I’ve been asked where is a good place to buy barefoot shoes, so I thought I would list the places I look when shoe shopping.
But first, what are barefoot shoes, and why should we consider wearing them?
What are barefoot shoes?
Barefoot shoes aim to keep your feet as close as possible to how they would be if you had no shoes on at all, whilst protecting them from the elements and sharp things underfoot.
Even the smallest heel affects the shape of your leg, which forces your muscles to work differently to their natural design. Imagine walking down a hill, and how being at that angle pulls on your quads on the front of your thighs, and puts pressure on your knees. Even the smallest raise on the heel of your shoe is like walking slightly downhill for life. Very often, back, hip and knee problems can be traced back to your feet. The way you walk and the angle of your feet can lead to stresses and strains much further up your body as it compensates for an imbalance down at the bottom.
Mention “barefoot shoes”, however, and an image of the Five Finger Vibrams might spring to mind.
Now, I’ve never worn these as they are not to my taste. What I mean by ‘barefoot’ is something a little more conventional looking.
I look for shoes that have plenty of space for my toes to splay, so my feet can move how they are supposed to. Just like your hands don’t work so well in a mitten, your feet don’t work at their best when compressed within a shoe. If your toes can spread, the muscles in your feet can work properly and they will get stronger. Having strong and flexible feet will allow you to move easily over different terrain and your foot will bend and stretch to accommodate bumpy ground. This is great for improving your balance, which is vital as we age. If your feet aren’t able to do their job because they are cocooned by thick, rigid shoes, then your other joints and muscles higher up will have to work harder than they should, which again, isn’t great news for your knees or hips.
I also look for shoes which have a completely flat sole, and no rise at the heel. The thinner the sole the more my feet can flex and the more the muscles in my feet can do their job properly.
Making the switch to shoes with less heel and padding can feel strange at first, and initially your feet might feel tired after wearing them, but after a while your muscles will toughen up and I promise you won’t want to go back to chunky, narrow, restrictive footwear. Start with short walks and build up slowly because your calf muscles will be working harder than they used to—they will have to stretch further than before to get your heel to the ground.
To make it easier to find such shoes, several brands have sprung up in the last few years. This is a non-exhaustive list and purely my own opinion, based on what I have bought and paid for myself.
Where to buy barefoot shoes*
*I’m just talking about shoes for walking in here. I’ve put a note about running shoes at the bottom in case you are interested in barefoot running.
I have listed only shops that sell in the UK, as since Brexit it has become much more expensive to import products from the EU. Because I don’t understand how the UK Customs stuff works, I’m recommending only UK-based retailers, though of course you can get anything shipped anywhere if you want it.
First, I need to get pricing out of the way. Barefoot shoes are more expensive than a pair of trainers you could pick up in your local supermarket. You are looking at around the £100 mark. It is comparable with the premium trainer or walking boot brands, but this is understandable when you remember that they are produced in smaller quantities and most brands have good ethical credentials. In my experience, the shoes do last well, and many of mine have been picked up when on sale. There are cheaper options, like plimsoll-style trainers (Rocket Dogs’ Jazzin have a flat sole and a round toe – Converse are too narrow and pointy for me.) If you can’t afford the shoes listed below, you will have to hunt around more, but it is possible to find flat-soled, wide-toed shoes.
Happy Little Soles
This shop sells a wide range of brands, including a fantastic range of kids shoes. I first came across them when looking for shoes with no heel rise for my children – because why should kids have to wear a heeled shoe, for heaven’s sake? Nowadays Happy Little Soles have branched out into selling lots of adults shoes too. A really good site for checking out, especially as lots of the brands on here are based outside of the UK.
I’m always recommending people try Freets. They are my comfiest shoes by far. They fit my feet really well and are well made. The company is also from Yorkshire, which means they are designing shoes for my climate! The only negative is that the styling is a little more plain than some other the other brands, but in reality this means that they do go with everything.
These are the big boys of the barefoot shoe world and they do the trendiest shoes. My first foray into the world of barefoot shoes was a pair of barely worn grey Vivobarefoot trainers I bought for £25 from eBay – the days of finding £25 barefoot shoes on eBay are probably long gone, I’m afraid!
I treated myself to a pair of brown leather boots when I started a new job in 2016. They are still going strong and I’ve worn them many hundreds of times.
I have a couple of other pairs of Vivobarefoot trainers which I also wear a lot in the summer. These are not as warm and comfy as some of my others.
The cons of Vivos is they are on the expensive side, and are thinner than the Freets, so less comfy and give a more ‘barefoot’ feel. Pros are that they look good and there’s lots of choice.
I am now on my second pair of Xero Shoes sandals, having completely worn out the first pair through loads and loads of use. It takes a week or so to toughen up the soles of my feet when I first put them on when the weather gets warm, but once I’m in them I don’t want to wear anything else. They are very thin and flexible, so it is like wearing nothing at all. This makes them not great on very hot sand or sharp rocks if you’re on your summer holiday!
Xero Shoes do sell trainers and walking boots too, but I haven’t tried them.
Merrell sells a massive range of trainers and boots, and they do sell some barefoot trainers too. My husband has had a couple of pairs and he wears them a lot. As they are a big company, they do offer lots of colours and a couple of different styles.
If you are outside the UK
In the US you have more choice than us Brits. See https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/shoes-the-list/
Here’s a blog post with a list of shoes from all around the world: https://anyasreviews.com/barefoot-shoe-brands-by-region/. Anyas Reviews is all about barefoot footwear, so it’s a good site to have a look at as part of your research.
Barefoot running shoes
When I run, I wear ‘normal’ running shoes. I did try learning to run in my barefoot trainers, but I found that because I am heavy and was running almost entirely on pavements, I was getting pain in my lower legs from jarring against the hard ground. When running in barefoot shoes, you need to ensure that the middle of your foot hits the ground first, rather than your heel, as this will provide you with some cushioning from the natural springiness of the foot. However, even this wasn’t enough for me.
If you are considering switching to barefoot running shoes, have a look online at some videos of how to transition. All the brands mentioned above offer running shoes, and really hardcore barefoot runners run in huarache sandals, such as the Xero Shoes sandals I wear.
You can also buy zero-drop running shoes, which have cushioning, but no heel rise. Two brands I know of that specialise in this type of shoe are Altra and Topo. Northern Runner has a section of low- or zero-drop running shoes, as do other online retailers.