I love wearing barefoot shoes but I also recognize that they can fall short in certain contexts and scenarios. In fact, whenever anyone asks about barefoot shoes I always try to select my language wisely.
There are a lot of pros and cons that come along with wearing barefoot shoes and I think it can be incredibly useful to keep some of these in mind as you wear barefoot shoes more often or start to acclimate to them.
Over the last four years, I’ve worn and reviewed countless barefoot shoes. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons to keep in mind with wearing barefoot shoes.
The pros and cons of barefoot shoes will ebb and flow based on your individual context. For example, you may have different pros and cons from this list and that’s completely normal as barefoot shoes and our interpretations of them are multifactorial.
Pros and cons will always be individual. There’s a strong chance that you have different pros and cons with barefoot shoes based on your experiences. That’s okay and normal.
For me, the pros of barefoot shoes have grown and expanded with more exposure to them. I review a lot of barefoot shoes and I constantly find new pros that come along with their use depending on the shoe and context.
While I like barefoot shoes, I’m not in the camp that thinks everyone should wear them all of the time. I see barefoot shoes as tools and a means to an end based on individual and situational wants and needs.
Must Read: Looking for new barefoot shoes? Make sure you check out this year’s best barefoot shoes. I’ve pulled the top picks for lifting, walking, and much more.
What Are Barefoot Shoes?
Before discussing the pros and cons of barefoot shoes it’s a good idea first to define what barefoot shoes are. By defining this type of footwear, we can better understand the “why” behind the pros and cons below.
Barefoot shoes are a type of footwear designed to replicate what it’s like to be barefoot on a daily basis. Every barefoot shoe will have a few key construction features to them.
- Minimal Stack Height: Barefoot shoes will usually have super low stack heights to give you more ground feel and feedback. Stack height entails the amount of material that separates the foot from the floor.
- 0mm Heel-to-Toe Drop: Every barefoot shoe will have a 0mm heel-to-toe drop drop. This means that the forefoot and heel will be sitting level with one another.
- Flexible Sole: With low stack heights come flexible soles. This is a feature that pretty much every barefoot shoe has and it’s designed to give your foot more freedom and allow the sole to flex and articulate as if you’re barefoot.
- Wide(r) Constructions: Barefoot shoes are also typically made to be wider to let the feet move freely and let the toes splay. Width varies from company to company, but generally speaking, most barefoot shoes will be wider than traditional shoes.
Outside of these four construction features, there are other details and nuances that exist between different barefoot shoes such as materials used, how the upper hugs the foot, and this list goes on.
Barefoot Shoe Pros
While we could definitely come up with countless barefoot shoe pros, I think there are three pros and benefits that can somewhat transcend every scenario and context.
Please note as I dive into some of these pros and cons I’m going to be talking anecdotally based on my experiences and feedback that I receive from personal training clients I work with who wear barefoot shoes and from my YouTube community.
Pro 1: Great for Exposing Feet and Ankles to Different Stressors
The first pro of barefoot shoes is that they can be great for exposing your feet and ankles to different stressors. Strategic stress generally leads to growth. I typically discuss barefoot shoes as tools and relate this pro to wearing them more.
There is a lot of benefit in training your feet and ankles and barefoot shoes can be a great tool for passively doing this. Have you ever walked around barefoot a lot in a day and felt like your feet and ankles were the next day?
This soreness is due to exposing the tissues of the feet and ankles to different stressors. When you’re barefoot how you move will be different regarding the ranges of motion you’re working through and the impact of the ground will be different as you move as well.
When we think about working out we regularly implement variations and contexts that expose us to different stressors to create growth, and we should approach the feet and ankles in the same manner.
By allowing the feet to move a little more freely, we’ll be able to access ranges of motion that we may not be able to achieve with shoes with thicker and more supportive midsoles, so barefoot shoes can be great tools for slowly exposing the feet to greater degrees of stress.
The Takeaway: It’s healthy and normal to expose the feet and ankles to different stressors and barefoot shoes can help with that. There are benefits in working through different ranges of motion with different degrees of freedom.
Pro 2: Beneficial for Building Intrinsic Foot Muscles
Another benefit and arguably the biggest reason why I personally wear barefoot shoes is that they can be useful for building the intrinsic muscles of the foot (and ankle). Fun fact, there are 29 muscles that are associated with the foot and ankle.
A lot of these muscles don’t get trained a ton when we’re wearing shoes that limit our foot’s natural movement. For example, by letting the arch collapse and flex freely we’ll be better suited to train the muscles associated with the arch.
This pro and benefit piggyback off of the stressor pro above as they go hand-in-hand. If you’re exposing your feet to gradual stress, then it’s a safe bet to assume that you’ll be building the muscles of the feet and ankles to accommodate said stress.
The best part about this pro is that you don’t typically need much to get the ball rolling regarding building the muscles of your feet and ankles. If you’re new to barefoot shoes, for example, then simply wearing them for short periods on a daily wear basis will usually suffice.
If you can build more resilient feet then you’ll typically get a nice carryover to other areas of life like sports and daily life. Strength is never a weakness and by building the feet and ankles you’ll be further bulletproofing yourself further.
The Takeaway: Barefoot shoes can be awesome tools for strengthening the feet and ankles passively. By just wearing them on a daily wear basis you’ll typically get a benefit and you don’t necessarily need to train and wear only barefoot shoes.
Pro 3: Feel Good and Connect With Your Surroundings
Okay, the last pro is very anecdotal and personal, and to be quite honest with you, my mind has changed on this pro over time with wearing barefoot shoes more often.
In my opinion, barefoot shoes can feel awesome especially once you start letting your feet live a little more freely. The width and flexibility of barefoot shoe soles can feel really good and give your feet a nice break from potentially feeling confined in shoes.
On top of feeling good once you’ve adapted to them, I do think there’s a nice “connected” feel that you get with the ground when wearing barefoot shoes. Again, a year ago, I would have said that’s a little foo-foo for me, but I’ve grown and changed my opinion here.
For example, when hiking, I love wearing barefoot shoes because of the ground feel and the ground feedback I get from them. Granted, I don’t wear super minimalist barefoot shoes for every hike as I do consider my foot and ankle tissue capacities.
In these cases, I’ll opt for models like the Merrell Trail Glove 7. This is a minimalist shoe that has good ground feedback but doesn’t have such a low stack height that you feel absolutely everything to a huge extent.
That said, in most outdoor settings, I do enjoy how you “feel” the ground more with barefoot shoes. There’s also a cool feeling that comes with walking over rocks, logs, and other terrain and feeling it fully under the feet and not having to flinch due to pain.
The Takeaway: Once you adjust to their feel, barefoot shoes typically feel awesome and get more comfortable over time. On top of this, I think there is a subtle perk of “feeling” the ground more when wearing barefoot shoes in different settings.
Barefoot Shoe Cons
While I like barefoot shoes and wear them a ton, I think there are a couple of cons to keep in mind with them. The idea that they’re the “only” shoe you should ever wear for every situation is lost on me, to be honest.
Con 1: They Take Time to Acclimate To
The first drawback to barefoot shoes that I think a lot of barefoot shoe newbies overlook is that they take time to adjust to. Unlike swapping one running shoe for another, barefoot shoes require more strategy for their acclimation.
For example, if you’ve never worn barefoot shoes in your life and you’re accustomed to thicker and more cushioned shoes then you’ll want to keep in mind that your acclimation to barefoot shoes may take a while.
This acclimation period can be long and sometimes pretty especially if you overextend what your foot and ankle tissues can tolerate. Sore feet and ankles are never a fun time and they can be limiting based on your lifestyle, to say the least.
The Takeaway: If you’re transitioning to barefoot shoes make sure you account for an acclimation period and ease into this style of footwear. Start with low-threshold activities (walking) and build up to higher-threshold activities (hiking, lifting, jumping, etc.).
Con 2: Width Can Be Problematic for Narrow Feet
Another con that some of my community members have brought up is how some barefoot shoes can actually run a little too wide for their needs. This can leave you sliding around in your shoes and not feeling “secure” when wearing them.
While I don’t think this will be an issue for most and there are barefoot shoes that run a little more on the snug side, it is worth noting that barefoot shoes aren’t just a “one-size-fits-all” type of shoe due to anatomical differences.
If you don’t have the widest feet and you plan to use your shoes for hiking, jumping, and other activities that require more snugness to lock the feet down, then you’ll want to look into models like the Merrel Vapor Glove 6 and Xero Shoes HFS.
The Takeaway: Before you buy a particular pair of barefoot shoes, it’s a good idea to spend a little time researching the shoe’s fit and how that will translate to your foot anatomy and performance needs.
Con 3: Sole Durability Can Vary and Shoes Can Be Expensive
The final con that I have with barefoot shoes is that their durability can vary greatly, and this goes for most shoes, to be honest. However, with most barefoot shoes you’re usually working with less sole material so they can fade fast with a ton of use.
For example, if we look at models like Vivobarefoot which are shoes notorious for costing $150+ USD, their soles can have a ton of variability depending on the model and how you’re using them.
If you spend $170 on a pair of shoes and their tread fades after a few months then that can be a pretty disheartening experience. This is why I suggest checking out multiple reviews before buying new pairs of barefoot shoes.
The barefoot shoes industry is growing fast and so are the materials and tech being used in shoes. I’m optimistic that we’ll see fewer issues with durability as companies grow and learn more, and I’m hoping costs come down as more companies come to market.
The Takeaway: Do your research before investing in new pairs of barefoot shoes. Variability can vary a ton at times from shoe to shoe so it’s a good idea to make sure your investment in a shoe matches your performance needs and wants.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:Are there benefits to barefoot shoes?
Q:What are the disadvantages of barefoot shoes?
Q:Should everyone wear barefoot shoes?
I love barefoot shoes and I think there can be a handful of benefits of wearing them in different contexts. The ability to let our feet move freely while exposing them to new stressors can be great for resiliency and growth.
Do I think barefoot shoes are the “end-all-be-all” regarding footwear choices? No, and I think research and strategy are useful to keep in mind when buying and wearing barefoot shoes.
If you have additional questions about barefoot shoes and their pros and cons or which model you should go with based on your needs, drop a comment below or reach out via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).