Written By Barefoot Dawsy
Are you in the market for a pair of minimalist shoes? If you are, then best of luck to
you! Unlike just a couple of years ago, we now have hundreds, if not thousands of styles
to choose from. Selecting the best pair for you can be a daunting task, so I’ve put
together this guide to help you out.
A lot of the new shoes that are being marketed as ‘minimal’ these days just plain aren’t and this can be very confusing. Below are a few criteria that make up a true minimalist shoe, and are things that you should look for when you go shopping.
Weight is really the big one. This is where minimal shoes really give runners a big advantage. The average ‘normal’ running shoe can weigh between 10 and 20 ounces (ounces seem to be the standard measurement of shoe weight out there, so for now I’m going non-metric). Minimal shoes, on the other hand, usually weigh less than 8oz.
This difference in weight allows us to run more efficiently. Every time you lift your foot, you of course lift the shoe you’re wearing. Over a few steps a couple extra ounces won’t make much difference, but as you run more and more, this small difference in weight can really add up.
In my experience, running in lighter shoes has enabled me to go further and faster than I ever had before. Look for the lightest shoes you can find. Usually the best ones are less than 5oz.
One of the fancy terms that you will no-doubt hear as you shop for minimal shoes is ‘zero-drop’. The ‘drop’ is the difference in height from the back of the shoe versus the front. Generally this will be a positive number as most shoes have a built-up heel. So, for example, a shoe that’s 12mm thick at the heel and a 4mm at the toe will have a Drop value of 8mm (12-4=8).
Basically the idea is that having a Drop value of 0 means that there’s no slope to how your foot sits, so your foot sits more naturally. Beware though, as there are a number of tricky little tricks that shoe companies will try to make their ‘zero drop’ shoes sound more minimal than they are.
Zero-drop is usually defined as anything less than 4mm, so right off the bat, you may find that your shoes have a built-up heel, even when it is suggested that they don’t. So make sure that you check the actual drop in millimetres before you make your purchase.
The other thing to watch out for is that just because a shoe is zero drop, doesn’t mean that it’s zero padding. A shoe with a 12mm heel and a 12mm toe is still technically ‘zero-drop’, but certainly not minimal (I’m looking at you, Nike Free).
Which brings us to ground-feel. As you might have guessed, this is an indication of how well you can feel the terrain beneath your feet. It’s a very subjective value and can be difficult to ascertain in the flat, featureless landscape of a shoe shop.
Ground-feel is very important as it will give your body feedback that it can use to adjust your form with. The more ground-feel your shoe allows (ie, the closer to barefoot), the better, as you can never have too much feedback.
A simple test that I use to get a rough indication of ground-feel in the store, is to step on a shoelace while wearing the shoes. In a nice, thin pair of minimals, you should have no problem feeling it underfoot. If you can’t feel it, then you may as well be wearing 10 pairs of socks for the amount of help your shoes are going to be to keeping your form in check.
When you buy minimal shoes, you want to find a pair that allow your feet to move as freely and naturally as possible. Flexibility is really important as it will help you strengthen your feet and run as your body intended.
Like ground-feel, flexibility is pretty subjective, but you can test it out by trying 2 quick tests.
The first is to touch the toe of the shoe to the heel. Your shoe should definitely be able to do this when bending them upwards, but the best shoes pass this test in both directions.
The second test is the Twist test. Grasping the heel in one hand and the toe of the shoe in the other, give them a twist. You should be able to do at least a 180 degree twist, or better yet, a full 360 degree twist for maximum flexibility.
The last major consideration is to make sure that the shoes fit correctly. There are a lot of different styles out there, and each of them fits a little bit differently. This is where going to an actual store comes in handy, as the staff should be able to help you ensure a correct fit.
This is really important, because even if you buy the best shoes out there, if they’re too big or small, then you could really do yourself a damage. Beware of online sizing
and make sure you go out and try a pair before you buy.
By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to avoid a lot of the major pitfalls of shopping for shoes, and make your next pair a valuable addition to your running toolbox.