One appreciative aspect of most barefoot trail running shoes is that despite having a meatier outsole equipped aggressive tread and lugs and a thicker, more rock-protective upper, they are still fully functional enough to be barefoot-worthy for you to easily uphold an efficient, safe forefoot running stride.
For your trail running pleasure, down below I’ve listed the best barefoot trail running shoes that are top-rated, that strike the right balance between durability and barefoot-feel and most important that are well-crafted with foot health in mind as the design of these shoes specifically matches the anatomy of the natural shape of the human foot while providing reliable durability, giving you race-ready confidence for any trail surface.
Xero Shoes TerraFlex
The TerraFlex by Xero Shoes is an all-weather, fully functional, high-performance extreme trail barefoot running shoe that admirably handles ultra distances. The TerraFlex sits on a zero drop, 5 mm robust outsole with 4 mm mega-grip lugs with an embedded 3 mm of BareFoam inside the sole that all come together to deliver more grip and protection than the Prio.
The TerraFlex delivers a premium level of grip, durability and protection when running, walking or hiking in mud, sand, loose or packed snow, asphalt or gravel roads, dry or slippery, slimy rocks as well as grassy areas that are wet and slick.
Basically, the TerraFlex’s outsole is race-ready for ANY surface and will definitely give you the confidence in protection on rocky paths and in wintry conditions without sacrificing ground-feel!
The TerraFlex also has a toe-bumper which protects your toes from pointed debris. Not to mention, the TerraFlex has dependable traction that will help you claw up or down the steepest hills! The TerraFlex also comes with a removable insole to get you closer to the ground.
The water-resistant upper has the right amount of protection and flexibility and the overall shape of the shoe is fairly evenly matched with the silhouette of the human foot in that the shoes are wide in the front, giving the toes lots of freedom to spread, flex, bend and extend for more stable footsteps. The upper also provides excellent airflow which keeps your feet cool in hot conditions. The upper also has adjustable instep inverted v-straps for a more stable fit that prevents in-shoe sliding. The shoes can also be worn very comfortably without socks.
Bottom line, all the vegan-friendly, lightweight materials that make up the TerraFlex moves fluidly with every sector of your foot, and even better, the outsole is backed by a 5000 mile warranty! You can get the Terra Flex here!
Vibram Trek Ascent V-Trek
If you’re looking for a beastly barefoot trail running shoe that dominates any snow-covered rocky trail, you’ll love the Vibram FiveFingers Trek Ascent because the outsole is fully loaded with traction and the upper is fully loaded with thermal and rock protection which altogether, wraps the foot in a soothing embrace that makes long trail runs feel much shorter!
The Trek Ascent V-Trek rests on a hand-made 4-mm low-ride rubber outsole studded with aggressive lugs and added deep grooves, delivering top-notch reliable mega-grip and protection on any terrain (such as sandstone, wet boulders, loose gravel, rocky/rooted trails), but still offers some degree of ground-feel, enabling you to uphold an effective barefoot-stride.
The leather/hemp upper is mighty durable to last through plenty of mileage, while fully protecting your feet AND keeps your toes, especially when paired with normal weight toe socks, extra warm in chilly weather! The Ascents can also be worn without socks, thanks to the soft, cushy inner-lining, creating a snug fit without pressure points, even when wet (and, the shoe dries fast, too!) Wear-testers also loved the high collar, reporting that it fit snug at the ankle and provided extra protection and stopped grit from getting inside.
Another major asset of the Trek Ascent is its outstanding width, easily enabling the foot to expand to its natural state which is also good for improving your foot strength, in addition to reinforcing better balance control.
Bottom-line, the Trek Ascent is quite the sophisticated protective trail shoe that’s a workhorse for all-weather conditions, on any terrain, definitely giving your stride more fire power when running on treacherous terrains! You can get the V-Trek here!
Merrell Vapor Glove 3
If you are looking for a trail racing barefoot shoe that can handle a lot of miles while delivering exceptional ground-feedback, look no further than the Merrell Vapor Glove 3 which is perfect at what it does in mimicking the barefoot-feel and helping you find good grip over loose, dusty trails to wet rocks to hard-packed dirt surfaces.
The Vapor Glove 3 is an anatomically-shaped, zero-drop barefoot trail running shoe that performs best in hot conditions. It’s great for fast trail running, and crosses over really well from trail to road and track.
The Vapor Glove 3 is really a better choice for those who want the near barefoot experience and don’t mind feeling every aspect of the ground more fully.
The Vapor Glove 3 sits on a 1.5 web + 2mm lugged, 0-drop soft rubber outsole with a 3mm insole which overall provides a nice fluid flex throughout and moves seamlessly with your foot, while offering a slight amount of underfoot softness and solidly delivers a nimble, agile, responsive, super lightweight ride.
The thin sole delivers a strong intimate interaction with the ground and is so thin that it really keeps you constantly dialed into your forefoot strike, helping keep your forefoot running stride mechanically functional, efficient and safe at any pace!
The sole is just as featherweight as the upper of which the upper is plasticized with vibrant colours and is made of a super airy mesh lining that’s exceptionally light, yet strong and conforms to a wide foot.
The upper is incredibly flexible throughout, allowing the front of your foot to spread and expand as needed, but it also hugs to your foot, helping prevent grit from getting inside. You can get the Merrell Vapor Glove 3 here!
Xero Shoes Z-Trail
If you enjoy running in minimalist sandals, Xero Shoes has made a trail running-specific sandal, the Z-Trail which sits on a zero-drop, 10 mm, lightweight, completely flexible outsole that has a heel cup to keep your heel in place and debris out.
The Z-Trail is an excellent high-mileage sandal ideally suited for long distance running in drier conditions on hard-packed dirt paths to light dusty trails to grassy areas. The sole also provides an effective layer of cushioning and protection that has a smoothing effect for rockier, rootier, acorn-littered terrain.
The Z-Trail is full of properties that go beyond most minimal shoes, making the sandal a perfect barefoot running alternative. The Z-Trails feather-lightness gives a barely-there feel, yet the sandals are structurally substantive enough to handle high mileage on light trails.
There’s lots of freedom of movement for the foot encouraged by the flexible strapping system and the easy flex, lightweight, low profile outsole that has a wide toe-box for an enhanced fit; plenty of room in the toe box for the toes to fan out during the loading phase and results in a better, more stable connection with the ground when running. You can get the Z-Trails by Xero Shoes here!
Vibram FiveFingers KMD EVO
If you are a high-mileage trail runner who loves to go fast and you’re looking for a well-cushioned barefoot-like shoe, you’ll feel zippy and protected in the Vibram KMD EVO which is a more stripped-down version of the Trek Ascent, but is a more rugged version of the Bikila LS, and still produces that classic Vibram peppy, barely there feel that mimics the effects of being barefoot.
Unlike most wafer-thin Vibram running shoes, the KMD EVO has a thicker rubber outsole that provides more underfoot softness, but doesn’t feel squishy, more full rock-protection on gravel roads and other rough surfaces and provides enough durability for the marathon AND most importantly the shoe is zero drop heel to toe which puts you in a stronger position to uphold a barefoot-like stride on any terrain.
The light, flashy, knit-weave well-made ventilated upper moves extremely well with the foot and provides soft comfort plus protection while hugging to your foot just right! The overall construction is beyond robust, very sturdy and reliable, making the KMD EVO more than capable of handling high-mileage in harsh elements.
The bungee-cord lacing works great for locking the foot in place, securely holding the foot inside the shoe when you’re cutting sharp angles and leaping over obstacles, the KMD EVO moves fluidly with your foot without strife!
The KMD EVO functions extremely well in running, sprinting, walking, hiking and jumping on any terrain! They even make excellent cycling shoes. They truly are an impressively versatile multipurpose workhorse that brings the perfect balance of comfort and performance on the trails. You get the KMD EVO here!
Vivobarefoot Primus Soft Trail
Vivobarefoot’s Primus Soft Trail has put a lot more shoe around the foot than typical Vivobarefoot running shoes. This is because the Primus’s amphibious upper has more material density, giving it more heartier durability and features a rugged puncture-resistant rubber outsole with premium traction that grips well on rocks. I also love the added protective rubber at the front of the shoe which is great for taking out the ‘ouch’ for if you accidentally kick a rock or stub an exposed root.
The Primus Soft also preforms similar to cleats in that it offers steady footing when running on grass and its flexibility moves smoothly with your foot, too!
In keeping with being a true minimalist running shoe, the Primus is built low (zero-drop) on a 7-mm thin rubber outsole, ensuring a more level landing platform for a balanced ride that encourages a fast and efficient forefoot strike during running. The knobby traction lugs are great for helping you climb hills and provides secure traction on rocky, rooted and muddy trails. Even more impressive, despite the outsole thickness, the Primus manages to welcome generous amounts of ground-feel, supplying enough sensory feedback to help push your forefoot strike landing in the right direction when running.
Last but not least, the overall structure of the Primus is very similar to other Vivobarefoot minimalist shoe offerings, such as a wide toe-box proved to be very comfortable and functional for optimal toe splay which is good for foot and ankle stability, affording you a more secure, steady connection with the ground, regardless of terrain. There’s no doubt that this durable workhorse is definitely a trail runners best friend! You can get the Primal Soft Trail here!
Another OCR-favorite minimalist running shoe is the Vibram V-Trail which is another trail-specific shoe from Vibram that is an updated version of the Spyridon MR/Elite. Like the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail, the Vibram V-trail also received high-marks for performing admirably beastly in mud runs and obstacle course races.
With its ergonomic fit and barefoot-feel, the Vibram V-Trail perfectly offers most of the benefits of the barefoot running movement while still providing protection from rocks, acorns and twigs. The V-Trail is rated-well on nearly all characteristics, especially on its anatomically correct fit and its ability to be very gripy when beating through murky trails, when flying up and down hills or when racing on all types of surfaces from rocks to roads!
In keeping with the minimalist movement, the V-Trail is flat, flexible and free of arch support, medial posts, heel counters, and plastic plates, so when you run, these shoes definitely run with you; you’re not fighting any aspect of the shoe which is going to be very effective in constantly improving foot and ankle strength and gait correction.
One of the lightest trail shoes out there, the V-Trails most prized asset is its gripy 5-mm thin, but tough, rugged rubber outsole studded with multi-directional lugs that provides extra traction when running on uneven mountainous terrain, slushy sloppy paths and loose-rocky trails.
The gripy tread pattern is also supremely useful and agile for rock climbing, biking and bites reassuringly into the ground when you make sudden stops and starts and rapid changes in direction, like in CrossFit, playing frisbee, etc.
Rugged rock protection just isn’t at the outsole, the featherweight polyester spandex upper is of excellent quality and is armed with puncture/abrasion resistance that excels at shielding the foot from harm AND hugs the foot perfectly, preventing grit from getting inside. Even for wide feet, the stretchy upper adjusts perfectly to fit accordingly and is flexible enough to allow more widespread use of the foot, which is absolutely essential in building stronger, sturdy feet!
Bottom line, the aggressive traction that performs great in bad weather coupled with a low-profile, good ground-feel and unmatched durability, makes the Vibram V Trail a serious OCR shoe that will help you feel stable with good form and balance on uneven terrain. You can get the V-Trails here!
Lems Primal 2
The zero-drop Lems Primal 2 feels like a meatier version of the Merrell Trail Glove and is great for off-road adventures that includes muddy, sandy and extremely rocky or rooted surfaces, but the shoe also does impressively well on the road as the tread can handle lots of stretches of pavement without wearing down or feeling clunky.
The Lems Primal 2 sits on a wide, 8-mm air-injection puncture-resistant rubber outsole that’s notably soft and flexible and supplies a pillowy ride with superb responsiveness when running fast over debris-heavy trails.
Just like the outsole, the upper of the Lems Primal 2 has durability woven into the fabric of it and can handle heavy mileage and abuse on the rockiest of trails.
The upper is made from a variety of light, airy materials that secures the foot to the shoe, reassuringly protects the foot from trail debris and also conforms to a wide foot shape, ensuring the foot can expand to its natural state.
You’ll love the upper’s foot-hugging fit and that it feels comfortable without socks, even when wet. The upper is also great for keeping your feet warm in wet, cooler conditions and dries quickly, but is still breathable to keep everything cool in warmer conditions.
Overall, the Lems Primal 2 is a better choice for runners who prefer running in more protective cushioning. But despite the outsole thickness, many weartesters, including myself marvel at how natural the underfoot feels. The sole still provides decent sensory inputs and is low to the ground which is going to help push your forefoot strike in the right direction when you run at any pace. You can get the Lems Primal 2 here!
Merrell Trail Glove 4 Runner
The Merrell Trail Glove 4 Runner is a less beastly, more barefoot version of the Lems Primal 2 and is designed for runners looking for more maximum ground-feel and is perfect for trail runners looking to lay down some fast times.
The Trail Glove 4 has received high marks on OCR races (Spartans and Tough mudders) for its grip on obstacles, agility and its ability to shed mud and water.
The Trail Glove 4 is pure vegan-friendly construction that sits on a fantastically thin, slip-resistant, rubber Vibram sole that offers almost the same amount of rock protection as the Lems Primal 2 in that your underfoot can barely feel any sharp jagged rocks. The sole is 3-mm thin with a 3-mm shallow lug depth for extra traction on slick rocks and the sole is also 0 dropped (completely flat) to encourage a forefoot strike more easily during running.
The Trail Glove 4 is great for running and racing on a variety of surfaces such as loose rocky, dirt terrain, the beach, smooth trails, paved roads and the treadmill and also feels great when worn without socks in hotter temperatures and with socks in cooler weather.
The upper, which dries quickly, has minimal overlays, mostly made of mesh, to reduce weight and has a conforming fit that completely moves with your foot and provides adequate strength to lock the shoe onto your foot. The toe box is also rounded, making the shoe compatible with a wide foot. You’ll no doubt enjoy the shoe from the start. You can get it here!
If you’ve enjoyed these reviews, you’ll love my additional reviews on barefoot running shoes here! I also have a YouTube channel here where I discuss at great lengths the evidence-based performance and health benefits of forefoot running as well as minimalist and barefoot running.
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.
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