Alongside one of my goals to walk more, I also wanted to explore what the best shoe options there are for overall alignment and health. Below is some of the information I found and wanted to share.
The problem with most shoes today:
Have you ever wondered why the majority of shoes today are made with a heel? It’s obvious to notice women’s dress shoes or boots that have 3” heels. I am talking about flats, men’s boots, and athletic tennis shoes. Athletic shoes often have up to ½” heel! Why is this a problem? One reason is the fact that heels cause your body to lean slightly forward, which messes with your alignment.
There was a pretty cool study done with regards to runners. When people run in traditional (heeled, narrow toe box, cushiony) athletic shoes they would strike the ground with their heel. When people ran in minimal shoes (no heel, wide toe box, not cushiony) they would strike with their forefoot. Striking with the forefoot causes less impact to the body and less running injuries overall.
There was another study that looked at endurance runners who transitioned from conventional athletic shoes to minimal shoes. The study found multiple changes in the runners landing kinematics once they transitioned to minimal footwear including their entire foot positively strengthening.
Not everyone agrees however. There are some experts that claim transitioning to minimal footwear or running barefoot can cause injuries. However, in these cases it is usually due to the person who has been wearing heeled cushy shoes their entire life and decides to start running barefoot on the concrete! Which is not the correct way to carefully transition to minimal footwear or barefoot.
One of the experts in this area who doesn’t takes sides and is very practical, helpful, and science based is biomechanist Katy Bowman. I highly suggest checking out her site here. She has authored a ton of books, one of them being ‘whole body barefoot’. Which is a book about how to transition to minimal footwear. The discussion in her book is above the ‘this shoe is good or bad’ and really dives into the facts using evolutionary-based and biomechanics arguments. She also gives a lot of helpful exercises people can do with their feet.
What about going barefoot?
Above I mentioned studies that found the benefits to wearing minimal shoes. Similarly on a related topic there are many other studies done looking at the benefits to walking barefoot.
This study shows how ‘earthing’, which is walking with your feet directly touching the soil allows your body to absorb negative electrons through the earth. This will help you to stabilize your cortisol levels and it also helps to make a more balanced bioelectrical environment inside your body.
According to this paper, walking barefoot can improve your sleep
My take on all this:
I am convinced that going barefoot and wearing minimal shoes likely has benefits over traditional heeled cushy shoes. The science is interesting, but I am also just a very practical person. It seems more natural to me to walk barefoot or in minimal footwear, closer to how our bodies were designed and closer to how people walked thousands of years ago. However, our world is much different now. Most people sit almost all day and walk mostly on flat concrete type surfaces. Perhaps that is why cushy heeled shoes are comfortable and popular. If we try to walk more, with minimal footwear and especially on different surfaces (like hiking a trail, crossing over river rocks, etc.) our feet would take in way more sensory signals to send to the brain rather than the normal flat and cushy.
I am also a very balanced person though and think that you can likely have a shoe diet much like you have a food diet. With my food diet I am not 100% perfect all the time. I try to eat mostly fresh organic vegetables, grassfed and pastured meats, and healthy fats. Once in awhile I’ll let myself splurge by having a special meal with friends thats a bit different than my normal diet or by celebrating a holiday or birthday with a special dessert that’s made with cane sugar. I see these as the kind of life balances that makes a food diet more sustainable, to where I can keep doing it ongoing as a lifestyle.
I think the same with footwear. I will try for the majority of my foot diet to consist of minimal shoes, especially when I am hiking or walking longer distances. However, I am not completely ditching my cute leather heeled boots. I’ll save them for the occasions when I’ll be sitting most of the day (like at work in meetings). 🙂
Minimal Footwear Brands:
When I did my research on minimal shoes, here is the list of brands I could find that I was interested in. Katy Bowman who I mentioned above, also has a really good shoe list on her site. I suggest checking that out. I listed below which brands I looked into but decided not to purchase, which ones I tried but they didn’t work and which brands we own and love! I hope it’s helpful.
- Bobox usa
- For kids
- About $53 for toddler tennis shoe
- I have purchased some of the toddler tennis shoes that were on sale in the past.
- Overall I really like how flexible and comfortable their shoes are. The leather shoes are very cute and my son loved them. 2 issues I had with these: 1) My son wore them out fairly quickly because he plays a ton outside by climbing trees, scraping his feet, etc. If I would have kept these shoes for nice occasions only they definitely would have lasted a lot longer. 2) They are a bit too pricey for kids shoes in my opinion, so I personally would only buy them on sale.
- Vivo Barefoot
- For adults & kids
- I found this company a bit too expensive for kids shoes (at around $70), but reasonable prices for adult shoes ($130). I am willing to pay more for adult shoes since we don’t change sizes every 6 months like kids! The shoes will last until they wear out.
- I liked the look of their trail shoes for women. I ordered them, they were the right size, but they just didn’t feel right on my foot so I had to return them. Everyone’s feet are so different, so I would definitely give this company a try, as they have a lot of good options and they may feel great on your feet! They just didn’t work for me.
- Stonz Wear
- I have not purchased them, but they have cute winter booties for babies
- Rain/Play boots for toddlers & kids
- I love this company! I purchased some of these boots slightly larger for my son 2 years ago with the insert and he would wear them with thick socks. He is still able to wear them without the insert and with regular socks. They look the same as when we got them and he does everything you can imagine in them outside. They are VERY durable and well worth the money in my opinion!!
- Moccasins for adults & kids
- Good prices for high quality!!!
- I just got one of the women’s moccasin boots for Christmas this year and they are so comfortable. I can’t wait to do lots of walking in them!
- Not all of their shoes are minimal, as some have a heel. The flat ones with rubber sole are very flexible and comfortable.
- Altra Running
- Soft Start
- Adults & Children’s shoes. I have not purchased either.
- The Children’s are very cute, but pricy ($50-75) little leather booties. The adults ones are kinda weird looking in my opinion.
- See Kai Run
- Kids shoes that are very durable. This is my favorite brand for kids so far!
- The prices are great at around $40 and if you catch them on sales you can get shoes for $20!
- Most of Wyatt’s play and school shoes consist of this brand.
- The only con is that this brand is not as flexible as the Bobux, but they are zero drop and they have lots of room in the toe box. They are flexible enough (more than traditional shoes) and my favorite part about these shoes is that they are durable.
- My son is always barefoot indoors, but we live in the mountains where there are all kinds of thorns and unsafe objects on the ground, so it is not the kind of yard you can go barefoot in unfortunately. He plays outside on trees, rocks, mud, everything…so durability is very important to me when it comes to shoes, which I why I love ‘see kai run’ brand.
- Xero Shoes
- These are my new go-to adult minimal shoes brand. I had trouble finding a brand at first that my felt feet good in. I absolutely love these shoes.
- I currently have the Pacifica for casual walking and the TerraFlex trail running shoe for when I hike in the woods. Next I plan to get the Prio.
I hope this post was helpful to you if you are considering minimal footwear. Would love to hear about the shoes that worked well for you. Comment below!