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If the term "barefoot shoes" doesn't ring a bell, I'm sure you have at least seen those infamous "toe shoes" (the red shoes pictured above) and thought "Why on Earth would anyone wear those hideous things?" Well, I'm here to tell you that there are about a dozen good reasons to! Not to mention how terrible conventional shoes can be for you feet, spine, and over-all health. There are tons of minimalist shoes on the market right now, so I'll also be introducing you to some of my favorites!
So what is a barefoot, or minimalist, shoe you ask? Plain and simple- it's a shoes that simulates being barefoot. A good barefoot shoe has these attributes:
- A wide toe box, to allow your toes to spread like they would if they we're bare. Essentially, it lets your foot move naturally without constriction.
- No arch support.
- A "zero-drop" sole. Basically this means that the heel and toe are perfectly level (most shoes have the heel higher than the toe).
- Very thin soles that let us feel the terrain we are walking on.
Now, the benefits:
1. It's just fun! It's no wonder why kids run around barefoot- it feels awesome! After putting on my first pair a barefoot shoes (Vibram Fivefingers, of course...) and walking around in them, my feet felt so incredibly free and activated! Wearing barefoot shoes is exactly like being barefoot, but with protection!
2. They strengthen our feet! They do this with their wide toe boxes, and lack of arch support. Most shoes have very narrow toe boxes which constrict our toes and put a big strain on the muscles in out feet. Barefoot shoes, on the other hand, strengthen the muscles in our toes, arches, and calves. While mainstream shoe companies have made us think that arch support is good for our feet.. it just isn't. Our arches don't need support, and if we are constantly wearing shoes that give us too much support- our arches can become weakened. Being barefoot activates so many muscles that we never use when we wear stiff, constricting shoes!
3. They support a fore-foot strike. Shoes that don't have zero-drop soles change the way you would naturally take steps! When we wear shoes that aren't zero-drop, we land on our heels when we take steps. Heels do not absorb shock very well! Essentially, it sends a shock up our entire skeletal system and is just incredibly high-impact. One the other hand, barefoot shoes support our body's natural instinct to land fore-foot- which is very low-impact on our bodies. Here's a Harvard study on the matter. Shoes with zero-drop soles also support a healthy posture because we are able to stand and walk naturally. Shoes with a higher heel cause us to distort our posture in order keep our balance. Even though slight, it can make a big difference in our spinal health. Much of our spinal health starts in our feet, so start paying attention to what you put on your paws!
4. Better balance. Since barefoot shoes have very thin soles, they give us a better feel for the terrain we are walking on. Being barefoot also naturally stimulates the vestibular system- which is responsible for balance and coordination. The muscles we stimulate by being "barefoot" also promote better balance. Most minimalist shoes have Vibram Soles- so even though they are incredibly thin, they are more durable than most thick-soled shoes.
5. Reflexology benefits. Reflexology is the practice of stimulating nerve endings in the bottom of the feet by massage. All nerves end in the bottom of the feet, so if we massage the corresponding area we can stimulate healthy organ function, healing, detoxification, inflammation reduction, etc. The cool thing is that walking barefoot does this naturally!
So, as I mentioned, there are lots and lots of minimalist shoes on the market right now. I have most of the popular brands, but there a few I haven't tried. However, I LOVE the ones I have. Some minimalist shoes might seem strange looking at first, but I urge you to try them anyway! Your body will thank you.
So, my top 3 favorite minimalist shoes are:
1. Unshoes Minimalist Footwear. I got the Wokova Feather with the thinnest sole available, and it lasted me over a year. I wore them nearly everyday- hiking, floating, running, etc. My favorite minimalist shoes, hands down. They're versatile, with the ultimate barefoot feel. They also make shoes for babies and children! Check out their website here.
2. Vibram Fivefingers. They're the most popular for a reason. Durable. Well made. Comfortable. Next to barefoot sandals, it's the ultimate barefoot shoe. They offer children's sizes as well! Check out their website here.
3. Vivobarefoot. I just got their Lydia shoe (see here), and I absolutely love it. It's the first minimalist lifestyle shoes that is actually practical for your wardrobe. They offer a variety of styles, and I can't wait to get another pair. They also offer children's sizes. Check out their website here.
Before buying any shoes from these sites, I highly recommend checking out LEFT LANE SPORTS or THE CLYMB; both of these sites frequently feature Vivobarefoot, Vibram Fivefingers, and Skora shoes at reduced prices. I snagged the Vivobarefoot Lydia for only 27 bucks last week!! Some other brands you might want to check out are Merrell barefoot, Xeroshoes, Pedi-Ped (for the wee-one), Minnetonka (only the leather-soled mocassins), and Skora.