingers Classic
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Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport
Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport
Read the Review
Video video review
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS
Read the Review
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Top Pick Award     
Street Price Varies $50 - $90
Compare at 6 sellers
$39
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $65 - $100
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $58 - $100
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $44 - $120
Compare at 6 sellers
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100% recommend it (7/7)
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100% recommend it (3/3)
Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros A real barefoot shoe. Light, comfortable, dry fast, feel great on the trail.Light, comfortable, dry fast, feel great on the trail.Great foot protection and traction, comfortable heel, breathable.Lots of foot protection, cozy uppers, durabale sole.Lots of foot protection, cozy uppers, durabale sole.
Cons Not ideal for cold conditions or sharp talus and rocky trails.Not ideal for cold conditions or sharp talus and rocky trails.Not as sensitive as KSO or Classic, expensive.Not as sensitive as KSO or Classic, expensive, slippery on wet pavement, rocks or wooden stairs.Not as sensitive as KSO or Classic, expensive, slippery on wet pavement, rocks or wooden stairs.
Best Uses Running, water-sports, hiking, working out or just hanging around the houseTake them just about anywhere you take a hiking shoe.Trail running, hiking, backpacking.Running on pavement.Running on pavement.
Date Reviewed Oct 07, 2010Apr 14, 2011May 06, 2011Sep 25, 2011May 05, 2011
Barefoot Feeling - 30%
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Warmth - 10%
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Traction - 20%
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Foot Protection - 15%
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Breathability - 15%
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Product Specs Vibram FiveFingers KSO Vibram FiveFingers Classic Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
velcro/lace/slipper Velcro slipper Velcro Lace Velcro
Rubber Thickness (mm) 3.5 3.5 4.0 4 4
Insole Thickness 2 3 3
Weight (oz) 11.4 10.6 13.0 12 12

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Barefoot Feeling
The Classics have the most barefoot feel. They have the thinnest soles and have an open top which gives them the most breathability. They are also the lightest shoes we tested. The KSOs share the same thin sole but have extra mesh on top and a Velcro closure that takes a little extra time to put on and just feels a little less barefoot-like than the Classic. For the Classics and KSOs, not only is the sole thin, but there is no extra material in the instep as on the Bikila. While both the KSO and Classic look like they have a solid piece of rubber on the bottom, it is actually creased by about a hundred little lines which allow the shoe extra flexibility. With both the KSO and the Classic, you can really wrap your foot around a stair tread, rock, branch, etc. All the other shoes we tested had more material on the bottom and less of a barefoot feel.

Click to enlarge
The flexible and sensitive sole of the Vibram FiveFingers KSO (the Classic also uses the same sole).
Credit: SuperTopo Review Team

Warmth
The Merrells, with their traditional shoe uppers, were the warmest. This is the only model we would recommend for running in freezing temps or on snow. It is also the only option we tested that you can wear regular socks with. If you want to wear socks with the FiveFingers, you have to buy special Injinji socks. The Bikila models were the second warmest they have thicker uppers. Still, these are not ideal for colds temps, especially if they get wet, as water soaks in through the toe sleeves.

Traction
The TrekSport has the best traction. It combines both treads and a flexible sole that lets you dig your foot into the ground (imagine a bird grabbing a branch). The Merrells had the biggest treads and the second best traction. They didn't score as high as the TrekSport on steep dirt because they put us more on our heels; the TrekSport engages the front of your foot and keeps you better balanced. All the other FiveFingers did about the same, with the exception of the Bikila and Bikila LS. These have a plate in the instep that was slippery on stairs and the rubber is not great on wet pavement.

Click to enlarge
Soles from left to right: FiveFingers KSO, FiveFingers TrekSport, FiveFingers Bikila and Merrell True Glove.
Credit: SuperTopo Review Team

Foot Protection
The Merrells give the best foot protection. They have the thickest and burliest soles and keep your toes better shielded. They also just put less strain on your toes than the FiveFingers do. Of all the FiveFingers, the TrekSport and the Bikila give the most foot protection. They have thicker soles, especially under the toes. The Bikila has a plate on the instep that gives both protection from sharp objects and extra support.

When it comes to stuff getting in the shoe, it was harder to rate the shoes. The Merrells did the best job of keeping out sand and usually kept out small rocks the best. However, they don't have a very tight seal around the ankle, which allows little stuff to get in. Once it is in, it is very painful and takes a while to take of your shoes and clear the rocks. The Bikila LS and the Speed did the best job of keeping stuff out among the FiveFingers. With its laces we were able to cinch the upper snugly. Also, the upper does not have mesh like the KSO or TrekSport so it did a better job of keeping out dust, fine dirt, and sand.

Breathability
The Classics are by far the most breathable. When the temps climb, your feet stay well ventilated. The KSO was the second most breathable due to its thin mesh upper. They dried reasonably fast after getting wet. The TrekSport was not far behind. The Merrells did not breathe that well. They were the one barefoot shoe that felt swampy once the temps climbed. They also took much longer to dry after getting wet.

Comfort and Fit
Judging comfort is a little tricky. If you feel the most comfortable shoe is the one that feels most free, then the Classic is the winner. But if comfort is about coziness, the Bikila LS wins. They have the softest upper material and the best fit. Its laces got them snug evenly around the foot, much more so than the standard Bikila. All the other FiveFingers had about the same comfort. The Merrells were very hard for us to fit. The sizing seemed off and even after returning a pair and changing sizes we still got heel blisters.

Click to enlarge
From left to right: FiveFingers KSO, FiveFingers TrekSport, FiveFingers Bikila and Merrell True Glove.
Credit: SuperTopo Review Team

The Bottom Line
The Vibram FiveFingers KSO gets our Editors' Choice award because it is so versatile. It works for running, water-sports, hiking, working out or just hanging around the house. It it tied with the Classic for giving the most barefoot feel but offers a more robust closure and tightening system.

That said, some other barefoot models are more ideal for specific situations. The Vibram FiveFingers Classic has the same barefoot feel on the bottom as the KSO, but gives are a more free feel on top with its simple open design. If your main priority is having the most barefoot feel, this is the shoe to get.

If you are running on pavement, the Vibram FiveFingers Speed is the best. It gives a lot of protection to your toes and forefoot.

If you are doing serious trail and off-trail travel, consider the Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport. It has better traction than the KSO and much better protection against rugged trail terrain (but you loose some of the barefoot sensitivity of the KSO).

The best for each activity
Light hiking: KSO
Wearing around the house/gardening: Classic
Rugged Trail Hiking and Backpacking: TrekSport
Working out: KSO or Classic
Pavement Running: Speed
Transitioning into barefoot running: Merrell Trail Glove or Speed
Watersports: KSO

Chris McNamara
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