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Shedding our shoes at the end of the day often offers a sense of relief akin to a breath of fresh air. We can freely wiggle our toes and stand sturdier as we feel the floor beneath our feet. It’s not just in our heads, either. Sans shoes, our bare feet enjoy increased blood circulation, a better range of motion, and a literal sense of grounding.

The first known pair of shoes dates back 50,000 years. Our ancestors created those to keep feet warm, but in another 10,000 years, another level of protection would be added in the form of soles. Nowadays, the shoe market is vast in both design and function. Each pair claims to make us run faster, jump higher, stay cooler, make a fashion statement, or provide support during endurance sports. Although shoes may be designed for safety, support, function, and aesthetics, they aren’t necessarily good for the overall health of our feet and lower extremities. 

Over the years, researchers and health professionals have questioned the potential adverse effects modern-day shoes may have on foot health and beyond. One main point of contention suggests shoes inhibit the natural foot movement we get when barefoot. This restriction weakens our feet, alters their shape, and can actually cause foot ailments — some of which may even require corrective surgery.

Enter Barefoot Shoes. Originating in the 1960s and 1970s, the barefoot — or minimalist — shoe movement continues to gain steam. For people joining the movement, barefoot shoes offer the best of both worlds — protecting feet while also giving them that range of motion, relief from pain and pressure, and a desired deeper connection with the Earth.

What are the benefits of barefoot shoes?

While most conventional shoe soles (other than heels) are made of thick rubber and durable synthetic fibers overlayed with layers of foam cushioning, barefoot shoes mimic anatomical foot shapes with a wide toe box. Their soles may vary in thickness, but they are all thinner than an average shoe and feature a “zero drop” sole, which keeps the heel and forefoot at the same level. Barefoot shoes are also super light and flexible, allowing feet to bend and flex in a more natural, intended way.

Because barefoot shoes allow our feet to move in naturally, with continued use, feet get more muscular and less tired. Barefoot shoes can also aid in better alignment and posture, and because barefoot shoes are thin, wearers have heightened awareness and connection with the various environmental elements. One study showed that barefoot shoes could reduce the risk of falling in older people because when we are barefoot, we’re better able to sense changes in the ground below us.

Some long-distance runners and extreme sports fanatics prefer barefoot shoes over sneakers or hiking boots. For long-distance runners and endurance athletes, barefoot shoes have been shown to decrease the risk of plantar fasciitis and also reduce or eliminate injury.

Our criteria:

Our editors have researched and reviewed the top wellness brands on the market. After vetting these barefoot shoes based on brand trustworthiness and reputation, hundreds of customer reviews, and each shoe’s features, we’ve selected our top picks for barefoot shoes for women. We regularly update this list with emerging favorites that meet the criteria below.

PERFORMANCE | The options below offer comfort and traction suited for activities that include high-impact use. We’ve also evaluated these for durability over time.
VERSATILITY | We’ve included options suited for a variety of activities, from trail running to everyday wear, and noted what each pair is best for.
AFFORDABILITY | This list includes barefoot shoes at a variety of price points so there’s something for every budget.

Note that if you are new to minimal shoe-wearing, it’s a good idea to start in short increments on softer surfaces and increase the amount of time as your feet adjust to the heightened sensations. Although there can be benefits from wearing barefoot shoes, they are generally not recommended for those who already possess circulation, foot, or ankle problems.

For more of our favorite gear, check out our recommendations for the best compression socks for women and our guide to home gyms for women.

1. H-Trail Hiking Sandal by Xero 

Family owned
Gives back
Warranty offered

Best For | Warm weather and water adventures
Sizes available | 5–12 
Price | $80

Founded by an active Colorado couple, the Xero Shoes motto is “live life feet first.” Out of their versatile barefoot shoe lineup, we chose one of Xero’s newest designs, The H-Trail Hiking Sandal, which co-founder Steven Sashen said took five years to perfect. This adaptable huarache-style sandal has a rubber outsole and chevron lug pattern for better traction when traversing various elevations. The H-Trail features a thin middle layer that absorbs all the bumps, while the footbed features a thin foam for comfort. Four adjustment points allow for a customized fit and provide support around the ankle, taking pressure off the toe area. These sandals are said to be biomechanically identical to a bare foot. The H-Trails are cute enough to wear for any occasion, from splish-splashy summer adventures to sundress-clad cocktail hours. Light and bendy, these sandals are easy to pack, come with Xero’s 5000-mile sole warranty, and can be washed and air-dried.

Customer Review | “Now, this is a sandal I can rock camping, hiking, or even around town. So comfortable and capable.” (Read more reviews.)

2. Five Fingers V-Soul from Vibram

Warranty offered

Best For | Indoor workouts
Sizes available | 6.5/7–9.5/10
Price | $100

Italian sole manufacturer Vibram provides shoe soles for shoe brands worldwide. In 2002, the company launched the FiveFingers concept with the intent to facilitate a deeper connection between the body and the natural environment. Winner of Time Magazine’s “Best Invention of 2007,” the FiveFingers product is considered a “foot glove,” not a shoe — designed to feel one with the foot. This offers each part of the foot the freedom to move and sense. One of Vibram’s latest Five Finger creations is known as the V-Soul. The V-soul is an attractive and feminine foot glove geared toward indoor fitness. The V-Soul looks like a cute ballet flat but features individual slots for each toe. The V-soul can be used during various activities, from plyometrics to Pilates Yoga and Barre. It is considered one of Vibram’s “max feel products,” allowing for “maximum articulation and ground feel.” This minimalist foot glove is light and flexible but adjustable for a custom fit. The V-sole is machine washable and backed with a 90-day warranty. 

Customer Review | “Great quality product. For my first time ever wearing Vibrams, I was hesitant…However, these shoes are completely worth it. My feet and knees feel delightful every time I wear them. I don’t even have feet or knee problems! I guess just the toe alignment and being able to walk better in these makes a huge difference.”  (Read more reviews.)

3. Trail Glove 7 from Merrell

Recycled materials
Natural materials

Best For | Moderate hiking and trail running
Sizes available | 5–11
Price | $120

With a goal to “provide thoughtfully designed, rigorously tested products that over-deliver on performance, versatility, and durability,” adventure shoe giant Merrell leaped into the barefoot shoe market in 2010. The latest model of its Trail Glove series, the Trail Glove 7, is a run-hike combo shoe, with one review stating it offers exceptional stability and remarkable agility in cornering. This barefoot shoe features a Vibram Eco-Step sole made of recycled rubber and is designed to provide extra grip to keep you safe on slick trails. The attractive upper part of the shoe is made of 100 percent recycled, breathable mesh, laces, and webbing. The shoe’s tongue was incorporated to keep debris out as you adventure. The Trail Glove 7 is pretreated for odor control using an innovative microbe-based product known as Cleansport NXT™, so once microbes come in contact with organic material (sweat), they activate. The Trail Glove 7 insoles contain thirty percent recycled integrated EVA foam. The Trail Glove 7 comes in a variety of fun colors. 

Customer Review | “Wore for the first time the other day on a two-mile hike through mud, ice, snow and slush. I love the grip and how stable these shoes make me feel. Nice, roomy-toe bed too!” (Read more reviews.)

4. Primal Mary Jane from Softstar

Natural materials

Best For | Dress shoes 
Sizes available | 5.5–13
Price | $180

Softstar’s Primal Mary Janes are made in the company’s Oregon-based workshop — handcrafted by skilled artisans known as “clickers.” To make the shoes, clickers carefully cut and arrange leather utilizing as much responsibly sourced leather hide as possible to minimize waste. The Primal Mary Janes make a great barefoot shoe option because they are attractive for casual wear at work or dressier occasions. These shoes are made with an extra wide toe box and thin Vibram Street soles — which are biomechanically healthy for your feet. At less than 5 ounces per shoe, these are super light — so much so you may forget to kick them off at the end of a workday. Softstar stands behind the quality of its handmade designs and makes them last. They even offer cobbler consultations should your MJs ever need a tune-up. We love that these shoes come in neutral colors and fun options like purple and green. 

Customer Review | “This is the first pair of barefoot dress shoes I have owned, and so far, they have been great. They are very attractive and comfortable.” – S (Read more reviews.)

5. Lorax Pro from Hike Footwear

Warranty offered
Science backed

Best For | Orthopedic support 
Sizes available | 6–16
Price | $200 (often on sale!)

Hike Footwear is dedicated to making a worldwide impact by providing innovative barefoot shoes designed to relieve foot-related pains and promote overall foot health. The Lorax Pro does just that. The ultra-light shoe is made of breathable upper polyester fabric for comfort. The flexible 4 mm sole is made of organic rubber, which promotes the natural alignment of the foot. The Lorax Pro carries the trademark barefoot shoe feature of a roomy toe box. This shoe is simple but still attractive enough to make it ideal for general daily use, work, and even light outdoor adventures. The tread seems light and may not hold up on rough, wet terrain, however. All Hike footwear has been reviewed and recommended by orthopedic and podiatry specialists for ergonomic design, improved foot health, and pain reduction. Hike shoes also come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Customer Review | “Love how these shoes support my feet and alleviate my neuropathic symptoms – they’re a true lifesaver.” – A (Read more reviews.)

6. Vibe from Freet

Recycled materials
Made in the UK

Best For | Road and trail running 
Sizes available | 6.5–15
Price | $115 

The Vibe by UK-based company Freet may be the most versatile and eco-friendly barefoot shoe on our list. This highly flexible shoe has a super thin 2 mm insole that can be increased to 4 mm when used with the removable orthopedic insole. The Vibe features an expansive upper area made of breathable bottle yarn fly knit made from recycled bottles. The tread pattern on the bottom is not extensive, making it ok for use on road runs but it also offers just enough traction to handle light trail runs. One in-depth testimonial states that these were good for long-distance road and trail runs but also while conducting sprint track work, weightlifting, and bike riding. Vibes keep feet comfortable in hot and muggy weather and can be worn with thin socks in cooler weather. The Vibe resembles a conventional slip-on sneaker, so it is perfect for a more discreet look.

Customer Review | “The Vibe is a great shoe. It has the look of a more conventional sneaker but it’s still cooler looking and really comfortable, like all Freet shoes. The more recent Freet models have an extra generous toe box that really works for me. I use this shoe for everything (running, casual, walking). I bought my usual size 43 and it fits great. Love the padding around the ankle and the thick-ish shoe laces. The shoe is stylish without be garish. Well done Freet.” (Read more reviews.)

7. Wave Sneakers from BeLenka

Gives back
Warranty offered

Best For | Sporty everyday wear
Sizes available | 5–15
Price | $169

Hailing from BeLenka’s Barebarics collection, the sporty Wave Sneakers are by far the trendiest minimal shoe on our list. These retro-looking sneakers are uber cute and feature all the barefoot qualities. Wave’s have thin, zero drop soles, are lightweight with a wide toe box, and flexible outsoles. They’re also made of premium Nappa leather, which means they are durable, weatherproof, and easy to clean. The inside lining consists of a lab-tested wicking tech fabric called Dermodry Coolmax, which speeds up moisture control and sweat absorption for odor control. Wave’s stitched flat soles are made of synthetic rubber that boasts significant wear-and-tear resistance. The bottom of the shoe is flat with no traction so it is great for urban treks but not necessarily ideal for your off-road adventures. BeLenka considers the Wave an evergreen shoe, and we agree. BeLenka offers lots of fun, bright colorways, making it easy to find something to match your wardrobe.

Customer Review | “Amazing!! Such good-looking shoes! I’ve had comments from non-barefooters about how good they look. Quality is unparalleled!! These will likely last 10 years or more!!” – T (Read more reviews.)

Featured image by Xero