All About Minimalist Footwear

What Is Minimalist?

Call it "barefoot running." Call it "natural running." Whatever you do, don't call it a fad. Minimalist footwear is any style of footwear with a minimal midsole that helps deliver a more natural running experience. The benefits of minimalist footwear have gained widespread acceptance in the past year thanks to TWO key factors:

Minimalist footwear encourages you to land on your forefoot and midfoot (as opposed to your heel) when running or walking.

Natural running involves shorter, quicker steps that can provide more effective propulsion and promote better natural shock absorption.

In short, minimalist footwear is designed to get you running, walking, hiking, and climbing the way nature intended.

Why Minimalist?

The concept of returning to a more natural style of running was popularized by Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run. McDougall researched the Tarahumara Indians renowned for their ability to run barefoot for miles. McDougall found that the shorter, more repetitive stride you naturally take when running barefoot eliminated the heel pain he had been experiencing.

How? Running barefoot forces you to land on your forefoot and midfoot instead of your heel, as you do in the longer strides you take in constructed footwear. The result is more efficient transfer of energy; reduced impact on the joints in your feet, ankles, and knees; and strengthening of the muscles in your feet. Many people discover the same benefits McDougall has, which is one of the most compelling reasons so many of our customers are excited to try minimalist footwear.

Another big reason to try minimalist is, quite simply, it's a lot fun. Having next to nothing on your feet is a liberating feeling that brings you closer to the earth in every way. You're more aware of rocks, sticks, and subtle changes in terrain, and you can really feel the difference between running on grass, pavement, or dirt. Customers tell us that they feel like kids again and that they just plain enjoy their minimalist workouts more.

Minimalist is still the subject of healthy debate in the running and fitness world. At Eastern Mountain Sports, we've come to the conclusion that "going minimalist" doesn't necessarily have to be a complete lifestyle change. We believe minimalist footwear is a new tool that everyone can benefit from.

How to Get Started in Minimalist Shoes We asked this question of each of our minimalist footwear brands as well as our most passionate minimalist users among our store guides, and the answer was always the same—SLOWLY.

If you're like the rest of us, you've spent your entire adult life in highly constructed shoes designed to cushion your impact with the ground and increase the length of your stride. Minimalist is the complete opposite of what you're used to. When you get right down to it, you're not breaking in your shoes, you're breaking in your feet and lower legs, so you need to let your body adjust. Try wearing your minimalist shoes for an hour each day in normal activity around your home. As you become more comfortable with the different fit and feel, start gradually working minimalist into your fitness routine. Just make sure you're fully warmed up and stretched out first. Again, take it slowly and easily at first; speed and endurance will come in time.

Different Minimalist Shoe Styles to Choose From

At Eastern Mountain Sports, we chose a variety of minimalist brands and styles to create a range of options for all athletes—from a near-barefoot experience to an ultralight, minimally constructed shoe. Look for even more minimalist options on our website later this year to supplement these great brands.

VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS Before Vibram became a pioneering minimalist brand, the company was primarily known as one of the most trusted manufacturers of outsoles for hiking boots and other outdoor shoes. With its patented toe-sleeve design, Vibram FiveFingers is as close to barefoot as you can get.

MERRELL We've been with Merrell from the very start because they understand what outdoor athletes need. Merrell's hiking pedigree comes through in their minimalist styles, which offer the durability and traction you need when you're hiking or trail running.

NEW BALANCE New Balance tested all their minimalist styles in the same running lab where they develop their constructed options. Their intensive research led the New Balance engineers to the conclusion that every runner working toward a goal can benefit from incorporating minimalist workouts into their training routine.

SAUCONY Saucony's minimalist styles bridge the gap between barefoot and constructed footwear. These shoes have the most substantial midsoles of our entire minimalist lineup and are a great choice for runners seeking a gradual transition to minimalist from the constructed footwear they're accustomed to.

BROOKS Brooks created its "pure product" to promote a natural ride and unique running experience in a lightweight package.

Which brand and style of minimalist footwear is right for you?

That's what our expert Foot Gurus are for, in each of our STORES:

These specially trained footwear pros will listen to your concerns, understand your objectives, and use their knowledge and experience to recommend the best minimalist option. If you're not near one of our stores, simply call 1-203-379-2233 for live customer support.