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Barefoot/minimalist shoes are shoes designed to allow the foot to function as naturally (and as close to barefoot) as possible, while still offering some level of protection from the environment. The following are considered to be the basic characteristics of a minimalist shoe:

  • 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 flat. 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 ok 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.
  • There should be very little cushioning. Cushioning is achieved through either a foam midsole, a cushioned insole, or both. As with differential, cushioning is also typically measured in mm. The more cushioning there is, the less ground feel and sensory feedback there is for the body. Ideally, less cushioning is preferred but small amounts can be beneficial in some circumstances.
  • The sole should be thin and flexible. As with cushioning, a thicker, stiffer sole diminishes sensory feedback. A stiff sole also creates instability due to its inability to mold to the terrain. Ideally a thin, highly flexible sole is preferred, however as with cushioning, some thickness and stiffness can be beneficial depending on the circumstances.
  • The last (shape) of the shoe should allow the foot to be as unrestricted as possible. This means that the shoe (especially the toe-box) should be wide enough and flexible enough to allow the foot to expand under impact. This is essential for the body's natural stability and cushioning mechanisms to work properly. Tight and restrictive shoes hinder this process.

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 to account for the unique needs of backpackers/hikers: 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.


  • Introduction
  • Selection Criteria
  • The Shoes
    • Sockwa Amphibian
    • Unshoes Huaraches
    • Vibram FiveFingers KSO
    • Feelmax Osma
    • Kigo Edge
    • Vibram FiveFingers Bikila
    • Vivo Barefoot Evo
    • Inov-8 F-Lite 195
    • Altra Adam
  • Summary
  • Conclusion

# WORDS: 5620
# PHOTOS: 28

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