The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Brands for Beginners

*Disclosure – Anya’s Reviews is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.

A close up view of a pair of feet resting on concrete wearing Lems Barefoot shoes Primal Zen suede in blue with the text "Anya's Reviews" on the bottom
Barefoot Shoes with Cushion Can Help You Transition

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??

In this article you will find 13 transitional barefoot shoe brands I recommend as a good starting point for beginners! These are shoes with a wide toe box and flat sole, but a little bit more cushion than you typically find in barefoot shoes. Plus my fave insoles hack that I used as a new barefoot shoe wearer myself!

Let’s dig into your options!

But before we get to shoe brands, here’s a refresher on what makes a minimalist shoe:

What Is A Barefoot or Minimalist Shoe?

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

To be considered a true barefoot 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 might find yourself reaching for thinner soles (we are trying to mimic being barefoot after all). But a lot of people like to have more cushion when they first start out – and some people always use a little more cushion!

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 a while 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.

Want more tips on making a safe and comfortable transition to barefoot shoes? Check out my additional resources below.

Transitional Barefoot Shoe Brands for Beginners

The following is a list of my 13 favorite brands for transitioning to barefoot shoes. They are all foot-shaped, flat, and flexible, but with some extra cushion.

And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can find even more options in my Barefoot Shoe Finder, where you can search by region, price range, sole thickness, and width.

Now let’s get to my favorite zero drop shoes for beginners.

Lems Shoes

Lems Beginner Friendly barefoot and minimalist shoes, zero drop, foot shaped, with cushion under foot

You can find the Lems Primal Zen sneaker at Anya’s Shop

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 unisex shoes for exercise, hiking, and work and they’re stylish too. European residents can purchase Lems at Mugavik Barefoot and use code ANYASREVIEWS for 5% off.

I’ve linked directly to the ones I recommend, because not all Lems Shoes are zero drop or foot shaped. The options one the Widest sole fit wide to extra wide feet. The options on their Wide sole fit average to wide feet.

Read all my Lems Reviews here!


Altra Running Shoes

Four photo collage showing Altra Running shoes, zero drop cushioned footwear with toe space

Another great brand for foraying into minimalist athletic shoes is Altra. Like Lems, they have multiple widths so I recommend sticking with their wider zero drop options and their thinner soles (still much thicker than any barefoot shoe).

My favorites are the Lone Peak, Escalante, and Superior. For the widest toe box choose Lone Peak Wide (a couple colorways come in Wide).

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. But please note that some of their models have extremely thick soles and a low drop (4mm heel) that I do not typically recommend.


Joe Nimble

Joe Nimble is a German functional footwear brand that has an anatomical foot shape, but a thicker sole than you find on most barefoot shoes. They are well made, stylish, and especially good at bridging the gap if you want to continue doing the activities you love but aren’t ready for ultra minimalist shoes yet.

Note that not all models are zero drop and different thickness options, so be sure to read the product descriptions.


Barebarics

A collage of 7 different Barebarics barefoot sneaker models on different feet and from different angles

Use code ANYASREVIEWS for a 5% discount at the EU shop

Barebarics is a fashion forward brand owned by Be Lenka. They are designed for urban dwellers with a highly abrasion-resistant outsole, a little more cushion than Be Lenka shoes, and a modern aesthetic. They really level up the style game AND the quality game.

Because they have a thicker/stiffer outsole and a more cushioned insole I consider these to be a good transition shoe. You could even comfortably use an orthotic inside them if you needed to. Barebarics also have a fabulous toe box shape that’ll work for wide feet and look damn cool. We carry them at Anya’s Shop in the US with free shipping/returns!

Read my full Barebarics Review here!


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.


Whitin Sneakers

At around $40, Whitin sneakers are one of the most affordable options out there with lots of casual options. They come with an insole that has a bit of cushion, and you can remove it when you feel like it for a true barefoot experience. They are zero drop and very flexible!

These are a favorite among people who want to try out the concept without making a big investment. And the casual sneakers are even machine washable! I recommend ordering from their “Wide Barefoot” Section for the best foot shape.

You can read my Whitin Barefoot Shoes Review here!


Saguaro Barefoot Sneakers

Top down view of 3 children's feet in Saguaro inexpensive Amazon shoes that are barefoot friendly.

Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 15% off!

Saguaro is an affordable barefoot sneaker brand, and this one comes in a full range of sizes starting at toddler. They come with a removable insole that adds a bit of extra cushion, but not quite as much as the first 5 brands on this list.

The adult athletic shoe models come with an insole that has a slight heel rise, but it’s very minimal and many people transitioning find them an excellent segue to zero drop. You can also remove the insole when you are ready!

At around $36 after my code, they are an easy way to get your foot in the door and see how you like it! My favorites are the knitted version you see here and the Will winter model – both come in the full range of kids and adult sizes!

Read my Saguaro Shoes Review here.


Icarus Footwear

Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 10% off

Icarus was a pleasant surprise for us on the Anya’s Reviews team. They are a new brand with one model, the Ascent, that comes in men’s and women’s sizes and have been a home run both for our male testers and me.

These sneakers have a sleek design that looks durable, stylish, and still quite wide in the toe box. But possibly the best part about them is they come with 3 insoles that can take you through your transition to barefoot shoes.

The first insole is cushioned and has a 5mm heel rise (not zero drop). The second is 4mm thick, and the third is 3mm thick. You can stack them together to add 7mm of zero drop cushion, or you can remove all insoles altogether to have an ultra thin shoe. These shoes can really transition with you, and will fit most foot types even with the different insole variations.

These are fitting true to size for us.


Flux Footwear

Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 10% off

Flux footwear is another stylish sneaker option that is zero drop and wider than average. They have a thicker cushioned sole, and a soft knitted upper. The Adapt Trainer (left) has more of a tapered toe box than I prefer, but they can work well if you are new to barefoot shoes or have a narrow foot.

The Adapt Runner (right) has a thicker sole – 22mm stack height – and a wider forefoot, but does have quite a lot of toe spring. This makes Flux a compromise option IMO. They might be exactly what you’re looking for, but don’t meet every one of my personal shoe criteria.


Transitional Sandals

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

Bedrock Sandals

Bedrock Sandals are rugged, hard-wearing, and thick-soled. You can choose from a range of models (8-20mm thick), 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. They also now have a closed to model, the Mountain Clog!


Luna Sandals

Luna Sandals running sandals and traditional leather sandals

Use code ANYA for 10% off directly from Luna

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. The Mono Winged is Justin’s go-to in the summer, and we now carry them at Anya’s Shop!


Shamma Sandals

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

Get 10% off with code ANYASREVIEWS2023

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.


Earth Runners

Earth Runners close ups in nature

Use code ANYA for 10% off

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.


Using Insoles to Transition

A line up of shoe insoles to wear with barefoot shoes to increase comfort, improve fit, or add functionality

My favorite tip for transitioning into barefoot shoes is get yourself some insoles! They add a little more cushion to your barefoot shoes for whenever you need it – they make your shoes more versatile without having to buy multiple pairs.

My two favorite insoles for barefoot shoe beginners are the following:

  • NorthSole Insoles – flat, flexible, long lasting and come in two thicknesses
  • Bridge Soles – mild arch support and heel lift to aid your transition to zero drop shoes

I used NorthSole insoles myself as I transitioned and they were a total lifesaver! I suddenly had a lot more options to choose from and could still make them comfortable for me. To this day I use them on long travel days and/or joint pain days (I have hypermobility so these happen occasionally for me).

Learn about more insoles to wear with barefoot shoes here!

Wide Toe Box Options Without a Barefoot Sole

a collage of 5 different wide toe box shoes that leave plenty of space for your toes to splay out naturally but that aren't barefoot shoes. Flux Runner, AHinsa Comfort, Barebarics Zing, Birkenstock, and Bedrock Clogs

If you’re just looking for toe space, but can’t or don’t want a barefoot sole – you have options! Check out the article below to see the list of our favorites.

It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated!

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 new to barefoot shoes? Here are a few resources you might like:

Share This Post:

Tagged:

Subscribe to the Barefoot Shoe Digest™

Stay up to date on all the best shoes, current sales, newest releases, and more

You May Also Like:

Comments

90 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.

          1. Hi Anya,
            Thanks for the informative article! I’m wondering if any of these shoes consider “grounding” or conductivity with the earth in their design.
            Do you know?

            Thanks, Trent

      1. Hi, I’m new to barefoot sandals & shoes. I have very wide( E-width), & a high instep. What are your recommendations for me??

  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!

  5. Hello. I have been working on my feet for a while. I have tried Vivo and Lems. I have a tendency to flare up my plantar fasciiatis. I wonder if you may recommend some minimalist shoes that may help with PF considering that I am still working on my feet.

    1. I recommend the brand Oesh if you have plantar fasciitis pain, they are specifically designed to help with foot pain and the sole is very comfortable and shock absorbent but still meets minimalist requirements.

  6. Hi Anya!
    First off I want to say how amazing and informative your posts are! I’ve had several feet issues my whole life and finding shoes that fit my feet AND work around my feet problems is pretty much impossible! So I’ve decided to try going the barefoot route and your posts have been SO SO helpful! Thank you!
    I have a question I would love to get your advice on:
    Like I said, I am just starting this journey of barefoot shoes and am looking for a pair of sandals. My job requires me to stand flat all day so I will need some sort of cushion. I was looking at either Bedrock or Luna based on your post about beginner sandals and was wondering which of the two you might recommend? I like the way Luna’s aren’t as chunky, so I could wear them with skirts and dresses, but I also like how a few of the bedrock shoes have an ever-so-slight arch support (since again, I’ve never worn shoes like these before). What are your thoughts?

    1. I do love my Lunas! Do you have any sandals you could swap back and forth between in case you find the lack of arch support difficult? If you’ve had foot problems it might be an adjustment. Bedrocks would be a safe bet though.

      1. I do not have any to go back and forth to, I’m having to get new sandals so I wanted to try one of these you recommended

  7. Hi Anya. Thank you for your amazing reviews! I was hoping for some advice. I have long, extremely narrow feet with multiple foot problems including hyper mobility, pronating arches, morton’s neuroma and arthritis. I’ve worn orthotics for years and have struggled immensely to find shoes narrow enough. My foot pain has increased exponentially recently and walking is mostly painful. I have been doing Petra Fisher’s boot camp exercises which have helped. I’ve tried correct toes recently but sadly they seem so be bringing on other toe and foot pain.
    Petra mentioned that some people with hyper mobility may be better keeping their orthotics. I was hoping to try out some minimal shoes as the shoes I have do not give enough space in the toe box, despite my narrow feet. I was hoping to find some shoes that I could use with my orthotics initially but try to transition to wearing them without orthotics. But I’d need shoes that are narrow and have some padding in the sole. I’ve read your reviews but am not sure which shoes would be best for me to try given my multiple complexities and needs. At the moment my feet are most comfortable when I am barefoot walking around the house. Also, my foot shape is the one with the long second toe.

    I am in Australia. Thank you so much for your time and expertise!

    1. Hi Nicole! Sorry to hear about your foot difficulties. It can be a tough road! Have you seen my Barefoot Shoe Finder (https://barefootshoefinder.com/)? You can use it to find narrow width brands with cushioned soles. The ratings should help you find a narrow enough option. Once you’ve found a few brands, you can then refer to this post that includes a list of retailers in Australia to see if you can find any of them closer to you: https://anyasreviews.com/barefoot-shoe-brands-by-region/
      It sounds like you might also have low volume feet. Sometimes your foot volume can have even more impact on the fit of your shoes than width. For example, if a shoe is wider than your foot, but is too spacious above your arch and around your ankle it will feel massive and slide around. But if the shoe fits snugly over your arch and close around your ankle then the shoe will stay secure despite the extra space around your forefoot. So you might consider adding something like a shoe tongue pad to you shoes. Vivobarefoot comes to mind as being a good option for you. Have you tried any of their shoes?

      1. Nicole Chambers

        Hi again Anya. Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed reply. I have been doing lot of investigating and have just placed an order to try out the Vivobarefoot Geo Court II’s. I’m also looking at the Oesh Salon and Warrior as possible options as a transition shoe. I love the idea of the shoe tongue pads – they may really come in handy. Unfortunately, the link I tried from your website lists them as unavailable. Is there anywhere else you source yours from? Here’s to hoping for a positive change in my foot journey!

          1. Hi there,
            Thank you so much for such detailed information. I’m looking for my first pair of transition shoes and I’m hoping for a running shoe (for walking and indoor exercise) or maybe a sandal. One of my biggest concerns is that I have a narrow heel and shoes are often too loose at the heel. I liked the look of Oesh trainers but they start at a 6.5, and I believe I’m a 5.5 or 6. I was wondering if you have any suggestions that would work well for a narrow heel. (I also experience plantar fasciitis at times.) Thank you!

          2. The Lems Primal 2s work well for narrow heels and are a great starter shoe! They also come in small sizes.

    2. Hi Nicole, I’m fairly new to this barefoot journey and with what I’ve learnt so far there’s no way I’ll go back to “normal” shoes again. Some of the advice I’ve seen is that when you have particular feet issues, then it is worth getting help from a specialist, e.g. podiatrist, but one who acknowledges the benefits of barefoot shoes. In Australia, I’d start by checking out Andy Bryant (the Barefoot Podiatrist). I found him on Instagram: https://instagram.com/andybryant_podiatrist?utm_medium=copy_link .

      He has a website too: https://www.mountwaverleypodiatry.com.au/

      Hope this may be of some help.

  8. Hi Anya,

    I have transitioned to barefoot shoes and love them. I have vivo, belenka and a pair of earth runners which I love the sole (lifestyle sole), but my heel is on the narrow side and my feet don’t feel as secure as say the belenka. Any suggestions on an every day sandal, sporty that I can use to walk in as well but most important is that it feels secured. Thank you ! I love your website and your shop : )

    1. Hi Daniella! Thank you for the kinds words. Shamma Sandals (with power strap), Bedrock, and Toetem Sandals (also with the tech strap) are a few brands that fit securely around narrow ankles and can be used as a sport shoe and an every day walking shoe. I would stay away from Unshoes and Xero sandals.

    1. Yes! I know of a few options. Sole Runner has one almost exactly like a Keen, also the Xero Shoes Colorado, and there’s a model from Zaqq in the same style as well (but leather, so not 100% sure how they’d do for water wear. There’s also the Wildling Feather, but it’s a very soft toe covering so wouldn’t be as protective as the others.

  9. Hi Anya,

    Thank you for this post! I wish I had found your website before I ordered my first pair of barefoot shoes. I still think they (Crupon) will work, but had I seen this site I would have know that my toe shape maybe doesn’t work as well with this brand. I had to return the first pair I ordered and exchange for a larger size, and I’m out the $30 to ship the shoes back. But now I know where to come and look at shoes before ordering from someone else.

    I am around horses and cows a lot and will need a good boot to protect my feet from being stepped on, but I am hopeful some options through your reviews will work.

    The idea of spending $150-$200 on a pair of tennis shoes not knowing if they will fit correctly lead me to this post about shoes for beginners, and I will be trying the less expensive option of the Saguaro brand.

    Just a note, when I clicked on the link to read your review of Saguaro it lead me to the Amazon page to purchase them. I did find your review eventually but wanted to let you know the link is not correct.

    I found your site after getting an email from Wendy Powell (MuTu) on barefoot shoes. She mentioned your site and the rest is history.

    1. Hi Christi! Thanks for reaching out and for letting me know about the Saguaro link (I updated it). I’m glad you are finding the site useful. Best of luck to you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Picture of Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

Follow Me

Subscribe for weekly updates

Check out our shop!

Shoe Finder

Popular Posts

Archives
Scroll to Top

Thank you for subscribing!

So I can serve you better, can you answer this one quick question?

What is the #1 thing I can help you with?

Subscribe to the Barefoot Shoe Digest™

Stay up to date on all the best shoes, current sales, newest releases, and more.