Reviews You Can Rely On

The 5 Best Barefoot Shoes of 2024

We ran, hiked, and lifted weights in shoes from Vivobarefoot, Xero, Merrell, Vibram, and more to help you find the perfect minimalist kicks
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Best Barefoot Shoes Review (A shot of this year's lineup of contenders for Best Barefoot Shoe.)
A shot of this year's lineup of contenders for Best Barefoot Shoe.
Credit: Jon Oleson
Tuesday April 9, 2024

For over a decade, our team has run, hiked, and trained in some of the best minimalist and barefoot shoes on the market, with the 9 top current models included in this review. Our team of experts and athletes have put these shoes through their paces, running miles of pavement and technical trails and training hours in the gym. Unlike conventional footwear, minimalist shoes require a dedication to training to properly develop foot strength. Our field testing requires a similar dedication. Our exhaustive examination of these shoes provides expert advice with an aim to help you free your feet from the confines of restrictive shoes.

Some barefoot shoes are unisex, but most come in both men's and women's models. We have also conducted in-depth testing by female reviewers in our review of women's barefoot shoes. If you're not quite ready to dive into the world of minimalist footwear, our expert team has put in the miles to test the best footwear on the market across other categories. These include recommendations on the best running shoes and our favorite trail running shoes for those who like to get off the pavement. We also have extensive hands-on experience with a wide variety of hiking shoes and the best walking shoes if you're looking for something a little less niche. And if you need to take your workouts indoors for bad weather, have a look at our roundup of the best exercise equipment, which covers a bit of everything.

Editor's Note: On April 9, 2024, we updated our barefoot shoe review to add buying advice and a detailed section on how we test.

Related: Best Barefoot Shoes for Women

Top 9 Barefoot Shoes - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 9
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Awards Top Pick Award  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award 
Price $240 List
Check Price at REI
$245 List$135 List
$135.00 at Amazon
$89.99 at REI$135.95 at Amazon
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Overall Score
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86
75
78
Star Rating
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Pros Unparalleled stability, great traction, durable constructionAttractive design, wool-lined for warmth, relatively lightweightNatural toe dexterity, durable design, great tractionDurable design, good traction, wide footbedFlat profile, made of recycled materials, durable rubber upper
Cons Relatively heavy, expensiveNot fully waterproof, clunkyDifficult to put on, not as breathable, style isn't for everyoneHeavy for a barefoot shoe, less stability than above ankle bootsSlippery on loose surfaces, lack of versatility, feels like a rubber flipper
Bottom Line A burly barefoot boot with outstanding stability that's built to tackle any conditionA zero drop, minimalist hiking boot that is designed and hand crafted in the USAThis aggressive shoe has a ton of features that make running funA durable hiking shoe that offers the ground feedback of a barefoot soleThese flat-soled and durable barefoot shoes will up your performance in the gym
Rating Categories Vivobarefoot Tracke... Softstar Switchback Vibram V-Trail 2.0 Xero Shoes DayLite... Vivobarefoot Primus...
Ground Feedback (30%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
9.0
Stability (20%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Traction (20%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Weight (15%)
4.0
5.6
8.4
6.8
8.0
Durability (15%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Vivobarefoot Tracke... Softstar Switchback Vibram V-Trail 2.0 Xero Shoes DayLite... Vivobarefoot Primus...
Style Barefoot Barefoot Barefoot Barefoot Barefoot
Best For Hiking Hiking Trail running Hiking Trail running
Stack Height 5.5 mm (3 mm base + 2.5 mm lugs) 12 mm (6 mm base + 6 mm insole) 5.7 mm (3.7 mm base + 2 mm insole) 10 mm (5.5 mm base + 3.5 mm lugs + 1 mm insole) 7 mm (4 mm base + 3 mm insole)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 19.0 oz (size 10) 14.7 oz (size 10 wide) 7.3 oz (size 43EU) 11.4 oz (size 9.5) 8.4 oz (size 10)
Outsole 55% Synthetic rubber, 20% natural rubber, 25% additives Vibram megagrip rubber 3.7mm, Vibram megagrip rubber w/3D cocoon mesh Feeltrue rubber Primus outsole (synthetic rubber)
Midsole None Yes, 3.5mm None None None
Insole RPET Merino wool 2mm EVA Not specified Ortholite 98% recycled PU foam
Upper Material Leather/cotton Leather exterior, Merino wool inner lining Water repellent polyester Not specified RPET, polyester, polyurethane


The Best Barefoot Shoes for 2024


Best Overall Barefoot Shoe


Vibram V-Trail 2.0


86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ground Feedback 9.0
  • Stability 8.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Weight 8.4
  • Durability 8.0
REASONS TO BUY
Natural toe dexterity
Water-repellent upper is abrasion and puncture-resistant
Aggressive tread
REASONS TO AVOID
Upper not as breathable
More difficult to put on
SPECIFICATIONS
Best For Trail running
Style Barefoot
Stack Height 5.7 mm (3.7 mm base + 2 mm insole)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 7.3 oz (size 43EU)
Vibram has been leading the charge in barefoot footwear for a while now, and the Vibram V-Trail 2.0 is the next evolution of the OG FiveFinger shoe. The primary draw of this design is the natural toe dexterity that it confers. This is as close as you can get to going barefoot while enjoying a shoe's protection. The thin 3.7mm outsole has an aggressive tread design comprised of raised pyramidal lugs that act like tiny rubber cleats, digging and gripping as needed. Combined with a built-in 2mm insole for a combined stack height of 5.7mm, these trail runners provide plenty of ground feel. The fun features don't stop at the sole. The upper is made of an abrasion and puncture-resistant polyester that also sheds water. Due to this combination of durability, stability, and traction, this shoe quickly became a top contender and favorite of our test team.

One of the only drawbacks we experienced with the V-Trail was the difficulty of donning the shoe. The design makes it a bit of a challenge to get each toe into the right hole. With practice and experience, this does get easier. Another place this shoe fell short of the competition was in the upper's breathability. The more durable woven fabric is not as porous as other trail runners. Also, at 7.3 ounces per shoe, it isn't the lightest of those tested. All told, these minor drawbacks hardly discount the utility and fun of running and playing in these shoes. They are the ultimate barefoot trail runner on the market. If you want a stable shoe with boot-like features and are willing to compromise on weight and ground feedback, check out the unique Tracker II FG. The traction bites down on the trail while providing unbeatable durability for long days on the trail.

Read more: Vibram V-Trail 2.0 review

The V-Trail 2.0 is sticky and dextrous, allowing you to feel confident on all manner of steep and slick terrain.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Bang For Your Buck


Whitin Cross Trainer


74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ground Feedback 8.0
  • Stability 7.0
  • Traction 8.0
  • Weight 7.3
  • Durability 6.0
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Unique barefoot design
Burly tread
REASONS TO AVOID
Lose traction when wet
Foot moves around inside
Lacks durability
SPECIFICATIONS
Best For Trail running
Style Barefoot
Stack Height 6.5 mm (5 mm base + 1.5 mm insole)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 10.2 oz (size 43EU)
New to the barefoot game, Whitin has a couple of well-thought-out offerings at an affordable price. There are two different styles of the Whitin Cross Trainer — one that looks like a traditional running shoe, with tread designed to grip on hard top. And then there's the pair that we tested, which has more protection around the front of the shoe, a tread geared toward trail running, and a quick drawstring lacing system. We'll focus on the latter since it's the type that we tested. The aggressive tread grips the trail well — in fact, this pair has some of the best dry traction out of all the contenders in our lineup. The outsole is relatively thick, however, at 5mm. Add a 1.5mm removable insole, and these trainers aren't the lowest to the ground. That said, we did really appreciate the ample room in the toe box that allowed our toes to spread out.

One thing we noticed when removing the insole to have more ground feedback is that the heel of the insole is actually thicker than the forefoot. This means that with the insole, these shoes aren't technically “zero drop” — they're slightly more raised in the heel. We didn't feel like this affected the performance much, but it is a technicality worth mentioning in a review of barefoot shoes. The rugged tread grips great on trails and soft surfaces but totally loses grip when wet; this isn't Vibram-quality rubber. Another thing of note is that the drawstring lacing system, while it cinches the shoe around the ankle, does not tighten the shoe much around the midfoot. We found that our foot moved around enough in these to affect stability on slopes and more technical terrain. While not the lightest or most durable, if you're looking for a pair of cheap minimalist trainers, or perhaps two (one for the gym and one for the trail), then this one will do the trick. If you're willing to shell out a few more sheckles for a lighter shoe, the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 is another great deal to explore, with a similar level of performance across all other metrics.

Read more: Whitin Cross Trainer review

The Whitin Cross Trainer surprised us with a admirably decent performance despite the super-bargain price. They just aren't likely to last you as long as a more expensive pair.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Barefoot Boot for Hiking and Work


Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ground Feedback 8.0
  • Stability 9.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Weight 4.0
  • Durability 9.0
REASONS TO BUY
Superior ankle stability
Excellent traction
Durable construction
REASONS TO AVOID
Relatively heavy
Expensive
SPECIFICATIONS
Best For Hiking
Style Barefoot
Stack Height 5.5 mm (3 mm base + 2.5 mm lugs)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 19.0 oz (size 10)
With this boot, Vivobarefoot claims that “Being tough doesn't mean you can't feel.” The Vivobarefoot Tracker II fully lives up to the statement. The 3mm rubber base lends the ground feedback that one would expect from a barefoot shoe, while the durable leather and 2.5mm lugs give you the confidence to tackle tough conditions. For added protection, Vivobarefoot incorporates their Pro5 Puncture Resistant finish, a .08mm layer on the sensitive rubber sole. Along with a welded seam where the outsole meets the upper, this boot is designed to take some licks and keep on kicking.

Weight was the only metric where this boot did not perform at the top of the class. At 19 ounces per boot, the Tracker is considered a heavyweight among the barefoot class. This is easy to understand when considering the beefed-up construction and added material that constitutes a hiking boot. Among burly hiking boots, this one is still lightweight. We also found this to be an excellent work boot due to both the thick leather upper and the puncture resistance of the sole. It kept our feet happy and sound during long work days doing tree work over uneven forest terrain. Whether for work or play, we can't recommend these boots enough for those who prefer the feel of a barefoot platform, no matter how tough the task. The Xero Shoes DayLite Hiker Fusion is another barefoot boot construction to consider. While it isn't as sensitive or stable, it is lighter and comes at a fraction of the cost.

Read more: Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG review

The Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG boot is built to handle any condition. Seen here keeping our feet comfortable and dry despite multiple Sierra Nevada stream crossings.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Barefoot Gym Shoe


Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III


78
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ground Feedback 9.0
  • Stability 8.0
  • Traction 6.0
  • Weight 8.0
  • Durability 7.0
REASONS TO BUY
Super flat outsole
Made from recycled materials
Durable upper
REASONS TO AVOID
Rubber upper can feel like a flipper
Outsole loses traction when dirty
Lack of versatility
SPECIFICATIONS
Best For Trail running
Style Barefoot
Stack Height 7 mm (4 mm base + 3 mm insole)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 8.4 oz (size 10)
Running can take a toll on your shoes, but strength training can be even more demanding on your feet. That's why building athleticism from the ground up is so important, starting with your feet. The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III is a shoe built for road running that doubles as a gym trainer — once you build up foot strength. A true barefoot shoe, the toe box has ample room to let your toes spread out, providing the stability to stand up to even the most rigorous training sessions. Though with the insole, this shoe keeps your feet a whopping 7mm from the ground, you can remove the insoles for plenty of ground feel. The even platform of the zero-drop outsole, combined with the wide toe box, provides you with a stable, low-profile shoe that aims to help you improve your performance in weight lifting.

Unlike other options we reviewed, the Primus Lite III is made largely of recycled PET, a thermoplastic polymer resin. While recycled materials don't always hold up to rigorous use, we found the upper of this shoe to take everything we threw at it with nary a sign of wear. One weak point we did find was in the weld of the outsole onto the upper where it flexes at the toes. Because the upper is so rigid, this seam tends to separate, which could affect overall longevity. Another drawback is the lack of versatility. The tread is very low profile and designed for hard, flat surfaces. It tended to slip on dirt trails, which affected overall stability and confidence when running. Lastly, the rubber of the upper is relatively stiff and, well, rubbery. At times, it felt like we were slipping on a pair of rubber flippers. This was easily overlooked, however, once we started working out. One thing is for sure — these shoes are designed to make training fun while enhancing your own natural balance, strength, and ability. The Whitin Cross Trainer is another flat-shoe with excellent traction you might consider if a shoe can transition from the gym to the trail. It also comes at an affordable price, but lacks durability.

Read more: Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III review

barefoot shoes - the vivobarefoot primus lite iii gives your body a wide base for...
The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III gives your body a wide base for added stability.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Lightweight Barefoot Shoe


Merrell Vapor Glove 6


77
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ground Feedback 8.0
  • Stability 7.0
  • Traction 8.0
  • Weight 9.0
  • Durability 6.0
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable in rough terrain
Durable Vibram outsole
Lightweight
REASONS TO AVOID
Extremely sensitive on sharp ground
Upper less durable
SPECIFICATIONS
Best For Trail running
Style Barefoot
Stack Height 6 mm (4 mm base + 2 mm lugs)
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm
Measured Weight (per shoe) 5.6 oz (size 9.5)
In terms of natural feel, the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 continues to help define the barefoot category. This shoe is the lightest weight contender in our test group, achieving this feat through its ultra-minimalist design. There's not much to this shoe. The Vibram rubber outsole with 2mm multidirectional lugs maintains grip without sacrificing ground feel. The recycled mesh upper is thin and breathable. Where there is extra material for abrasion resistance, it's also thin and minimal. Even the lace design is minimalist, utilizing cordage for both the shoelace and the lace rungs. All of these factors combine to create an ultra-lightweight shoe that fits like, yes, a glove, and provides comfort, agility, and that barefoot shoe feel.

Due to the thinness and type of rubber, we also found the sole of the Vapor Glove to be the most sensitive in terms of ground feel. In fact, they were too sensitive for some trails with sharp rocky ground, despite the fact that they seem to be built for dynamic terrain. This heightened ground feel will only appeal to the most diehard of barefoot fans. The sticky Vibram rubber outsole grips in most conditions and recovers quickly when wet. This is partly due to the lug pattern, which helps easily shed dirt and water. As noted, the upper that helps achieve the lightweight title is less durable mesh, with scant abrasion coverage. Due to this fact, it may not last as long as shoes that incorporate more protection. All told, if you're looking for that intense, barefoot ground feel, then you'll want to try a pair of these minimalist barefoot “gloves”.

Read more: Merrell Vapor Glove 6 review

The Merrell Vapor Glove 6 is an ultra minimalist barefoot shoe that is designed to grip in all conditions.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
86
Vibram V-Trail 2.0
Best Overall Barefoot Shoe
$135
Editors' Choice Award
80
Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG
Best Barefoot Boot for Hiking and Work
$240
Top Pick Award
78
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
Best Barefoot Gym Shoe
$170
Top Pick Award
77
Merrell Vapor Glove 6
Best Lightweight Barefoot Shoe
$100
Top Pick Award
77
Softstar Switchback
$245
75
Xero Shoes DayLite Hiker Fusion
$120
74
Whitin Cross Trainer
Best Bang For Your Buck
$60
Best Buy Award
70
Xero Shoes Prio
$90
70
Xero Shoes HFS
$120

Tooling around in the Xero DayLite Hiker Fusion, a stable and well-tractioned option.
Credit: Jon Oleson

How We Test Barefoot Shoes


We purchase all of the models discussed in this article and put them through a rigorous testing process. Based on the fact that each shoe is designed for specific purposes — road running, trail running, hiking, or gym training — each pair is given preference in its respective specialty. We compile research, closely examine each shoe, and take a lot of notes to put together our opinions on which models work best in each particular discipline. Most importantly, we work out in these shoes; each model sees at least 15 miles of pavement, trail, or both, as well as multiple gym sessions. Learn more about how we test barefoot shoes.

Our barefoot shoe testing is divided across five key metrics:
  • Ground Feedback (30% of overall score weighting)
  • Stability (20% weighting)
  • Traction (20% weighting)
  • Weight (15% weighting)
  • Durability (15% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Our barefoot and minimalist shoe experts are Aaron Rice and Jon Oleson. Aaron grew up on the Atlantic coastline, spending his summers comfortably barefoot and only donning sandals to navigate hot pavement. One of his earliest coaches encouraged him and his teammates to go barefoot as much as possible, explaining the important role our feet play in developing strength. Now living full-time in Santa Fe, NM, Aaron maintains a lifelong devotion to mountain fitness to further his ambitions in endurance sports like trail running, alpine climbing, and ski mountaineering. As a fun fact related to barefoot running, Aaron hates wearing socks.

Jon also comes with a wealth of barefoot experience. Over a decade and a half ago, he ditched his conventional shoes after a pair of narrow and constricting hiking shoes damaged his feet. Slowly, Jon rebuilt his foot dexterity, mobility, and strength by exercising barefoot and donning barefoot shoes when protection was required. Now, if he even looks at a pair of narrow shoes, it makes his feet hurt. And if he wears them, he feels it from his feet all the way through his hips to his shoulders. Jon notes, “One thing about going barefoot is that, once your body becomes accustomed, it's hard to go back.

The Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3 has one of the thinnest soles of our...
The Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3 has one of the thinnest soles of our competition, but also the narrowest footbed - so much so that our foot hung off the edges.
The Xero Shoes Daylite Hiker Fusion sports a durable, abrasive...
The Xero Shoes Daylite Hiker Fusion sports a durable, abrasive resistant construction that's great for light days on the trail.
The Softstar Switchback was one of two barefoot hiking boots that we...
The Softstar Switchback was one of two barefoot hiking boots that we tested.

How to Pick the Best Barefoot Shoes


Here are four important factors to consider when looking for the best-fitting barefoot shoe for your personal needs.

What Style Should You Look for?


Whether you're looking for your next trail running staple or need a trusty work boot, barefoot shoes come in various styles and have different intended purposes. If you have yet to try barefoot shoes, a good place to start is a minimalist shoe with some padding to help ease the transition into full barefoot walking and running. Once you have decided on your intended use for barefoot shoes, it will help guide you into necessary features such as traction, water resistance, and comfort.

Are Barefoot Shoes Comfortable?


Like any other well-fitting shoe, barefoot shoes should feel comfortable and fit out of the box. However, most folks will need an acclimation period to zero drop and minimal cushioning. It's also worth noting that the toe box on barefoot shoes is wider to help promote toe splay. As your foot strengthens over time, your barefoot shoes should start to feel freer and less restricted than regular shoes, thanks to the use of your foot muscles and natural foot movements.

barefoot shoes - a good pair of barefoot shoes should allow you to run, hike, or walk...
A good pair of barefoot shoes should allow you to run, hike, or walk without restriction and provide a natural range of movement.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Is Flexibility Important?


The goal of a good barefoot shoe is to reduce resistance between the shoe and feet to create more natural use of your feet while moving. A barefoot shoe with proper flexibility will provide a better range of motion and allow you to mimic the natural movement of your feet. Consider how much natural flex is produced and whether the added flexibility is important to your personal needs. Someone using barefoot shoes to hike and scramble rocks may want a more flexible shoe than someone needing one for running errands or while at work.

What About Weight?


With barefoot shoes, the goal is to reduce the restrictions between your feet and your shoe for the most natural-feeling experience. The more weight is added to your feet, the harder it is to accomplish that goal. Activities such as running or hiking will greatly benefit from a lightweight barefoot shoe. Even folks planning to use barefoot shoes for everyday use will appreciate a lightweight shoe to help with feel and form. When considering your options, factor in weight and how important the weight is to your barefoot shoe experience.

barefoot shoes - a lightweight shoe will help promote the natural characteristics of...
A lightweight shoe will help promote the natural characteristics of your feet.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Analysis and Test Results


A few things are worth pointing out before we dive into the metrics we used to score each shoe. First and foremost, all of the shoes included in this review comprise some of the best and most popular options for barefoot and minimalist shoes available on the market. Since our side-by-side testing is based on comparisons, a low score does not mean that a particular pair of shoes isn't worthy of consideration. It simply means that they do not perform quite as well relative to the competition in that respective category — all of these shoes are excellent in at least one aspect, and often low-scoring shoes are fantastic options for specialized use.

We put these shoes through the ringer to bring you the most accurate and informed results.
Credit: Jon Oleson

The other — and perhaps the more important thing to consider — is that your specific needs may differ from the weighting we applied to each metric. We encourage you to first consider your own preferences and your specific needs. Then, with that as a baseline, use our suggestions to help inform your purchase. That said since minimalist footwear is intended to enhance the abilities of your own body — rather than some innovative shoe design doing the work — ground feedback and stability receive the majority of the weight, at a total of 50% of the final score.


Value


Whether you are a seasoned barefoot enthusiast or looking to purchase your first pair, figuring out which shoe will offer the best value can be tricky. While many assume that the highest-priced product will perform the best, our experience in this category — and with outdoor gear in general — has proven that this is often not the case. What is often true is that the more expensive products, being constructed of higher quality materials, tend to last longer. That said, some products buck that trend too, so it's our aim to get to the bottom of all of it.

barefoot shoes - the merrell vapor glove 6&#039;s minimalist design lets you experience...
The Merrell Vapor Glove 6's minimalist design lets you experience the trails with a barefoot feel.
Credit: Jon Oleson

We highlight products as exceptional values only if they both perform well across the board and are reasonably priced. Not only does the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 provide great ground feedback, but it is one of the more affordable options. It may not be the right shoe for everyone, particularly those who are used to a lot of cushion — there's no additional insole in these shoes, so there's little between your feet and the ground. In fact, we felt the ground the most in these shoes — every little pebble. If you want slightly more cushion for your feet at an even greater value, check out the Whitin Cross Trainer. The Whitin's outsole is thicker than the entire sole of the Vapor Glove 6, and it has a 1.5mm insole for added cushion.

The Whitin Cross Trainer proved to be an all-around good barefoot shoe for trail running, and at a bargain price.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Ground Feedback


Freeing your feet is what minimalist and barefoot shoes are all about, and it all comes down to ground feel and responsiveness — how close can each shoe come to feeling like you are actually barefoot? The soles of the feet are among the most sensitive parts of our body because the information fed through our feet is directly related to proprioception, or our sense of positioning in space. With an activity like running, to understand our body positioning as we move through space, our feet must flex, move, and feel the ground. The best minimalist shoes limit their interference of, and perhaps even enhance, our natural “sixth sense.”


Most designs in our lineup allow for increased proprioception through a precise combination of design features like a thin outsole, zero heel-to-toe drop, a wide toe box, a lot of flexibility, and, of course, a lack of conventional support that would otherwise inhibit the foot's ability to feel the ground. True barefoot designs — like the award-winning Vibram V-Trail 2.0 — incorporate all of these design attributes and will provide the highest level of natural, i.e., barefoot feeling.

barefoot shoes - the vibram v-trail 2.0 is built with toe dexterity in mind. the...
The Vibram V-Trail 2.0 is built with toe dexterity in mind. The “5-finger” design allows each toe to feel, grip, and move independently of the others.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Flexible shoes like the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III and Merrell Vapor Glove 6 offer tremendous freedom of movement and an overall accurate ground feel. But it is difficult for any shoe to quite touch the 'real feel' and barefoot accuracy of the V-Trail 2.0. This is an updated model, built for trail running, of the original FiveFingers shoe and is, without a doubt, the closest thing to actually running barefoot. While this is the OG shoe for barefoot diehards, the feel may be a bit funny for many who are not used to this style. If you can't stand the idea of having material in between your toes, the Primus Lite III is the next best thing.

The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III are designed for superior groundfeel and responsiveness. The plentiful room in the toe box allows the toes to splay naturally and push off the ground with each gait.
Credit: Jon Oleson

A barefoot shoe represents an ideal, an attunement to natural states of being, but not everyone interested in the benefits of barefoot footwear wants to walk around on a super thin sole, like on the Merrell Vapor Glove 6. That is why minimalist shoes exist — to bridge the gap between conventional footwear and barefoot shoes. Based on our scheme of evaluating natural feel, these shoes will always score lower in this metric than the barefoot options. If a minimalist shoe combines certain aspects of its barefoot counterparts but has a thicker stack height and more confined toe box, then it's given points for the barefoot design aspects but inevitably scores lower than the true barefoot options. A great example of this is the Xero HFS — it has a zero drop, flexible design, breathable upper, and low weight, but a little more stack and a slightly narrower toe box. If you're new to barefoot shoes, this is a great place to start.

barefoot shoes - the xero hfs incorporate some aspects of a barefoot shoe, but we...
The Xero HFS incorporate some aspects of a barefoot shoe, but we found the toe box to be too restrictive and the sole to be too thick to call them true barefoot shoes. However, this design is a great bridge between conventional and barefoot.
Credit: Jon Oleson

It is also important to consider each of these shoes through the lens of their intended discipline. If it is a trail runner, like the Vibram V-Trail 2.0, how well does it handle uneven terrain, mud, rocks, and water crossings? If it's a boot, like the Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG, how well does it hold up to rocky trails and worksites? If it is a road shoe, like the Xero HFS, how well does it handle the abrasion of concrete and rough gravel on road shoulders? If it is a gym-specific trainer, how well does it allow you to engage the natural support structure of your feet without slipping or feeling off-balance? Other versatile trainers — like the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III — may be designed for a particular use but perform well in many disciplines.

barefoot shoes - in addition to hiking miles and miles through the mountains, we took...
In addition to hiking miles and miles through the mountains, we took the Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG boots to the worksite to gauge comfortability and durability between different environments.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Training Tip
If you do not have experience running in barefoot shoes, we cannot stress enough how important it is to take the minimalist nature of these shoes seriously. Trying to run your normal distance or at a normal pace right off the bat may result in nagging injuries, even if you feel OK during your run. We suggest cutting back significantly on your usual mileage until your feet have time to adjust to this particular type of shoe.

Stability


Interrelated with ground feedback, stability is how well the design aspects of each particular shoe affect natural balance and responsiveness. Attributes like sole thickness, sole edging, toe box width, tread, and how well the shoe hugs the foot all play a role in the stability of the platform.


The boots that we tested inevitably scored the highest in this category. Lacing up all the way up to the calves, they provide great stability to both the foot and ankle. The Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG, with its relatively thin sole (although with a puncture prevention layer for added protection), wide toe box, and compression fit, performed the highest in this category. We tested the Softstar Switchback in a “wide,” which proved to be very wide even for a barefoot toe box. This made them extremely comfortable to wear but lowered their score in this category since the boot sometimes slipped while edging on rocky terrain.

barefoot shoes - the tracker ii fg kept our feet, and ankles, safe and sound no...
The Tracker II FG kept our feet, and ankles, safe and sound no matter how uneven the terrain.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Whether or not the toes are able to naturally splay can greatly affect stability. A good analogy is trying to do push-ups or yoga with tight mittens on your hands. Without the ability to splay, the fingers can't properly balance the weight of the body. It's the same with the toes, and that's where true barefoot shoes shine. The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III has the widest toe box of the runner-focused shoes we tested. Along with the thin sole, zero drop, and breathable upper, they are the epitome of a barefoot workout shoe. The Whitin Cross Trainer likewise has plenty of room in the toe box, but the sole is a bit thicker, making them more appropriate than the Primus for trail running.

barefoot shoes - with a wide toe box, thin zero drop sole, and breathable upper, the...
With a wide toe box, thin zero drop sole, and breathable upper, the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III are the epitome of a barefoot workout shoe.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Shoes with a narrower toe box received a lower score in this category. One test that we performed was standing on one foot to balance. As you might guess, the narrower the toe box, the less balance we had. Shoes like the Whitin Cross Trainer, Xero HFS, and the Xero Prio have a hybrid toe box that is wider than conventional, yet not as wide as we like.

barefoot shoes - with more room in the toe box than a conventional shoe, the xero...
With more room in the toe box than a conventional shoe, the Xero Prio are a good option for a hybrid minimalist trainer.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Traction


For barefoot runners, grip with the toes is an essential input that feeds into the greater sensory perception of movement. For hikers, it's important to maintain traction on technical trails, especially when carrying weight. The best barefoot shoes are designed with outsoles that support this natural function without diminishing ground feel. Maximum points were awarded to shoes with thin, flexible outsoles made of sticky-rubber compounds that utilize lugs to assist — not outperform — the natural grip of our feet.


To assess the grip of an outsole, we test shoes side-by-side, scrambling up and down the same rock face — much like how we would test the stickiness of climbing or approach shoes. We also seek out particularly steep and loose trails and note how well the shoes brake when running downhill. We make specific notes on the design of the lug patterns and how well they perform in dry, wet, loose, and rocky trail conditions, as well as how effectively they propel you over concrete.

barefoot shoes - one of our testing grounds for traction - the loose dirt and gravel...
One of our testing grounds for traction - the loose dirt and gravel slopes of our local river canyon. The top contenders for traction made it up and down these slopes without even a slip.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Shoes designed specifically for trail running or hiking tend to perform best in this metric since they are designed to encounter varied surface conditions. The natural FiveFingers design of the Vibram V-Trail 2.0 certainly allows your toes to grip the ground with accuracy, and the tread is designed to grip the trail through all conditions. The much more affordable Whitin Cross Trainer surprised us with how well they grip the trails and slopes, nearly as well as the V-Trail. This is due to an aggressive tread that, while thicker than the Vibram sole, was obviously designed with traction in mind.

barefoot shoes - the five-finger design and aggressive tread proved to be effective...
The five-finger design and aggressive tread proved to be effective at maintaining traction with the Vibram V-Trail 2.0.
Credit: Jon Oleson

The boots we tested all fared quite well in this metric. Both the Vivobarefoot Tracker and Softstar Switchback did exceedingly well. Whether there was dirt or mud, wet or dry, the lugs of these hikers kept us feeling confident and agile. The Xero DayLite Hiker Fusion also has enough tread to keep you right side up, even technical trails.

barefoot shoes - the xero daylite hiker fusion has a tread designed for trail use...
The Xero Daylite Hiker Fusion has a tread designed for trail use. While they weren't the best traction of the hikers that we tested, they kept us from slipping in most conditions.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Merrell has nailed the outsole construction of the newly redesigned Trail Glove 6, incorporating tacky lugs into a low-profile trail runner that finally belongs in the beloved “glove” series. On the other hand, the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III, with an ultra-thin, flat outsole design, provides the best traction over pavement. While it performed well enough on flat trails, we wouldn't recommend the Primus Lite for technical trails with slopes. Likewise, with its road tire-inspired tread, the Xero HFS is best kept to pavement or flat, non-technical trails.

barefoot shoes - while the vivobarefoot primus lite iii excels on pavement thanks to...
While the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III excels on pavement thanks to its flat tread design, it can be slippery on trails.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Another essential function of a lugged sole is to shed loose dirt and water. As a lab experiment, we pour water over the outsole to examine how quickly it passes through the lugs and grooves. We also do our best to seek out puddles, mud pits, and sandy spots while out on runs to test this capability and adjust points for traction based on our findings. No matter the lug pattern, Vibram bases seem to do the best in this regard — shoes that use this outsole are the Vapor Glove 6 and the Vibram-owned V-Trail 2.0.

barefoot shoes - the deep lug design of the merrell vapor glove 6 helps shed dirt and...
The deep lug design of the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 helps shed dirt and mud to make sure you maintain traction on the trail.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Weight


A shoe's weight can greatly influence the overall experience, particularly for a running-specific design. But even in the gym or on a hike, a lightweight shoe will allow you to push the limits of your adventure without feeling like a pair of cement blocks are weighing you down. For both minimalist and barefoot options, we want our feet to feel as free and unencumbered as they are in their natural, barefoot state. The top performers are not only objectively lightweight but also provide the airy experience of going barefoot.


At merely 5.6 ounces per shoe, the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 is objectively the lightest shoe in this review — indeed, it amounts to little more than a protective sock with a gum sole. On the other side of the scale are the barefoot boots that we tested. At 19 ounces per boot, the Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG is the heaviest — that said, they are still much lighter than a conventional hiking boot. The weight comes from the additional material (no surprise there), which conversely provides additional durability and stability, increasing overall performance for their intended use.

barefoot shoes - the merrell vapor glove 6 are super lightweight, partially due to...
The Merrell Vapor Glove 6 are super lightweight, partially due to the thin mesh upper which helps the feet breathe when on the move.
Credit: Jon Oleson

We take each of these shoes out on many, many runs and hikes and make subjective comparisons about how light they feel when our feet are moving, though this doesn't sway our objective scoring for this metric. Swing weight, of course, relates to scale weight, but these two alone do not form a full picture of a shoe's relative weight. The material design of the upper plays a major role in breathability and thermoregulation, two important factors if you plan on running in the heat of the day or at the height of your heart rate. Not only do hot, sweaty feet make you feel sluggish, but a more breathable shoe can actually dump water weight through progressive evaporation. Just some nerdy things to keep in mind as you decide what shoe is right for you.

A standout in terms of breathability is the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III, which is comprised of recycled rubber with polyester mesh lining at the top of the foot. The Xero HFS works along similar design lines but with a bit more padding between the foot and the mesh. The glove-like fit of the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 balances both aspects well — the simple, majority mesh design is one of the lightest in this review, and the stretch collar wraps the shoe comfortably around your foot for improved agility.

barefoot shoes - the vivobarefoot primus lite iii features a breathable mesh upper...
The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III features a breathable mesh upper that promotes ventilation and keeps your feet cool and comfortable during intense activities.
Credit: Jon Oleson

It is also important to know how these shoes will perform when wet, as trail runners and hikers are likely to encounter stream crossings, and road runners often face puddles — and a waterlogged shoe is a heavier shoe. We subject each shoe to the hose before taking off on a short loop, testing each pair sequentially on the same day to directly compare their performance. The Vibram V-Trail 2.0 is specially designed with a water-resistant upper, giving it superior water resistance but diminished breathability. We also wanted to test the waterproofness of the boots, as keeping your feet dry on the trail can be the difference between sad and happy feet when putting in the miles. The Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG lived up to this claim — we felt not even a trickle in our boot when standing in streams. Conversely, the Softstar Switchback proved not to be waterproof in the same way — walking through a stream left us with soggy socks.

The Softstar Switchback proved not to be fully waterproof. Our left foot was left soggy after this test.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Durability


We put these shoes through their paces, literally, through miles of running and hiking on a variety of terrain and through hours in the gym. While we are limited by our testing period, certain design features and early signs of material failure — plus our years of experience with product testing — give us a good idea of how well these shoes might hold up after a couple hundred miles.


To support any conclusions we reached on durability through our training period, the shoes were closely examined for any manufacturing flaws or shortcuts. Researching material specifications also gave us a good idea of how long a shoe might hold up to regular wear. We also consider the warranty programs offered by manufacturers, giving some preference to those who might offer to replace a shoe that is defective.

barefoot shoes - we found the crease point on the outsole, where it&#039;s welded to the...
We found the crease point on the outsole, where it's welded to the upper, to be a weak point on the Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG. While it didn't negatively affect performance during testing, it has the potential to affect waterproofness over time.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Thankfully, none of our shoes fell apart during the testing period. However, some details caught our eye on particular models — elements that made us question how well they might hold up throughout a couple of running seasons. Unsurprisingly, the Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG and Softstar Switchback hiking boots rank the highest for durability. Particularly, the Tracker II is comprised of durable leather with a welded sole margin — an innovative design that provides durability and waterproofness. Although we saw some wear along this welded seam during our rigorous and aggressive testing, overall, they held up to the abuse. Similarly, the Primus Trail III has a sole that's welded to the upper, which is comprised of durable, recycled rubber.

barefoot shoes - the vivobarefoot tracker ii fg held up to the toughest of work...
The Vivobarefoot Tracker II FG held up to the toughest of work environments, like long days of tree work in the foggy redwoods of northern CA.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Vibram has a reputation for outsole design and keeping shoes alive season after season with their superbly durable rubber. Combine that with a tough mesh upper, and the V-Trail 2.0 is a tank of a barefoot shoe. Although the design of the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 incorporates a Vibram sole with similar toughness, it is important to note that the upper is significantly less durable than the V-Trail 2.0.

barefoot shoes - the upper on the merrell vapor glove 6, although lightweight, has...
The upper on the Merrell Vapor Glove 6, although lightweight, has several weak points in terms of durability. The thin mesh won't hold up to abrasion, and the corded lace loops may wear with time and use.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Shoes that incorporate a more durable upper and sole design scored higher in this category. The Xero DayLite Hiker Fusion has a durable rubber sole and an upper comprised of abrasion-resistant material. The Huarache-inspired tension straps are tucked under the tough upper, increasing longevity. Likewise, the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III is made of tough, recycled rubber with a welded sole that will hold up to miles of road wear.

barefoot shoes - the primus lite iii are comprised largely of durable, recycled...
The Primus Lite III are comprised largely of durable, recycled rubber that will hold up with use.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Conclusion


We put each pair of these shoes through more than just their metaphorical paces. Even in a niche market like barefoot shoes, dozens of models are available each season, so narrowing down your options can be a real challenge. We hope that our extensive, side-by-side testing highlights key differences to make your selection process a little bit easier. We also encourage you to research the field of barefoot shoes to decide if it is the right style for you and your feet.

barefoot shoes - we hope our review helps you find a great pair of barefoot shoes for...
We hope our review helps you find a great pair of barefoot shoes for whatever you love to do. Happy trails!
Credit: Jon Oleson

Jon Oleson and Aaron Rice