The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Brands for Beginners

If you are new to minimalist footwear, it can take some getting used to. Especially if you’ve been wearing supportive shoes your whole life, you may find that barefoot shoes are an extreme change. Who knew the ground was so hard?? It’s important to understand your options and that you will likely go through a period of transition, a transition that will look different for each person.

I myself went through a full year of foot and body strengthening before I was comfortable in barefoot shoes, and I needed extra cushion for another year after that. It’s easy to underestimate the impact shoes have on our body, but once you start seeing the benefits of barefoot, there’s no going back. Switching to minimalist shoes is a big change, but it’s 100% worth it.

But before we get to shoe brands, here’s a refresher on what makes a minimalist shoe (see this post for even more details):

What Is A Minimalist Shoe?

What is a minimalist barefoot shoe? Flat, Flexible, and foot-shaped

To be considered a true minimalist shoe, it must have all of the following characteristics:

  1. Wide Toe Box – Toe freedom supports the movement of your entire body.
  2. Flat – No arch support or heel rise (zero drop) for stable, functional movement.
  3. Flexible – So your feet can bend like they would if barefoot.

*Note: Zero drop means no heel rise, i.e. the shoe is just as thick under your heel as it is under the ball of your foot.*

As you become more comfortable with barefoot shoes you’ll find yourself reaching for thinner soles so that you are close to the ground (we are trying to mimic being barefoot after all). But at first that can be quite a shock to the system. Unless you’re already used to it, I recommend starting out with a little cushion as you transition.

And now, the shoes. The following is a list of my 8 favorite brands for transitioning to barefoot shoes. They are all foot-shaped, flat, and flexible, but with some extra cushion.

*Looking instead for Affordable Barefoot Shoes? If you want to test the waters without an investment, check that list out for options as cheap as a few dollars!

Transitional Barefoot Shoes for Beginners

Table of Contents

  1. Lems Shoes
  2. Altra Running Shoes
  3. Oesh Shoes
  4. Merrell Glove
  5. Bedrock Sandals
  6. Earth Runners
  7. Luna Sandals
  8. Shamma Sandals

1. Lems Shoes

If you’re looking to become a barefoot enthusiast but have been dependent on cushioned shoes, Lems is a great first step into the minimalist world. You’ll get the immediate benefit of a wider toe box and zero drop heel, but you have plenty of cushion as you learn to change your foot strike pattern. You also have the ability to add an orthotic such as this one if you need some extra support. The best part about Lems is that they carry a wide variety of shoes for exercise, hiking, work, and both men and women. Some of Lems shoes have a heel rise, so be sure to read each product description.

2. Altra Running Shoes

Another great brand for foraying into minimalist athletic shoes is Altra. Their shoes have a great foot shape, no heel rise, and tons of options. They primarily carry athletic shoes, but also have a few nice lifestyle and dress shoes. This is the very first minimalist shoe brand I owned and I immediately noticed how much more comfortable they were on my toes than any other sneaker I had tried. The nice thing about Altra is that it is widely available. You may even be able to try them on in a local running shoe store.

3. Oesh Shoes

Oesh is a women’s brand and is great for someone who wants to wear minimalist shoes every day but still needs a thick sole. With athletic shoes, summer sandals, and even dress shoes, they cover a lot of bases for the modern day woman. The soles are 3d printed in store and were developed to be especially shock absorbent and springy. This results in less impact on the joints, but they are completely flat with no arch support to promote better stability and foot function. Here you can read my experiences with Oesh.

4. Merrell Glove

Merrell is a well-established shoe brand with a dedicated minimalist line, the Merrell Glove. They are loved by many barefoot runners and have a lot of options if you want some minimalist features but not all. They also have some hiking shoes, water shoes, and lifestyle shoes for everyday. If you are interested in a brand you can keep coming back to, Merrell is a great choice. *Some Glove models have a slight heel rise.*

Transitional Sandals

Looking for sandals? There are TONS of minimalist sandal options, but the following are the best ones for newbies.

5. Bedrock Sandals

Bedrock Sandals are rugged, hard-wearing, and thick-soled. You can choose from a range of models, some with mild arch support and others completely minimal. I like Bedrocks because they are secure to your feet, but let your toes be completely free. They are great for both everyday and all kinds of adventuring thanks to the great traction on the sole.

6. Earth Runners

Earth Runners close ups in nature

Earth Runners is another brand that is super secure, durable, and lets your toes go wild. They have different thicknesses depending on your needs, but all are completely flat and flexible. I’ve been wearing Earth Runners for a while now and love them for hiking as well as every day wear. They only have one strapping style, and I love how simple it is. I’ve worn mine with dresses, jeans, and basically everything. This is a great brand for both new and seasoned barefooters.

*Get 10% off any Earth Runners purchase with my code ANYASREVIEWSER

7. Luna Sandals

Luna Sandals running sandals and traditional leather sandals

Luna Sandals has an extensive lineup of running and lifestyle sandals. You can get thick or thin soles that conform to your foot over time and are very secure. One pair of running sandals from Luna should last you years, and can be worn for every day as well as exercise. My personal favorites are the Rooted line of sandals that have traditional leather laces. They are adorable and pass as fashion sandals. Get 10% off your first order with code ANYASREVIEWS10

8. Shamma Sandals

Shamma Sandals Super Goats, Warriors, and Chargers elite running minimalist sandals

These high quality handmade sandals come in a variety of thicknesses and features. Shamma Sandals are similar in construction to Luna sandals but with velcro adjustments for easier on and off. They also have a leather strap sandal that is extremely comfortable. These are the most comfortable adventure sandals I’ve tried, and they also look cute as everyday shoes. You can see my full review here.

*Get 10% off with code ANYA10PERCENT

Other Options

When I was transitioning I started out in a pair of Altras. But I wanted shoes that looked a little dressier and that I wouldn’t transition out of shortly. My solution was to buy some ultra-thin Vivobarefoot shoes and put in an insole and/or orthotic. This helped bridge the gap during my transition and extended the usefulness of my shoes so I didn’t have to buy a bunch of new ones.

If you’re planning to use inserts inside your shoes factor in the extra space you might need, and consider going with lace up shoes. My favorite brand for this is Vivobarefoot, but you can go with a lot of different ones. Check out my list of the best barefoot shoe brands for examples.

Conclusion

It might feel like there is a steep learning curve when it comes to minimalist shoes, but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with strength from the ground up (read my Barefoot Journey here). Maybe you won’t be able to jump in feet first, but getting to know the ins and outs of of the barefoot world will go a long way to help you on your path.

Are you interested in learning more about barefoot shoes? I have a collection of Barefoot Resources, a guide to the MOST AFFORDABLE options, and tons of shoe lists and reviews. Check them all out and then let me know if you still have questions!

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Comments

10 thoughts on “The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Brands for Beginners”

  1. Hi Anya, thanks so much for this helpful info. I’m purchasing my first pair of barefoot/minimalist shoes (I already spend most of every day barefoot) and I need a sandal that works with a variety of outfits and preferably can slip on and off or fasten quickly and easily. I don’t need them for hiking or strenuous activity, just daily walking on sidewalks mostly since we live in an urban area. Right now I’m thinking either the Luna Brujita slip on (I’ve heard they loosen up a lot?), Xero Jessie, Earthrunners, or possibly the Unshoes Keota. Any input you have would be great!

    1. All of those options are great, I personally love the Luna Brujita for what you’re describing, followed by Earth Runners. They are cute, go with everything, and functional. Shamma also has some nice thick ones, but they look a little more sporty. Xero Jessie is my favorite Xero style, but the sole might be thin (I’m not sure how thick it is). The Unshoes are definitely thin and I wouldn’t recommend them as a first minimalist shoe unless you are used to walking barefoot for long periods.

  2. Hi Anya,
    I’m technically new to barefoot shoes even though I bought Vivobarefoot Kasana shoes more than a year ago and basically only wear them. I clearly need to expand my shoe wardrobe. I am looking for something that has better grip than the Kasana and that works for trail running/hiking.
    I came across Astral Design shoes (specifically the Loyak) and am wondering if you have any experience with them. They technically have a heel 1mm higher than their toe, so I’m not sure if that is enough of a reason to not get them. What do you think?

    1. I have looked at the Astral! I am a real stickler about the heel height, so I wouldn’t get them for myself but they seem like a good brand. Vivobarefoot has better hiking shoes than the Kasana that would be worth looking into, and you can also find some good ones from Xero. There are probably even more options than that, but I typically hike in sandals or cold-weather boots.

  3. The nonappearance of Xero Shoes seems conspicuous here! I feel like it almost needs a footnote, or at least a reply to a comment, haha…. Full Disclosure: I am new to BFS and just got my first pair of Prios from Xero Shoes. I’ll keep reading and see if I can figure out why they might not rate a place in the lists of yours that I’ve seen thus far. I admit I’m learning a lot about brands and options here.

    1. Hey there! I think you’re right about Xero needing to be in here somewhere, their price point is good and that makes it a lot easier for people to bite the bullet. I haven’t done a whole lot of testing of Xero Shoes, so sometimes I forget!

  4. Hi Anya! Vivo are best sandals/shoes I found for minimal style (male). I didnt get a sense of others from your reivews. Earth Runner nice but also not thin. In summer I also walk barefoot as I live in hot country! Any thoughts on other thin soles for guy to try? Passionate about barefoot (and also not found perfect barefoot slippers for winter if you have ideas!

    1. Hi! My husband loves his Freet shoes, they are 4mm thick without the insole. Also Tadeevo sneakers are really nice and minimal. For slippers, I prefer “slipper socks” they are the most minimal. But Softstar shoes makes some really nice slippers, as does Manitobah and Steger Mukluks. Glerups are good too. Hope that helps!

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Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered “barefoot shoes” after a long bout of foot issues. I realized that with some extra research (and a whole new set of standards), I could curate shoes that made me feel amazing and didn’t require any compromises. I started my blog Anya’s Reviews to share what I learned with others.

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