1Vibram Five Fingers Bikila
Vibram’s signature separate toe pockets are designed to push your stride forward onto the forefoot and spread the impact of foot strike more evenly across the entire foot. The Bikila may be too strange a running experience for the average runner who only wants to dip a toe—rather than all 10—into minimal footwear, but Vibram is still the choice of evangelical minimal runners.
Like every model made by Altra, the Torins are a true zero drop shoe, meaning the toes and heels are the same distance from the ground for less impact, greater stability and to push you towards a more forward-on-the-foot running style. The roomy toe box is a real revelation, designed to ensure the foot has room to spread out naturally. Our testers loved this shoe because it allowed them to shift to a minimal running style while offering plenty of cushioning.
3New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez
The Minimus—stripped of the padding and “correction” features most runners have come to expect from their footwear—is as close as it gets to naked feet without tossing your shoes out altogether. Perhaps that’s why it’s so surprising our testers rated the Minimus their overwhelming favorite. For most, concerns that knee and ankle problems would be exacerbated by lack of support melted away on first wear. Some testers even claimed their joint aches actually improved within a few runs.
4Adidas Energy Boost
Our testers pegged the Boost as a “transition” shoe—nearly weightless but significantly more built up than a true minimal. Lots of interesting technology here: The “Boost” padding, for which the shoe is named, replaces the EVA cushioning found in most traditional running shoes, propelling the runner to a considerably springier push off. Testers said they could absolutely feel the “Leaf Springs” embedded into the heel, which further added to the shoe’s buoyant ride.
5Nike Free 3.0
Free is a somewhat ironic name for a shoe our testers felt was the stiffest, most structured example of the minimal genre they tried. That’s not a bad thing for runners who like to keep their feet light but still crave a glove-like fit, solid structure and superior motion control. The heel is dropped but not to zero. This helps shift gait onto the midsole and forefoot but not to the extreme, making it a good choice for someone who wants to flirt with minimal without going all the way.
6Brooks Pure Drift
This shoe was a big hit with our testers because it represents the best of both worlds: minimalism and support. Without the included insert, it is a zero drop, true minimal shoe. For times a runner prefers slightly more support and cushion, the insert adds four millimeters between the heel and the ground. The expansive toe box provides plenty of wiggle room, while the split grooved treads allow the forefoot the freedom to flex. But them a half size smaller than usual for a a more snug fit.