Sunday, February 28, 2010

Excellent Minimalist Shoes

The choices for minimalist runners has just increased.  And looks to continue in a positive direction.  So far, it's been mostly smaller companies leading the charge, but I think the goliaths will come on board soon.  A runner looking for a lightweight, flexible, "unsupportive" shoe with scant cushioning and little heel rise has not had too many options over the last few years.  Even racing flats have become cushy and supportive with fairly high heels!  Things are changing. The publication of "Born to Run" has certainly helped lead the way to back to natural, minimalist running and now manufacturers are starting to address this niche market.  Here are a few options for runners looking to emulate that barefoot running feel:

1. Run barefoot!  Enough said.  Cost = free. The first and still the best.
2. Try a true racing flat like the Mizuno Wave Universe 3.  A shoe that weighs about 3.5 ounces can't have much to interfere with your natural foot motion. Cost = $100. For trail or mountain running, Inov-8 makes some excellent "racing flat" style shoes. Costs vary, but typically about $85-100.
3.  Vibram FiveFinger shoes...several choices in their ever-expanding line.  I like the KSO.  Cost = $75-$125 depending on model.
4. Feelmax Osma.  Feelmax is a Finnish company with quite a few lightweight shoes and boots with thin soles and a minimalist feel.  The Osma is their first that specifically targets runners. Cost = $80.
5. Terra Plana Evo.  Just hit the marget and people seem to love it!  Terra Plana, similar to Feelmax, have several minimalist shoes, but the Evo is their first from them for runners. Cost = $160.
6. Coming soon is the Sockwa running shoe.  The current Sockwas are not durable enough for running...but that may change with their entry into the running shoe market...supposedly as soon as March! 
7. Huaraches...hand-made or store-bought.  Run in sandals like the Tarahumara!
8. Nike Free...don't go there...they are not minimalist.  Big cushy heel and not much ground feel.  I wear mine and think they are OK, but they are definitely not a minimalist shoe like the above choices.

A useful way to conceptualize and categorize shoes is thinking about a continuum from "Prevents Proper Foot Function" to "Demands Proper Foot Function."  In the middle you get shoes that "discourage" or "encourage" proper running form and foot function.  You also have shoes that "allow" proper movement, but don't really encourage or prevent it.  Here's a scale for you visualize learners:

Degree to Which Shoes Promote Proper (Natural) Running

1 (Prevents)-2 (Discourages)-3 (Allows)-4 (Encourages)-5 (Demands)

Here are a few examples, based on my experiences...
5 = Barefoot = your feet will demand that you run properly
4 = FiveFingers = they encourage a proper running style
3 = "Racing Flat" = it allows you, with some focus, to run properly
2 = Nike Free = discourages proper form, but with extra effort, might be OK
1 = Those big clunker shoes with massive pronation control, extreme cushioning, high heel, and restrictive toebox, virtually prevent proper running

Of the minimalist options listed, I have only tried barefoot, Wave Universe 3, Five Finger KSO, and Nike Free.  Barefoot is great if you have warmer weather.  The Universe is a nice racing flat with a wide toebox and almost no cushioning and support. The KSO is quite nice (but not very warm in cold and slushy winter conditions).  I'm seriously thinking about the Feelmax Osma and the Terra Plana Evo.  Maybe the Sockwa when they finally release their running version. For some reason, I have no interest in the running sandals.  One of the best places for information on minimalist running (and the shoe/no-shoe options) is the Google Minimalist Runner group.  A wonderful group of people.  If you want guidance on running barefoot, you might also check out the Running Barefoot web site.


Unknown said...

You didn't mention Inov8. Their overall philosophy seems to be minimalist, and they certainly make some minimalist shoes. I've become a big fan of the X-Talon 212. On your scale, I'd give them a 3.5.

Chris Ⓥ said...

I'll edit my post to include Inov-8 for trail running conditions. Thanks.

Dwayne VanHoose said...

...also don't forget the NewBalance 100mt. Great choice for a minimalist go.

Heidi E. Carpenter said...

What do you think of NB 100/790's in there, Chris?

By the way my NB100's have given me a nasty rub on my archilles....OUCH :-( Back to the NB 790's.

Chris Ⓥ said...

Heidi & Dwayne are right in considering New Balance. They have a couple minimalist trail running shoes (and road racing flats). I particularly like their NB790s which have been replaced with the MT100 (which I do not like). I had a review of these two shoes a few months ago on this blog.

Heidi E. Carpenter said...

I agree, I love the lower upper (no rubbing on my archilles) and wider base of my NB790's. I'm tempted to buy as many of them as I can, before they are no longer available at all!

I remember you also reported it felt like something was irritating your heel in the NB100's. I've looked and looked but I can't find the source of the problem.

Chris Ⓥ said...

I don't have my MT100s anymore (sent them back for a refund), but I remember the material of the heel counter being a weird rubber that seemed to push on (or otherwise irritate) my heel and tendon. Anyway, I prefer the 790s. Trying to get even more minimalist with the FiveFinger KSOs.

Tracy Thomas said...

Teva protons or sling kings are as good as five fingers in my opinion...just as the Feelmax...only diff is your toes aren't wedged apart and you don't have to worry that one of your toes might be too long for the "compartment" that it is supposed to go in.
Barefoot Ted's huraches are every bit as much more "barefoot" than FFs are...but you will get little stones in there that will stick and need to be "kicked" out. I do have all these I'm speaking from a bit of experience. NB 790/T100s are a nice place to start as all the soon-to-be-discontinued Mizunos that Chris mantioned. Tracy T

Anonymous said...

In my experiences, having run in both Nike Free's and racing flats, I would assume that Nike Free's promote more natural running. At least it has felt that way for me. I certainly enjoy running more so in the Free's. Any comments on this?

Chris Ⓥ said...

I still run in my Nike Frees...but they don't encourage the forefoot strike and gentle landing that more minimalist shoes (or barefoot running) does. Some racing flats are basically just normal running shoes that are a bit lighter in weight. The Free is just as good, if not better, than many of those "fake" racing flats. The closer the flat gets to being actually flat from toe to heel the more it'll be like barefoot running. The Nike Free is a bit too heavy, built up in the heel, and too well cushioned to qualify as a minimalist shoe. I do like it's flexibility.

Anonymous said...

also RunAmoc from Soft Star Shoes.

Chris Ⓥ said...

The RunAmocs seem good--don't think they were released (or at least reviewed) when I first posted. I have them on my left side bar under minimalist shoes. I'd like to try a pair soon.

Lee-Manuel said...

Here's a good list if you are looking for the best minimalist shoes:

mizuno running shoes said...

Great article! Those shoes are amazing! Thank you for sharing this. Hope to read more from you. Keep it up!