The hottest trend in athletic shoes right now are the barefoot running shoes. From the Reebok Realflex runners to the Nike Free models and everything in between, there are many different barefoot models to choose from. So which is the best option? The answer to that question is there is no easy answer. Depending on your foot and what you need in terms of cushion and support, what you need may be very different from someone else. However, understanding the different types of barefoot runners can help provide some guidance in selecting the correct barefoot runner for you if you choose to try them.
The first category are the actual barefoot runners. This includes models such as the Reebok Realflex (available at Rogan's Shoes stores now!)and New Balance Minimus. These shoes have very thin soles and lay low to the ground. This sole concept helps provide more of a barefoot feel that maximizes grip and control for the foot when running, but in a more conventional shoe style than toe shoes. The goal of having such as thin sole is to promote more of the natural forefoot strike running pattern. This is in contrast to the heavy heel strike running pattern that normally occurs with normal thick soled running shoes. Overall, the shoe is designed to be extremely flexible and contoured to fit the shape of the natural foot.
The next category of runners are the running flats. This category includes models such as the Saucony Kinvara. These shoes have more of a sole than the actual barefoot runners, but even the sole on these shoes is much thinner than a sole found on a normal running shoe. The typical drop from heel to toe in a running shoe is 12mm. A typical flat has a drop of 4mm, again helping to promote a forefoot strike running pattern rather than the heel heavy running pattern that is caused in normal running shoes. Overall the shoe is still extremely flexible, but the design of the shoe is more of a normal running shoe shape instead following the contours of a natural foot like a barefoot runner.
Unconventional Barefoot Runners
This final category of barefoot runners is probably the most confusing. They are often considered barefoot runners, but the soles on these shoes are too thick to actually provide a barefoot running feel and experience. Models in this category include the Nike Free running shoes. The typical "road" feel and grip that a barefoot runner provides is now replaced with a very soft, cushiony bottom. While these runners can be defined more as a traditional running shoe than a barefoot runner, the drop from heel to the forefront of the shoe is still significantly less than a normal running shoe with a drop of 6-8mm compared to the 12mm drop of a conventional running shoe. That being said, while these running shoes are more styled like a normal runner, they continue to be very flexible, lightweight, and promote a forefoot strike pattern unlike most normal running shoes.
So what shoe is the best barefoot runner? Again it all depends on your foot needs. If you require a bit more cushion, the Unconventional Barefoot runners such as the Nike Free might be the best option. If you want to be able to feel the ground and have more grip and motion freedom for your foot, then an actual Barefoot runner such as the Reebok Realflex may be a better option. In any case, since these shoes are designed very differently than a normal running shoe, be sure to try the shoe on and walk around in it for a while. Be sure the fit feels correct and having less sole feels good on your foot. All of these barefoot running shoes help promote a more natural forefoot strike pattern that helps reduce the injuries and pain associated with heavy heel striking. It's just a matter of choosing the one that feels the best.