ChiRunning Recommendations for Minimal Shoes

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In response to all the current interest in barefoot running (spurred on by Chris McDougall’s Born to Run book and the recent study published in the journal Nature by Dr. Daniel Lieberman, suggesting that barefoot or minimal-shoe running creates less impact on your legs) I’ve come up with a list of recommended shoes to try if running barefoot is just not what you’re drawn to. The shoes on this list represent only a small smattering of the spectrum of shoes available to those wishing to try running in a low-profile, minimal shoe instead of the basic “high-heeled sneaker that has been the trend for the past 40 years.

Bear in mind that any switch to either barefoot running or to a more minimal shoe (than you’re currently wearing) will require you to make a GRADUAL transition into the new way of running. If you’re going the minimal shoe route, start off by wearing them for brief periods around the house and for only short runs until you see how your body responds to the change. As your body “tells you” that it’s ok, you can slowly increase your time or distance accordingly. This isn’t macho training, it’s sensitivity training, so be smart about it. If you feel the slightest bit of discomfort in your plantar fascia, your ankles or your calves…back off and try it again tomorrow. As Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton says, “Don’t strike the ground. If you do it’ll strike back!” The idea of running barefoot or running in a minimal shoe is to feel what your feet are telling you about how to create less impact with the ground… so that you don’t get injured. It just wouldn’t make any sense to run in minimal shoes if you didn’t listen to what your feet are telling you.

The other thing I’d like to add is that the shoes listed here are only recommendations. Since everyone has different feet and different tastes when it comes to comfort and feel with their shoes, I leave it up to you to do the research at your local running shoe store to see which shoes actually work best for your feet and running needs. If all of the shoes choices is just too overwhelming…keep it simple and Go Barefoot!!!

Good luck with the journey.


The List

NB-790 (9 oz.) One of the best ever made for all terrains, from running a marathon on pavement to ultra trails. This shoe might be too much for someone really interested in feeling the barefoot feel. (discontinued in men’s models only…go figure…or better yet, write NB and complain) $60
NB-505 XC racing flat (7 oz.) very light, flexible and fast on trails or roads. $60
Adidas – Adizero Rocket (7.2 oz.) very flexible and wicked fast –  better for narrow feet. $90
Brooks Mach II Spikeless (7 oz.) ultra-thin carbon rubber aggressively lugged sole – $60
FeelMax – Niesa 1mm thick sole with Kevlar to protect against sharp objects (Barefoot Ted likes them) Some complain that they’re too hot, but they are extremely minimal and give a good sense of the ground against your feet. $80
VivoBarefoot EVO– I’ve tried the Vivo street shoes and I’m waiting to be sent a pair of their running shoes to test (not available to the public yet). I love my street shoes and they are my favorite traveling shoe. They’re wonderful for any kind or any amount of walking.
Vibram FiveFingers – KSO’s are the most popular model of the VFF’s and I can see why. They’re thin, flexible, easy to get on and off and the next best thing to running barefoot. I prefer my Treks when I’m trail running because they have more traction in the dirt.
ECCO – haven’t tried them yet because I can’t afford a pair (hint…hint)
Wilcor Aqua Shoes – Bought these at a hardware store in Hot Springs, NC for $10 and they’ve proven to be one of the best trail and wet-running shoes I’ve ever had on my feet.  They’re like moccasins with an attitude. Get some if you can find them for sale somewhere (not in running stores). This shoe, like most shoes designed for water sports and poking around tide pools at the beach, is a great way to run close-to-barefoot without spending over $30.
PUMA Cabana Racer II – (7 oz.) Was first introduced as a lightweight racing flat in 1981. Features a leather upper, EVA midsole and rubber outsole. As far as I can tell it is the exact same shoe brought back from the dead. $45
Asics Hyperspeed 3&4– (7 oz.) I haven’t run on these shoes myself, but I’ve heard from a number of folks that this is a good minimal shoe…very light and very fast. The downside of the shoe (as with many racing flats) is that they’re very narrow in the toe box, so they’re off my shopping list because my feet are EEE width. It’s a shame they don’t make racing flats in widths…they could multiply their sales by tenfold. $60

La Sportiva Crosslite – A great trail racing flat built low to the ground with extremely aggressive treads. Not a true minimal shoe, but one of the more minimal (while still aggressive) trail shoes. Reasonably light (10.0 oz.) for a trail shoe. $85
INOV-8 Rocklite 295 – (8.5 oz.) This is a fabulous shoe for trail runners looking for a very low-profile, light-weight shoe with great traction and flexibility. Sticky rubber soles with very aggressive lugs. They have a nice rounded toebox with plenty of room for my paddle feet. This is a more subtantial trail shoe for those looking for a good, dependable, lightweight, aggressive-soled shoe. $90
INOV-8 Talon 212 – (7.5 oz.) This is the stripped-down, mininal heel lift version of the 295 reviewed above. It’s a no-bones-about-it-flat-out trail racer…. a bit narrower in feel than the 295, but not uncomfortably so. It hugs your foot well and transfers the traction from the sticky rubber soles directly into your feet. I feel like a spider with them on. I haven’t tried walking up the side of a brick building yet, but they tempt me to try. I feel very fast and agile in them, and I’m sure I’ll be running in these at the next USATF Nat’l Trail Championships later this year. Hats off to INOV-8!  Note: These shoes have very minimal cushioning and might not be for everyone. If you run on very hard-packed trails, these might be too minimal for you unless you’re minding all your ChiRunning P’s & Q’s. If you’re doubtful, go for the 295′s. (BTW, the numbers show the weight in grams of the shoe model!) $100
NB-MT100 – (7.0 oz.) One of the lightest trail shoes ever made. Very flexible and breathable…also drains well when wet. Great for most trail running, but tend to lose traction on wet surfaces, especially wet rock. Personally, I’d like the lugs a bit more aggressive for these North Carolina mountains, but they’re totally adequate on dry trails. $70


Posted in Technique, Inside Chi

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