I’ve been searching for a more minimalist approach to footwear for years since I bought my first Vibram Five Finger style back in 2005. From my years of research, I’ve put together my list of the best minimalist barefoot running sandals for men and women in 2023.
What are minimalist barefoot sandals? They’re typically lightweight, highly flexible, and have minimal cushion in the soles. Most are also ‘zero-drop,’ meaning there’s no difference in elevation from the heel to the toe.
The sandals I recommend are great for running and hiking! Think brands like Xero, Bedrock, Luna, Earth Runners, Shamma, Teva, Chaco, and more. Your feet will breathe and you can go from stream to trail in no time.
My former boss also swore by using minimalist sandals like the Bedrock Cairn as running recovery sandals. They do a great job of gently massaging and stretching your feet while running over branches and rocks.
So why are barefoot sandals so great and which pair should you buy? Let’s dive into the best choices for men and women in 2023.
Minimalist sandals are one of several types of running and hiking shoes that can improve your run. Here’s why many runners and hikers prefer them:
A More Natural Gait
Ever jumped on a trampoline and then gotten off feeling like you had to learn how to walk again? That feeling is similar to going from a traditional high cushion shoe, such as a Hoka Bondi 7, to a zero-drop shoe like the Shamma Warriors. High-cushion shoes encourage a high-impact gait because your body can’t feel how heavy your steps are — just like bouncing on a trampoline.
Barefoot sandals can help you be more gentle on your knees and more efficient in your running gait by encouraging a midfoot or forefoot strike.
When your feet can ‘feel the terrain,’ they make micro-adjustments and become stronger. Like walking on the beach, your feet work harder and build more tiny muscles. Minimalist footwear is perfect for strengthening your feet while feeling more connected to the ground.
Standard shoes can be noticeably heavier, and in running, every ounce counts! Your feet must lift your shoes with each step. A lightweight, minimal sandal will fatigue your leg muscles more slowly, provided you’re willing to give up some cushion.
No Confining Toe Box
Feet are all different, and a conventional toe box can be restrictive. If you have a foot injury or a medical condition, minimalist sandals can take the toe box out of the equation. Your feet have the freedom to be themselves and not be constricted by standard footwear.
Best Zero-Drop Running Sandal With Toe Posts
Luna OSO Flaco Winged Edition
Thickness: 7mm base and 4.5mm lugs
Weight: 7.2 oz per sandal
Best for: Rugged adventures through mountains, rivers, trails and mud
The Luna OSO Flaco Winged Edition is the best running and hiking sandal for those who prefer thong-style huarache sandals. Thin yet rugged, these sandals feel like an extension of your feet. I like the Vibram Megagrip soles they use — the large lugs on these sturdy soles are perfect for running or hiking in muddy terrain.
Luna straps are also super comfortable. Paired with their special thong lacing shape, the Luna OSO Flaco is easy to put on. Once you adjust them, they’re totally secure. I like their strap placement because it relieves tension in the big toe/thong area which is more difficult to do with the Bedrocks.
Pay close attention to their size guide. While women’s sizing tends to be accurate, men sometimes have to go down either a half or full size.
Extra length on a minimalist sandal is a tripping hazard compared to standard sandals. The Moonrock Guarantee means you can return sandals, no questions asked, within 30 days of purchase.
Weight: 5.4 oz per sandal
Best for: Running
My pick for the best barefoot running sandal for those who don’t like ‘thong-style footwear’ is from Xero Shoes — the Z-Trail EV, a standard sandal style without frills and weight. They come in men’s and women’s models and even have a helpful footbed sizing template if you order online.
I love this sandal’s versatile adjustable backstrap, especially when compared to sandals from Chaco. I’ve witnessed many people struggle to adjust Chacos to their feet, but with the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV, you can easily personalize the fit.
Xero is a Colorado company that embodies many of the state’s qualities. Coloradans love being outdoors and want their products to last. With its durable straps, Xeros are a great running option, no matter where you live.
Thickness: 14 mm
Weight: 8.5 oz per sandal
Best for: Hiking and running in dry environments
The Bedrock Cairn are ultra-popular among both trail runners and hikers. These feel like there’s nothing on your feet and they’re quite packable, minimal, and durable. Plus, there are different footbeds to choose from, and their website has a great comparison chart to help you decide.
The Vibram soles are rugged, lightweight, and replaceable. My former boss raved about how grippy they were when he ran in the dry Los Angeles desert.
The Bedrock Cairn comes in both men’s and women’s models. Their website also has size templates for finding the correct size. These awesome sandals are the most popular and highest-rated on the REI website.
Top-Notch Minimalist Runners
Earth Runners Circadian Adventure
Thickness: 9 mm
Weight: 5.9 oz per sandal
Best for: Adventurers wanting barefoot terrain feel
Earth Runners is a small, humble, sustainable business that makes excellent barefoot sandals. Their close-to-the-earth fit connects you to the ground as if you were wearing nothing. You’ll swear you can feel the full variety of terrain beneath your feet.
These sandals work well for outdoor and everyday wear. I like their lacing style because you can dress up or down more easily by choosing from their large array of color and lacing choices.
Lightweight but durable, I’d recommend bringing along the Earth Runners to your travel packing list. They’re a great option without adding extra weight to your pack. Plus, the sandal has more traction than a standard flip-flop, making them especially handy on spur-of-the-moment nature walks.
Made for Wet & Steep Conditions
Unshoes Pah Tempe 2.0
Thickness: 8 mm
Weight: 6.3 oz per sandal
Best for: Hiking, running, backpacking, everyday wear in wet conditions
Handmade in the US, Unshoes are another great, zero-frills, natural feel shoe. If you’re looking for a no-strap, between-the-toes (non-huarache) shoe, I recommend these. Like the strapping configuration of the Chaco Z/Cloud 2, the Pah Tempe is stylish but with the added benefit of zero-drop.
The Pah Tempe also makes a great hiking companion if you need to ditch your regular hiking shoes because of blisters. Compared to similar sandals, such as the Bedrock Carin, the Pah Tempe are some of the best minimalist barefoot sandals for wet conditions.
The company also has several different minimalist styles, including Children’s Keota and Primrose, which are great options. I found their online FAQ super informative.
Simple & Versatile for Everyday Wear
Thickness: 3.6 mm
Weight: Not listed, but probably super light!
Best for: Everyday
The Chala Classic is incredibly simple and timeless and can work with so many outfits, thanks to its many color and style options. The minimalist in your life is sure to find a style they like.
Their double-layer leather soles are designed to last at least 3-4 summers of daily wear. While these could work for running, I’d prefer to wear these as more of an around-town everyday shoe. And Chala also offers a running-specific sandal.
If you’re curious, Chala explains their process step-by-step on YouTube, so you’ll know exactly where your shoes come from. As a German company, Chala holds itself to European Union production standards, some of the strictest in the world. With Chala, you can research the exact origins of your product and how it’s produced.
As Lightweight as They Come
Thickness: 5-6 mm
Weight: 3 oz per sandal
Best for: Ultralight running, hiking, backpacking, and travel
If you’re an ultralight nut like we are, look no further than the Shamma Warriors sandals. They’re the lightest pair on the market (as far as we know) but are still tough enough to stand up to running, hiking, and high-mileage travel.
Speaking of travel, these will stash away unnoticed in your luggage and would be a no-brainer addition to any packing list. So, whether you plan on tearing up trails or piling up steps on city sidewalks, these no-frills sandals are worth bringing everywhere.
The made-in-the-USA Warriors are available in both rubber and leather versions. Grab the rubber version if you plan on wearing them in wet climates, and grab a leather pair if you want a slightly more stylish and comfortable sandal.
Best for Children
Thickness: 8mm, 9mm or 12mm depending on the sole you choose
Weight: 3.5 – 3.9 oz (single child sandal)
Best for: Active kids who want a flexible, easy to slip on and off shoe
Children can also go minimalist; Earth Runners are the best barefoot running and hiking sandals for kids. Earth Runners promote healthy foot development from a young age, which is why they’re so popular and highly rated.
Earth Runners offer a choice of sandals based on your child’s activities. Give your child a say in their first barefoot sandal by choosing from three different sole thicknesses and six different strap designs.
As a company, Earth Runners strongly promotes sustainability and awareness for the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyons in northern Mexico. Inspired by ancient Tarahumara huarache sandal designs, the company gives back 1% of all sales to True Messages, a non-profit that honors the running heritage of the Raramuri culture of the Tarahumara.
Thickness: Not listed
Weight: 6.8 oz per sandal
Best for: Water, Everyday
The Original Universal Sandal Teva is an excellent option for those who aren’t quite ready for zero-drop sandals. Costing less than $100, these also offer more cushion than most other sandals on this list.
I wore a pair of these traveling across Europe as my comfortable, quick-drying summer footwear option. Both men’s and women’s styles come in a lot of fun colors, and, like the Xero sandals, they have extra straps to adjust the fit and make it just right.
I’ve had Tevas for years, and their soles are flexible and sturdy for everyday walking. I enjoy wearing mine in the water, on rocky beaches, and even as my comfy campsite shoes on summer backpacking trips.
Thickness: Very thick!
Weight: 11.5 oz per sandal
Best for: Hiking, everyday
Chacos are very much the anti-zero-drop sandal. While they’re sturdy and will last forever, you give up the barefoot feeling that comes with other minimalist footwear. Chaco sells a variety of men’s and women’s models, including the Chaco Z/Cloud 2, which comes with a toe strap to secure your feet while hiking. Mine worked well in wet conditions such as swimming/walking in a rocky bottom lake.
While these were my shoe of choice for a long time, they have some drawbacks. Compared to the other sandals here, such as the Teva Universal and the Xero Shoe, Chacos are not as adjustable and only have one method of tightening or loosening the straps.
Chaco is a great brand and has become very popular over the years. They are rugged and stylish, with tons of arch support. If you’re willing to give up some of the features of a minimalist sandal – lightweight, barefoot feel, simple styling – Chaco is an excellent classic sandal brand.
Grippy Tread for Wet Runs & Hikes
Montbell Aqua Gripper
Thickness: Not listed
Weight: 8.8 oz per sandal
Best for: Water sports, running and hiking in wet climates
Water sports enthusiasts: we’ve got just the sandal for you. The Montbell Aqua Gripper was designed to thrive in wet and slippery conditions (and does quite well everywhere else, for that matter).
Thanks to their specially-designed soles, these will give you the best grip you could hope for when worn in the water or on slick surfaces. So, if you enjoy kayaking, splashing through creeks, or hikes with river crossings, these might be just what you’re looking for.
Thickness: 6 mm
Weight: 13.2 oz
Best for: Recovery after a workout
After a long run in your sandals, running recovery sandals can soothe and refresh your feet. Hoka Recovery Slides are the best post-running recovery sandals of 2023, and I’m obsessed with them!
These sandals nurture your feet with lots of cushion. They also make great comfy slip-ons for around the house. I also use them as my post-gym sandals because they’re lightweight, easy to put on, and stylish.
Other brands that I recommend are the OOFOS Ooahh Slide Sandal and the Chaco Chillos Slide Sandal. Try any of these and you’ll never want to take them off.
If you’re not used to minimal footwear, make the transition slowly. Classic sandals offer more support. Making a rapid transition in cushion and drop can be a nasty surprise for feet used to more shock absorption and support. You might want to consult a foot-savvy doctor but also look for shoes with longer warranties, such as the Moonrock Guarantee with Luna OSO.
All About Zero-Drop Sandals
What is a zero-drop sandal? Zero-drop means the heel-to-toe incline is zero. When you’re walking, your heel is not elevated at all, and you’re walking as you would barefoot.
Without an arch to help keep your foot in place, a minimalist sandal means your feet must do more work. They make micro-adjustments to keep everything balanced. It’s essential to find footwear that hugs your foot because with so little support, the shoe might slip around on your foot, leading to injury. Sizing is extremely important if you want zero-drop sandals to take care of your feet.
Runners and hikers looking for a barefoot experience are the best candidates for minimalist sandals. People with patience and little or no history of foot injuries can add barefoot sandals slowly to their running routine and adjust smoothly.
All About ‘Standard’ Sandals
Standard sandals typically offer more incline, arch support, and cushion. They also tend to be heavier but can offer some great features. Take the Keen Newport, for example — heavier materials, durable, and with such features as protective toe covers.
Do you have a history of sprained ankles? Then you might want to stick to standard sandals with better support. And if you wear high-top hikers no matter what the season, rain or shine, minimalists might not be the best choice.
A standard sandal may also be the best option for runners who pronate — turn their knees inward or outward — and are used to stability-style running shoes such as the Brooks Adrenaline, Saucony Guide, or New Balance 860.
What makes one sandal ‘great’ and another one ‘just okay’? Here are the factors we considered:
Zero-Drop vs ‘Standard’ Style
Earlier, we discussed several benefits of wearing a zero-drop shoe. It all comes down to how connected you feel going over different terrain. Zero-drop sandals are the only way to go for that connected barefoot feel.
Comfort & Fit
Some sandals are so stiff they feel like cardboard taped to your feet. All the shoes on this list are comfy and flexible. Even when less material surrounds and supports your feet, sandals must always be comfortable!
Some people go for ultimate comfort (and fashion) by pairing socks with their sandals. If you want my recommendations on which socks will work best, check out my post on the best hiking socks of 2023.
Minimalist sandals consist of only the essential framework of a shoe, so the materials had better be top-notch. We picked sandals made from durable, proven materials that won’t let you down in the middle of your run.
Most sandals on this list fall into two camps: the huarache, or thong style, and the non-huarache. We tested a variety of strap styles to help you find one that works best for your needs. Some people are anti-thong, and I’m one of them. I don’t know why they don’t feel good on my feet, so I’m grateful the footwear industry offers sandals in a variety of styles.
The soles of sandals on this list are not that thick, as little as 3.6mm. Only your feet can tell you what thickness works best for your needs.
While each company strives to use durable material for our minimalist running sandals, don’t expect a pair to last as long as a standard running shoe. A sandal is a pared-down shoe with less material to protect you from dirt, rocks, mud, or water.
The single most significant benefit of barefoot sandals is how little they weigh. We looked at some of the lightest out there and how well they balanced the other considerations of runners and hikers.
These sandals vary widely in price. Some cost as much or more than classic sandals due to the quality of materials, such as in the footbed (think Vibram). But also consider how a good warranty can sometimes offset the purchase price in the long haul.
After reviewing all the sandals, here is my list of pros and cons. This is completely my opinion based on my years working in the footwear industry. If you know a minimalist sandal wearer in your life, ask them what they love and don’t love about their footwear.
I loved running around in the dirt or walking barefoot in the sand as a kid. Barefoot sandals are the best of both worlds — you can feel grounded while still protecting your feet from pokey things like sticks, leaves, or rocks.
My first barefoot sandals amazed me with the sense of how much weight my feet had to carry. Carrying less weight at the end of my legs after a long day of walking can be a blessing.
Minimalism is timeless and immune from ever-changing fashion trends. You can wear minimalist sandals year after year, and the simple style will always look flawless.
Minimalist sandals take a beating and will not last as long as standard sandals. Their lightweight material and simple design will not last more than a couple of seasons.
Minimalist sandals display a lot of your feet. Depending on how you feel about your feet, that might not be a good thing. For example, the Bedrock Carin feels great, but they reveal more of my feet than I’m comfortable with.
The Best minimalist barefoot sandals for 2023? The ones mentioned here are top choices for almost any type of runner or hiker. Consider the pros and cons, then try a pair on your next outdoor adventure or an urban walk through an unpaved park with some elevation changes. It’s a revelation once you find the right pair of lightweight sandals with a natural feel. Trust me, the feeling of running in minimalist footwear is addicting.
Zero-drop is an excellent option to strengthen your feet and work on your running gait. For me, that meant strengthening my ankles for all the tree roots littering the path in the Pacific Northwest. And then consider a running recovery sandal to help your feet bounce back from a long-distance day.
My advice: Stick with proven brands like Xero, Bedrock, Luna, Earth Runners, Shamma, Teva, or Chaco. They make some of the best minimalist barefoot running sandals out there. But footwear is an industry rooted in innovation, so we’ll be back next year with an updated list. Until then, you really can’t go wrong with any of these!
Last Updated on July 19, 2023