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Minimalist shoes are designed to allow the foot to function as naturally (and as close to barefoot) as possible, while offering the protection dictated by environmental conditions. In warm weather there are few environmental conditions from which we need protection and hence thin-soled, flexible shoes work fine. In colder weather however, there are a few additional requirements. The criteria used to select the shoes for this review are as follows:

  • The heel lift (the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot), also referred to as differential, must be be very low. Differential is typically measured in mm. A differential of 0mm means the shoe is essentially flat - the heel and forefoot are at the same level. A number greater than 0mm indicates the number of mm that the heel is higher than the forefoot. 0mm is preferred, but small differentials can be tolerable as well.
  • There should be no arch support. A minimalist shoe is designed so that the strength and structure of the foot provides all of the support required. Some shoes have arch support built-in to the insoles but this can be overlooked if the insoles are easily removed. Shoes with arch support built-in to the structure of the shoe are not considered minimalist. Some shoes may have a raised area under the arch that naturally flexes with the foot and this is ok as long as it isn't designed to provide support for the arch.
  • In warm conditions it is desirable for footwear to have very little cushioning to achieve the best ground feel. In colder weather, having foam under-foot is desirable - not for cushioning, but for insulation.
  • For warm conditions, a minimalist sole should be thin and flexible so as to provide good sensory feedback. For conditions where snow and ice is involved (especially when used as the base for a winter footwear system), having a stiffer sole is desirable. In winter conditions, stiffness helps to gain better traction and also enables the use of crampons and snowshoes.
  • The last (shape) of the shoe should allow the foot to be as unrestricted as possible. This means that the shoe (especially the toebox) should be wide enough and flexible enough to allow the foot and toes to expand under impact. This is essential for the body's natural stability and cushioning mechanisms to work properly. It is also very important for keeping feet warm. On the flipside, it is also important that the fit not be too lose or sloppy such that it hinders stability.

Since the above selection criteria could easily apply to a wide range of footwear not appropriate for backpacking, a few more were added to ensure that what we test would be more "in the ballpark" of what we are looking for: The shoes should be designed for the purpose of athletic/active use. The uppers should absorb little water, be breathable, and dry quickly. The soles should be substantial and grippy enough to handle a variety of rugged terrain, both wet and dry.


  • Selection Criteria
  • The Shoes
    • New Balance MT101
    • Inov-8 X-Talon 190
    • Inov-8 Oroc 280
    • GoLite Amp Lite
    • GoLite Timber Lite
    • Brooks Mach 12 Spikeless
    • La Sportiva Crosslite
    • Walsh PB Elite Trainer, PB Elite Racer, PB Ultra
  • Summary
  • Conclusion

# WORDS: 5030
# PHOTOS: 10

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