Toe running shoes are foot-shaped shoes built to give the sensation of barefoot running whilst offering some protection against hazards.
Also known as minimalist or barefoot shoes, they have a much wider toe box than you find in standard running shoes and little to no cushioning or support.
Some even have a separate little pocket for each toe, giving them the appearance of gloves for your feet!
The idea behind wearing shoes that look like feet is that they promote natural movement.
And because the style is so stripped down, the muscles in your feet need to work harder. Ultimately, this strengthens them, improving your natural stability and helping guard against injury in the future.
The concept of barefoot running continues to grow in popularity, which means you now have plenty of minimalist shoes to choose from. So which style is right for you?
In this guide, we’ve listed our favorite toe running shoes and the reasons we recommend them. But before we get to the list, let’s check out some of the things to look for when choosing the right shoes for you.
What to Look for in Toe Running Shoes
The advantage of shoes that look like feet is that they provide lots of room for your toes to splay.
Comfortably splayed toes may help eliminate overpronation, provide natural support for your arches, and help properly distribute your weight.
Other features to look for include:
Barefoot running shoes are highly flexible, with little to no overlays or bumpers and very thin outsoles. This is to allow your foot to move in a very natural way and also to help you feel connected to the ground.
But it’s important to consider your terrain. A very thin sole might be appropriate for running on tarmac or grass, but you’ll need a little more protection and grip for off-road running.
Almost all toe running shoes have zero drop, which means there is no difference in height between the heel and the forefoot.
So why is this important?
Well, it’s as close to actually running barefoot as you can get and encourages you to strike the ground with your forefoot at each step.
With traditional running shoes, you can see drops as high as 12 mm, which force the foot into a forward incline.
Although this should encourage a forefoot strike, the opposite often occurs and many runners end up heel-striking instead.
By their nature, barefoot shoes tend to be very breathable. That’s because they have little cushioning or reinforcements for durability that you see in regular running shoes.
All the shoes in our guide will keep your feet comfortable, with features like vents, neoprene, and mesh to encourage airflow.
The Best Toe Running Shoes in 2023
#1. Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail 2.0
– Synthetic/mesh uppers, fast lacing system, and machine washable
– Best for durability on rugged trails
Vibram is one of the leading brands in the world of barefoot running, and its V-Trail shoe offers superior grip on both wet and dry surfaces.
This is thanks to the sticky Vibram outsole for which the company is famous.
Made from a durable rubber compound, it’s suitable for all types of terrain and an ideal choice if you regularly run uphill.
Each toe is enclosed in its own pocket, a design that promotes independent toe flexion and supports a powerful push-off.
It’s something that can take a little getting used to – and the design may not perfectly accommodate all types of feet. But for many, the glove-like fit is truly comfortable and provides an unmatched natural feel.
#2. Merrell Vapor Glove 5
– 40% recycled mesh upper, 4 mm EVA foam insole, and a flexible outsole
– Ideal for road running and light trails
Offering increased resistance to abrasion, this iteration of Merrell’s popular Vapor Glove feels sturdier than its predecessors.
It has a tough rubber sole and a strong upper, increasing its durability but perhaps compromising on its minimalist origins just a little!
This is an easy shoe to put on and take off, with a stretchy collar and a sock-like fit.
The shape conforms nicely to your feet, giving a very natural feel, but we found the toe box a shade narrower than other barefoot shoes.
This makes it look more like a traditional running shoe – a bonus if you’re not a fan extra wide look of most minimalist shoes.
Diehard enthusiasts, however, might prefer a bit more room in this area.
#3. Vibram Five Fingers, KSO EVO Crosstraining
– 3 mm rubber outsole, lightweight (just under 5 oz), and a good choice of colors
– Great for road running, gym work, and everyday wear
Another great offering from Vibram, the KSO EVO Crosstraining shoe is built to perform well in multiple environments.
It features an XS TREK sole made with a compound that provides great flexibility and excellent traction, even in wet conditions.
It’s non-marking and the thinnest of the Five Fingers range, ensuring maximum feedback from the ground.
The polyester mesh upper fits snugly and comfortably whilst remaining fully breathable, and the lining feels soft enough to run without socks.
We love the time-saving lacing system and the fact that you can just toss these in the washer with the rest of your running gear.
#4. WHITIN Minimalist Trail Runner
– Wide color selection and made with animal-free products and processes
– Best toe running shoes for barefoot beginners
Barefoot running isn’t for everyone. Ideally, you should start with an affordable pair of entry-level shoes to see if it’s a sport you enjoy.
These fit the bill perfectly and are a great shoe to test the water.
They come with a lightweight perforated insole that you can use initially for a little extra comfort, before removing it to achieve a true ‘barefoot’ feel as you progress.
The rubber sole is designed to offer protection but still provides good ground feedback.
The toe box is roomy enough to allow you to completely relax your forefoot and the stretchy upper hugs your foot comfortably.
Just bear in mind that these run slightly large, so size down if you’re between sizes.
#5. New Balance Minimus 10 V1
– Lightweight , durable on rugged terrain, and with support straps at the heel
– Best toe running shoes with some conventional features
If you’d like to move away from traditional footwear but are struggling to wholly embrace the barefoot concept, this is a great shoe to try.
Versatile enough for the road and the trail, it has a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop and a firm ACTEVA foam midsole.
These are not features you’ll typically find in a minimalist shoe, but will protect you from feeling every pebble and stick as you run!
The upper is made from a breathable but durable mesh and the multi-directional Vibram outsole is both grippy and flexible.
The toe box is generous and still allows for natural splay, although it’s somewhat narrower than the other minimalist running shoes in this guide.
#6. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III
– Vegan-friendly, with a recycled PET mesh upper and PU foam insole
– Our top pick for road running
Designed to be as lightweight and flexible as possible, this sustainably produced shoe is exceptionally roomy across the forefoot.
The comfortable mesh upper is constructed from a mixture of water-resistant and non-absorbent materials, so you can carry on training whatever the weather!
The durable outsole grips reasonably well and delivers great ground feedback for a true barefoot feel.
Yet these shoes feel very secure too, with a fairly stiff upper (perhaps a little too stiff at first!) And a relatively snug fit at the heel and bridge.
Just be prepared for the fact that this shoe is about as minimal as they come. That means we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re new to the world of barefoot running.
#7. Marugo Tabi Split Toe Breathable Sneakers
– Slip-resistant rubber sole, lightweight, and available in three colors
– Great choice if you suffer from bunions
If you found the toe pockets on Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes quirky, then check out the unique design of this pair from Marugo!
These are ‘Tabi’ shoes, a design based on traditional Japanese footwear.
The word ‘Tabi’ translates to ‘foot bag’ and the design features a prominent split separating the big toe from the rest of the toes.
Its purpose is to enhance stability and comfort whilst promoting flexibility, thereby strengthening the feet and improving performance.
It can also help avoid the pain experienced when running with bunions and other chronic foot conditions.
The strong mesh and knit upper feels quite tight when you first wear these.
The close fit is intentional, however, and you’ll soon find that the stretchy fabric conforms comfortably to the shape of your foot. It’s also highly breathable.
Our only gripe would be the finish of the uppers is a little too rough to wear without socks. This means – of course – that you’ll need to invest in some Tabi-style socks too!
#8. Xero Shoes HFS Running Shoes
– Flexible FeelTrue sole, vegan-friendly, and highly durable
– Best looking minimalist toe running shoes
These are certainly not the cheapest shoes in our lineup but they’re built to go the distance.
In fact, Xero is so confident in their quality that they come backed by the company’s 5,000 mile sole warranty.
At just 6.8 ounces for a men’s size 9, these shoes are so lightweight that you’ll barely notice you’re wearing them.
The 5.5 mm sole gives you the perfect combination of protection and ground feedback, and a 2 mm insole is included. This can be removed to increase the barefoot feeling!
The toe box is wide to promote natural splay, without being wide enough to be glaringly obvious.
If you’re looking for the barefoot experience with an aesthetically pleasing road running shoe, you’ll be more than happy with the natural-feeling HFS.
The Best Toe Running Shoes: Key Takeaways
Just like wearing toe separators on rest days, a good pair of toe running shoes will encourage your foot to splay naturally as you train.
This helps improve your foot function by making your feet behave as they would without shoes. The benefits can be significant, from enhancing stability to preventing or reducing foot pain.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful in picking the right shoes for your next run, whether you’re an old hand at barefoot training or just getting started.
Is It OK to Run Barefoot on a Treadmill?
Even if the concept of barefoot running appeals to you, the terrain around you may make it impractical or unsafe. So is running on a treadmill a good alternative?
Discover the pros, cons, and our top 3 tips here in our guide