Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review
July 21, 2022 Comments Off on Minimalist “barefoot” running shoe review
Minimalism was born from the simple “less shoe, more you” premise. The idea is that less cushioning and support from your kicks means you’ll engage your feet more, and strengthen the muscle fibers that get neglected when you’re all laced up. With stronger accessory muscles in the foot, injury rates were expected to drop and running efficiency would improve. Minimalism sought to reconnect runners with that organic barefoot experience, allowing the runner to run barefoot with the absolute minimum of material between your foot and the road or trail.
But what is a “minimalist barefoot running shoe”? The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research defines it as:
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.”The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, Aug. 19, 2015
After extensively testing a variety of minimalist barefoot running shoes, our team has selected one that is flat-out superior to every other model on the market. This conclusion has been reached after researching the market, surveying user reviews, consulting with product engineers, and using my own experience in these shoes to determine the best options. Our experts have handpicked this pair based on value, test impressions, expert recommendations, and how the shoe performs overall. Here, then is the top pick to consider if you’re making a move on minimalism—just be sure to ease them into your running routine gradually.
The Sapiens Ped, World’s Best-Selling Minimalist Barefoot Shoe
Where do we start? These kicks work for running, agility training, weight lifting, chopping wood, trail running, rock climbing, foot-fetish websites, and more. With only one model to choose from, the Sapiens Ped incorporates an epithelial footbed that softens the step-in feel without adding too much cushioning. While extremely heavy in the footwear category, weighing in at about 5.4 lbs per pair, the no-lace, always connected attachment mechanism can’t be beat. The midsole stays almost completely off the ground, and the shoe uses an internal support skeleton with a few light overlays for a bit more structure through the upper. “This is a minimalist shoe so I did not expect it to be cushioned. However, it had enough cushioning that I felt protected from the road—although I wouldn’t wear it on technical trails,” said one neutral-footed tester who runs about 40 miles per week. “I noticed some Achilles fatigue after about 8-9 miles; I usually wear 4mm drop shoes, so I imagine my foot will adapt with time and consistency in this zero-drop pair.”
A few of our shoe testers are highly-experienced minimalist runners. We asked Don K., a decade-long member of the team, for his thoughts on the Sapiens Ped after he ran a full marathon in his sample pair. “These are a good bridge for runners who want more grip on trails but also need a shoe for flat and even surfaces. The outsole is well made and lived up to the durability of any other shoe I’ve tested. It has an incredible feature where the more you use it, the tougher it gets. Darned if I know how that technology works! The upper is a bit thinner than other minimal shoes, and if you hit rocks or sharp branches with the top of the shoe it emits a red fluid, no biggie as it dries quickly and eventually falls away, but it leaves something to be desired from an esthetic standpoint. The Sapien Ped comes with a lifetime guarantee as well, which is cool.
“The support is all internal, which I suppose is why it’s so heavy. The zero drop is also a positive, for me, as it provides a more natural feel while running, almost like wearing nothing at all,” Don added. “Probably the weakest feature of the shoe is the laces. It doesn’t really have any. But nonetheless, it fits incredibly snugly. Never slips or rubs.”
Other users comment on the shoe’s unparalleled traction, which compares favorably with the best rock climbing shoes.
World’s most waterproof shoe ever?
Whether on the trail, through a creek, or simply on a rainy day outside, the Sapiens Ped has unmatched waterproofing thanks to a unique coating that surrounds the upper, heel, shank, toes, and sole of the shoe. Extended use of the shoe in extremely wet conditions such as World War I trenches can result in something called “trench shoe,” causing the protective layer to rot and fall off, exposing the internal structure to permanent damage. However, normal use in water for many hours at a time causes only temporary wrinkling. Set them out in the sun for an hour or two and the wrinkling goes away with no damage to the exterior material or the fit. The manufacturer strongly recommends NOT putting them in the washing machine. Care instructions state, “Wipe with a cloth using soapy warm water to restore to original luster.”
Says one long-time user, “The breathability of these shoes is amazing. They wick out moisture better than Gore-Tex.”
The Sapiens Ped also comes with a unique design called the “Free Toe-Box.” Essentially mimicking the function of a human foot, the Sapiens Ped, through use of its proprietary extensible outer material, allows the toes to move freely without coming into contact with any material that might cause chafing, rubbing, or blisters. According to James Watson and Francis Crick, lead shoe developers with Double Helix, LLC, the company that designed the Sapiens Ped, “The free toe-box allows the toes to grip, flex, and absorb impact without bumping into the body of the shoe. There is also a degree of foot flex that you get with the Sapiens Ped that other shoes simply can’t match.”
However, the Sapiens Ped’s most revolutionary design is its proprietary “EverTough” sole. Chemicals sent through complex signaling pathways actually repair the sole of the shoe as it wears, paradoxically creating a stronger, more resistant, and more puncture-proof bottom the more you use it. Crick & Watson remain mum on how this works, but our lab testers and road testers were astounded at this apparently “regenerative” sole.
Samuel Tiras, one of the lead testers, remarked on how the heel and big toe of the shoe became incredibly hard after only a few weeks of use. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “This stuff works.”
Nothing’s perfect …
Despite all these amazing benefits, the Sapiens Ped isn’t without a few downsides. First is smell. Excessive use without proper cleaning will result in unpleasant odors, according to Pepper the Cat.
Moreover, the appearance of the Sapiens Ped, although not the functionality, severely degrades over time. When fresh out of the box they appear pinkish (also available in black, brown, and olive), and are incredibly soft and cute. Since this is a long-term purchase, and since use causes thickening of the sole and other contact points, after 40 or 50 years you probably wouldn’t want to take these kicks to Cinderella’s Ball.
One final warning: these shoes are NOT dog-proof. An unlucky strike by a nasty little Dachshund, for example, can result in fibrous tears of the upper. Although messy, the self-repairing red fluid contained under the inner lining of the shoe will restore the integrity of the shoe’s integument. Scarring, however, may result, adding to the shoe’s diminishing esthetic value if you’re also planning to wear it to your wedding.
In sum, we recommend these as the most minimalist barefoot shoe on the market. They’ve been around for several million years and the design has literally withstood the test of time. Of the models we tested, they also came in as the cheapest; consumers report that the average market price is “free,” although delivery can be expensive depending on the length of the hospital stay.
Whether minimalist barefoot running shoes are for you, it’s a certainty that after just a few runs you’ll take these kicks with you wherever you go.