Have you ever thought much about the shoes you wear and how they affect your overall body and wellness? I admit that I didn’t use to! And while I totally realize that talking about feet is kind of a strange topic, I’m actually super excited to share what I’ve learned with you!
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What’s in this post:
- The Benefits Behind Barefoot & Minimal Footwear
- Adjusting to Barefoot & Minimal Footwear
- The Best Natural & Sustainable Barefoot Shoe Brands
The Benefits Behind Barefoot & Minimal Footwear 🦶
It’s quite simple: the purpose of shoes should be to protect our feet from sharp objects and dirt, and that’s it. Not alter our stance, squish our toes, or change the way we walk.
I remember when I first realized that most footwear is actually too small and doesn’t allow our feet to take their natural shape. My mind was blown and now I can’t unsee it 🤯
Most modern shoes are rigid, heavy, don’t follow the primitive shape of our feet, and don’t allow feet to really sense the surface they’re walking on. They basically allow feet to relax, which might sound like a good thing. BUT, this actually makes foot muscles become weaker over time.
One study even concluded that wearing modern shoes can change the way we run, weaken the foot, and contribute to sports injuries!
Personally, I’ve always worn shoes for style and fashion, not foot health. I just didn’t really give it much thought 🤷♀️ I cringe thinking back to my days in the corporate world wearing tight, pointy, and uncomfortable high heels. Sorry, feet!! 😖
And not that I enjoy talking about my feet with strangers on the internet, but, I definitely have shoe-shaped feet from wearing modern shoes my whole life. I always thought bunions were just hereditary in my family. Turns out, that wearing shoes that squish your feet into a shoe shape your whole life is what causes bunions! If I ever have a child, they will go barefoot as much as possible and I will never put them in cramped shoes! (it’s *especially* important for little ones as their bodies are developing)
FAQ: What makes a shoe “minimal?” 🤔
The best thing you can do is go barefoot when possible! But, unless you live off the grid and never go out in public, you’ll need to put on shoes at some point! Here’s how minimal and barefoot shoes differ:
- Wide toe cage for stability and to allow your toes to take their biological fan shape; regular narrow shoes are tapered and restrict the innate splay and recoil of your toes!
- Flat with no heel drop or toe spring which encourages correct posture
- Thin and flexible sole that allows for feet’s natural range of motion and immediate ground feedback (our feet have over 200,000 nerve endings)
- Support your foot’s integrity!
Highly suggest watching this quick four-minute video called Shoespiracy:
FAQ: Do I need to wear socks with barefoot shoes? 🧦
You can do whatever the heck you want! I personally always wear socks because I feel like my shoes will get stinky otherwise. But I will say, make sure to avoid socks that are too tight, restrictive, or don’t let your toes spread out.
I’m also a fan of toe socks! They look weird but they naturally add separation between your toes. I like these low-cut toe socks from Amazon which are more affordable and basic. The brand Knitido+ also makes nice toe socks in various cuts and styles; they use organic cotton and wool. Some even have grips on the bottoms so I use them for barre workouts. Code ORGANICALLYBECCA gets you a discount on Knitido+ socks!
Adjusting to Barefoot & Minimal Footwear: Go Slow! 👟
I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s an adjustment, especially if you’ve worn conventional footwear your whole life and are used to arch support and cushion. Your feet need to strengthen when transitioning to minimal footwear, and wearing barefoot shoes will assist this process in return!
I would NOT suggest wearing barefoot shoes for the first time and then immediately going for a long run, for example. You’ll probably hurt yourself. You need to slowly get used to the shoes! ⚠️ Listen to your body and how it feels as you make the switch.
Go barefoot when you can. You can also do exercises and stretches that help strengthen your feet. This video has a lot of great tips and exercises you can do at home! I also like these toe separators which help spread, lengthen, and stretch toes back to their original length. I occasionally wear them for an hour or so at nighttime when relaxing.
My experience transitioning to minimal shoes:
For me personally, it took a few weeks, maybe even months. I started by going for shorter walks in barefoot shoes and working my way up. The main thing I noticed was that the bottom of my feet got tired easily because I was accustomed to always having cushion. Secondly, my Achilles and calves started to feel a bit strained. This is because regular shoes have an elevated heel so mine was not used to fully reaching the ground when walking. I kinda feel like my body had to relearn how to walk without shoe assistance. Crazy!
But, you WILL get used to barefoot shoes! And I honestly can tell a difference now that my feet have gotten stronger. When I slip on a pair of my old shoes, my feet feel SO cramped and start to hurt after a while! I’m shocked and soooooooo wish I made the switch sooner.
The Best Natural & Sustainable Barefoot Shoe Brands
Now for the fun part! There are lots of barefoot and minimal shoe brands out there nowadays. Yay! But here are some that I’ve researched and wear myself:
Origo was founded by Cristina and Diego, a couple who became strong advocates of the barefoot philosophy after their premature twins experienced difficulty learning to walk. I learned about the brand from a targeted Facebook ad, haha…darn you, internet!! They caught my eye because they’re CUTE and I immediately purchased a pair. Some barefoot shoe brands can look kind of ugly and weird, just keeping it real. But these are legit adorable. They have styles for women, men, and kids and are more of an “everyday sneaker” type of shoe, plus they also make flats and sandals.
- Production facility is in León, Mexico and the entire supply chain is within North America
- Ethical working standards for their artisans
- One Tree Planted member and donate to help Amazon reforestation with each pair sold
But, Origo shoes are made from natural and sustainable materials which is EVEN COOLER (and eco-friendly packaging)! You can choose from two styles: Vegan Cotton Canvas or Natural Leather (Leather Working Group certified and sourced from local tanneries). The soles are either natural rubber or a biodegradable soy protein, and the laces are waxed cotton (they might feel stiff at first, but will relax over time as the wax wears off).
SIZING: They have a wide toe cage, no heel drop, thin/flexible sole, and are flat. Their original Gen 1 and Gen 2 styles are more true to size, but I have noticed that the newer Gen 3’s feel more snug and are suitable for mid to low-volume feet. I went up half a size for the Gen 3 sneakers. The Size Guide on their site is helpful!
Origo’s arrive with two pairs of laces (different colors) and a thin insert if you want a tiny bit of extra padding (it’s flat and not arched!).
I own two pairs of the Natural Leather Sneakers (the blue color isn’t available anymore) and Black Cotton Canvas Sneakers and truly love both! The cotton styles are ever so slightly more comfortable because it’s a softer material (and more breathable). Leather is a bit stiffer and needs breaking in. But I had zero issues and was able to use them immediately (my feet were already used to barefoot shoes).
Most recently, I got their New Derby style which is a chic dress flat. They’re my favorite to wear with a nicer outfit!
You can use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for 10% off your Origo order!
Vivo is one of the most popular barefoot shoe brands and the first one I tried myself. The company was founded in 2012 by two seventh-generation cobblers, Galahad and Asher Clark. They have styles for men, women, juniors, and kids. I would consider these more of an activewear shoe and not like, a cute sneaker shoe! But they do have some more stylish options like flats, sandals, boots, and hiking boots.
More about Vivo:
- Certified B Corp
- Utilize the barefoot shoe principles (flat, no heel drop, flexible, wide toe, etc.)
- Have a takeback program to upcycle old shoes called ReVivo
- Incorporate natural materials such as Woolmark-certified Merino wool, wild hide leather from small free-roaming herds and independent farms, hemp, algae-based foams, and recycled plastics (until they can find a better alternative!)
- Vegan styles are available if that’s your thing
I have two pairs of the Primus styles. I first purchased the Atlantic Blue Primus Knit WMK style a few years ago and the shoes held up really well for a long time. I picked up a second pair of Primus Asanas more recently and love them! I use them as my primary walking shoes. They’re easy to slip on and the ankle area is flexible and moves with your foot.
Compared to the Origo shoes, Vivos seem to have even less cushion on the bottom and you can really sense the ground.
I also own a pair of the Tracker II FG hiking boots in the Bracken color. They were honestly so comfy from the start and I didn’t even feel like they needed to be broken in! The boots are light and I don’t feel like I’m hauling around a big chunky shoe. And the bottom is really grippy which is great for hiking and uneven surfaces.
Since they’re flat and thin, I can better sense the ground I’m hiking on and feel like I’m less likely to roll an ankle. The boots have a high and cushy ankle which feels supportive too!
Vivo boots also come with a removable thermal insert so you can have extra warmth on cold days, or more breathable on hot days!
The only thing I don’t like about them is the laces because they latch onto hooks instead of the traditional holes you pull them through. Not a huge deal, it just takes longer to lace them up.
SIZING: The only thing to note with Vivos is that they don’t have many half sizes. I recommend using the size tool on their website because it can slightly differ for each style. For the Primus shoes, I went a half size down from what I usually wear, and for the Tracker boots, I went a half size up! Both fit me perfectly and I’m really happy with them!
Want 15% off your first Vivo order? Use this link to get your voucher!
Xero was founded by husband and wife, Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix. Steven had experienced a myriad of injuries as a runner, but switching to barefoot shoes virtually eliminated his injuries! The brand was also on the TV show Shark Tank. They make a variety of shoes such as running, casual, sandals, boots, rain boots, and ballet flats (for men, women, and kids).
More about Xero:
- The prices are a bit more reasonable compared to other minimal footwear brands!
- Have an “environmentally intelligent” approach and use fewer materials than traditional shoes with simpler designs (and use renewable materials whenever possible such as hemp)
- The soles are built to last longer and come with a 5,000-mile warranty
- Headquarters are in Colorado and the shoes are responsibly, ethically, and fairly manufactured in China
- Some of the styles are vegan-friendly (but some do use wool or leather)
Overall, they don’t always use the most 100% natural or eco-friendly materials, but the tradeoff is that they come at a lower price point. And of course, the shoes use all the barefoot principles: zero drop, light, flexible, etc.
My husband was on the hunt for new running shoes, so he was interested in trying Xero since they had awesome reviews. I ended up getting a pair too—we both have the Prio styles and use them for trail and road running. I have run in my Vivo Primus’, but I prefer to run in Xeros!
The whole shoe is wider (as opposed to just the toe box) and feels a little more cushy and padded. So your feet have tons of room which is especially important when running. They look kind of chunky because they’re wider, but they certainly don’t feel heavy or bulky at all; it feels like you’re wearing nothing!
They come with a 2mm insole insert which I like for extra padding since I’m still getting used to running in barefoot shoes. The Prios also have a decent amount of grip which can be helpful on a trail. They’re a good multi-use shoe with a combo of foot freedom AND protection.
SIZING: Each Xero shoe has a note about what they recommend ordering size-wise (some say to go up a half size, for example, but most are true to size!). For the Prios, I ordered my usual size and they fit perfectly!
And here’s another brand you can check out, Feelgrounds! I have a review of their Chelsea boots in this blog post:
Now for the ultimate question: do you have shoe-shaped feet or feet-shaped feet? 😁 Have you ever tried barefoot shoes? I’m never going back to regular cramped shoes myself! Thanks a bunch for reading and I’d loveeeee to hear your experience or thoughts in the comments below!