Somewhere between a regular running trainer and a barefoot running shoe, minimalist running shoes are often recommended by form experts to anyone looking to get a more realistic feel from their nightly jog, and reduce their dependency on chunky, highly cushioned shoes which can take away some of the sensation of running.
Of course, the best way to find the best minimalist running shoes for your particular needs is to go to a well-stocked shop and try a load of them on, but when it comes to making a shortlist of the ones that are highly rated with top reviews from waves of happy consumers, we can help.
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If you’re looking for the ultimate barely-there running experience, our top choice is the Merrell Trail Glove 4, which offers the closest thing to barefoot running in a minimalist shoe. However, it only starts at a 6.5, so those with petite feet can consider the Merrell Bare Access Arc 4, which starts at a UK 3, as an equally flexible and comfortable alternative.
1. Merrell Trail Glove 4
Our best minimalist running shoe also offers the best of both worlds
Best for: Experiencing barefoot running | Sizes: UK 6.5-14 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: Synthetic
If you’re unsure whether it’s a barefoot running shoe or minimalist running shoe you’re after, or you want the barefoot experience with a little more protection, you’re in luck, because the Merrell Trail Glove 4 offers a little bit of both worlds. It offers what may be the maximum amount of padding a shoe can have and still be considered minimal, a cushioned collar around the heel, and reviewers loved that the wide fit meant their toes could splay naturally on landing. It’s also very breathable for a trail running shoe, thanks to an airflow-promoting upper.
2. Vivobarefoot Stealth 2
Busy bees need look no further than these breathable honeycomb-style trainers
Best for: Flexible support | Sizes: UK 6-15 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: TPU
The distinctive honeycomb design of this running shoe doesn’t just look cool, it serves a practical function too. Each hexagon is made of breathable mesh, allowing for cooler feet throughout your workout, and reinforced by an EVA cage which stays both flexible and supportive. But despite appearances, Vivobarefoot say these shoes are pretty nifty in adverse conditions too, with a Hydrophonic mesh providing a water-resistant finish, ideal should you get caught in any showers, and a wet/dry slip-resistant sole that’s great on tarmac as well as the treadmill.
3. Nike Free 5.0
Feel free, no matter your workout, with these lightweight and breathable running shoes
Best for: Lightweight | Sizes: UK 6-9 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: Gum rubber
‘Free’ is the name of the game when it comes to minimalist running, so when it’s the name of the shoe, too, you know you’re probably onto a winner. Just as the Merrell Trail Glove is a middle ground between minimalist and barefoot running, the Nike Free has been described as a middle ground between minimalist and regular running shoe, making it a great entry-level option for anyone looking to transition to a more bioefficient runner, and reviewers loved how lightweight and breathable it was, keeping them cool, dry and mobile no matter the intensity of the workout.
4. Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO
Quick-lacing, a little weird-looking, but immensely comfortable
Best for: Flexibility | Sizes: UK 5-14 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: Gum rubber
Alright, we’ll level with you: they do look a little bit nightmarish, but if you’re lucky enough to have been caught up in the toe socks trend back in the day, you’ll no doubt remember how comfortable they were. The same principle applies with the Vibram FiveFingers, a barely-there pair of running shoes where each toe is individually encased for great ground feel and ultimate flexibility. Reviewers found the quick lacing system and wide opening a dream for getting these shoes on and off easily, and recommended pairing with – you guessed it! – toe socks for even more ease.
5. Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
Sturdy but sensitive, well-built but never bulky, these zero drop running shoes are a great all-round option
Best for: Daily running | Sizes: UK 3-8.5 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: Synthetic
Despite a sturdy construction of durable synthetic leather and breathable mesh, reviewers found this fourth incarnation of the favourite running shoe to be non-bulky and ultra-lightweight, offering the best of both worlds. Expert testers found it delightfully flexible and responsive even with the addition of a cushioned midsole, and loved the natural running motion encouraged by the zero drop, plus sensitive insoles that offered great control on liftoff and landing.
6. New Balance Minimus Trail
If you’re hitting the road, take these all-terrain trainers with you
Best for: Rocky trails | Sizes: UK 6-13.5 | Outer material: Fabric | Sole: EVA
New Balance are well-known both in the sportswear and streetwear arenas for their fresh kicks (that is what the kids say, right?) and these Minimus trail running shoes are a stellar example of how they’ve made a name for themselves. As well as flexible synthetic overlays up top, which reduce the risk of chafing and irritation just as you’re hitting your stride, they feature a durable EVA Vibram outsole, making them grippy and cushioned enough for rockier terrain, but without sacrificing the ground-feel you’d expect from minimalist trainers.
7. Vibram FiveFingers KMD
These FiveFingers give your ten toes ultimate flexibility and a natural feel
Best for: Multi-sport | Sizes: UK 6-13 | Outer material: Synthetic | Sole: Gum rubber
They might look similar to our previous multi-appendaged pick, and it is, but the crucial difference between these shoe and the Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO is that while the others focus on runners, these come highly recommended as multi-sport shoes. While they’re not particularly well-suited to cold-weather running, reviewers found them to be otherwise very versatile shoes, with control-optimising toe slots, stretchy uppers for easy put-on and removal, and an enhanced footbed, not to mention an anti-microbial odour treatment that’ll keep your gym bag smelling altogether fresher.
If you've got your heart set on Nikes, check out our list of the best Nike running shoes 2018 has to offer so far.