The Great Oxymoron

Barefoot Running Shoes. I’ll write more about the purist position (towards which I strongly lean) that barefoot means barefoot. However, for winter in New England, I gotta get me some cold protection. Leading contenders are Vibram Five Fingers, but Feelmax is interesting as well.

There are dozens of options for what have come to be called “minimalist running shoes.” Some are from vendors you’ve heard of, some from smaller, specialty players. All eliminate the “motion control” that barefooters agree is one of the problems with modern conventional running shoes, though with a range of approaches.

The VFFs are stretchy nylon slipons with protective rubber soles, characterized by individual toe compartments to retain that aspect of being barefoot. These seem to be the most popular with the near-purists. They are similar to water shoes, another option for running (Barefootrunner positively reviewed Nikas for the purpose).  VFFs look pretty crazy, and I suppose a self-conscious runner might take that as a negative.

A slightly more conventional-looking alternative is the Feelmax product line. They are somewhat slipper-like with very thin, light soles. A number of barefooters seem to like the Kuusa, and the Panka is also popular. My sense is they might have less on the bottom than Vibrams though I’ve not personally laid my hands on either. One review I read says the soles are water permeable. The Vivo Barefoot is another (rather expensive) specialty offering.

As a hedge, perhaps, the big guys, all seem to have come up with minimalist offerings. Some of them are positioned as retro, looking like track shoes from the Roger Bannister era. The ASIC Onitsuka Tiger is a prime example and the Puma K-Street is perhaps the most popular of those with the otherwise barefoot crowd. Others, like the Nike Free, are targeted more explicitly as a barefoot alternative. Similar styles are also available from Newton Running. Skora and Stem Footwear are startups with initial offerings due in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

There also exist some minimalist trail runner styles. La Sportiva Slingshots and Inov-8 Men’s x-talon 212 Trail seem to be used by even serious barefooters for trotting down rocky trails.

For sake of completeness, there are a number of lower tech alternatives in use by the barefoot community. Evidently moccasins work and Soft Star specifically markets a goofy looking line for the purpose. Do-it-yourselfers are gluing leather to the bottom of socks or wrapping them in duct tape. Perhaps the most authentic option is the Huarache sandal, favorite of the Tarahumara (not to mention the Beach Boys).

Explore posts in the same categories: Barefoot Running, Research


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2 Comments on “The Great Oxymoron”

  1. Hi Phil,

    I love the Vibram’s.

    Interesting you decided to take up barefoot running in Boston in January!

    I’m not really a runner, but find that this approach is much less painful.

    good luck with it!


  2. Cheryl Says:

    Hey Phil, This wiki article came across my iGoogle homepage and I thought of you. Don’t know if you’ve read it yet. If not, enjoy. I’m taking it as a message from God that it’s time to move my rear from my chair and go to the gym to try my new running shoes. Will venture into barefoot training when I can find a track later this spring.

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