A few years ago, the words "minimal shoe" didn't exist. In fact, one could say that being classified as a minimal shoe was a bad thing. Wearing Vibram Fivefingers was the equivalent of flying the barefoot freak-flag. Since the shoes weren't very popular, for the most part your options as a barefooter were pretty limited. But they were also fairly cheap. When I bought my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers, they were intended to be used for boating. And they were $65 off the company website.
Not that we didn't still complain about the price. Everyone who becomes a barefoot runner does so at least in part because they are cheap asses. And minimal shoes by their very nature should be inexpensive. After all, what you're really paying for is a piece of fabric attached to a rubber sole. How expensive could it really be?
Nowadays you're lucky if you can find a minimal shoe for under $100. In fact, it seams like the minute a shoe manufacturer calls a shoe "minimal" or "barefoot", the price immediately goes up by about $50. The words "barefoot" and "minimal" have gone beyond mere descriptors of our favorite shoes, and are now also marketing buzz words. Minimalist runners now run in the fitness industry's next hot item. As a result, we're going to pay designer prices for designer goods.
At first I thought that the flood of minimal shoes to the market would be a boon to the consumer, because it would increase choices and drive down price. Instead, I think it has inflated and/or fixed prices and created somwhat of a captive market.
The captive market is you and me. Now that there are dozens of minimal shoes on the market, I don't see as many people looking around for cheaper alternatives that don't wear the "minimalist" label. We also seem content to pay these inflated price tags, because now we're used to it.
Did you know that one the lightest running shoes on the planet isn't a "minimal" shoe at all? It's this bad boy:
Behold the Mizuno Wave Universe! It hasn't been annointed by Mizuno as a barefoot shoe. But at 3.5oz and a 4mm heel drop, it certainly could fit the mold.
In fact, some of my favorite shoes in my collection aren't minimal shoes either. So I thought I would use today's post to talk a little bit about them, and maybe give you some ideas of how you can think outside the box when it comes to your shoe purchases.
New Balance MT100 (and other borderline minimal trail shoes)
This was my first pair of trail shoes ever. I picked them up at a marathon expo several years ago for $30. They were on sale because the newer model, the MT101, had just come out. It's hard to find a pair of these for over $50. The MT101 retails for around $75. It's pretty much the same shoe, one model year later.
It was New Balance's first attempt at a minimal trail shoe. I actually think they did this one up better than the Minimus. It's got about the same stats in terms of heel to toe drop, but weighs a couple ounces less. It doesn't have all the wonky fit issues that the Minimus does (which made them rush the Minimus MT20 to market...possibly to cover their asses?). And with some junior high cobbler skills, you can make this shoe into a zero-drop hero.
Here's what Anton Krupicka does to all of his New Balance trail shoes. Even he doesn't like the heel raise on the Minimus, and he designed the damn things!
And New Balance isn't the only company that has been quietly making lightweight trail shoes for some time. Check out the offerings from companies like Inov-8. They have a whole arsenal of lightweight trail and road racing flats to choose from. My personal favorites are the X-Talon 190 and the F-Lite 195...both of which I also own.
Saucony Kilkenny XC Racing Flats
This isn't a picture of MY Saucony Kilkenny's. This is a picture of Donald Burgalio's from Running and Rambling. Mine are the same thing, except in orange. I snagged Jason Robillard's used pair of these while he was transitioning from broke barefoot school teacher to broke barefoot trailer dweller. So although I acquired them for a song (and the promise of my undying love and devotion to my alma matter BRU).
For whatever reason, most minimal shoe companies have been unable to make a shoe lighter than some of the racing flats out there. I'd estimate that the average weight of a minimal shoe (non-trail model) is around 6oz. A good number of these racing flats, like the Mizuno Wave I talked about earlier, are tipping the scales at around 4oz. And the heel drop is pretty good as well. Most flats will give you around a 4mm heel to toe drop. Take out the squishy insole and it's hard to tell the difference between this shoe and something like the New Balance Minimus Road.
They are also usually a lot cheaper than your average trainer. The new models of the Saucony Kilkenny XC Flat are going for around $50 online. I've seen them for $30 on eBay. You can buy a huarache for that price nowadays! Some brands to consider other than Saucony and Mizuno include the Asics Piranha and the Adidas Adizero.
The cheapest closed-toe shoe option has always been, and will always be the pool shoe. You can pick up a pair of them at Walmart for $5. They certainly aren't the perfect minimal solution, as it's always a battle to get the right fit. And they probably won't last very long in terms of durability. But for $5...what do you expect?
Then there are what I like to call "glorified pool shoes". Shoes that look exactly like pool shoes, but with a lot better construction. Before the kigo brand became more involved in the minimalist running community, that's kind of what their shoes looked like. Until I gave them to a friend, I was the proud owner of a kigo Edge. Like a pool shoe, it had it's fit issues. The toebox was terribly small. But it was incredbly lightweight at around 5oz. The groundfeel of most pool shoes is second to none. These puppies had a 1.5mm sole...half the thickness of most minimal shoes. And you can pick up a pair of gloried pool shoes usually for around $60.
kigo isn't the only company making these high-class pool shoes. Another good company is Sockwa, who makes the incredibly minimal Amphibian and G2 model shoes. And don't forget about companies like Feelmax! If you can find a pair of these, they are excellent.
So there you have it citizens! There are a lot of offerings on the market today beyond what is traditionally marketed as a "minimal shoe". I encourage you to think outside the box like we did in the good old days. You'll find some good deals and some great shoes! Cheers!