4 Best Minimalist Shoes for Walking, Running, and Hiking in 2023

So you’re on the hunt for the best minimalist shoes money can buy.

Or, that you can afford.

We first discovered barefoot shoes in 2012 and with them a world of freedom for movement. Sporty didn’t realize it at the time, but it would turn out to be the year she hung up her too-cool-for-school image for good.

Talk about disappointing her younger self.

It’s heartening to see that the range of minimal footwear has grown significantly in recent years. There’s so much more to choose from than there was back then. Even better, they’re not nearly as ugly!

In this guide, we share our top picks for 2023. Now you too can enjoy the thrill of feeling the ground beneath your feet while strengthening your body structure and improving your posture.

Whether you’re a gym bunny or an adventurer, there’s a perfect minimal shoe for you. Ready to take a step closer to comfort and performance?

We’ve selected our two favorites in case you’re in a hurry 🙂

vibram logo 1

Vibram Five Fingers

Vibrams offers a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee on regularly priced Vibram FiveFingers within 6 weeks of purchase. Full refund no questions asked!

Vivobarefoot Logo


Vivobarefoot offers a 100-day trial period. Take these babies out for a walk or run and if you’re not happy, you can return them for a full refund. How cool?

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What Are The Top Minimalist Shoes (In Our Experience)?

When it comes to minimalist shoes for everyday use (walking, running, hitting the gym, going to work, etc.), there are plenty of options.

Sporty and I have narrowed our list of the best minimalist shoes down to just four. The main reason for this is that we don’t like to spend money unnecessarily.

If it ain’t broke…

1. Vibram FiveFingers

One of the best minimalist shoes are this tan color CVT Hemp Barefoot Shoes from Vibram FiveFingers.


Sporty’s shoe closet has come a long way since her first pair of wildly unattractive FiveFingers. These days she runs in a decidedly more stylish model. No, really.

Contrary to me, Sporty is so light on her shoes it literally takes her years to wear them out. It’s nuts. Especially when you consider that the sole isn’t especially thick.

These shoes are designed to have the feeling of being barefoot while providing protection and traction. With their glove-like fit, they allow your feet to flex, and the sole to engage with the surface. This ensures proper alignment and balance of the body. You can use these to stroll through the park or run wild trails. Nothing short of immersive.

Key Benefits

1. Enhanced proprioception*

The thin sole makes for increased sensory feedback, letting you clearly feel and respond to various surfaces.

*Proprioception is geek speak for your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location.

2. Strengthened foot muscles

Overall foot strength is greatly improved by encouraging natural foot movement, which in turn develops stronger foot muscles.

3. Improved balance and posture

The unique design of Vibrams ensures a natural gait, aligning the spine with the rest of the body to improve balance and posture.


Competitively priced, this brand has options for different budgets. Prices vary depending on the specific model and features, ranging from around $70 to $150.

Sporty’s Top Pick: KSO EVO Cross Trainers

Vibrams KSO EVO

These running barefoot shoes fit like a glove, allowing your feet to flex, and engage with the surface.

This ensures proper alignment and balance of the body. You can use them to stroll through the park or run wild trails. Extremely in-tune with the terrain

  • Ground feel second to none: You will truly experience the environment beneath your feet.
  • Flexible: Pliable design for natural foot movement.
  • Versatile: Models suitable for walking, running, hiking, and watersports.
  • Limited protection: This shoe has very little padding.
  • Adjustment period: Your foot muscles will need time to adapt.

2. Vivobarefoot


Profile shot of white Vivobarefoot Primus Lite

I got my first pair of Vivobarefoot shoes at the end of July and I’ve been wearing them solidly ever since.

The Primus Lite is super flat, which means I’m in touch with the ground. While the wide-toe box makes for happy, healthy feet.

My toes especially love them because not being squashed together means no more callouses.


Profile shot of maroon Vivobarefoot Primus trail runner with black sole

I’ve since added a more durable pair of Primus Trail runners to my arsenal as we recently relocated to a farm a couple of hours outside Cape Town.

Best minimalist walking shoes ever!

Key Benefits

1. Natural movement

Designed to let your feet move and flex as if you were barefoot, making for a more natural and comfortable stride.

2. Enhanced sensory experience

Their thin, flexible soles provide a heightened level of sensory feedback, allowing you to feel and connect with the ground beneath you.

3. Foot health and posture

By engaging the muscles in your feet they encourage proper body alignment. These shoes can also help improve foot strength, balance, and overall posture.


Vivo shoes are a little more pricey. Cost ranges from around $95 to $200, depending on the specific style and features.

100% Vegan: Vivobarefoot Primus Lite All-Weather

Black Vivobarefoot Primus Trail All Weather FG III Womens Obsidian with a white sole.

Made from recycled material and 100% vegan-friendly, these babies are ticking all my hippie boxes.

The knitted upper makes for greater flexibility of movement. Plus, they’re easy to clean. What more could you want?

  • Perfect for every day: Express your style and enjoy the benefits of zero-drop footwear.
  • Sustainable for the win: Made from recycled material and 100% vegan-friendly!
  • Great selection: For a casual stroll, hitting the gym, or heading out on a hiking adventure.
  • Lightweight and flexible: The knitted upper is breathable. Plus, easy to clean.
  • Limited cushioning: Vivobarefoot prioritizes the ground-feel experience, resulting in less padding.
  • Transition period: Your feet and muscles will need to adapt to the different support and movement patterns.

3. Saucony Type A6


Three quarter front view of purple and green Saucony Womens Type A6 Running Shoe with pink laces

I’ve been running in the Saucony Type A6 since 2013 and I absolutely love them.

Unless Saucony stops making them, I’m not planning to switch anytime soon. My feet are happy.

And because I don’t mind wearing older models, my budget is also happy.

Running Shoes Guru gives the Type A6 a thumbs up, calling it “a well-rounded racing flat for runners that want a fast, minimalist shoe for 5Ks to half-marathons.”

‘Nuff said.

Key Benefits

1. Featherlight

They’re incredibly light and comfortable

2. Durable

Given how hard I am on shoes, these Saucony’s are relatively durable, too. (My uneven gait means my shoes wear out quicker than normal.).

3. Responsive ability

With its responsive midsole, this shoe provides a decent amount of padding to absorb impact and keep you comfortable during your run.

4. Well-ventilated upper

The mesh upper keeps the airflow going, so your feet stay cool and dry even if the workout gets intense or it’s hot out.

5. Great traction

The rubber outsole offers a stable grip, giving you confidence on various surfaces and terrains. I wouldn’t recommend going trail running in them, but I have taken them offroad occasionally and it’s been fine.


The Saucony Type A6 falls within a reasonable range. Depending on the specific model and features, you can expect to find this shoe priced around $80 to $120.

Road Runners: Saucony Type A6

Profile and bottom shot of lumo Green and blue Saucony Type A6 running shoes.

The lightweight construction and responsive design of the Saucony Type A6 make it a top choice for speed enthusiasts.

No compromise on durability. It’s built to withstand the rigors of long-distance running (up to half marathon).

  • Lightning fast: The lightweight construction and responsive design make it a top choice for speed enthusiasts.
  • Sleek and stylish: This shoe is as fashionable as it is functional. At least, I think so.
  • Durability: Despite its lightweight build, it’s built to withstand the rigors of long-distance running (up to 21km).
  • Minimal impact protection: The responsive support works for many people, but may be lacking if you need extra support.
  • Narrow fit: People with wider feet may find the fit is too snug. Be sure to try them on before buying.
  • Not quite zero drop: Purists would argue that the 4mm drop makes it a low drop and not a zero drop shoe. It’s damn close though, and for me, that’s enough.

4. Altra Superior 4.5 


Profile shot of aquamarine Altra Superior Zero Drop trail shoe

Erm. Remember how I said I’m not planning to switch running shoes anytime soon? Well, my feet kinda decided for me.

My left foot in particular got fed up with being constrained by the Saucony A6’s narrow toe box.

Fortunately, my shoes were pretty well worn by this point, so it made switching to the more expensive Altra Superior a little more palatable. I can be frugal to a fault sometimes, so it also helped that the new shoes were on special at the time of purchase.

Key Benefits

1. Combo of snug design + wide toe-box

Altra’s signature FootShape™ toe box lets your toes spread naturally for better stability and a more comfortable run. My main reasons for going with the Altra Superior trail shoe are the wide toe box coupled with the fact that it’s a zero-drop shoe with a low-ish stack height (21mm).

I’d have preferred less, but I also recognize that some support is helpful for my gait.

2. Sticky and grippy outsole

The shoe features a strong rubber outsole featuring MaxTrac™ technology, providing great traction on both wet and dry surfaces. If only I’d been wearing these babies that time I went arse over kettle down Plateklip Gorge.

3. Better trail protection

The StoneGuard™ rock plate and forefoot guard shield your feet from trail hazards like sharp rocks and tree branches.

4. Quick drying

I took my shoes out for an inaugural run on Sunday morning and am super pleased with how they performed. I specifically took them off-road and through some wet, marshy areas and they held up really well.

I’d arranged to meet Sporty for coffee at the end of my run and I was worried that sitting around with wet feet would be uncomfortable. However, the shoes are made from quick-drying material and were soon dry again.

5. Zero-drop

I opted for a pair of zero heel drop trail shoes rather than road shoes because I signed up to do a half-marathon trail run at the end of October.

You can’t take road shoes on the trail (not without asking for trouble), but you can make trail shoes work in the ‘burbs. I spent a great deal of my Sunday morning run deliberately avoiding the tarmac, choosing instead to run on grassy sidewalks and muddy verges. Fun times indeed.


The Altra Superior 4.5 also falls into the higher price range. This high-performance trail shoe is priced between $110 and $140, depending on the specific model and features.

Trail Runners: Altra Superior 4.5

Profile shot of aquamarine Altra Superior Zero Drop trail shoe

The Superior 4.5 gives the right balance of comfort, traction, and protection no matter if you’re bombing down a single track or enjoying a relaxing hike.

The breathable mesh and fast-drying fabric keep your feet cool and dry even during your most intense runs.

  • Designed for comfort: The ergonomic foot-shaped design and bigger toe-box reduce the chance of blisters.
  • Versatility: It has the right balance of comfort, traction, and protection whether you’re racing along a single track or enjoying a relaxing hike.
  • Quick-drying: The breathable mesh upper and fast-drying fabric keep your feet cool and dry even during your most intense runs.
  • Limited padding: If you’re looking for extra protection for longer distances you might find it a bit lacking.
  • Sizing: Some users say that the sizing is slightly smaller than the previous model. Be sure to consult the sizing chart or try them on before buying.

My verdict so far? I’m really happy and more importantly, so are my toes. It’s a super comfy shoe that would do equally well as a trail running shoe and a walking or hiking shoe.

Let’s see how I feel after running 21km off-road in them.

If you’re interested in learning more about the brand, be sure to check out the Altra story. Like all good stories, it begins with a toaster oven.

Side note: At some point, I would like to invest in a pair of Altra Escalante Racers. The road counterpart to my Superiors, they’re slick, comfy, and made for running fast.

Just like me. Ha!

Update: I’ve since decided that Altra isn’t a good fit for me. I still think they’re a great shoe, they just didn’t work with my shoe insert and I kept sliding off to one side with my right foot. Take a look at our video above, where I explain and show the problem.

What Exactly Is a Minimalist Shoe?

Profile shot of someone standing on the sidewalk with Nike Airmax on. Title: What a minimalist shoe is not. (Just in case you were wondering)

A study published in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research set out to standardize the term ‘minimalist’ as it relates to running shoes. In addition, the researchers wanted to “develop and validate a rating scale that could be used to determine the degree of minimalism of running shoes, the Minimalist Index (MI).”

They eventually arrived at the following definition of minimalist shoes: 

Footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices.

This article in Runner’s World unpacks the study’s findings in layman’s terms. Suffice it to say there are plenty of variables, so the best thing to do is give some thought to what you’d like to do (run, walk, hike, etc.) and then try a few different brands on.

Wearing thick-soled shoes is like trying to type in oven mitts. A slight exaggeration maybe, but once you’ve spent some time in a pair of minimalist shoes, you’ll agree with the analogy.

How Can Minimalist Shoes Benefit You?

Are minimalist shoes worth the hype? Absolutely. From strengthening your foot muscles to improving your balance and posture, these shoes offer a range of advantages for your overall body mechanics. Minimalist shoes can provide a more intimate connection with the ground, heightening your sensory experience during physical activities.

Sensory feedback is vital. Our feet send information to the brain, which helps us better understand the terrain we’re walking on. The cushioned barrier in conventional shoes hinders this. With more than 200,000 nerve endings in them, our feet are designed to act as earthward antennae.

Unfortunately, regular shoes have us walking all wrong. The way around this? Movement and yoga therapist Amy Matthews says we should let our feet do the walking rather than have the shoes do the walking. 

Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Yet, that’s not the case for most humans. At least, not those of us ensconced in the Western world anyway. Minimalist shoes aren’t even on the radar for most of us.

[Watch] A Case for Barefoot Running

Using a combination of wit, humor, and great storytelling, Chris McDougall—author of the aforementioned Born to Run—shares his conviction that the secret to happiness is right at your feet.

The barefoot running debate is ongoing. One point Chris is emphatic about is that running shoes don’t do us any good. After a deep dive into the research, he came up with nothing.

He does however point out that ultimately the debate is less about barefoot versus shoes than it is about mastering the art of running gently.

Side note: Chi Running by Danny Dreyer is an excellent resource for honing this skill.

Do that, Chris says, and you can wear—or not wear—anything you please. This is why Sporty runs in her Vibrams and I run in a pair of Saucony racing shoes.

We’ve each found a minimalist shoe that allows us to run as gently as possible and in the process avoid injury. That being said, we have yet to run more than a half marathon.

When (if) we set our eyes on a longer distance, there’s a chance we may have to switch up our choice of minimalist footwear. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Buyers Guide: How We Conducted Our Research

To ensure the credibility and reliability of our selection, we considered factors like durability, comfort, and performance. We examined customer reviews and expert recommendations.

Doing our homework properly guarantees that you’ll have accurate and trustworthy information when choosing your next pair of minimalist shoes.

  1. Comfort: Does the shoe provide stability while still being minimal?
  2. Sustainability: Has the brand made an effort to source and manufacture mindfully?
  3. Durability: Does the shoe hold up through continued use and on rough terrain?

Some Final Thoughts on Minimal Footwear 

Your image may have to take a backseat when you make the move to minimal footwear, but it’s a small price to pay for not just healthy feet, but overall wellbeing, too.

One of the biggest problems most older folks face is being unsteady on their feet, which often results in nasty falls.

Walking well is one way to mitigate this and that’s where minimalist shoes come in. Unlike conventional footwear, they offer ample room for your feet and toes to spread out naturally.

More than that, they allow your feet to feel the surface. Remember the 200,000 nerve endings I mentioned at the beginning? Well, minimalist shoes provide ample opportunity for them to do their work.

The question is, why wouldn’t you want to don minimalist shoes everyday?

Using healthy minimalist shoes—shoes that are widest at the ends of your toes, have a flexible sole, are lightweight, and possess a completely flat support platform—offers the possibility of profound and enduring foot health benefits. —Dr. Robyn Hughes, Naturopathic Physician

Over to you. Would you consider wearing any of the shoes highlighted in this post? And if you’ve already made the transition, what would you add to our list of best minimalist shoes?


1. How do I Transition to Minimalist Shoes?

Coach Nate from The Run Experience put together a two-part series (one and two) on how to safely transition to a barefoot-style shoe without dropping mileage. This is key if you’re a seasoned runner.

The last thing you want to do is to lose distance.

Natural Footgear does an even deeper dive into transitioning to a minimalist shoe. Their overarching advice? The keys to a successful transition are patience, diligence, and perseverance.

Sporty and I can both attest to this. Moving from a regular running shoe to a more minimalist style takes time. Rush it and you’ll get injured. Take it slow and steady and you’ll reap the benefits.

2. Can You Wear Minimalist Shoes Everyday?

Can you wear barefoot-style shoes everyday? Hell yes! Once you’ve made the transition you won’t want to wear anything else. And nor do you have to.

Thanks to the innovative styles most brands have come up with, you can find a minimalist shoe for every occasion. There are minimalist shoes for hiking, running, walking, boating, going to the office, and more.

Do some Googling and you’ll find naysayers warning you against wearing minimalist shoes on a daily basis, but in our opinion, it can only do you good to transition to minimalist footwear.

Of course, I’m no podiatrist, so if you have reservations it’s always smart to speak to a medical professional. Also, Sporty and I only ever run and walk outdoors on natural surfaces. If you exercise on a treadmill you may want a shoe with more cushioning.

3. Where Do You Buy Minimalist Shoes?

Okay, so you’re on board with the idea of going minimalist in the shoe department. Where do you find them? Depending on where you live, most of your bigger stores will stock some ranges.

If you’re based in the US or Canada, Amazon has an extensive range of minimalist and zero-drop shoes to choose from. If you live in Europe, perhaps Amazon can work for you too.

Here in South Africa, their delivery charges are prohibitively expensive. Luckily we have some local importers to choose from. Sporty buys her Vibrams from The Savage, who also stock Altra, Inov-8, and Injinji.

If you’re keen on Vivobarefoot (you won’t be sorry!), you could also buy from them directly. They ship internationally and sometimes offer free delivery on orders above a certain amount.

They also offer a repair service because they believe wear and tear isn’t a good reason to throw away your old shoes. (Did I mention I LOVE these guys?) It gets better, you can post your shoes to them free of charge.

4. How We Came to Wear Barefoot-Style Shoes

For many years, a well-worn pair of Levis coupled with Converse sneakers or Harley Davidson biker boots formed the basis of Sporty’s wardrobe. Then, two things happened in quick succession.

First, we read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Shortly thereafter, we attended a workshop on the benefits of barefoot running hosted by Benita Kropman, founder of the Lyno Method.

We left the workshop wearing a pair of garishly bright FiveFingers and never looked back. That is, Sporty never looked back. My story is slightly more complicated because I have a club foot. 

In addition to a three-centimetre length deficit in my right leg, my right foot is also a full shoe size smaller. After trying the Vibrams for a while, I decided they weren’t working for me.

With regular shoes, a discrepancy in size isn’t that big of a deal. That’s not the case with Vibrams. Accommodating my left foot meant the smaller right foot didn’t fit properly into the separate toe compartments and I kept tripping. Opting for a smaller size had my left toes bunching up.


At the time I wasn’t too bummed about the turn of events since it meant I had a legitimate reason to buy regular footwear again. (Back then I was a sucker for good-looking shoes.)

Sporty, on the other hand, was hooked from the get-go. She loved how her new barefoot shoes felt when walking, running, and even hiking.

Six months into the transition the hip and back pain she’d struggled with for years disappeared. A longtime migraine sufferer, Sporty found that these too had become a thing of the past. 

When she first made the shift to minimalist shoes, Sporty still had regular footwear for meetings and special occasions. Her feet didn’t appreciate being forced into them though, so she eventually ditched them.

She figured she could be cool from the ankles up. 

If you’re at all hung up on your image, Vibram FiveFingers are definitely not the shoes for you. On the other hand, if your focus is health and well-being, you can’t go wrong. 

Since you’re reading a roundup of the best minimalist shoes, my guess is you’re more interested in feeling good than looking the part. Awesome. Besides, Vibrams aren’t your only option when it comes to minimalist shoes.