Picking out the best minimal running shoes for you requires you to first understand what type of runner you are. In other words, are you someone who runs exclusively on trails, on roads, or who enjoys doing a little of both? Furthermore, what kind of feet do you have? Are you flatfooted? Do you have high arches? Or, are your feet considered normal?
Because it is vital that minimalist running shoes fit not only your foot size, but also your gait and running environment, it is absolutely crucial that you take all of these factors into consideration before you buy that first pair of shoes. Fortunately, figuring these things out is a whole lot easier than it sounds.
Where Do You Run?
There are minimal running shoes specifically designed for wear on roads, trails, or any combination thereof. Why is this so important you may ask? The reason is quite simply that the amount of protective material used on the outer shoe and type of sole needed is different dependent upon where you run.
The upper section of barefoot trail running shoes is typically much more substantial (i.e. thicker material and more of it) than it is on shoes designed for running on pavement. The added material is necessary in order to protect your feet from trail hazards (rocks) and to keep out dust and water. The sole on trail shoes is thicker and has improved traction as well.
Road shoes, on the other hand, are typically lighter all around and slightly less durable in construction. These traits are viewed as advantages by many minimalist runners, however, since the net result is often a shoe that provides a more natural barefoot running experience. In fact, many people who regularly run in road shoes have described them as being no more cumbersome than a pair of socks once they’ve been adequately broken in.
Hybrid shoes, as you might guess, rate somewhere between the other two styles in their construction. For this reason, they are often favored by new near-barefoot running enthusiasts or those who are involved in some form of cross training. Their versatility is undoubtedly their greatest strength, but their lack of durability and diminished traction make them unfit for extended off-road use, and their greater weight makes them unattractive to seasoned minimalist running purists.
What Type of Foot Do You Have?
While the ultimate goal of minimal running shoes is to simulate running barefoot, there is still importance to choosing a pair of shoes that appropriately accommodate the shape of your foot. The reason for this is, the shoe must be designed to allow your foot to move in its unimpeded, natural motion. Wearing the wrong fit of shoe can prevent this and result in the same types of injuries one would normally sustain from running in traditional shoes.
If you have flat feet (i.e. no visible arch between your heel and toes), you are probably what is known as an overpronator. This means that your natural running stride ends with your foot rolling inward.
If this is the case, you are one of those people that many minimalist runners envy because you can wear zero-drop soles (perfectly-flat soles with no heel-to-toe differential) right from the start. Runners who have higher arches will generally have to adjust to this type of footwear, but you will find them to be perfect for your foot type immediately.
The opposite of flat feet are those that have a distinctive arch between the heel and toes. Runners with this type of foot will typically underpronate (their feet roll outward) as they run.
Underpronators will need to find shoes that have some degree of midsole cushioning in order to support their feet as they run. Over time, minimalist runners with high arches eventually see their feet flatten out and are able to transition to zero-drop soles. In the beginning, however, some midfoot support is recommended.
For people with normal feet (also referred to as neutral feet), their stride usually ends with a slight turn inward. Their arch, however, is neither high nor flat.
If this describes you, then a barefoot-style running shoe with a slight heel lift (4 mm is standard) and no other supportive midsole cushion is recommended. This will help you to slowly acclimate to a barefoot running motion without developing a sore Achilles as is sometimes the case with non-flat footed runners who try to run in zero-drop soles in the beginning.
Finding the Best Minimal Running Shoes
So, now that you know what type of foot you have and where you’re going to be running, you’ll just need to find your pair of shoes. Much like determining your foot type and running style, this is also surprisingly easy.
While many shoe stores now carry barefoot running shoes, the best prices and selection is undoubtedly available on the internet. All of the major online retailers now include them in their product selection, so finding the best minimal running shoes is as easy as running a query on your favorite search engine.