Several shoe manufacturers now offer ‘barefoot’ or minimal running shoes that give you a near barefoot experience with thinner, flat soles that protect your feet from any sharp unpleasant objects, while making it easy to run correctly.
Here’s my take on three of the most popular barefoot running shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
There’s no getting away from the fact that these look weird. I had many strange looks when I wore them to the supermarket (“Mummy, look at that man’s feet!”). Also, having your shoes fit in between your toes does feel a little strange at first. That said, once I got used to them they were incredibly comfortable. In fact, weighing in at only 168g they felt more like a sock than a shoe. When running, the sole gave me enough protection from any nasties without deadening my foot’s connection with the ground too much. Remember, true barefoot running is as much about feeling the floor as it is running with proper technique, so the less you have in between, the better. However, the lack of socks can make them whiff before too long, but they’re perfectly safe to throw in the washing machine and mine came up like new after a muddy session in the woods. Vibram offer a wide range of different shoes for different terrains, but at £130 a pair, they don’t come cheap.
Merrell Barefoot Sonic Glove
These look a little more like a conventional running shoe until you turn them over. The sole (also made by Vibram) has the typical zero drop heel (no heel lift) but plenty of grip. When I first tried them on they felt rather stiff and clumpy compared to the FiveFingers, but after a couple of days of wear they softened up, found the shape of my feet better and grew more comfortable. I enjoyed running in them too. They gave me plenty of feedback from the ground both on and off road. Although heavier than the FiveFingers (202g) they were still light enough to almost feel barefoot and the winter-specific windproof upper certainly kept the elements out better than the Vibram pair. These are a great shoe if you want something that offers a little more protection and you’re not too comfortable with the idea of getting odd looks wherever you go.
Vivo Barefoot Neo Trail
At £89 these are the cheapest of the bunch, but weighing in at 268g, are also the heaviest. That said, they appeared more flexible than the Merrell shoes and have more grip, making them better placed to cope with a trickier off-road run. However, the trade off here is more sole means less communication with the ground. Although the zero drop heel makes them a true forefoot shoe, for me I didn’t get that same barefoot feeling that I got with the other two, and sometimes forgot I was running barefoot at all. They also have a much thicker upper sole and more cushioning inside which made them really comfortable, but cocooned my feet a little more than the other two.
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Paul Mumford is a personal trainer, writer and broadcaster. He owns the Mumford Phys. Ed. training company in Essex. www.mumfordphysed.com