The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Brands for Beginners

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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:

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Comments

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

  1. Just a heads up: Both Bedrock Sandals and Lems Shoes have VERY poor cushioning, and are not good for walking on pavement/hard surfaces for people who are not used to really thin shoes.

    I wore my Bedrock sandals for a short walk (around 5-6 kilometers), the whole walk was on asphalt/pavement, and my plantar faciitis flared up so badly I couldnt walk for a couple of days afterwards! Same thing has happened with Lems shoes on pavement, even with cushioning insoles. 🙁 After a couple of hours walking in a city, these shoes will make your feet HURT. 🙁

    I really wish Altra would make sandals and less sporty looking shoes, they really do seem to be the only zero drop, wide brand who still do good thick soles for pavement/city walking.

  2. Anya, thank you for all your reviews. I’ve been reading over the past few months and learning more. Any suggestions for a transitional closed-toe sandal? Basically looking for a more cushioned version of the Shapen Poppy.

    1. The Softstar Merry Jane and Solstice are moderately cushioned and have a similar look. Also the Oesh Townie, which has a lot of cushion. Also, it would be worth checking with Crupon Sandals if they can make the Trevi Barefoot with their traditional sole that has about 1cm of cushion. Stil flexible and flat, but a little more between you and the ground. You can also use code ANYA with both Crupon and Softstar for a discount.

  3. Hi, Anya. I’m fairly new to barefoot shoes, and Lem’s and Altra’s have been great for getting going four outdoor activities. I bought OESH shoes at the beginning of my transition which I now find too squishy (at a big ‘ol 20mm of sole). I also have some Xero dress flats (thanks for the review) which I wear at work. I switched out their insole for a thin Dr. Scholl’s pair I had around which made an improvement for my feet. I am now getting into barefoot dress shoes and sandals. I am easing into Tikkis wearing them around the house. Can you make recommendations for dressier sandals, shoes, and boots that are more toward 10-13mm soles? Is that too far out of barefoot “zone”? It’s super helpful when you add information on sole thickness for us newbies. I’m willing to pay for great craftsmanship (I am in love with The Drifter Leather sandals!), and know from experience that investing in and taking care of well-made shoes/clothing pays dividends. Thank you for all your wonderful reviews.

    1. Dressier shoes in that thickness is less common, but there are a few that are about 7mm and you can try adding a 3mm NorthSole insole to make them 10mm. Be Lenka’s newer models are about 7mm thick with the insole, there are a few dressy flats and the Entice boots are classy. The Yasemin, Rosa, & Lila models at my shop (Anya’s Shop) are also about 7mm. There’s also Crupon Sandal’s regular models (not the barefoot ones) that are 1cm thick, but they are a little narrow in the toe box. Hope that helps!

  4. Thanks for all this helpful info. I am wondering why Teva is not on your list. I have a pair, and they seem to meet all of your criteria for a barefoot shoe, but with a slightly thicker sole. Is there something I am missing?

    1. Teva is a good in-between, almost-there option. They are not totally zero drop, if you look at the sole you can see the heel portion is thicker than the front, and I prefer a little more toe space. But they are a much better option than Chacos for example.

  5. Hi Anya. I haven’t worn any barefoot shoes. My sneakers are Hoka with lots of cushion. I also wear a low boot that’s pretty flat and has a fairly roomy toe box. I have hip/pelvic pain walking on hard surfaces. I have Raynaud’s and most of the time need to wear heated socks or at least very thick wool socks. I have been doing the exercises you recommend to prepare for barefoot shoes. I’m 65 and want to make changes for better foot and hip/back care and strength.
    I have a narrow foot, mountain shape and mid volume. I can wear mid width due to the thick socks. I’m size 8. My ankles and calves are skinny, boney.
    I need a casual shoe or boot that I can wear with dress slacks as well as jeans. The Lems nine to five looks ok but I’m not thrilled with the seam across the toe area. The BeLenka Entice didn’t come up on the quiz for me and it looks too wide in the toe box. I like the idea of a sheepskin insole for warmth so the shoe would need to be roomy enough for that. Shapen Ivy is nice and I can get the warm insole but it looks to0 wide as well. The Zaqq Riquet is beautiful but the top looks like it might be too wide for my ankles and I don’t want it to hit my slacks and cause a break in the slack so the boot is seen under it.
    Also, I really want to buy from someone who ships from the US so I don’t have to pay shipping out of country if I have to return.
    Any suggestions would be appreciated. I’ve looked at a lot of your reviews and I’m just confused on how to sort through it all to get the best shoe for my needs.
    Thank you so much.

    1. I actually think the Riquet would be one of the best options based on your needs. Socks will help fill in any space around the ankle, and it has a few buckle holes on the strap. We have a restock of the Riquet on its way to us, so should have them ready to ship from Anya’s Shop soon. If you are concerned about the height of it you could also try the Lila boot in our shop, but it will most likely be room around your instep. You could try Peerko Go as well, it will be wider than you need but it’s very smart looking and the laces help you get a close fit around the instep and ankle. So you probably can get a good secure fit without sloshing around even with the extra width.

  6. Wow. There is so much information here. Thank you. I am just beginning a barefoot journey after visiting the podiatrist for ball of foot pain and learning that I am developing bunions. I have already started with toe spreaders and foot strength exercises.

    Yesterday I had my feet scanned and learned all sorts of new things. I already knew that I pronate, but was surprised to learn that I have wide feet as I have always worn regular width. I also have high arches and instep height (foot volume?) but narrow heels. The very knowledgeable guy who scanned my feet recommended either wide women’s shoes or looking into men’s shoes.

    I am in the process of getting rid of all of my toe-pinching shoes and am working on a Barefoot shoe wardrobe consisting of:
    1. Leather sneaker (I have ordered a pair of black Vivo Addis sneakers)
    2. Hiking shoe (I am ordering Altra Lone Peak shoes from Amazon so I can figure out whether men’s regular or women’s wide work out best)
    3. Combat boot (I ordered a pair of men’s Lems Boulder boots that is on crazy-cheap clearance right now)
    4. Flat dress shoe (I am looking at the Yasemin loafer from your shop in matte black—hopefully it will work with my wide ball/narrow heel combination, later possibly a pewter Softstar Ballerine in wide width)
    5. Tall boot (looking at sizing up in a Be Lenka Sierra)
    6. Sandals (will probably be a later purchase)

    Thanks again for all of the information, and please let me know if you have any other suggestions.

    1. Wow that’s quite the closet transformation! Be prepared to need to do some exchanging and such, it’s almost inevitable when trying barefoot shoes out for the first time. The Yasemin’s have more of a straight fit, and can be loose in the heel area. I use mine with a heel grip to prevent heel slipping, but you might like to look at this list of barefoot shoes with a fan shape (wide at the forefoot, narrow at the heel): https://anyasreviews.com/best-shoes-for-wide-feet/#shoes-for-wide-fan-feet

  7. An ad for Empress Square Toe flats came across my Facebook feed. Have you heard of them? They don’t appear to be true barefoot shoes, but would they be a transitional shoe?

    1. I haven’t tried them yet myself but I have seen ads for them a bunch of times. They do look like an improved alternative to heels or other pointy women’s dress shoes. I think they would probably still feel pretty tight on my toes, but could be a good compromise for someone who wants something dressy.

    2. I’m just starting to transition to barefoot shoes and am still wearing regular shoes some of the time. Would getting the bedrock sandals with minimal arch support be good for transitioning or would you recommend the minimalist version of the sandal? My current sandals are chacos and I’m guessing would be considered heavy arch support.

      1. Bedrock is a good in between if you’re coming from Chacos, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to go straight to their most minimal version. You just want to make sure you’re paying attention to how you feel and go back to the Chacos if you notice that your foot is getting overworked.

  8. I’m trying to figure out what to get for my daughter who is 9 and seems to hurt her ankles/knees a lot when she runs (for P.E., or running while playing). I’ve had her in as wide/flexible/flat shoes I could find for the past 5 years or so (splay, vivobarefoot, water socks). Before that it was a variety…robeez, keenes, pediped, stride rite. I’ve learned more over the years. But everyone who I mention the pain to, says she needs insoles for pronation. Chiropractor, physical therapist. I’m at the point where I need to buy some because my daughter is asking me for cushioned shoes to reduce her pain but I don’t want cramped toes or anything. Should I go with the Superfeet (or cheaper Spenco) which have cushioning and some arch support? Or these “barefoot” insoles that cushion but don’t support? I feel so badly for her.

    1. Has she ever been assessed for hypermobility? It is hard to have a child that young with chronic injuries, I’m so sorry you and she have been dealing with that. It might be worthwhile getting her into a pediatric physical therapist and trying to find someone who can help you understand what’s going on. As an example, I have genetic hypermobility and my son does as well. We both had flat, pronated feet and injuries from unusual things (just normal playing and running) that you don’t usually see in young kids. Support might be needed for her in the short term, but I highly recommend digging deeper to see if she would also benefit from strengthening and stabilizing her joints.

      1. Ah, I was looking for an easier solution. I’m pretty sure me and my kids have some hypermobility but physical therapy is not feasible for us so I was hoping to just do something simpler. I have done barefoot type shoes for her and she does ballet so uses her feet a lot, I know they are strong. I was considering just getting some cushioned insoles for her for now

        1. Insoles and some cushion could help in the short term! A lot of the core stabilizing exercises can be done at home too. Of course it’s always ideal to get professional guidance to make sure you’re doing them correctly, but if that’s not an option doing what you can on your own is a great place to start.

  9. Hi Anya! Thanks for taking the time to share the knowledge and insights of your barefoot journey, the website is outstanding. I am slowly transitioning to minimum footwear and agree with your comments about using insoles to help with the transition. Are the NorthSole and Naboso insoles “wide” enough for footshaped shoes? I know you can trim the insoles to length, but my concern is that they will be too narrow, not covering the entire width of the forefoot and leaving gaps. Will this be a concern, can you share your insights? Thanks!

    1. NorthSole insoles are wide enough to fit most minimalist shoes, whereas Naboso is a little slimmer. With Naboso I like to order a bigger size than I wear to ensure that they will be wide enough. And then I can trim the length down. You could do the same with NorthSole if you plan to use them in extra wide barefoot shoes. Thanks for stopping by!

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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!

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