Top 5 Barefoot Road Running Shoes

So you want to run on asphalt barefoot? What about the nails and glass you find on the streets!? That may be an overblown worry, but it’s understandable if you want something to protect those precious feet. 

That’s where this post comes in. 

If you’re already here, I will spare you the sales pitch on Barefoot running, but if you are interested, feel free to read my waffle about running barefoot here. 

Instead, let’s find the best barefoot road running shoe for you! 

In this post, I’m sharing 4 of my favorite road running shoes, 1 on my wish list, plus I’ll outline who each of the shoes suits best and what conditions they do well in. 

Let’s start with the pair that I reach for the most. 

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What's your favorite Zero Drop brand?

Xero Shoes HFS

“It’s the closest to barefoot without taking your shoes off.”

That’s right; the HFS is super flexible, lightweight, and close to the ground. 

And overall, it metaphorically gets out of the way and lets your foot do the work!

I’ve personally tested all the road running shoes in the Xero Shoes lineup, and overall, I think the HFS is the best choice. 

Altra Escalante tongue

An unstructured heel provides a perfect heel lock and no chance of rubbing. If you’re looking for a true barefoot motion, there should be little to nothing standing in the way of your foot mechanics with these shoes. Stiff heel counters often change your gait and contribute to horrible sore spots and blisters. With the HFS, you’ll find a minimally padded heel that morphs to your unique heel shape, lending to a perfect fit.

You’ll need at least a 1/2 size larger than your normal size! Xero Shoes is a smaller company, and with that, sometimes minor inconsistencies pop up. In this case, the size is a little off. Even on their website, they suggest ordering a 1/2 size up. I’ve personally opted for a full-size larger.

Altra Escalante tongue

The soft upper contributes to a sock-like feeling. The upper is made mainly from a thin mesh material that wraps around your foot almost to the point that you forget you’re wearing shoes. 

High volume foot? Step right into the HFS. I’ve got a reasonably standard volume foot, and I had to crank the laces a little tight to achieve the perfect fit. For those with a high-volume foot, you’ll have more than enough room without breaking out the top of the upper. On the contrary, if you have a low-volume foot, you may have to take a pass on the HFS. Even at only 1/2 size larger than your standard shoe size, I believe the upper will drown your foot. If that’s the case, keep reading this post, and you’ll find your match.

Who’s the Xero Shoes HFS for?

Fit: High-volume foot and a slightly wider midfoot.

Feel: An authentic barefoot feel, ultimately lightweight and flexible.

masszymes review – (45-day exchange period)


Type: Road

Width: Average

Stack height: 5mm rubber outsole + 3.5mm removable insole

Weight: 6.8oz / 193g

Flexible in every direction. My daily road running trainer. Read the full Review

Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

Love or hate Vivobarefoot, they do make some pretty good-looking shoes! So if you need cool barefoot shoes, you have your choice with Vivo. 

But let’s dig deeper. 

The Primus Lite is an excellent choice for those with a slightly larger toe splay and a lower-volume foot. 

And if you’re looking for an eco-conscious choice, Vivobarefoot are at the forefront of environmental causes in the shoe industry. With repair, recycle, and reuse programs, they are reimaging the shoe industry, one shoe at a time. Or at least a pair of shoes at a time. 

Which minimal running shoe is for you?

Take a quick 5-question quiz to identify the perfect minimal running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!

The Primus lite has excellent ground feel, and you can gain even more by removing the insole. This is truly a minimal shoe with an outsole of 4mm, and that gets “beefed” up to around 7mm with the insole. But these shoes still work fine without the insole, allowing for a more ground feel. Taking the insole out also provides a bit more depth in the shoe if things feel a little tight over the top for you.

The upper materials are stiff and unforgiving. And this is a pro and a con. If you want great lateral support and quick direction changes, then a stiff upper is a positive. But if you have any areas of the shoe that are tight or cause hot spots, it’s unlikely that those will go away. I suggest not over-tightening these shoes to relieve any pressure. 

Altra Escalante tongue

Just because I say they’re stiff doesn’t mean they lose their flexibility. It’s all about the areas of flexibility. The upper is slightly more rigid than you may be used to, but the sole and the underfoot are entirely flexible. The fold-the-shoe-into-itself test passes perfectly with Vivos, so you know you’ll utilize your foot’s unique structure and complex muscle system. 

Who’s the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III for?

Fit: Wide forefoot and toe splay. Low volume, with a narrow/fitted midfoot.

Feel: Great lateral stability. Maximum ground feel. Stiff upper.

masszymes review – free returns

Primus Lite III

Type: Road

Width: Wide

Stack height: 4mm rubber outsole + 3mm removable insole

Weight: 6.3oz / 180g

Super minimal with a nice wide toe-box. Read the full Review

Altra Escalante 3

I know, Altra’s aren’t truly barefoot. Heck, they have a huge bunch of cushioning. But hear me out. 

You don’t have to be fully barefoot all the time. 

If the shoe fits well (wide toebox) and allows the foot to move and function like a foot, a little cushion can have benefits. 

It can spread the load to different areas of the body, mainly the upper legs, and it can even help us run faster by encouraging a longer stride. That’s not what you always want, but if you want a PR, why not!?

The Escalante sits right in the pocket of a “barefoot-inspired” conventional shoe. And that’s why I like it. 

Altra Escalante tongue

The Escalante 3 provides a great lockdown with no heel slippage. Some people have had issues with the heel on Altras in the past because they were wide and open like a skate shoe. There are still some elements of a wider heel cup, but the fit is now more locked in. 

The upper has a perfect balance of stiffness and flexibility. As I mentioned with the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite, a stiff upper is great for lateral stability. But that’s not always comfortable. Lucky for us, the Escalante balances the two to provide some lateral stability but keep some flexibility for comfort. 

Altra Escalante tongue

With a 24mm stack height, you’ll have little to no ground feel, and they’re stiffer than previous versions. Ex-Escalante lovers used to love the soft and flexible midsole. I did too, but they used to break down SO fast! So now that the Escalante has a tougher foam and is stiffer, I expect the longevity to be improved. We must accept that we lose some ground feel for that trade-off. 

As with many of the recent Altra shoes, there’s a lack of depth in the toe box. I’ve had to switch out the insoles for thinner Xero Shoes insoles just to gain that little extra room for my toes! So if you have fat toes like me! Be warned! 

Who’s the Altra Escalante 3 for?

Fit: Wide toe box, average to low volume foot. If you have a narrow heel, try before you buy.

Feel: Less ground feel, more cushion for those easy days or PR attempts!

masszymes review – (30-day free returns)

Escalante 3

Type: Road

Width: Wide

Stack height: 24mm

Weight: 9.3oz / 263g

The closet to barefoot you can get in Altra shoes. Read the Full Review

TSLA Trail Running Shoes – Amazon

Yeah, the name of the shoe is trail running shoes. But they are by no means designed for the trail. They’re 100% flat and ready for the road. 

I should know. These were one of the first pairs of minimal shoes I owned. 

And the reason why? 

It’s the price. At $44 for the men’s and $34 for the women’s right now, it’s a great way to dip your toe into the minimal shoe market. 

I won’t pretend they’re a quality product, but they do the job for a decent price. 

Altra Escalante tongue

A semi-wide toe box and a fitted midfoot allows for a precision fit. These shoes aren’t made for those with wide feet, nor deep feet either, but if you’re average to narrow, they’ll fit fine. Ultimately, I ripped out the side of my pair because they were a little tight.

Quality may vary, but I got nearly 1000km out of mine. Granted, they looked very rough at the end. I had a hole in the outsole, and I ripped out the side of the shoe, but they’re so minimal you could argue that I was just getting more ground feel. 🙂 

At a guess, I’d say the outsole is 4mm thick. We have to estimate because there’s very little information about these shoes. They have a ton of ground feel and are roughly the same as the Primus Lites, so I’d guess they are around 4mm thick. The rubber rounds up over the toes, which could be an issue for some, but I found enough clearance when I chose my standard sizing. 

Altra Escalante tongue

There’s not much to them, so they’re super flexible. They roll and twist in every direction, which is great for foot function. So as long as they fit, they’re a great introduction option to barefoot. 

Who’s the TSLA Running shoes for?

Fit: Narrow midfoot and narrow to average toe splay. The volume is accommodating for various depths.

Feel: Very minimal and flexible. Great for barefoot training. – (free returns)

TSLA “trail” shoes

Type: Road

Width: Average

Stack height: 4mm

Weight: 7oz / 200g

Softstar PRIMAL RunAmoc

This is a weird one, plus it’s a shoe I’ve never tried. But I’m intrigued. 

Softstar makes a whole heap of leather shoe options, all handmade in Oregon, USA. 

They’re well known for being the widest option on the market, so if you’ve ever had issues with shoe width, you need to try them. Because they’re custom-made, it’s simple for them to offer a regular and standard width. And they even make an extra wide on request! And they’re super wide in the toe box. 

But there’s an elephant in the room. 

They look a little odd. Sorry, Softstar. 

Because the upper is full leather, it has no structure and just sags over the foot. And can be baggy in certain areas. 

Which minimal running shoe is for you?

Take a quick 5-question quiz to identify the perfect minimal running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!

But looks aside, leather can work well in certain conditions. I expect you’ll see good durability, and over time it’ll mold to your feet, creating the perfect fit. 

Coming in at 7.6oz (215g), with a 6mm stack height, they compete well with many other barefoot options on the market. 

Lastly, they’re made with traditional leather techniques, attached to a simple Vibram outsole, so it’s assumed (and suggested) you take them to a local cobbler to be repaired if needed. 

Softstar will cover such repairs under their 12-month guarantee, but sadly do not take requests for repairs past that point. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that could change in the future. 

But can you run in leather shoes? 

I’m not 100% sure yet, but I’m confident it can work in some cooler climates. Leather has some breathable aspects to it. And as a bonus, it doesn’t get as stinky as the synthetic counterparts! 

I intend to find out and update this post accordingly in due time! 

Who’s the Primal RunAmoc for?

Fit: Those who need an extra wide option.

Feel: Maximum natural ground feel! 

masszymes review

Primal RunAmoc

Type: Road

Width: Super Wide

Stack height: 6mm

Weight: 7.6oz / 215g

The widest shoes I know! With an interesting upper.


This blog post has introduced you to many barefoot shoes, from uber-minimal to barefoot-inspired cushioned options. 

The most significant deciding factor is the fit/shape of a shoe. Because if it doesn’t fit, it’ll never work. 

After the fit, you can start looking at features such as stack height and upper flexibility and hone in on the factors you’re looking for in a shoe!

If you want to find out more information on any of the shoes I’ve talked about today, I have full reviews on all of them (except the Softstars). And if you have any personal barefoot questions, feel free to reach out to me via the contact page. I answer every single email + message! 

Xero Shoes HFS
Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
Altra Superior 6


  1. Hi Nick,

    This article was pretty helpful to me, thanks for posting it. I’ve been using Escalantes for a while I think the 2.0 version and I need to replace them finally. If I’m looking for a casual running shoe and like the Altra feel, what should I consider besides the Escalante 3? Thanks! Graham

  2. Hello, I would like to know which shoes you would choose for running ultras (80km and more).
    I currently run with the Mesa Trail for distances less than 20km, and with the Trailfly g270 V2 from Inov 8 for longer distances. By the way, could you talk about this model? (which in my opinion is better than the lone peak and the superior). Thanks for your site anyway!

    • Hi! Your choices sound similar to mine! I used to run in Inov8 RaceUltras, but the models became too narrow in the toe box for me. I’m playing with the idea of trying the Altra Mont Blanc for a 100km. Even though they’re a significant stack height and have potential issues with the heel lock. But my quads have been getting shot on the downhills, so I’m testing to see if I can mitigate some of that with a higher stack height.

      Depending on the terrain, I’d also consider the Superior because I love the balance of protection and weight.

      The last option could be the new Xero Shoes Scrambler Low. The forefoot is still relatively flexible, but it’s higher and stiffer than the Mesa Trail, and for a long run, that could be a good thing. The outsole is impressive, and the only drawback is that the upper is too flexible.

      Hopefully, one of these options will work!

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