I am primarily a barefoot runner in the summer, but my feet have not yet built up enough callous to handle some of the rocky trails in my area. That is why I love minimal trail running shoes, especially for the winter. Remember that the thinner the minimalist shoe, the better because they work perfectly at improving sensory processing in the feet and another added benefit of natural footwear is that they have no arch support which helps keep the feet strong to have a functional role as suspension springs when forefoot running. So, I have compiled a list of the best minimal trail running shoes that best supports the forefoot running technique.
Best Minimal Trail Running Shoes
The Telsa Trail Running Shoe is virtually a carbon-copy of the Merrell Vapor Glove and is surprisingly cheap in cost, rugged and long-lasting considering how thin the overall shoe is.
If you plan on doing lots of rocky trail running this winter, you’ll love the Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent LR with its man-made rubber outsole and the leather/hemp upper protects your feet and keeps your toes, especially when paired with toe socks, extra warm on chilly runs.
Vivobarefoot has a great variety of trail running shoes that feel barefoot, the Neo Trail shoe is a great example, which has a 3 mm outsole designed to enhance joint position awareness, body sense and basic plantar arousal responses, helping you land better on your forefoot. They’re the perfect addition to your minimalist shoe collection.
For the extra long haul out on the trails, the zero-drop Merrell Trail Glove 3 has a super-durable trail protect-pad under the forefoot with a 10.5 mm Vibram outsole that is tough on sharp stones.
The Vibram KMD EVO is another amazing zero drop minimalist shoe with more padding under the forefoot, has a thicker outsole for any trail you hit, and is extremely breathable for warmer runs.
The Vivobarefoot Breatho combines weightlessness, flexibility and lugged, rugged rubber outsole for maximum ‘grippability’ for the tough trails, and it’s a nice looking shoe too!
Another wide minimalistic shoe, similar to the New Balance 10V2, is the Skora Fit which has a durable leather upper that does a superb job at deflecting rocks and keeping your feet super warm, even without socks.
For the vegan lovers, the Vivobarefoot Trail Freak is not only vegan-friendly, but the shoe has a high performance rubber outsole (2.5 mm thick with 4.5 mm thick lugs) that is ‘sticky’ and grips well to light trail surfaces.
A more cushioned toe shoe, the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO contains light 2 mm EVA padding combined with 8.5 mm maximum outsole thickness that produces even more rock protection than most Vibram barefoot shoes. Overall, the Bikila EVO does a great job at simulating feeling barefoot, even when blended together with toe socks.
The Merrell Pace Glove 3 is also wide in the toe-box, lots of room for toe spreading, is zero drop, and is comfortable if you have high arches. These shoes also contain 4 mm plush padding under the foot which gives extra warmth and protection without interfering with plantar stimulation and arousal for forefoot running.
This winter, when it’s super-cold outside, lace up in a shoe that is literally winter-proof, like the Vivobarefoot Trail Freak WP (Winter Proof) 2. This shoe has a thicker outsole ( 7 mm with 3 mm lugs) without adding bulk, but still delivers that extra proprioceptive feedback you need to naturally land on your forefoot. The lugs are actually multi-directional lugs great for steep, muddy, wet running surfaces. The Hydo-Guard technology tongue is a great layer to the skin because it traps heat.
Don’t forget to get caught up on my other recommendations on the best barefoot running shoes for forefoot running.
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BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.