6 Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoes Reviews 2019 | Tesla vs Barefoot vs Other Brands

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Minimalist trail running shoes have increasingly grown in popularity over the course of the last several years. They separate themselves from traditional running shoes in a variety of ways. They are lighter, lower to the ground, and less cushioned than the running shoes and sneakers most people know. They get as close as possible to barefoot running while also providing a bit of protection. They follow the form of your foot and toes and fit much like that of a glove on a hand. Here, we review the top 9 best minimalist trail running shoes.

After reviewing the best minimalist trail running shoes on the market, we've determined that the Xero shoes are the best option for women and Merell Men's Glove 3 is the best option for men. We highly recommend checking out these products before your next trail run.

If you are searching for the ideal running shoes, go for minimalist trail running shoes. Minimalist trail running shoes give the wearer's foot immediate feedback from the ground while offering enough foot cushioning with every step.

These shoes are NOT great for long hiking trips. If that's what you're looking for then look at these top rated hiking boots.

Editor's Rating:

4.4/5

Great for all day wear or running

  • Features Omni-Fit lacing system
  • Have rubber sole
  • Available in multiple colors

Editor's Rating:

4.6/5

Multipurpose shoe

  • Breathable mesh
  • Off-road sole
  • True minimalist shoe with a barefoot feel

Editor's Rating:

4.5/5

Durable running shoe

  • Designed for barefoot performance
  • A little cushioned sole
  • Available in more than 15 colors

These running shoes usually have a 0-8mm drop from the heel to the toe section of the shoe, a small but very significant consideration based on an individual's running goals. The running shoes with a 0mm drop offer the wearer a barefoot feel and are ideal for runners who want to strengthen their leg and feet muscles.

The best minimalist trail running shoe should have proper ankle support and be very comfortable even for use at the gym lifting weights.

Other Products We Reviewed


Editor's Rating:

  • Low-to-the-ground design for agility and balance
  • Adjustable in-step strap for in-step
  • Very lightweight

Editor's Rating:

  • Zero drop
  • Removable sock liner
  • Thin sole

Editor's Rating:

  • Sole made of rubber
  • Can be used in gym too
  • Available in 5 colors

Top Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Trail Running Shoes

Our review list shows just how important some features can be when selecting a great pair of trail running shoes. It isn’t just about look as barefoot shoes offer some great benefits.  There are a number of very impactful features that will have a bearing on you running. The features that define comfort in running shoes vary by runner. What one runner finds ideal, another may find wildly uncomfortable. That said, there are some universal features that will impact comfortability and should be keep in mind. 

What to Look for in the Best Minimalist Trail Running Shoes

Some things to remember when choosing the minimalist running shoes for your needs and running style include the weight, breathability, flexibility and durability of the shoe. You also want to make sure you choose a shoe that offers the level of minimalism that you want. Despite the overall minimalist nature of each shoe reviewed here, they vary in their level and design. Some are more low-to-the-ground and some offer a more pronounced barefoot design.

Weight

If looking for a true minimalist shoe, as in one that almost feels as if you are running barefoot, you want a shoe that is very lightweight. A lightweight design is one of the defining tenants of a minimalist running shoe. You don’t want something bulky or heavy.

Not only does a heavier sneaker take away from the barefoot feel but lifting a heavy shoe with every stride will tire your legs and feet much quicker than using a lightweight shoe. Essentially, with a minimalist designed shoe, you want to feel as if you have nothing on your feet. And you also likely want a shoe that you can wear without socks. This also enhances the barefoot feel and can also aid in increasing breathability.

Breathability

Breathability is a factor in nearly every running shoe. An overheated foot means a sweaty, slippery run. You don’t need to be sliding inside your shoe when navigating tricky trails. A sweaty foot can also mean that your shoes will develop an odor long before you’ve put enough miles on them to warrant a new pair.

A great mesh design, which you can find in several of the shoes reviewed here can really help to keep odor away and it can help you air out your foot while running. Not only will this prevent you from overheating, but it can also help enhance the feeling of running barefoot. And again, choosing a shoe that is comfortable without a sock will also heighten breathability and will help keep your feet cool, even on warmer days.

Flexibility

Flexibility is a must when it comes to minimalist sneakers given that if you are looking for this type of shoe, it is because you want one that will allow you to feel like the ground beneath you. You want to grip the ground with your foot, rather than feel like you are gripping it with your shoe.

Flexibility for some also means having a wider area for toes to move freely. This is truly personal preference. Some runners prefer a narrow toe area while others prefer one that lets the toes roam free. Both toe area sizes are represented in the product review list and you can determine which is the best fit for your personal running style.

Ultimately, you want a pair of shoes that will let your free move freely while also engaging the ground in a natural way. And you want that flexibility to prevent any muscle atrophy or immobility.

Durability

If you are running on trails, you need a shoe that will stand up to the elements. The primary spot to look for durability is the sole of the shoe. You don’t want a shoe that will have a sole that separates. This essentially makes the shoe useless and can also pose a hazard while running.

Given that the price range on many of the shoes reviewed here varies quite substantially and some can be costly, you don’t want to make a sizable investment in a product only to have it fall apart. And you want a shoe that you can comfortably use for hundreds of miles.

It takes time to break in any running shoe, and that is no different with minimalist trail running shoes. That said, you don’t want to put time into properly breaking them in only to have them fall apart shortly thereafter.

Minimalist Trail Running Shoes vs. Traditional Running Shoes

A minimalist trail running shoe allows a runner to step with the forefoot touching the ground first, making a runner's stride more natural. This stepping improves speed and prevents injury. Traditional running shoes encourage runners to step with their heels first.

Minimalist trail running shoes are lighter than the traditional running shoes, meaning that a runner gets to use less energy with every stride; this results in a faster and more comfortable run.

A runner wearing minimalist trail running shoes will have a wider surface area to run on while also benefiting from a very stable running platform compared to one wearing traditional running shoes.

Our Favorite Minimalist Trail Running Shoes


Editor's Rating:

4.5/5

These Vivibarefoot Men’s Primus Mesh Trail Runner shoes are the best of both worlds. They are very lean but also manage to offer a good amount of support.

These shoes have a breathable mesh that will keep your feet from overheating, even during your longest runs or on the warmest of days. You’ll feel like you’re running on your bare feet but also get to enjoy the protective ankle collar and off-road sole.

The sole on these trail shoes are rubber so even though they are minimalist, you’ll benefit from a good grip on the trail. And if you’re looking for a shoe with materials you can feel good about, these are Vegan, made from 100% textile/synthetic materials.

You might find it a bit challenging to find the right size in these shoes but fit is really important, given their minimalist nature. You want them to fit snuggly without a lot of sliding but you don’t want them too tight.

Things We Liked

  • Breathable mesh
  • Off-road sole
  • True minimalist shoe with a barefoot feel

Things We Didn't Like

  • Needs to be sized perfectly to ensure comfortable fit

Editor's Rating:

4.4/5

These Merrel Trail Glove 3 shoes are marked by their comfort. They have a great fit that conforms to your foot so you can run on trails while experiencing a glove-like fit. These are a bit less minimalist then some other shoes reviewed here.

These shoes are made of mesh and synthetic TPU and offer the Merrell Omni-Fit lacing system so that you can fit these shoes to the contours of your foot. These features ensure a snug fit which means you can run in comfort without slipping and sliding inside your shoe. The reflective details mean you can comfortably run in dimly lit areas or even during the evening hours.

These trail shoes have a breathable mesh lining which will not only keep you dry and prevent you from overheating, but along with the M Select FRESH will also prevent any odor. The TrailProtect pad and MBound midsole cushioning will also offer you some protection while running. On the outside, the Vibram outsole allows for great traction and just about the highest level of support you can expect from a minimalist shoe.

While the fit of all trail shoes is up to the wearer, these shoes do have the wedge under the arch, which means that they aren’t quite as minimalist as some others reviewed in our list. You don’t get quite the same feel for the ground as you do in shoes that don’t have this added protection at the base of the shoe.

The Merrell Men's Trail Glove 3 Minimal Trail Running Shoe is an amazing shoe for anyone who wants to take his training seriously.

This imported shoe is made of a combination of synthetic and fabric, and its sole is made of rubber. This lightweight shoe has a 0 mm drop from the heel to the toe section, and its stack height is an impressive 10.5mm.

Things We Liked

  • Contoured fit with Omni-Fit lacing system
  • Mesh lining for heat and odor protection
  • Outsole for traction while running

Things We Didn't Like

  • Cushioning can prevent feeling the ground

Editor's Rating:

4.4/5

The TSLA Men’s Trail Running Minimalist Barefoot Shoe offer many of the same features as some other pricier options.

You will experience a good grip on the ground while wearing these shoes, even with the cushioned zero-drop sole. It’s a slight enough cushion to increase comfort, without taking away the grip you want to feel on the terrain beneath your feet.

And there is a great nonslip grip on these given the synthetic rubber outsole. So, you won’t just feel the terrain but there is a good deal of resistance to help prevent slips and falls. 

There is a Dura Nylon Band that helps with getting the fit just right while simultaneously offering some instep support. And the PU Shank gives you just the right amount of support and stabilization on your heel. Some users do find that this shoe is a bit difficult to size, but the manufacturer recommends ordering a ½ size down.

The dirt-proof flyknit upper on these shoes serves two purposes. It helps you keep these clean, even once you put plenty of trail miles on them and it also keeps them breathable. So, you won’t overheat and you don’t have to worry too much about odor either.

The TF-BK30 Tesla Men's Trail Running Minimalist Barefoot Shoe has a 0 mm heel-to-toe drop, making it a barefoot trail shoe which gives the runner the impression that he is running barefoot.

The midsole is 2 mm thick, gives the wearer a comfortable support, and it protects him from any harsh terrain. This shoe weighs less than 6.0 oz., meaning that the wearer will hardly notice the added weight on his legs. Consistent use of this shoe increases the power of the wearer's leg, reduces his stress levels, and improves the health of his foot.

Things We Liked

  • Budget-friendly
  • Great nonslip grip
  • Good feel for the terrain

Things We Didn't Like

  • Can be difficult to get the sizing accurate

Editor's Rating:

4.2/5

The lightweight nature is what is most remarkable about the Xero Shoes Prio. For reference, a men’s size 9 in this shoe only weighs 7.6 ounces. You won’t even realize you’re carrying any shoes on your feet. 

The feel with these truly mimics being barefoot, enhanced by the FeelTrue rubber sole and low-to-the-ground design. This low design keeps you on balance and enhances agility.

You can really feel your feet bend and move around the terrain, which can help you get a great grip. 

These trail shoes have a foot-first design with a wider toe area than some other options reviewed here. It will be a personal preference for many, as some runners prefer a narrower toe while others like the freedom a wider toe area provides. With these shoes, you can spread your toes out and keep them more relaxed than you can with a narrower option. However, if you have a narrow foot, the wider toe area might mean that your foot slides around too much.

Similar to other trail shoes reviewed here, you might find that the sizing is off. These tend to run small and its recommended you order a ½ size larger than your normal shoes size. Keep in mind that the toe area is wider than with many other trail running shoes. That said, you can use the adjustable instep strap to lock in your instep even while your toes are a bit freer to move around.

There are no animal products used in producing these shoes as they are all Vegan. And you can wear these with or without socks. The reflective straps offer some visibility at night as well.

Things We Liked

  • Low-to-the-ground design for agility and balance
  • Adjustable in-step strap for in-step
  • Very lightweight

Things We Didn't Like

  • Sizing can be challenging to get right

Editor's Rating:

4.5/5

The WHITIN Men’s Minimalist Train Runners are ideal for the runner that wants to control their level of barefoot-feeling running. There is a removable sock liner, which when taken out really lets you feel like you are running without shoes. Keep it in and you will feel a bit more protection. With that in mind, the padding provided by the liner may be too much for some runners, especially those accustomed to true minimalist running. 

Other protective features include the rubber sole for gripping the ground. That sole is quite thin so you will get great feedback from the ground.

These zero drop running shoes have a wider toe box for freer toe range of motion. And there is a minimal to zero heal-to-toe drop so your feet can stay in the neutral position.

Things We Liked

  • Zero drop
  • Removable sock liner
  • Thin sole

Things We Didn't Like

  • Tend to run large

Editor's Rating:

4.1/5

These Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Train Running Shoe are a true barefoot style shoe. The 0mm cushioning and 0mm heal-to-toe drop, along with how lightweight these are, really make you feel like you aren’t wearing any shoes at all.  

The rubber sole is quite durable and you’ll get a great grip on the ground in these. They are also washable on the gentle cycle so you should have no issue keeping them clean.

That said, unfortunately, these barefoot running shoes don’t seem to have the same longevity that has come to be synonymous with the name Merrell. While the sole itself stays together quite well, the upper portion of the shoe seems to fall apart rather quickly

The Merrell Women's Vapor Glove 2 Barefoot Trail Running Shoe is ideally made for women. This shoe is made from a mix of synthetic and fabric, it has a rubber sole, and it is washer friendly.

The shoe has a 0 mm heel-to-toe drop, it has a very soft footbed made of microfiber, and it comes with a breathable mesh lining.

Things We Liked

  • Zero heal-to-toe drop
  • Durable rubber sole
  • True barefoot style

Things We Didn't Like

  • Upper is not very durable

Editor's Rating:

4.1/5

These New Balance Men’s Minimus Trail Running Shoes were produced with style in mind. The Vibram outsole has flex grooves that let you grab on to the ground with a great level of traction. 

There is a good amount of support with this shoe, primarily from the foam supports and midfoot wrap that help to stabilize your foot.

The antimicrobial treatment along with the 100% synthetic and mesh materials help to increase breathability while decreasing odor. So you shouldn’t feel like you are sliding around too much in these and you shouldn’t overheat.  

These tend to run small so its suggested to order half a size larger than the size usually ordered from this manufacturer.

Things We Liked

  • Good support
  • Vibram outsole
  • Stylish design

Things We Didn't Like

  • Runs small

Editor's Rating:

4.5/5

There is a great outsole design with these Vibram Men’s V Trail Runner shoes. The multi-directional lug design allows you to grip in every direction. So, you can get great use of these even on the most challenging of trails. 

These shoes offer a hybrid of foot sensory impact and protection. You’ll feel protected from debris, rocks and stones but you’ll also experience a more natural run. And the tread design means you can grip with a sure foot and feel protected.

These are a great style for anyone who really wants to feel like they are running barefoot.

Things We Liked

  • Great grip on the ground
  • Multi-directional lug design sole
  • True barefoot design

Things We Didn't Like

  • Snug on the toes, but can be broken in quickly

Editor's Rating:

4.5/5

There is a good mix of traction and durability with these JOOMRA Women’s Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes. This product is a bit different than others reviewed on our list as they are not reserved for trail running or running in general. Instead, they can be used quite comfortably as an exercise or general workout shoe. 

The rubber outsoles on this shoe will give you a great grip on the ground even when running on uneven surfaces.

The insoles in this shoe are removable so you can choose to take advantage of the extra support or use more of a minimalistic approach and skip the insoles. You can control the level of support you use.

You won’t be sliding around in this shoe given that the topline wraps around your foot to keep it secure. They are meant to mold to your individual foot for a snug, but comfortable fit.

Things We Liked

  • Do not require a lot of wear to break them in
  • Can be worn with or without socks
  • Can be used for various exercise activities

Things We Didn't Like

  • Can take a bit of a long time to dry when wet

4.6/5

The New Balance Men's MX20BS4 Cross Minimus Training Shoe is the ideal training shoe any man can get.

Made of synthetic material, this imported shoe has a 4 mm drop, it comes with stabilizing overlays, and its Vibram outsole is very durable, making it the ideal running and working out shoe. The shoe has a wide variety of color combinations and it looks great.


4.4/5

The Merrell Men's Mix Master Move Trail Running Shoe is ideal for runners, who are transitioning to the barefoot running experience.

The shoe has a 4 mm drop from the heel to the toe section, it has a protective toe cap, it has a very comfortable sole, and a Marrell Air Cushion heel. This imported shoe is made using synthetic and fabric material, making it very comfortable and durable.


4.3/5

The Mizuno Men's Wave Evo Ferus Trail Running Shoe is a shoe designed for runners who want to improve their workout.

This imported shoe has a synthetic sole, an AP+ responsive midsole foam, and an X-outsole tread. The shoe makes use of the Forefoot Wave technology, which makes the shoe comfortable, durable, and ideal for any running terrain.

If you are out looking for the best minimalist trail running shoes, then you will need to consider the terrain you will be doing most of your running, the amount of cushioning your feet will need, and the running goals you have.

 

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