I have been a minimalist shoe wearer for over 10 years now and that includes running in them as well as using them for general wear. I started out in vibram five fingers, which I enjoyed at first and used for a year or so.
Increasingly though, as I played about with proper barefoot running, I realised I really didn’t like the restriction they placed on my toes.
So strayed away from them in favour for zemgear shoes which were kind of annoying after a while and then eventually settling into Merrell Vapour 2, which I have used religiously for road running for
the last few years and hope they never stop making them. This is my opinion on what I think are the best minimalist shoes for running.
Best Minimalist Shoes for Road Running
Merrell Vapor Gloves
Hands down, I can’t imagine anything ever beating Merrell Vapo(u)r Gloves. They are marketed as a trail shoe because they have a little bit of grip on the bottom, but for me they are my road shoe.
- 6.5mm thick sole
- Mesh and TPU upper
- Vibram sole
- Thin, flexible sole
- Some grip
- Do not rub
- Can wear without socks
- Light upper material
- Can use on road or offroad for hard/dry trails
- Upper material can perish in places quickly
- Not good if you have wide feet
- Soles may wear more quickly for you if you land heavy
- Laces may come undone when wet.
Merrell Vapours are lightweight and fit like a glove. I don’t like wearing socks and have never had a rubbing issue with these shoes, even when going through puddles and subsequently the material getting a bit wet.
However although they are relatively the perfect shoe, they do have some issues.
The upper material is prone to tear or wear. As you can see here:
This is a common wear issue from me. Here is another pair:
This could be wear because I don't wear socks though, rather than a typical issue to expect. If you wear socks you might not get some nice big toe holes for some extra breathing room!
You can also see wear though to the uppers in other areas. To be honest, I don't find they wear that much beyond this and can continue to wear them until inevitably I can no longer gaffer tape over holes that have appeared in the soles.
The soles start out at 6.5mm thick. This includes the thickness of the small lugs (if you can call them that).
The soles aren't really made for roads but I get quite a lot of use out of them. I would think though that if you land heavy or have a particular landing style prone to wear, then you could wear these out really quickly.
I would like them to ideally last a bit longer than I do, but I usually extend the wear by gaffer taping over the holes in the bottom until the holes are too big. I also have two pairs on the go and rotate.
The soles feel quite stiff and thick on a new pair of these. However this might be because I have gotten so used to my very thin holey soled pair before buying another pair. They loosen up over a few runs and I then are perfect.
This is the soles when they are nice a new. They have a little bit of grip as the pattern suggests.
Although I use this as a road shoe, I do wear them as trail shoes too when the whether is dry. They are rubbish in anything web offroad, as many of my running buddies will back up (having watched me slip and slide too many times).
Below are how they look once they started to wear. I have a custom pattern of wear.
They still work perfectly fine like this. I still run in these. They don't slip. They are very thin in places but this doesn't bother me. You may disagree.
The shape of the Merrells are quite slender as they are intended to fit like a glove. The toebox, for me, has plenty of room for my toes to splay out and I don't feel it is crowded at all. I have plenty of room to properly land my foot.
Comfort and Fit
I find these extremely comfortable. They are light, flexible and have great ground feel.
With some models of shoe, I find that the laces come undone for no apparent reason. It drives me nuts (looking at you vivobarefoot!).
I find these laces are pretty stable but if they get really wet they can come undone. Even a double knot comes undone. I tend to triple knot. I have never had them come undone in a race though and that is all that really matters.
Despite some of its flaws, this, in my opinion, is the best running shoe for minimalists. No restriction of toes, lightweight, flexible and no faffing about with socks. Truly minimal.
Where To Buy
This is quite a difficulty issue if cost is a problem for you. Traditional running shoes tend to cost a lot more than the Vpaours but still it is always nice to get a bargain.
I normally always default to buying from Amazon UK (Amazon USA link here) as they tend to be the cheapest option most of the time. However you may find ebay or sportshoes.com a good option to try too.
Best Minimal Running Shoe For Trail Running
Firm Ground: Merrell Vapours
When it comes to firm trails, you really do not need more than a road shoe. Unless of course you are doing something silly technical, you may need a little more for comfort and trickiness.
The Merrell Vapours are a trail shoe though and perfect for summer running across meadows and light trails. It is perfect for this. I do not need anything else but this when the ground is dry and the weather is lush.
Vivobarefoot do a trail shoe specifically for FIRM ground (It is called Primus FG). I tried this shoe out because I got it for quite cheap and I thought why the hell not. However after a few runs, I realised the shoe was pretty utterly pointless in every way.
In general, if its firm ground, a road shoe is literally all you really need. In my case, I just use the trails I use on road for offroad.
What the trail shoes like the Vivobarefoot FG and Vapours lack though, is the ability to cope when it is slightly wet/muddy. The tread on the Vivo's was pointless and utterly pointless that you just slip and slide and the smallest sign of wet offroad.. The vapours don't really do much when it comes to mud and wetness either.
This is when you need a shoe specifically for softer trails.
Soft Ground: Vivobarefoot Primus SG
The Vivobarefoot Primus SG are the perfect offroad shoe for times when its muddy and wet.
I started out using Vivo breathos, which has the same tread as these. However those were discontinued and Vivobarefoot brought out newer and more "advanced" designs to make up for it.
- Proper lugs for traction in muddy wet conditions.
- Neoprene ankle sock which gives full ankle mobility and is easy to slip on.
- Toggle laces to quickly secure.
- Quickly drains thus dries fster
- Breahable recycled mesh uppers
- Flexible sole
- Great grip in muddy conditins
- Drains quickly
- Pulls on like a sock
- Toggle for laces
- Need to wear socks with them as will rub
The Primus SG are awesome in lots of ways but mainly it is the grip that makes these my favourite. The grip has never let me down and I can even handle having to run on a hard surface with them in the races where you have little choice but to cross a road or some compacted gravel before rejoining the muddy fields.
The shoe has a neoprene ankle sock, so you essentially pull it on. This is stretchy and soft and quite nice when you initially put it on. It also means your ankle isn't restricted by any unecessary material or tongue.
Unfortunately I did find that it rubbed and have to wear socks with this shoe. This is a negative to me as I am not a sock fan, however it is small for everything else this shoe offers.
The shoe is breathable and the upper material is light. These are a particularly light shoe for an offroader. They drain very well too, having tested them out in many deep puddles in some of my races.
In fact drainage is pretty darn quick and I found this helped in preventing my feet from getting cold.
The soles of these are amazing. They have lugs which grip very well. I feel cofident going down muddy hillsides and up them too. The only time I have ever slipped in them is when it was notoriously wet watery mud and even then it was only a few slips for the horrendous conditions.
Comfort and Fit
They are comfortable to wear on and just walking about in. Unfortunately during a race I found they rub so socks are a must with these. Apart from that they feel nice and light on the feet and my toes do not feel bunched up. I wear them without the insoles.
These bad boys have a toggle lace which means you don't have to tie them into a knot to use. I LOVE this as I hate laces particularly in offroad events where they are more likely to come undone. It is so hard to do a shoelace up properly when it comes undone in a muddy offroad race. Your hands are freezing, the lace is muddy in places making it difficult to do up. It is annoying. I used to get around this hassle by triple knotting and tucking the laces and loops into the front laces to prevent them getting caught. In reality this issue is very slim to happen but is has happened. Then you have the hassle of trying to undo them when you have finished the race or back at home as you chose to just heel kick them off and worry about the laces later.
Well having a system with a toggle is better. Hands down I prefer it. Luckily any offroad race I have done, so far, hasn't used chip timing that involves undoing the laces to get it on.
The combination of lace and neoprene sockage makes this feel secure. The toggle is pretty good and firm too. I have tried toggles in the past that really annoy me. Also it is a bonus having a toggle with vivobarefoot shoes because pretty much every "running" shoe I have owned by them, has come with laces that just undo themselves within seconds. I usually have to swap out the laces or triple knot them out of laziness because I haven't found a pair to replace them yet.
The Vivobarefoot Primus SG are the best minimal runnings shoes for offroad muddy conditions. I will continue to wear them for all my offroad races and so far they are holding up nicely. I still have the breatho version which are still lasting despite using for over 5 years now!