Minimalist Shoes vs. Barefoot Shoes: Is There a Difference?
We have an ongoing dilemma at our workshop because we're never quite sure how to describe our shoes.
For almost three decades we've simply said we make minimal shoes for children, but the barefoot running craze of recent years has introduced a whole new world of nomenclature with terms like "barefoot shoes," "minimalist shoes," 'transition shoes," "zero-drop" and "foot coffins." Every shoe manufacturer in the world now seems to be coming out with footwear they call "minimalist" or "barefoot," and these products range from thin strips of leather that strap around your foot to huge, thick supportive footwear that doesn't look very different from any conventional sneaker.
The problem is that there really is no industry standard for what makes a shoe "minimalist" or "barefoot." There are plenty of runners and bloggers who have set their own definitions for these terms, but they tend to vary depending on whom you ask.
Many people use "minimalist shoe" synonymously with "transition shoe" to describe footwear that still has some of the cushioned and motion-control features of a traditional shoe, but less so. This means the heel-to-toe drop is still present, but perhaps less than 8mm difference. The shoe probably still has some mild arch supports, the toe box may still be slightly tapered and push upwards and the sole could still be rather thick and padded, though less than what was considered a standard running shoe ten years ago. As you can imagine, there may be a lot of room here for shoe manufacturers to fudge the standards and call almost anything a "minimalist shoe."
For people who accept that definition, a "barefoot shoe" must then have some basic features, although it may be more accurate to say that it must lack certain features. Barefoot shoes, defined this way, must have flat soles with no heel-to-toe drop, no arch support, no rigid toe spring and a spacious, untapered toe box. Soles must be thin with no cushioning and your feet should be allowed to bend and splay out naturally. In short, a barefoot shoe allows your foot to move as though you were wearing no shoe at all, or as close to it as possible.
While these definitions seem to be the most popular, there are still many people who use the terms differently. A few shoe manufacturers, eager to cash-in on the barefoot bandwagon, have tossed the word "barefoot" around to describe bulky running clogs with over an inch of padded heels. At the other end of the spectrum, there are many true barefoot runners—those who run with nothing on their feet at all—who cringe when they hear any footwear called "barefoot," even if it's nothing more than the most basic huarache sandal. To them, a shoe can never be anything more than "minimalist" (to be fair, as a barefoot runner myself I can understand their point: putting anything between your feet and the ground creates a very different experience than running in bare feet). Then there are those who use "barefoot" and "minimalist" interchangeably. After all, don't all barefoot shoes embrace an idea of minimalism?
To complicate matters further, opening the door to women's fashion throws all these concepts of minimalism out the window. For most fashionistas, the term "minimal shoe" refers to a simplistic design style, and it can very well—and often does—include foot-binding shoes with 3-inch stiletto heels.
In the world of high fashion, this is considered a "minimal shoe"
So what do we call our shoes?
Every shoe made at Soft Star must live up to our strict standards of thin, flat soles with no heel-to-toe drop, no arch supports, no toe spring, wide toe boxes and a flexible, lightweight design. By most definitions, what we make should be called barefoot shoes. There are, however, many people looking for a product like ours that are searching for footwear they call "minimal" or "minimalist," and we want to reach out to them as well (many of our new customers hear the words "barefoot shoe" and immediately think it must have toe finger cutouts). For this reason, we still use all these words when we describe our product, although they have different meanings to different people. Hence, our ongoing dilemma.
One thing is certain: these are still new terms that are still awaiting clear, uniform definitions. We're very excited to be part of this growing footwear revolution, and we still hear every day from customers who have alleviated their foot pain and become more active by switching to our barefoot/minimalist/zero-drop/non-foot-coffin moccasins. As the idea of encouraging natural foot function becomes more popular, we expect more standards will eventually become commonly accepted.
Do you have any thoughts about how these terms should be used? If so, we'd love to hear them!
- ►September 2016 (1)
- Dealing with Swelling Feet as You Get Older? Learn the Causes and Natural Treatments
- Progress Update on New Soft Star Workshop - August 2016
- Chukkas on Trails! Emily and Will Put Their Soft Stars to the Test
- Our Newest Kid Shoe is Now Available! Friends, Meet Merry Jane
- Take Home the Gold with Soft Star's Olympic Giveaway!
- ►July 2016 (2)
- ►June 2016 (3)
- ►May 2016 (4)
- ►April 2016 (1)
- ►March 2016 (5)
- ►February 2016 (2)
- ►January 2016 (3)
- ►December 2015 (4)
- Finally, a STUNNING, Eco-Friendly Alternative to Disposal Wrapping Paper!
- We're Breaking-Up with Grippy
- Pumpkin Shoes for Harvest Season
- The Best Slipper Gift Guide Ever!
- Families Visit FREE at America's National Parks!
- Wrap-Up Your Little Ones for the Holidays in Our NEW Very Merry Moccasins!
- Progress Update on New Soft Star Workshop - Fall 2015
- ►October 2015 (4)
- ►September 2015 (3)
- ►August 2015 (5)
- ►July 2015 (5)
- Top 10 Balance Games for Kids... of All Ages!
- Time to Play! Elves Have Fun and Get Creative at Spring 2015 Playday
- Snazzy New Colors for Buttercups and Ballerines
- GIVEAWAY: Diapers, Blocks and Shoes... Oh My! Enter to Win Our New Baby Prize Package
- Soft Star Style Bulletin: Chukkas Are Coming!
- We're Staging a Flip-Flop Intervention!
- ►May 2015 (4)
- Work Hard, Play Harder…Run Hardest?
- Transitioning to Barefoot Health PLUS RunAmoc Giveaway!
- UFC Champion Carlos Condit Tries Soft Star Shoes
- Mom and Career Elf
- Earth Day Giveaway: Celebrate Your Favorite Planet with Sustainable Goodies!
- Every Day is Bike-to-Work Day
- Happy National Pet Day! Can You Guess Which Pets Belong to Our Elves?
- ►March 2015 (6)
- ►February 2015 (2)
- ►January 2015 (5)
- ►December 2014 (5)
- Introducing One of a Kind Shoes - Same Day Shipping with No Design-Your-Own Fees
- More Than Meets the Eye: Tim's Handmade Transformers Shoes
- Help Families in Need by Sharing What Makes you Thankful!
- Travel GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Pair of Rogue Shoes + a Travel Bag from RAGGEDedge Gear!
- Shopping Online? Finding Your Shoe Size Just Got Faster, Easier and More Accurate!
- 22-Year-Old Leather Moccasins Still Looking Good!
- Show Us Your BEST Soft Star Halloween Costume!
- Mindful Running Interview with Barefoot Guru Michael Sandler
- Show Your Team Colors! Tim's Special OSU Beaver Football Shoes
- Treatment and Removal of Plantar Warts - Kids' Foot Health
- Introducing SUPER SWATCHES for Local Soft Star Customers
- The History of Tassels—Fitting Tassels Now Available on the Soft Star Website
- Time for Our HALLOWEEN CONTEST: Win Handmade Shoes to Match Your Costume!
- BIG NEWS: Soft Star's New Website and New Shoe Visualizer
- "Boss of the Moss" Mick Dodge Wears Soft Star Shoes on National Geographic Series
- Need Spectacular Shoes for Fall? Introducing Autumn Moccasins!
- BATTLE FOR THE INTERNET: Help Small Businesses by Speaking Up for Net Neutrality
- ►August 2014 (3)
- ►July 2014 (4)
- ►June 2014 (3)
- ►May 2014 (5)
- ►April 2014 (3)
- ►March 2014 (3)
- ►February 2014 (3)
- ►January 2014 (2)
- ►December 2013 (6)
- Happy Thanksgiving! Holiday Shopping Tips and Ideas from the Elves
- GIVEAWAY! One-of-a-Kind Green Merry Mocs
- 2013 Holiday Shipping for Soft Star Shoes
- Tips for Choosing Minimalist Boots and Winter Shoes
- GIVEAWAY: Win a Free Pair of Very Unique Merry Mocs!
- We Have a Winner for Our Halloween Costume Contest!
- Help Us Pick a New Leather Color
- Shoe Artisans Share New Ideas at the Soft Star Workshop
- Heartfelt Obituary for Red Dash
- Monkeys and Elves Unite! Soft Star Teams Up with Luna Sandals
- Soft Star Halloween Costume Photo Contest… and a Secret from the Elves
- Knee Arthritis? Change Your Shoes for Prevention and Treatment
- We Have a Sweepstakes Winner! And More to Come...
- ►September 2013 (5)
- ►August 2013 (5)
- ►July 2013 (5)
- ►June 2013 (4)
- Should Trail Shoes Be Thicker Than Street Shoes? Maybe Not...
- Soft Star Survey: Receive a Free $5 Gift Card and a Chance to Win $100 Cash!
- Elves Getting Dirty! Soft Star Volunteers at SAGE Community Gardens
- First Sneak Peek at the New Soft Star Ballet Flat!
- Maker's Wild Documentary: Go Behind the Scenes at Soft Star Shoes
- Are High Heels Giving You Hammer Toes? Tips for Prevention and Treatment
- Intrigued by Barefoot Running? Start this Weekend with International Barefoot Running Day!
- Are Those Shoes Made of Wood?
- Wikler's Quest for Healthy Children's Feet
- Michael Sandler Visit and Workshop – Barefoot Walking Book Review and GIVEAWAY!
- Thinking of Boston
- How Fast Do Children's Feet Grow?
- Barefoot Pioneers: the People Who Taught Us "Barefoot is Best"
- Caballo Blanco's Legacy Lives On: Tom Norwood Returns from Copper Canyon
- Book Review: Overthinking the Marathon by Ray Charbonneau
- Reinventing the Hammer: OSU Students Bring Their Skills to Soft Star
- An Olympic Thank You! Help Missy Franklin Swim for MS
- The Mighty Arch, Part 2: Strengthen Your Arches to Treat and Prevent Foot Pain
- Running Green: Soft Star Shoes at the Portland Shamrock Run
- Winter Playday at the Soft Star Workshop
- The Mighty Arch, Part 1: A Natural Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?
- ►February 2013 (4)
- ►January 2013 (1)
- ►December 2012 (5)
- A Barefoot Running Book for Kids (Includes Free Lesson in Consumerism) + GIVEAWAY!
- Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey Shoes and Small Business
- Infographic: How to Choose Barefoot Shoes
- Rally 4 Jillie!
- Gifts for Her this Holiday Season - Fitting Tassels
- Sneak Peek at New Shoes for Women and Men - Vote for a Name!
- ►October 2012 (6)
- ►September 2012 (3)
- ►August 2012 (3)
- ►June 2012 (3)
- ►May 2012 (2)
- ►April 2012 (2)
- ►March 2012 (1)
- ►February 2012 (3)
- ►January 2012 (2)
- ►December 2011 (4)
- ►November 2011 (3)
- ►October 2011 (3)
- ►September 2011 (4)
- ►August 2011 (4)
- ►July 2011 (5)
- ►June 2011 (3)
- ►May 2011 (5)
- ►April 2011 (3)
- ►March 2011 (2)
- ►February 2011 (4)
- ►January 2011 (3)
- ►November 2010 (4)
- ►October 2010 (2)
- ►August 2010 (2)
- ►July 2010 (1)
- ►May 2010 (3)
- ►April 2010 (4)
- ►March 2010 (3)
- ►February 2010 (9)
- ►January 2010 (1)
- ►December 2009 (3)
- ►November 2009 (2)
- ►October 2009 (5)
- ►September 2009 (3)
- ►August 2009 (3)
- ►July 2009 (2)
- ►June 2009 (3)
- ►May 2009 (3)
- ►April 2009 (2)
- ►March 2009 (6)
- ►February 2009 (2)
- ►January 2009 (4)
- ►December 2008 (3)
- ►November 2008 (4)
- ►October 2008 (4)
- ►August 2008 (4)
- ►July 2008 (2)
- ►June 2008 (4)
- ►May 2008 (4)
- ►April 2008 (7)
- ►March 2008 (2)
- ►February 2008 (2)
- ►January 2008 (4)
- ►November 2007 (2)
- ►October 2007 (5)
- ►September 2007 (1)
- ►August 2007 (2)
- ►July 2007 (3)
- ►June 2007 (2)
- ►May 2007 (2)
- ►April 2007 (2)
- ►March 2007 (4)
- ►February 2007 (2)
- ►January 2007 (2)
- ►December 2006 (1)
- ►November 2006 (4)
- ►October 2006 (3)
- ►September 2006 (4)
- ►August 2006 (5)
- ►July 2006 (4)
- ►June 2006 (5)