Barefoot running sandals (or minimalist sandals) exploded alongside barefoot running after the bestselling book, Born to Run, was released by Christopher McDougall in 2009.
After observing the ancient and superhuman running culture of the Tarahumara people in Mexico, McDougall concluded that humans evolved running barefoot. He argues that the advancements in running shoes have, ironically, led to more harm than good. The solution to the rise in running related injury is to go barefoot or, in case of sharp objects, use minimalist sandals.
Barefoot enthusiasts believe the heel-toe strike (heel hits the ground and then toe) of a shoe can cause overstriding, while the mid-strike (foot hits the ground flat) of barefoot is balanced and causes lower impact.
Since your feet are forced to engage with the contours and imperfections of the ground, "barefooters" report better alignment, balance, lower leg strength and report less injury.
You mean we've been doing it all wrong?!
Ehhh... maybe. This barefoot theory is still heavily debated and some people actually report worse injuries when switching from cushioned shoes to a pair of barefoot sandals.
Despite the controversy, one thing is certain - barefoot sandals and minimalist footwear is a growing movement and has a fanatical following. A lot of companies have risen to the occasion of making fantastic sandals for all outdoor activities, not just running.
Personally, I have become somewhat obsessed with the barefoot sandal movement. I use them for hiking, traveling and everyday activities.
They are ultra lightweight and thin which makes them perfect to slide into my pack. They are super comfortable and let my feet breathe, but are much more durable and higher functioning than flips flops.
1. Zero Drop. The height of the back of the sandal needs to be the same as the front - or have "zero drop". This is in direct contrast to most shoes which might have a 20 mm high heel and a 15 mm high toe box... a total drop of 5 mm. Zero drop is a defining characteristic of a barefoot sandal that enables the mid-strike.
2. Thin Soles. Ideally 12 mm or less. Anything thicker and you will not get that real 'barefoot feel' - it will be more like a shoe. I personally prefer soles in the 5-8 mm range.
3. Flat Footbed. The ground is flat and does not provide your feet with perfectly custom arch support. You want you sandals to mimic that support-less ground so keep your footbeds flat.
4. Lightweight. Ideally 12 oz or less. A pair of Chacos weighs around 2 lbs (32 oz)... which is way too much. Again, a heavy and thick sandal won't resemble being barefoot.
5. Thong Straps. Just a personal preference, but having the strap lace vertically in between your toes can enable your toes to spread out. A horizontal strap can squeeze your toes together and cause Metatarsalgia - a fancy word for knuckle inflammation. I pick thong all day long.
In no particular order, here are the best barefoot and minimalist sandals on the market:
Price: From $70.00 to $105.00 on lunasandals.com
Thickness and Weight: 11 mm sole and 17.4 oz per pair (Size 11.5, Oso Flaco model).
Luna Sandals launched soon after Born to Run was released. Their founder, Barefoot Ted, was a main character in the book and has been running ultra-marathons in minimalist sandals since 2007. Despite the thicker soles, these sandals are still very light. They come with a non-slip MGT footbed, Vibram soles and a bit more lacing than other sandals for a secure foot hold. The most unique thing about these is the quality - these sandals have been really really well designed for running. These will be my go to sandals in 2019.
Price: From $39.99 to $79.99 on xeroshoes.com
Thickness: 5.5 mm sole
Weight: 10.3 oz per pair (Size 11 of the Amuri model).
Xero Shoes have become one of the barefoot sandal leaders, especially after appearing on Shark Tank. They make some impressively flexible sandals that can roll up in to your pocket.
I could not believe how much I could actually feel the ground in these. I also love the rope-like lacing and how the lacing does not make contact with the ground. Each pair comes with a 5,000 mile warranty so feel free to crush some miles in them. If the toe thong isn't your thing (it can take time to get used to and, honestly, is not my preference), checkout their Z-Trail and Z-Trek models. .
Price: From $70.00 to $98.00 on bedrocksandals.com
Thickness: 14 mm sole
Weight: 15.6 oz per pair (Size 11.5 of the Cairn model).
Rough and tough sandals built for the trail. These sandals are more like the lightweight and minimalist alternative to Chacos. I wore these religiously for most of 2017. Bedrock Sandals launched in 2012 with a Kickstarter project and has been making great sandals ever since. Their models range from the minimalist and ultra-thin Earthquake model to the more rugged, and infinitely adjustable, Cairn model. At a 14 mm sole and 15.6 oz per pair, the Cairn's (image below) are definitely thicker and A LOT more durable for tough trail. Thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail have been wearing these more and more.
Price: From $48.00 to $75.00 on unshoesusa.com
Thickness: 4 to 6 mm sole
Weight: 11.0 oz per pair (Size 11.5 of the Wokova model).
Each pair is made to order. Great for active lifestyles and for casual wear. The lacing is relatively seamless and the wide straps prevent potential hot spots. Unshoes will mold to your feet like a glove. My favorite thing is the straps - they are thick and oh so comfortable. The lacing leaves the inside of your foot open making it more ideal for casual wear versus running. For those of you who don't like things between your toes, there are other models with horizontal straps like the Uinta and Pah Tempe.
Price: From $65.00 to $99.00 on shammasandals.com
Thickness: 5 to 6 mm sole
Weight: 12.5 oz per pair (Size 11.5 of the Warriors model).
Let this be an ode to Shamma. After a long run on the beach with the Mountain Goats (featured image), I was hooked. I've been wearing these nearly everyday for a year now (most of 2018). Super light, yet rugged enough to cover serious terrain. Their straps fit like a glove and are softer than a pillow. Note their Warriors model (featured specs) is a lighter than the Mountain Goats - the lightest on this list, in fact. Shamma also offer some beautifully designed sandals with sleek brown leather goat-skin.
Price: From $69.00 to $84.00 on earthrunners.com
Thickness: 8 mm sole
Weight: 11.4 oz per pair (Size 11.5 of the Elemental model).
Quality, minimalist sandals designed for running. They have an extremely unique vegan footbed and a tacky rubber top. Lacing comes with a thin layer of nylon to minimize stretching. Earth Runners also offer several models with a suede or leather top or a 10 mm sole. These puppies are brand new so I'll have to keep you posted on how they wear over time. I can tell you I'm loving the footbeds ;)
Price: From $70.00 to $110.00 on amazon.com
Thickness: Really thick
Weight: 31.8 oz per pair (Size 11 of the Z2 Classic model).
These are the classic outdoor sport sandal that seem to have dominated the market for decades. I wanted to add these solely as a point of reference. You can see they are significantly bigger and heavier than the other models on this list. Chacos weigh in at nearly 2 lbs which is over double the weight of some these other sandals. Some folks love 'em for their durability and style... others prefer the more lightweight and minimal style.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.
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