Barefoot shoes have a reputation for being “weird.” I remember the first time I saw a pair of Vibram 5-Fingers. They were so bizarre looking that I couldn’t hear the benefits of them. Even when my best friend told me she ran in minimalist sandals my eyes glazed over, it was in one ear and out the other. The whole idea of flimsy, unsupportive shoes as GOOD for your feet flew in the face of everything I had been taught. It was just too different.
But the way we’ve been dealing with foot pain isn’t working. Stiff supportive shoes and corrective surgeries are not giving people the relief they need. So maybe different is exactly what we need.
In this post we’re going to break down the idea of barefoot shoes to show that 1. they’re actually not weird, 2. they’re a viable solution to common foot ailments, and 3. there are things you can do today to have healthier feet.
Why Don’t I Wear Normal Shoes?
You see, I’ve run the whole gamut of supportive shoes and orthotics. A nasty case of tendinitis at the age of 9 landed me in my first pair of orthotics and after that it was supportive shoes year round. I noticed I had discomfort if I ever strayed too far, so I didn’t question it.
When I saw my podiatrist as an adult after months of intense foot pain, she reaffirmed this to me and put me in even stiffer, MORE supportive shoes. In some ways I’m grateful to her and my injury, because when this advice turned out to be TERRIBLE for me I was finally ready to accept new knowledge into my life.
*Want to hear more about this saga? Read my full barefoot journey here.*
Fortunately, my sweet friend reminded me about minimalist shoes and sent me a copy of Whole Body Barefoot by Katy Bowman. The rest is history. Today I wear absolutely nothing but minimalist or no shoes and my entire body is stronger, more stable, and functioning better than it ever has in my life.
In fact this experience was so life-changing that I now spend my time breaking down barriers to healthy footwear. This website is all about showing you how awesome minimalist footwear can be and making it easy for you to find what you love. One choice (your shoes) can impact your life in countless ways.
So what do you think? Are you ready to think about feet and shoes in a new way?
What Is A Barefoot Shoe?
“Barefoot” shoes are so-called because they let your feet move as if barefoot. Most shoes inhibit our foot function, to our detriment. So in order to keep our feet strong and mobile our shoes must have the following characteristics:
Why Should I Wear Them?
Most people will benefit from wearing barefoot or minimalist shoes*. And this is why.
1. It’s Natural
Feet have carried humans through life without additional support for thousands of years. The need for constant foot support in the form of orthotics and stiff shoes is a modern plague, and one that largely affects the developed world. But we know (‘cuz science) that feet aren’t fundamentally flawed. Rather our modern lifestyles are. Excessive sitting combined with restrictive shoes from an early age put a real damper on our ability to move freely. So if you think of “foot pain” as a symptom of a larger problem, then an orthotic starts to sound more like a Tylenol than an actual solution. Yes it’s easy and quick, but it does nothing to fix the reason for your pain. Free feet are natural feet, so let’s figure out a way to REGAIN that function, rather than mask our problems.
2. Feet Are The Foundation
Foot function has a HUGE impact on our bodies. There is a kinetic chain running from our big toes, through our arch, up our legs and into the hips and spine that affects everything we do as humans. If your feet can’t move well enough to engage the rest of the chain, you get a whole host of issues you probably didn’t realize were connected to your feet. Like knee pain, back pain, etc. Sometimes you get the reverse too: An issue with your pelvis could be the reason for your throbbing big toe. If you are here because you have foot pain, you’ve probably become acutely aware of how much it can impact your life. Feet are a seriously underestimated part of our bodies, and turning our attention to them will come back in dividends throughout our lives.
3. They’re Cool
Ok, some barefoot shoes look weird. But thanks to a change in the tides, there are so many that look great! I have watched the market increase rapidly over the last few years, and today there is a shoe for everyone and every occasion. We’re talking weddings, work, date night, even the military, for men, women, kids, and tweens. You DON’T have to stick out like a sore thumb to have happy feet. In fact, I am adamant about NOT looking weird in my shoes. If you stick around you’ll see that you don’t have to compromise on your style to wear healthy shoes.
4. Small Change, Big Results
The simple act of choosing better footwear is one choice, but it impacts your body over and over. For me, barefoot shoes are a one way street: once I experienced the freedom there was no going back. Being out of pain has made me a happier, better person and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But especially now that there are so many barefoot shoe options to choose from, there is no need to accept foot pain as just a fact of life. You don’t even have to be an obsessive foot nerd (like I am) to enjoy better quality of life from your stronger feet. The small change of better shoes is a gift to yourself that keeps on giving.
But What About Foot Support?
Because I grew up with foot issues I have heard this refrain over and over. What about the support? Don’t our feet NEED to be supported? We’ve all heard it. And the truth is, some feet do need to be supported, at least for a time*. But currently we are binding and restricting perfectly healthy feet without even considering why they are hurting in the first place.
Unnecessary support leads to weakened tissues, because who needs muscles when you can just rely on your shoe! Carefully and mindfully learning to use your feet the way they were born to often eliminates the need for support. Take myself for example. Reliant on orthotics for 2 decades, I now go completely without support 100% of the time. It took me a couple years to build up the strength to get there, but flat feet are in my past. So it’s time to put away the notion that all feet need to be supported. There are things we all can do to have stronger, healthier feet, and it doesn’t take odd-looking shoes to get there.
Now you know all the hype about barefoot shoes, watcha gonna do about it??
How Do I Get Started?
For detailed information on who should wear barefoot shoes, how to transition your body, and how to find your perfect pair refer to The Ultimate Barefoot Shoes FAQ.
Here are some other great resources to start with!
1. Wake Up Your Feet
Before grabbing yourself a pair barefoot shoes, here are some simple exercises to help regain foot function. Changing your footwear changes a lot of things about your body, so it’s a really good idea to pair it with restorative exercises.
2. Pick Out Your First Pair of Shoes
My general philosophy is to err on the side of caution and transition slowly. Beginning with exercises and being barefoot as much as possible is an excellent way to start, but if you want to take it to the next level you’ll need new shoes. Here are some recommendations to get you started. If you’re looking for shoes in a specific category, like work, be sure to check out my other shoe lists and subscribe to see all my new reviews. And if you want a taste but are nervous to invest, read my Affordable Barefoot Shoes post for options as cheap as a few dollars.
3. Dig Deeper
Meaningful change takes time, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach here. If you’re committed to feeling better in your body then consider this the first step of a lifelong journey. It’s worth it. Go slow. Be patient. And love your feet!
Want more? Here are some additional resources to sink your teeth into, then follow me on Instagram and subscribe below to stay in the loop!
Glossary of Terms
Here are some terms you’re likely to hear in the world of barefoot shoes!
|Minimalist Shoes||In general minimalist shoes = barefoot shoes.|
|Zero Drop||Uniform thickness throughout the entire shoes. Heel-to-toe drop refers to the difference in thickness between the heel and the toe of the shoe. So zero drop means there is no difference.|
|Toe Spring||When the sole of a shoe curves upward at the toes. This is a common feature of conventional shoes but puts excess pressure on the tissues underneath your feet.|
|Toe Box||The part of the shoe that goes around the toes. The shape of the toe box is an important feature in a shoe.|
|Heel Rise||Another way to describe the drop of a shoe, or the difference between the thickness of the sole at the heel and the toe. No heel rise is the same as zero drop.|
|Foot Volume||How much space your foot takes up. See this post for a more detailed explanation.|
*This is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have persistent pain, chronic health issues, or a diagnosed musculoskeletal disorder please consult a professional. This information can still have an impact on how you approach footwear, but you may need to modify your approach to make it safe and effective for you.
33 thoughts on “What Are the Benefits of Barefoot Shoes?”
I’ve been attentive to my posture and gait for a long time. But trying to change my gait without changing my footwear was a wasted effort, it just gave me an anterior tilt in my pelvis which put additional stress on my low back.
Wearing minimalist footwear has had the biggest impact in improving my posture alignment and gait. I feel more stacked; adjustments (such as what you demonstrated on Instagram) are more effective. The result is more comfort and ease overall. I sound like a fan girl, because I guess I am! Thank you.
Barefoot shoes are pretty great! It’s true, it’s hard for those adjustments to stick if you’re in heeled shoes with pinched toes. I am glad changing your shoes has helped you so much!
Thank you for this comprehensive page! It’s a perfect page to refer friends and other people to who notice my “weird” shoes and become interested in the barefoot philosophy. I also love the pictures with the green and red markings, they help me explain the principle to others quickly and easily.
I also love the rest of your website. Personally I’ve only started using barefoot shoes 6 weeks ago (got a second pair last week) and all the tiny muscles in my feet and legs are waking up. It felt a lot more natural from day 1 but obviously it takes some getting used to. I’ve had to learn how to walk all over again at age 47! And currently I’m sort of in the twilight zone, having a maximum of about 10 miles on barefoot shoes, but my toes heavily protesting in “mainstream” shoes. So I’m a bit handicapped at the moment but working on strengthening my feet so that hopefully someday soon I can walk for as long as I want / until I get tired overall.
Thanks again and one day I may make a blog post about barefoot walking myself and I’ll definitely refer to you as well.
Hi Cecilia! Thank you for the kind words! In the beginning there is that weird time where you’re starting to feel the freedom but also kind of limited because you’re learning, but it’s an exciting process.
I wear vibram shoes all the time. I have several pairs. Love them.
I hear they are super comfortable! They are on my list to finally try this year.
I started at about the same time as Cecilia, and I’m in the same boat. It started out simple enough just wanting wider shoes. I discovered Altras then Lems and now I’m either barefoot or in Bedrock sandals. Maybe in a year or so Shamma Warriors. Never thought I’d be searching out sandals.
I’m not only strengthening my feet and calves, but my hip flexors, glutes and core as well as ankle mobility and hip mobility. I can even feel changes as far up as in my neck and shoulders. Its getting better everyday. Its time to flip the script and make conventional footwear “weird”.
I’m so glad I found barefoot shoes and just barefooting in general.
Also, glad I found your website. Thank you Anya, for all your doing!
Flip the script is right!
I also love this website and all the great information, and I agree it is totally much healthier to wear minimalist shoes. I prefer to spend lots of time barefoot at the beach, but sometimes have to walk on grass at local parks and the problem is that I sometimes step on a bee(ouch) and also on stones or whatever.
Isn’t there a distinction between minimalist shoes, though being adapted to be natural, as if barefoot; and actually being barefoot, so as to also receive the electrical connection to the ground?
See earthing.com if not familiar. When we walk barefoot, or even sit on the ground, we are receiving negative ions, which are very healthy. This connection only works if not blocked by synthetic materials, which is why modern shoes are also unhealthy. Wearing a natural material, such as leather moccasins allows the connection to reach us.
Perhaps you may know of a place where I can buy shoes which only protect me from bee stings and somewhat from dirt, glass, etc. but where I still receive the electrical connection?
Hi! Thank you so much. At barefootshoefinder.com you can actually select the Grounding filter to find brands with shoes that give you an electrical connection to the ground! Click Browse All Brands, and then open the filtering options.
I’m starting to consider making a full switch to barefoot after some pain went away once I tried my first experimental pair! I have one question, however. Is there any brand or creator who is willing to take custom shoe designs? I participate in a niche/alternative fashion and products in that style are already very limited before you even consider minimalism. I’d love to still be able to embrace the fashion though, so I’m wondering if there might be anyone out there who could make barefoot/minimal shoes with custom details? It’s nothing TOO wacky that has a totally unique shape, just that small things like straps and embellishments would make a big difference. I know this is kind of a big ask but I’d appreciate any suggestions that you’d have!
Hey there! There are quite a few brands that offer customizations, and many of them are open to things like that. You can find all the brands that offer custom options here:
Hi Anya, I love your content! I’m in the process of starting to switch to barefoot shoes. One question though: I have a flat foot as I broke it once and since then use orthopedic insoles. You write above the shoe should be completely flat, so no artificial arch. Would you say I should try wearing barefoot shoes without the orthopedic insoles? Thanks a lot!
Hi Stefanie! I would read this article for some guidance on getting out of arch support:
It might be a process if you need to rebuild your musculature, but it’s worth trying.
Hi. I would like to ask your thoughts on behalf of my on. He is nearly 5 and quite pigeon-toed. He has very wide feet so I have to buy a few sizes up, but then because of the length of the shoe he is prone to tripping.
I am curious about barefoot shoes for him, but hesitant as he once had flexible soled wet shoes and would always fall when wearing them as the toes would catch and bend the soles underneath.
Any words of wisdom as far as barefoot with pigeon toed gate, or barefoot and tripability over flexible soles? Would really appreciate your input.
I am not very knowledgeable about pigeon-toed gait, but you should be able to find wide shoes for him without sizing up. I think that would help a lot with the tripping. Softstar Shoes for kids are really quite wide, as are many of the moccasin style shoes for kids. Be Lenka barefoot shoes are another extra wide kids brand worth looking.
I am new to the barefoot shoe topic, I have two questions.
1. I would like nice all-round sportshoes. I mostly play table tennis, walk, do all kinds of trainings and sports activities. I am not into running at the moment, but in the future it could be interesting. My shoes usually last me very long, so I don’t need to buy new ones often. Can you recommend something for me?
2. Do you know of any barefoot indoors/turf soccer shoes?
The Xero 360 sounds like a great option for the types of activities you are doing! As far as #2, I don’t know of any good barefoot indoor soccer shoes unfortunately.
I have been following you and your blog for a couple of years now. I have gradually transitioned to barefoot flats and now am wearing Storehouse Flats. I find, though, that me feet and ankles are swollen. Is this typical? I know the heat of the summer often contributes to swelling feet, but we have hit some cooler weather and my feet/ankles are still swollen.
Just wondering if this is all part of the transition.
Hm, to be honest that’s not something I experienced or hear happening very frequently. I don’t know why wearing barefoot shoes would cause that!
Very nice overview, thanks Anya. Now I want to search for one pair of shoes by giving in my left foot and right foot dimensions (these differ), in the right categories (man, dress or sport, price range) so I find shoes withing 5 minutes instead of 5 weeks of browsing, ordering, trying, returning and desperation.
I was really looking forward to lems boots and primal 2. Though they fit very well lenthwise, both shoes were snug in width. Based off lems advertising i thought i finally found a shoe to fit my feet. I loved the look of the boulder boot, but it seemed a little narrow in metatarsal and didn’t allow my toes to move much. They are better fit than my windriver hiking boot, but not sure if they will break in or make my foot sore after use feels like they’re halfway to a good fitting boot if they were just a little wider at toe and metatarsal. The primal 2 fit better in width, but felt stretched out sideways (also felt like something stuck to bottom of sole).
Hopefully Be Lenka will suit me better. Any guidance to type of footwear? My foot is 27.5cm long 11cm wide at metatarsal and toes like 12.5cm width.
I commented a while back about a Morton’s Neuroma. I’ve had it for a year and I finally had it surgically removed. I’m conflicted as to what my footwear should look like after I’ve healed from the procedure. My podiatrist agrees with choosing shoes with wide toe boxes, however, he said unless you’re walking on dirt, sand, or another forgiving material that we’ve been adapted to, there’s opportunity for further damage to feet without any cushion/support. What is your opinion on walking on concrete/asphalt considering our feet have only encountered these hard materials in the last ~100 years? I’d love your perspective, thanks!
While I partly agree, hard smooth surfaces very much exist in nature and a fully functional foot is adapted to such an environment. But the problem is when it’s never-ending, the same thing over and over. That’s why I put a lot of floor texture to walk on all over my house. Specifically for you, I would opt for something with a little more cushion given your history with the neuroma. The professionals I work with usually advise their patients to wear something like Altra or Lems shoes when there’s a neuroma involved. You can find some cushioned zero drop, wide toe box shoes here: https://anyasreviews.com/best-barefoot-minimalist-shoe-brands-beginners/
(but of course, I am in no position to give medical advice, just sharing what I have heard)
Thank you for replying so quickly! I’ve learned much from your site and reviews in the past year. I appreciate you sharing what you’ve learned from your experience. I’m 7 days out from surgery and looking forward to taking wonderful care of my feet 🙂
Where did you buy the tank top and shorts you are wearing in the picture at the beginning of this article? Organic cotton, bamboo, …? Thank you for writing about this topic!
Oh my, I wish it was made of those materials! The tank is from American Eagle, the shorts were from a thrift store (American Eagle brand I believe too). I prefer to buy second hand, but I also hope to find a high quality sustainable clothing brand that fits petites to replace some of the fast fashion brands I indulge in.
Hi Anya! Your website has been absolutely life-changing. I made the switch to barefoot shoes 3 weeks ago, and I’ve already seen about a 90% decrease in my back pain! I have much more stamina when walking now, and I can see the shape of my feet changing already! I had suspicions that a good bit of my back pain started with my feet, but I had no idea what an incredible difference it would make!
If you have the time, I have a question for you. I have 3 pairs of barefoot shoes so far, and I wear nothing else. I recently bought the Feelgrounds Patrol Lite boots, and I am noticing that there is less wiggle room for my left pinky toe than in my other barefoot shoes. I really don’t want to return them, but I am worried it will ruin my toe splay. Do you have any thoughts on this? Thank you for all you do!
Hi Marley! Wow, what an awesome experience. I’m glad you’re experiencing so many benefits already. If you feel comfortable and your pinkie toe is not smooshed but just has a little less wiggle room you don’t need to be alarmed. If these are boots you plan to wear a LOT and you want to make sure you have full toe splay, then it might be worth returning them. I don’t expect they will ruin your progress, unless you’re really uncomfortable in them (and even then, ruin is a strong word!).
I’m interested in getting into barefoot shoes; I’m offering the Sa-Me from Fugu as safety boots, I already own Chinese Feiyue’s but want a shoe for general wear and in the office.
I’ve on a bit of a budget, what casual and office shoe would you recommended for a combined ~£100 or so?
I would recommend checking out Aintap on Etsy. They have some of the most affordable dressy shoes that also work for casual dress.
The military boot link in section three gives a 404, here is the current one: https://www.bellevilleboot.com/index.php?l=product_detail&p=98 (“mini-mil boot”).
Gee thanks! I’ve just got that link updated. I also have this FAQ on Military approved shoes that I’ve updated as well: https://anyasreviews.com/ufaq/are-there-barefoot-shoes-for-the-military/