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What are Barefoot Shoes?

Your Guide to the Basics of Barefoot (Minimalist) Shoes

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There is some confusion about barefoot shoes in our culture that is awash in shoe company propaganda pushing support and cushion, and it can be hard to know what’s true. What are barefoot shoes? Are they good for you? Are they harmful? Can’t they cause injury? Are they for everyone? It can be quite difficult to sift through all the conflicting info out there and really know what’s best for your feet.

I’m of the belief that a little bit of skepticism is healthy, and if a company can profit off of my belief that my body is flawed (ie. my feet can't support me and need extra support), you better believe I’m gonna dig a little deeper. Once I started questioning the status quo and looking into the facts, I found that there is actual scientific research proving that no, our feet are not in fact as flawed and in need of support as those sneaky companies would have us believe.

Our bodies are beautifully designed - and that includes our feet! Read through to the end, and if you’re still skeptical, check out the scientific studies I’ve included at the bottom.

Barefoot shoes, AKA minimalist shoes or barefoot-inspired footwear, are designed to allow your foot to act like it would barefoot, while in a shoe. This opens the door for a delicious sensory experience and a crazy amount of potential health benefits, not just for your feet, but for your entire body, too.

So, whether you're seeking a more fulfilling physical experience, hoping to heal from stubborn injuries, or simply wanna stick it to the man, let’s dive into learning what barefoot shoes are all about.

Anatomy of a Barefoot Shoe

There are a few basic requirements a shoe must have in order for it to be considered truly barefoot or minimalist: Thin & flexible sole, wide toe box, no raised heel (also called zero drop, meaning there is zero drop from heel to toe), no toe spring (toe curved upward), no arch support, and stays attached securely to your foot as you move.

Thin & flexible Sole

Barefoot shoes are all about keeping it real and letting your feet be their natural selves, which is why they're designed to be thin and flexible. Unlike traditional shoes with thick soles and rigid structures, barefoot shoes aim to mimic the feeling of walking barefoot.

The thin and flexible sole of barefoot shoes allows your feet to move and flex freely, just as nature intended. It enables your feet to bend and twist, adapting to the terrain beneath you. By providing a minimal barrier between your feet and the ground, these shoes awaken the sensory receptors in the soles of your feet, allowing you to feel the delicious textures and contours of every surface you're walking on.

The absence of excessive cushioning in barefoot shoes is intentional too. It allows your feet to engage with the ground and provides a more accurate feedback loop, so you can develop a heightened awareness of your body's movements. It's like having a direct line of communication between your feet and your brain.

Wide Toe Box

In addition to the thin sole, barefoot shoes also feature a wider toe box, giving your toes the space to spread naturally. This helps restore the foot's natural alignment and allows for better balance and stability.

Imagine doing a push up with all your fingers squished tightly together. You could do it, but it wouldn’t be easy or comfortable. It’s the same with your feet (except if you’ve spent a fair amount of time in conventional shoes, you’re so used to the sensation of cramped toes that it doesn’t register in your brain as abnormal).

When I was healing from a stubborn tendon injury (post tib tendonitis), I noticed an immediate and significant difference in my pain when I started using Correct Toes toe spacers. With my toes gently forced to splay as I moved, it provided me with the stability that my tendon needed to heal. There’s no way I would’ve experienced such quick progress if I’d stayed in the restrictive toe box of a conventional running shoe!

No Raised Heel (AKA Zero Drop)

To qualify as a true barefoot shoe, there must be absolutely no height added under your heel. Even a tiny lil lift in a running shoe or relatively “flat” sandal can negatively impact your alignment all the way up your body’s chain - even to your neck and head! Add a small heel and all your joints immediately compensate to keep you upright.

Thankfully, our bodies were designed to be able to stay upright as the levels under our feet slope one way or the other. It’s just that they weren’t designed to endure the same level of slope all day every day. And this is essentially what you’re asking your body to do when you add any kind of heel - and the higher the heel, the more drastic the effect on your body.

So while you can wear heels and your body will adapt, eventually chances are good that it’ll lead to one injury or another.

No Toe Spring

What is toe spring? It’s when the front of your shoe is constructed to curve upward - usually this construction is there in order to counteract the effects of a stiff sole and allow your foot to flow forward with each step.

Unfortunately, this design comes with the price of a weaker foot that doesn’t move as it was designed to, and can lead to injuries such as plantar fasciitis. If you wanna get really nerdy, here’s a scientific article explaining the detriment of walking in a shoe with toe spring.

No Arch Support

It should go without saying that a shoe designed to allow your foot to act as a bare foot while in a shoe will not have any type of support!

There is a widely believed myth floating around that many different types of feet need support. “Flat feet? High arches? You need support!” they say. And while arch support absolutely has its place for certain individuals at certain times (ie. healing from an injury), it actually doesn’t make much sense for general long-term use for most people, if you think logically about the human body.

Is there any other body part on an otherwise healthy individual that just inherently needs assistance to function as it should? No? Then why would our feet be any different? (Especially considering what absolute engineering marvels they are, with 25% of all the bones in your body comprising your foot and ankle!)

If your feet are used to arch support, you may feel differently if you go straight from conventional shoes barefoot 100% of the time - but that doesn’t mean barefoot is bad. It just means that your feet need a lil TLC and strengthening. There are a few simple exercises you can do to get your feet up to par and ready to carry you through your days without any extra support needed.

Fits Securely on Your Foot

No, unfortunately flip flops do NOT qualify as barefoot shoes! Even though they are thin, flat, flexible, and leave room for your toes to splay, the fact that they “flop” with each step causes your toes to grip in a weird way that is not ideal for optimal foot function. As much as you are basically barefoot while wearing flip flops, these sandals do not allow the foot to function purely as a bare foot would.

Part of the freedom that comes with barefoot shoes and sandals is being able to move around normally without having to worry about your shoes flying off! And while it might take a few extra seconds to shimmy into a pair of sandals with a heel strap, the foot freedom you’ll gain will be worth it. Promise!

(My go-to summer sandal is Earth Runners! SO comfy, SO cute, and SO versatile!)


Ultimately, the thin, flexible and wide design of barefoot shoes is about reconnecting with your feet and the world around you. It's about giving your body a chance to be the strongest and healthiest version of itself. And it’s about empowering you to live pain free - whether you’re a serious athlete or just wanna be able to run around with your kids carefree.

As a reminder, barefoot shoes:

  • Are thin, flat & flexible

  • Have a wide toe box

  • Don’t have a raised heel

  • Don’t have toe spring

  • Don’t have arch support

  • Stay securely attached to your foot

It's time to ditch our old, worn-out belief that our feet are inherently flawed and dysfunctional, and to push back against bad science and capitalistic agendas. It’s time to reclaim our body’s ability to heal, strengthen, and support us through life, and embrace the freedom and vitality that comes with walking naturally, one step at a time.

Your Barefoot Guide,


PS. Looking to get started on your transition? Check out this post on how to make the switch!

PPS. What would you like to know about living a barefoot lifestyle? Add a comment with a question and I'll create a post with your answer!




Hey, I'm Kim!

I'm so happy you're here.

I believe that your feet are the foundation for full body strength, and living a barefoot lifestyle is key to moving through your years with joy and freedom.

Join me as we live our best barefoot lives together.


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