What are Barefoot Shoes?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Barefoot shoes may refer to several different types of shoes that simulate walking or even running barefoot. The shoes that seem to be most discussed are made by the company Vibram, and may be marketed in several styles called Vibram Five Fingers®. There are many favorable reviews of these thin-soled shoes that use a special product called Vibram TC-1 rubber on the sole. The shoes fit tightly around the foot, conforming to the foot’s contours and create freedom of movement. What’s most notable about these shoes is that they have individual toe holes; this makes them appear fairly unusual, and likely not the first choice with a cocktail dress or tuxedo.

Routinely walking barefoot may improve foot health.
Routinely walking barefoot may improve foot health.

Nevertheless, there are many advocates of the barefoot movement, but the trouble with walking around in bare feet, or running, is that the ground may have stones, glass, or other small obstacles that can injure the feet. Other shoe companies like Nike® have jumped on the bandwagon of creating barefoot shoes of various types that give the feel of being barefoot without hazarding the dangers of injuring the feet. People who are fans of barefoot running enjoy Vibram and Nike’s products, with a slightly higher population purchasing Vibram’s shoes to get the patented Five Finger design.

Some people with plantar fasciitis find barefoot shoes difficult to wear.
Some people with plantar fasciitis find barefoot shoes difficult to wear.

There have been some studies that support the claimed health benefits of being barefoot. In areas where people routinely walk barefoot, foot health is better than for those who walk with shoes on. Poorly fitting shoes and the artificial way the foot is positioned in many different shoes can change the way you walk, the way you strike with your heel and even your posture. Some claims exist that barefoot shoes strengthen the feet and naturalize the posture, resulting in fewer back and alignment problems and fewer problems with the feet.

This is not the case for everyone who tries out barefoot shoes. Though they may be great for strolling on the beach or even jumping in the water, some runners, especially with heel problems like plantar fasciitis find them difficult to wear. Since they provide no arch support and no cushioning, running in barefoot shoes on hard surfaces like concrete may exacerbate existing foot problems.

Vibram and other companies are gaining steam in creating trendy and perhaps healthier for the feet footwear with barefoot shoes. Of course, going barefoot was never quite this expensive before, and most of Vibram’s shoes cost at least $80 US Dollars (USD). They are, however, machine washable, and many attest to their durability and they do have a lot of fans. People who run, mountain climb, beachcomb, participate in various water sports, and many who just like the sensation of walking barefoot claim these shoes are extremely comfortable. Time Magazine called Vibram’s products one of the best new inventions of 2007, and other shoe companies are struggling to catch up with Vibram, though they have to create shoes that don’t violate the Vibram’s patents.

Certain running shoes are designed to imitate barefoot running.
Certain running shoes are designed to imitate barefoot running.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Barefoot shoes are not good for your feet and back unless you walk on the balls of your feet. If you continue to walk and run heel to toe as if you were wearing normal shoes, the impact will be greater since there is no padding. Something that Vibram marketing probably forgot to mention. The shoes are great if you walk properly.


To Copperpipe: I advise you can choose the vibram five fingers shoe, which is especially designed for the barefoot exercise.


Do you know if they offer any barefoot shoe inserts that can give you a little more support if you want to use them for running?

I just got a pair of Vivo barefoot shoes, and I love the way they feel, but I get the worst leg pain after running in them because of the lack of arch support.

Are there any companies that sell barefoot shoe inserts? I've looked at some barefoot shoes websites and haven't come up with anything too promising so far, but maybe I'm just barking up the wrong tree.

Can somebody tell me where I can get a good shoe insert for my barefoot shoes, or how I can modify my running so that I don't end up with such bad leg pain?

I would really appreciate it, because there's no way that I would ever be able to give up my morning run -- so if I can't figure something out then the shoes are going to have to go, which would be a total bummer.

Any advice?


I'm looking around for some barefoot training shoes, and I was wondering if anybody with some experience in this area could give me some advice on how to choose the best barefoot training shoes.

I mean, I've read all the barefoot training shoes reviews, but you can never tell if those are just subsidized posts or whether the reviews are actually trustworthy.

Can anybody who actually wears and trains with barefoot shoes give me some insight on how to choose a good pair, and how I should make my move over from trainers into barefoot exercise?


I love barefoot freedom shoes -- I don't use them for running though, because I do need that little bit of extra support for my high arches.

But I think that barefoot technology shoes are definitely the way of the future -- what could be better than feeling like you're walking barefoot?

I think that a lot of companies are going to start making almost barefoot shoes, that give you the feeling of walking with barefoot shoes with a little more stylistic outlook.

Although I don't have a problem with the Vibram five fingers look myself, I can't imagine a boss allowing their employees to wear them to work, or going to a wedding in them, for example.

However, I do think that the comfortability is going to win out and lead to more and more companies producing basically barefoot shoes that give you the barefoot feeling without the barefoot outlook.

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