After ignoring what they probably took to be a fad at first, the big athletic shoe manufacturers are now in the barefoot running game. What's good and what's a gimmick? Here are a few tips to help you find the best buy.
A flat sole is a key component of barefoot running shoes. The drop, sometimes called the differential, is the difference in the thickness of the sole under the heel compared to its thickness under the toe. Ideally this drop is zero, which promotes better running form by encouraging you to land on your forefoot. Most shoes today have a drop of 12 millimeters, while the drops in minimalist shoes are usually much less.
In a market full of companies touting how minimal their shoes are, durability also becomes an issue. Will a thinner sole last long enough to be worth buying? Research the life expectancy of the brands you're considering.
Some companies offer insole inserts with their product lines to help runners successfully make the transition from traditional running shoes to barefoot running. These inserts allow you to decrease the shoe's arch support as your foot gains strength. If a product line offers these inserts, you're likely to have greater success transitioning to minimalist running.
Weight is another factor to consider. Most barefoot running shoes fall in the 5 to 6 ounce (141 to 170 gram) range, which is lighter than the average running shoe. Most runners don't need to worry too much about an ounce here or there, but if you want to replicate the barefoot feeling, then the lighter your shoes, the easier it is to convince your feet they're naked.
Try to test run different brands of barefoot running shoes before buying. For a lot of us, that's easier said than done; specialty running stores aren't always accessible. If you're stuck ordering online, be sure to follow any fitting guides associated with your shoes.
For the DIY enthusiasts, there's always the option of making your own barefoot running shoes [source: Instructables]. While they probably won't stand up to a marathon, they might be fine for shorter jaunts. Exercise caution with any minimalist shoe, but be especially careful if you go the home-made route.