Now that I’m retiring my old Nike Free’s I really need to find a new pair of running shoes. Looking at the current offerings I see a lot of manufactures advertising “barefoot features”. I’ve realized that no shoe will ever be able to recreate the experience of running barefoot. As soon as you put something between the bottom of your foot and the road or trail, even if it’s only 4mm of rubber, you take away the natural sensation of making contact with the ground. The feedback from hitting the ground barefoot may allow your brain and legs to make adjustments that produce a more natural form.
I think practicing running barefoot is an excellent choice to help make the transition from heel striking to midfoot running. Humans after all were running long before the invention of the running shoe. I think that developing the muscles in the foot that have been weakened through years of cushioned and inflexible is a worthy endeavor. Still, I never see myself becoming a die hard barefoot runner.
So here I’ve compiled a list of the characteristics I’m looking for in a new shoe and a list of shoes I’ll be trying out.
Here are the must have requirements:
1. Zero-drop or near zero-drop sole
This means the heel of the shoe is the same thickness as the rest of the sole. Several studies have suggested a raised heel is the cause of many running injuries. Furthermore, walking or running around with an elevated heel will shorten the heel cord over time. A tight heel cord is a contributing factor to flat feet and a risk factor for a number of running injuries. Having zero or near zero (less than 4mm) change in height from the heel to the front of the shoe would be optimal to simulate barefoot walking and running.
2. Toe box wide enough to allow toes to splay
I’ve written about the importance of being able to spread your toes and strengthening the intrinsic foot muscles. I’m looking for a shoe that allows the toes to splay.
3. Little to no support
The inisde of the shoe shouldn’t have any additional cushioning or arch support that would interfere with the natural mechanics of the foot.
The entire shoe should be able to bend and flex to allow for natural movement of the foot and the upper material should not be tight or restricting.
Preferably less than 10 oz. It’s been shown that every additional 3.5 oz increases the energy cost of running by 1%. There is nothing natural about carrying a brick strapped to the bottom of your leg.
These are the qualities I’m flexible on:
It would be nice to have a pair of shoes that didn’t look out of place if I wore them casually (eh hem vibrams cough cough). One thing Nike does very well is design shoes people want to wear and I think a lot of other shoe manufactures, while possibly doing better with the technical aspects of shoe making, often come up short in the design department.
My concern with expensive minimalist shoes is that they won’t have the durability of their heftier counterparts and hence require more frequent replacement. That being said, I’d rather pay more for a shoe than sacrifice on any of the must have requirements.
The shoe should be breathable and comfortable to wear without socks and it should be durable enough to hold up to daily wear which includes road and light trail running, gym activity, and casual wear. Many brands make a more durable trail version of their shoes so if I find the need for more protection I can always pick up a trail shoe later.
The models I’m considering so far:
Altra Samson. This is an updated, lace version of Altra’s very popular Adam shoe. This shoe has great reviews and meets all the requirements. The downside is they are not carried in any retailers close by where I can go test them out.
New Balance Minimus Zero. This is a zero drop shoe that’s also very popular with minimalist runners. The only complaint I might have would be the color selections. Bright red and neon green would preclude the shoe from being anything other than workout gear. There is also a more rugged trail version of this shoe with more respectable color choices.
Merrell Road Glove. Merrell is another company that has ventured into the arena of minimalist shoes featuring zero-drop soles and wide toe boxes. I’m looking forward to trying out their offerings in the “Glove” line. Like the Minimus there is also a trail version of this shoe.
Vibram Five Finger KSO. The toe glove. I really want to like Vibrams because the concept behind them is fundamentally sound. I haven’t heard many complaints about these shoes other than sizing issues and the smell that they develop if not washed frequently. Although this would seem like the natural choice I feel like if I want to run barefoot I will do just that, run barefoot and for now stick to shoes that attract less attention.
Nike Free 3.0 v4. Because I loved my last pair of Free’s so much it’s only right that I give them some consideration this time around. The 3.0’s are the most minimal of the Free line. They have the flex groove sole which is really nice and they certainly win in the looks department. They also feature a 4mm heel-to-toe drop which is an improvement over my previous Nike’s. However, I still would prefer a true zero drop shoe with less cushioning and support.