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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ask MGBG: Shoe Recommendation Edition

It's time for another edition of Ask MGBG!  Today's topic deals with the most frequent question I answer for readers: "What is the best shoe for <insert situation here>?"  Unfortunately, this is also the one question that I can't answer.

Picking a minimal shoe is a lot like picking a politician.  All politicians pretty much suck.  But some are at least tolerable.  And what I think makes a good one will not necessarily be the same for you.  So there is no "best" minimal shoe.  There is only the one that is "best for you".  If you want information about how to choose the best shoe for you, please read this post I wrote on the subject.

I also recognize that in the quest to find the right shoe, you have to wade through a ton of crap on the Internet.  There are so many shoe choices nowadays, and so many reviews of the same, that it's hard to make informed choices without making shoe review reading a full-time job.  Luckily, I've already made it somewhat of my full-time job, so I'm here to help. 

But I won't be telling you which shoe is "the best" for a particular situation.  Instead, I will give you some recommendations based on the shoes I enjoy using.  Hopefully this will help you narrow down your choices to a select few, and make your shoe purchases much easier.

Road Shoes

My favorite road shoes are ones that are stripped down to the bare bones.  Minimalist running is all about connecting to nature and the ground beneath your feet as much as possible, while at the same time giving you some protection against debris and abrasion.  Since pavement is such a homogeneous, boring surface, I don't want to make it moreso by reducing groundfeel.  I also don't want a heavy shoe to weigh me down and make an already painfully boring run more painful. 

So I tend to wear sandals on the road whenever possible.  My favorite road sandals right now are the Invisible Shoe Connect huaraches.  I have a review of these sandals coming.  Here's the gist of the review.  They are an updated version of the original Invisible Shoes that keep the same great groundfeel, while adding just a touch of stiffness to prevent them from being too wobbly on your foot.

If you can't stand huaraches for whatever reason, I would recommend the Soft Star Moc3.  It's the most minimal shoe currently on the market.  If you prefer barefoot, this is as close as you're going to get.

Trail Shoes

On the trail, I'm usually willing to sacrifice a little bit of groundfeel and weight for the sake of protection.  There are a million different ways you can get hurt on the trail.  You can step on a rock and get a stone bruise.  You can kick a stump and break your toe (I've almost done that a bunch of times).  You can lose your footing and twist an ankle.

Off-road I tend to prefer closed-toed minimal shoes that are designed specifically for trail running.  Specifically, I like one that doesn't go overboard with protection or grip.  I don't need a whole lot of either.  Rather, I like one that gives me enough of both without making the shoe heavy and clunky.  The shoe I think strikes the best balance here is the Merrell Trail Glove

Then again, even though the Trail Glove is about as lean as you can get as far as trail shoes go, it's still a bit much for about 90% of trails I run.  If your trails are as tame as mine, you can easily get by with something like a Soft Star Runamoc or Dash with a trail sole.  For an even more lean option, try a huarache.  My favorite trail sandal is the Bedrock Sandal.

Wide Feet

Another complaint I hear all the time is that there aren't enough minimal shoes out there for our oak tree-footed brethren.  Well fear not Stump Foot.  Although the selection nowadays isn't great, there are enough choices out there so that you can find what you need.

The way to ensure a perfect fit is to find companies that offer a custom-shoe option.  These include all brands of huarache.  You can also get a closed-toe custom shoe from Soft Star.  They have custom options for their Runamoc and Dash models (not the Moc3 though). 

If custom shoes aren't your thing, there are still a few options out there.  VIVOBAREFOOT shoes have always ran a bit on the wide side.  New Balance has also rolled out extra-wide versions of the Minimus Zero (also known as the MT20). 

Kids Shoes

I don't know about you, but I'm not crazy about shelling out $70-$100 for a pair of shoes that my daughter is going to outgrow in a few months.  So although there are a ton of new minimal options on the market for kids, I'm not buying them until they become more affordable.  Instead, I'm looking to cheap alternatives that provide the same benefits as minimal shoes without the expensive minimal label. 

My daughter's favorite shoes right now are a $5 pair of water shoes we bought at Target.  They are super flexible, and actually don't look too bad.  But they still look like pool shoes, which older kids might find off-putting.  In that case, I'd recommend something like a Converse Chuck Taylor or a Vans skateboard shoe.  Both are in style right now (I think...I have no idea really...I'm old).  And they have a lot of good minimal characteristics.

If I had to recommend an actual minimal kids shoe, it would be the kid's Merrell Trail Glove.  They are essentially kids versions of the adult shoe, with a few cosmetic changes.  At $60, they are midrange in terms of price.  But buy them a couple sizes too big and they'll last quite a while. 

Don't Like My Choices?

As I said, this post isn't meant to be the end of your research.  Just a way to get started.  Use my recommendations to narrow down your options.  Want a more substantial trail shoe?  You know you can skip reviews on the Trail Glove and Runamoc.  Try read reviews on the New Balance Minimus, or the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail to see if they are more your speed.

The shoe search isn't always easy.  That's why sites like mine exist.  Feel free to leave any questions you have in the comments section or via email at saypay45@gmail.com.  I'm always happy to help!  Happy shoe hunting citizens!

Barefoot Running Sandals by Invisible Shoes


  1. What do you think of the Altra Adam ?

  2. What about the winter months? Any favorites?

  3. Rock solid recommendations. I agree 100%.

    This topic needs to be brought up every 6 months or so since the market is changing so fast. I still see only a few truly minimalist options surrounded by tons of "I want to be minimalist so buy me" options.

  4. I started writing my winter recs and realized it's a topic all its own. I will have some cold weather tips coming soon.

    I don't have my test pair of the Adam yet. I don't know when to expect a review because they keep pushing back the release date.

  5. Just clarifying - are you saying that the Neo Trail would be a better choice for trails that I find are too rugged for the Trail Glove?

    Good recommendations. I really like huaraches for a mile or two but I get hot spots/blisters between my toes from the lace. I've got Lunas with the Equus laces, but may have to try Invisible Shoes as the laces look less substantial.

  6. Merrell trail gloves and mud = a great way to make sure you are keeping your body over your feet. Forget about tight turns. Or turns!

    As for kids shoes, my 4 y.o. has a pair of kids gloves, and loves them. They seem to be holding up fairly well, but I wish they had a much
    thinner/flexible sole. He only weighs 35lbs, what flexes easily under my foot is way too much koosh and stiffness under his foot.

    I also have had a pair of preschoolians on order for a long time. I hear they are great barefoot style shoes. I ordered them a month and a
    half ago. He will outgrow them before they arrive.

  7. David, the Neo Trail has a lot more grip than the Trail Glove, so it's a good choice for gnarly trails. But itnhas less protection (no shock plate in the forefoot). If more protection is what you're after, I suggest either the Minimus or something from Inov8. I like the Flite from Inov8. Great shoe.

  8. Hello Christian,

    I know that you have tested some of Soft Star's excellent footwear, but have you trialed any traditional moccasins; Minnetonka, Arrow or Itasca moccasins for example?

    Gracia y paz,

    Alejandro 10

  9. I haven't tried other moccasins personally. My friend Mary has a great pair of Russel moccasins that she wears in the winter. They look really great. Check out some of the posts on mocassins on Toesalad. They have a bit more information.



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