Back in ’11, when Christopher McDougall got everyone jacked up on the minimalist movement and natural running, joggers were quickstepping en masse onto the track and trail. Then came the backlash: those saying minimalism leads to injury, hurting more than it helps. Minimalist supporters (ourselves included) stood by their sleek shoes, and now manufacturers are pushing shoe tech to find sacred middle ground, offering lightweight, responsive shoes with enough cushion and stability to prevent injury. These 10 minimalist shoes are the best of the new breed.
Cross an Ironman athlete with a Swiss engineer and you get On. With the Cloudracer, the dynamic team’s taken their Speedboard CloudTec system and slimmed it down to reduce weight and improve responsiveness. The revolutionary system turns flex into power and converts torsion into stability. Running, meet the cloud.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 5mm | Weight: 8.1 oz
Under Armour Micro Monza
Racetracks and minimalist shoes share one common trait: they’re built for guys that go fast. Inspired by Italy’s F1 track, the Monza is low, ultra-light and has a need for speed. UA’s molded 4D foam footbed welcomes your foot, and the high-abrasion EVA rubber tackles pavement with aplomb.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 6mm | Weight: 8.0 oz
THE LANGUAGE OF MINIMALISM
Heel-to-toe drop: The difference in a shoe’s height between the forefoot and the heel. For minimalism, we looked at shoes with a heel-to-toe drop between 4mm and 7mm.
Stack height: The total height of a shoe’s sole. The smaller this number is, the less cushioning in the shoe and the better the ground feels under you.
Toe box: The part of a shoe that covers and protects your toes. Minimalist shoes generally have wider toe boxes, allowing room for your toes to splay, improving balance.
Pronation: How a runner’s foot rolls medially between footfall and toe-off. Minimal shoes have a neutral pattern, anticipating (and encouraging) a natural movement that involves little rolling.
Weight: Total weight in ounces; minimal shoes tend to be 10 ounces or less.
The Wolfman Transformation: What happens when you log big miles on trails while wearing minimalist shoes.
Saucony Kinvara 5
A redesigned and upgraded mesh upper sets the fifth iteration of the Kinvara up for another round of widespread applause. Saucony has found the perfect balance between responsive feel and plush cushion, giving a long-mile shoe that’s quick underfoot. And with the new version comes a reinforced “Flexfilm” on the toe-tip, boosting the shoe’s tolerance for abuse.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm | Weight: 7.7 oz
New Balance Minimus 10v2 Glow in the Dark
The closest to a barefoot shoe in the bunch, the Minimus capitalizes on the ubiquitous Vibram sole for grip and support and adds a no-sew forefoot design for comfort while running sans sock. They also tossed in glow-in-the-dark tech in both the sole’s rubber and the cloth upper so you stay visible on those sprints through the dark of night.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm | Weight: 6.5 oz
Pearl Izumi Men’s EM Road N2
For their high-mileage minimal trainer, Pearl Izumi added a rubber lugged pattern in the sole, boosting traction. They also tossed in a deep cupped insole to create a cozy cradle for your foot, making a shoe that’s fast but has plenty of comfort for the long run.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm | Weight: 9.1 oz
Inov8 Road X-Treme 198
Inov8 has an anthem: “For the Grit and the Glory”. Their entire line of running shoes focuses on natural running methods, with an emphasis on allowing runners to feel and adapt to the terrain under their feet. They’re specialist shoes built for the minimalist style, and the X-Treme 198 features Met-Cradle webbing for forefoot security and Shoc-Zone cushioning to save the legs on the long haul.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 6mm | Weight: 7.0 oz
The feather-light Gel-Lyte is serious about cutting ounces. The upper is nearly seamless, and a Solyte Midsole reduces weight without compromising comfort. The FluidAxis sole has anatomically correct grooves to align to the joints of your foot, and the “F.A.S.T.” heel and drop design mimic a racing flat in both design and lightness.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 6mm | Weight: 6.8 oz
Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit
Sure, your girlfriend has a pair. And your little brother. But now it’s time to take the Free seriously, as your running shoe. The flyknit is feather light and extremely flexible, and the fit holds your foot while giving the forefoot plenty of room to splay comfortably.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm | Weight: 7.2 oz
Brooks PureFlow 3
Pounding the pavement isn’t all about good looks, and while Brooks’ PureFlow won’t turn any heads, this year’s upgrades do deserve attention. Brooks repositioned the Toe Flex and widened the medial Nav Band to help your foot find neutral alignment. They also improved the heel for a more snug fit, and, for Mother Earth, the midsole features Brooks’s BioMoGo technology, which decomposes fifty times faster once the sneaks hit the landfill.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4mm | Weight: 8.4 oz
Newton Men’s Fate P.O.P. 2
The crew from Newton now has an everyman’s minimalist shoe. The P.O.P. 2 takes the good work of the P.O.P. 1 and adds cushion and a touch more drop. Newton’s sneaks are typically appropriate for the third leg of Kona, but with the Fate they’ve put all their usual tech — like a seamless mesh upper and Action/Reaction technology — into a sneaker fit for your next Sunday run.
Vitals: Heel-to-toe drop: 4.5mm | Weight: 9.4 oz