In the last few weeks, I’ve been looking at +30 shoe reviews I’ve done this year! Some of the shoes were amazing, and some were…… not so amazing…..
And after seeing all those influencers posting their top X from 2023, I realized – Oh yeah, that’s what content creators do, isn’t it?
So now it’s time to introduce my top 5 barefoot running shoes for the year. Some are true minimal shoes, and some have a little cushion, but all are still zero drop for now! I’ve selected a variety for the road, trails, and even a bonus shoe that became my everyday runabout.
Affiliate Disclosure: By clicking through the links on this page and purchasing the products, you’ll be helping me out. This is done because I receive a kickback from the sellers at no extra cost to you! Thank you so much for supporting us!
It’s barefoot and a trail shoe perfectly married into a performance package!
This is the shoe I ran my 50km race this year, and although I could have gone faster in Altra Superiors, I enjoyed the challenge that I put my feet up to.
Having an average wide midfoot and a similar depth, the Xero Shoes shape fits me almost perfectly. My heel locks in place amazingly, and I never have hot spots or blister issues.
My only wish is that Xero Shoes push out the big toe area a touch to give a little more room for my fat big toe! But hey, we can’t have it all.
The outsole on the Mesa Trail was much improved over the previous version, adding a little more protection but maintaining that barefoot feel. And although it’s not made for muddy conditions, it seems to excel in dry conditions.
As for durability, it could have gone a bit further. After 600km, I almost retired the shoe because the outsole started looking thin. I could reinforce the sole because the upper looks fantastic! But I’m happy to take that result for a race-ready minimal shoe that feels this good.
Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II
Yes, Another Xero Shoes model! And this time, it’s a recent one for me.
Why the Speed Force?
The original Speed Force was looking outdated and outclassed by many other shoes on the market and was much in need of an update, and boy, did Xero Shoes deliver.
The Speed Force is now my favorite road shoe….. Ever…
With a stack height of only 4.5mm, the minimal aspect of the shoe is addictive! It’s the pair I want to pick up for every run, but I must remember that’s not wise when upping the mileage.
After having one of the best heel lockdowns in the market, Xero Shoes has also perfected the quality of the upper to match! It’s thin, has overlays in all the high wear points, and strikes a balance between security and forgiveness that is perfect for that barefoot feel.
The only drawback? Again, it’s that fit. It’s very much like a traditional Xero Shoe shape, so if you have a wide-toe splay, it may not work for you.
So, if you’re looking for a running shoe that allows you to train as “barefoot” as possible with a bit of protection, try the Xero Shoes Speed Force II.
Xero Shoes Speed Force II
This one was a surprise for me.
I’d avoided Merrell for the longest time, mainly because I’d heard about the dreaded arch support and narrow fit.
But I never realized that’s not true for all models!
Yes, the Vapor Glove is a little narrower than some barefoot options, but it’s also amazingly flexible, allowing it to mold to your foot without creating pressure points. And the toe box was “just” wide enough for me.
The elephant in the room is that the Vapor Glove is marketed as a trail runner, and to me I just don’t think that’s right. It’s too minimal with very little protection, meaning it’ll only work for sandy buffed-out trails.
Instead, I’ve taken mine on the road much more! And sometimes used them as road-to-trail options. I do not know how fast the outsole will wear out yet, but I’m putting my trust in the Vibram outsole, and hopefully, they’ll last me +500km.
So, if you’re looking for a super flexible barefoot feel with a bit of squish, AND you have a narrow to average foot, give the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 a try! It’s fun, trust me!
Merrell Vapor Glove 6
This is the only shoe with cushion on the list, but this is a barefoot round-up! That’s how it should be.
I haven’t used the Superior 6 too much this year, but it’s on the list because there were many times I wished I was traveling with this shoe as a backup.
The moderately cushioned nature makes it a perfect option for challenging rocky trail terrain. With the slight hardening of the midsole in this version, I’m confident enough to say this is a “barefoot style” protective option.
As with many other Altras, the fit is shallow. But I quickly solved that by switching out the chunky Altra outsole for a thinner option.
The toe is still wide, and the midfoot is flexible enough to accommodate most foot widths.
For the price, the Altra Superior is still one of the best trail shoes Altra offers. My only wish would be that they find a way to make it more durable and better in wet conditions!
Altra Superior 6
So what do I wear when I’m not in runners or trainers?
Sandals, of course! Let those feet breathe!
This was a toss-up between my favorite options: the Xero Shoes Aqua Clouds and the Earth Runners Circadian.
Ultimately, the Earth Runners won out because I spent the most time in them! And sometimes the Aqua Cloud was TOO minimal for standing around all day (I know I should work on more barefoot strength :p )
The strapping was tricky to get right at first; it took me almost 2 weeks to find the sweet spot, but from that point on, I’ve never looked back.
From a value-for-money point of view, sandals are the way forward. My Earth Runners cost $80 at purchase, and they only show minor signs of wear after wearing them daily.
And the best part is you can still run in them!
Again, once you get the fit right, you’ll find them just as comfortable to run in. Making them a fantastic travel item. Small, lightweight, and take up very little room!
Did I forget to say they’re “grounding sandals”. If you’re into that, it’s the one option I know of that looks good!
Earth Runner Circadian
Many more shoes could be on this list! And it’s worth noting that this is MY list. Your feet may be different and suit different brands and models, so it’s worth reading around my site to understand how they all fit.
Honorable mentions go to
Bahe Revive – A super wide new option in the barefoot market with a grounding twist
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III – I would wear these more but I lost them on my travels!
Now, I want to hear your favorite shoes from 2023!
Head over to Instagram, or comment below with your favs!