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. Hi,
    I’m new to barefoot shoes & found them (your site) on a Google search to find shoes wide enough for my foot. I’m now trying this out with the hope that my toes won’t be cramped any longer. For sandals I have worn the Teva mush sandals for years, because I love that they’re so light weight, (feel more like part of my body movement than clonky) & yet the foam sole is a like cloud under your feet. However, after reading more on your site, I would like to find something more secure to my foot than the flip flop.

    I did your questionaire on shoe brands for me, & just bought the Earth Runners alpha, & I like them, but definitely miss the soft cushion when walking on pavement, & sometimes around the house. I have high volume, wide right foot (feet changed after pregnancy 3 years ago), size 7.5ish, mountain shape, & have worn custom orthotics for years (for arch & ball pain), but have been walking barefoot around the house (all day/everyday) for the last year. Are there any other brands for sandals (or otherwise) that would give more soft cushion than the earth runners?

    1. Hi Heather! And welcome, glad you found your way here. Oesh Sandals are probably the closest thing to what you’re looking for in the sandals category. Otherwise Lems Shoes makes close toed shoes that are very light and have soft cushion, but they also have wide options. I like the original Teva style that has the ankle strap better than the flip flop style, and you can adjust the velcro so that it is wide across the foot – if you really love the soles on Tevas that is an option too. But they do have a slight heel rise, so aren’t totally zero drop.

  2. Many conventional shoes irritate my achilles tendon, I think by pressing on it. Any thoughts on how to select a beginner’s shoe that is unlikely to do this?

    1. I would go for soft, unstructured options (I always describe the feel of shoes in my reviews so that can orient you). Knitted shoes especially tend to feel good on the heel area. If you are wanting a beginner option I would check out Flux or the Lems Primal 2. In terms of features I prefer Lems Primal 2, but the Flux is really soft on the foot.

  3. Your website is invaluable! I saw a Flux ad and thought they’d be a good No Bull alternative, but thought they seemed a little narrow. You confirmed my suspicions, so I can avoid doing the ship/return dance. Thanks!

  4. A favorite I don’t see here is the Glarup brand. They are made of wool felt and extremely comfortable. I came here looking for an athletic shoe and am still undecided. I have been walking on concrete and want a little more cushioning. My feet are very small so my options are limited. I am down to one pair of athletic shoes. I used to run on natural ground in mocassions, but concrete is a different animal.

    1. I have Glerup in my slippers post! I find them a little narrow at the toe area for a lot of people, but they are a nice high quality slipper. Another option you can consider is adding an insole for more cushion. That can make your options more versatile.

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for the efforts you make creating this site. It has been really helpful for me, recently I bought my first pair of Altras:)
    I would like to ask, do you have any recommendation for footshaped, zero-drop winter boots with thicker soles? I’m a huge fan of everything in barefoot shoes – exept the ultra thin sole… Still need cushion when walking on solid ground.
    Any hint would be much appreciated!
    Greetings from Scandinavia:)

  6. Hi,

    Thank you for creating this site and helping people overcome foot pain. I was wondering if I could get some advice for transitioning into new barefoot shoes.

    A couple months ago I hurt my knee and it turned into a nagging ache. In an effort to try to combat this from the ground up, I started to strengthen my feet and wear Whitin minimalist shoes. Before this, I had been using supportive orthotics and for many many years. I am also flat footed and hypermobile, which adds to my foot instability. My mistake was wearing the recently acquired minimalist shoes all day and not transitioning appropriately. As a result, I ended up with some intense pain at the big toe joint, which later transitioned into my heel, which I have now been dealing with for about two months . I recently got a custom orthotic made at a podiatrist, however I know this is not the appropriate long term solution. I am now afraid to use barefoot shoes since they caused my pain, but I know deep down they are the solution. I was wondering if you could recommend me some shoes to help me overcome this pain and start safely transitioning to barefoot shoes. I currently use Hoka Cliftons with orthotics

    1. Hi Daniel, Sorry to hear you’ve been through some tough foot times. For me getting out of pain is first priority, because it’s hard to do the exercises and long term solutions when you’re hurting. I would recommend looking for a flat, wide toe box shoe to use your orthotic with – like the options on this article here. Altra works well with orthotics, as do Lems. Your feet will appreciate the toe space, and hopefully it will help things calm down enough that you can focus on long term function. I also visit my physical therapist (I have a good one locally who understands hypermobility) when I have nagging issues and that has helped me a lot.

  7. Hi,

    Thank you for making this site to help us pick appropriate footwear.

    I had a quick question regarding my situation. About two months ago I got new minimalist shoes from Whitin, however I did not transition appropriately and did not build up proper foot strength prior. I got intense pain in my big toe joint, which transitioned to the back of the heel over time. I have pretty flat feet and suffer from hypermobility, plus years of using shoes and soles with support. I recently got custom orthotics and put them into my Hoka Cliftons, however I know this is not the longer term solution. I am now slightly afraid of barefoot shoes because of the pain they initiated, and was wondering if there were any shoes you could recommend to start transitioning and help me with my pain. I was looking an the Altra Escalante since they still offer some cushioning but resemble the natural foot function better.

    Thank you!

    1. I think Altra is a great place to start, and those as well as Topo and Lems can be used with arch support if you need it to get out of pain. I personally used the 3/4 length Superfeet orthotic in my Altras for a time as I was transitioning to barefoot shoes and rehabbing my feet. Definitely do what you need to stay moving!

      1. Great, thank you so much. I apologize for the double post (: I’m getting a pair of Escalante 3’s shipped as we speak. Would you suggest pairing the shoes with a pair of toe spacers? My pain has developed into metatarsalgia and is quite painful. I tried walking barefoot on some soft grass and doing calve raises for my plantar fasciitis, however it started causing pain in the balls of both feet. Should I introduce some light exercises like towel scrounges, or should I wait until the pain is mostly gone to start doing exercises?

        1. Hi Daniel, I think toe spacers can be very helpful. For people dealing with foot pain I feel like Correct Toes are the safest/gentlest and they offer customer support on how to use/modify them for your particular foot condition. It’s definitely smart to listen to your pain and not push it too far (even with the spacers, sometimes that stretch can be a lot). I have found in my own body that the line between training your body to adapt and not overdoing is really difficult to manage at times! If you’re in a lot of pain I would also suggest visiting a physical therapist who can help you with tailored exercises and massage. In the meantime, finding the moves you can do that don’t aggravate things, resting as needed, but doing what you can to strengthen and mobilize is how I personally would go about it.

  8. Hi Anya,

    Hope all is well. My name is Lily and I had a few questions. I have flat feet which has led me to use my ankles as my main support system for doing everyday and sport activities. I was told this is why my ankles have been weak, easy to sprain/twist and no have NO stability. I was told this by a trainer which has blown my mind. He told me to get correct toes and vivo barefoot shoes. I jumped too quick into the shoes (I was so excited for a new potential solution). My first three days I spent the whole day with the shoes. I understand how stupid that is now, I was just soo excited. Now my ankle hurts a lot and struggle between the barefoot shoes and my old orthotics. I am a very active girl, from sports and the gym, I am only in my early 20s;( I saw maybe I should buy a different brand that may be easier to ease into or any specific thing I should do? I really appreciate any advice or insight, I am in immense pain all the time.

    1. Hi Lily! Have you ever been assessed for hypermobility? It can present itself as loose, lax ligaments and joint instability. But regardless of your genetics, it definitely seems like jumping fully into barefoot shoes with unstable ankles was too much too soon, especially if you were using orthotics to stay out of pain before. You might consider dialing it back and trying shoes with a little more cushion but that still have a wide toe box (and you can use the toe spacers). You can even wear an orthotic inside a lot of these beginner brands (provided that there is enough structure to the shoe to hold the orthotic in place). And whenever instability is a factor I have found foot and ankle exercises to be really useful. Sometimes the shoe changes alone are not enough. I am sending you good vibes!

      1. Hello!
        I’m looking for a variety of winter season shoes. I’ve got multiple Altras that I’m living in right now – their Solstice XT2 I think it is the closest to the ground from their line of shoes but has a flexible mild cushiony feel, and my feet are really happy in them – could you tell me about any non-athletic style shoes that may have a similar feel? (boots, dress shoes, anything for this winter season that my feet always hate!) I already have a pair of Feelgrounds sneakers Groundies hi-top, Be Lenka Chelsea boots and an Anya suede bootie that my right foot still are not ready to handle – bad pain in big toe except when I wear Altra Solstice. And I’m going to be working harder at foot strength too

        1. Lems would be the brand that has non-athletic shoes with a similar thickness. My favorites are the Telluride and the Chelsea boots, and both will keep you warm this season.

      2. Hi Anya,

        Thank you for your reply! What shoes do you recommend to use that has a little more cushion? My orthotic right now is pretty intense, I feel that moving away from it may be the answer! I would like to continue to be active! Please let me know!

        1. The brands here all have a little more cushion! I really like Lems shoes when I need a little more sole – the Primal Zen, Chelsea, Telluride, and Boulder Boot Grip are my personal faves.

      3. Also I am quite new to this and its slang! Im guessing I do “not” want zero drop when transitioning into barefoot shoes at first?

        1. It depends – many people are fine with zero drop but if you have been wearing a raised heel for all your activities for a long time you might want to ease into the zero drop. For example you can buy a zero drop shoe but use it with a removable arch support that lifts your heel a bit. Then you can take it out for periods of time to see how it feels, and then go back to the support when you want to take a break.

          1. Hi Anya,
            I want to transition to barefoot shoes but I can’ t find any shop where I can try them in the area where I live. I have a very sensitive big toe and I need shoes not just wide, but with more space on the top of the toes. Which of the brands you review have shoes like that?

          2. Hi Victoria, some brands we like with “tall toe boxes” are Lems, Shapen, Icarus, Tadeevo, and Magical Shoes.

  9. Started with Altra, kudos to the person that fitted me and recommended them! Then thanks to you, Anya’s review, tried Lems and have gotten rid of all my old shoes. Now have BeLenkas, Earthrunners and Splays as well. My feet are so happy including my very messed up big toe which can move again.

  10. I saw no mention of the Xero brand, which, I must say , is really helping along with my barefoot hiking experience on rolling terrain. Also, Joomra is a very inexpensive brand with fairly good quality of construction that will help transition an interested soul (See what I did there? 😃) into an everyday casual barefoot Walker. Check them out!

    1. Hello! We do like Xero for many things, thanks for reminding us of them! There are so many brands like Joomra (and Saguaro) that I usually just stop with one. They’re basically all the same shoe 😀 But I’m glad you found some options that work great for you!

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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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