As hiking enthusiasts, we’re always on the lookout for a boot that offers a more comfortable fit. But what if you’re a naturalist who wants a more authentic outdoor experience with footwear?
Minimalist hiking boots could be the answer. The purpose of this guide is to help you find the best minimalist boots on the current market.
Shopping For Minimalist Boots: What To Look For
What Are Minimalist Boots?
Unlike what you think about as a standard hiking boot, by definition, a minimalist shoe is one that attempts to mimic the barefoot experience by providing very little “drop” between the heel and the forefront of the shoe. In fact, some minimalist models will offer no drop at all. The soles of the boots will also be very thin, so that your feet are nearly as close to the ground as they would be if you were barefoot.
In addition to the thin soles and the virtually invisible drop, minimalist boots will usually have the following attributes:
- Flexibility—You’ll have an impressive range of movement
- Wide toe box—Expect significantly less tapering than you might be used to
- Low weight—The material will be extremely light
- Lack of padding—These boots do not offer anything in the way of arch or heel support, so be prepared
Advantages Of Minimalist Boots
Who are the best candidates for minimalist footwear, and why should you give it a try? Here are just a few reasons:
When your feet are in regular close contact with the ground, their nerve endings become more attuned to their surroundings. Within a short time, your muscle memory will respond to the changes in terrain, and you’ll be able to form a clear mental image of the obstacles you encounter as a result. This phenomenon would be impossible if you were wearing heavy boots with thick soles.
Minimalist boots encourage you to walk naturally, landing on the balls of your feet instead of on your heels. This will strengthen your calf and thigh muscles and give you better strength and flexibility overall.
If you do a lot of hiking in heavy-duty trekkers, you may have noticed that your toes don’t typically see a lot of action. That’s because they’re tucked securely inside a rigid toe box that doesn’t allow them to move. With a minimalist boot, you’ll be able to engage your entire foot with every step, thereby increasing your balance.
As you might have surmised, minimalist boots aren’t the right choice for everyone. If you’ve suffered from injuries or overall foot soreness in the past, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you decide to make the switch.
To see how a real person fared while wearing minimalist shoes for 30 days, take a look at this YouTube demonstration.
Inexperienced hikers might not enjoy the “barefoot” sensation, either. People who only tackle day hikes once or twice a year might be better off sticking to regular footwear. Once you’ve built up your endurance, you can re-think your options.
Best Minimalist Boots: Product Review Guide
1. Xero Shoes Xcursion
The rubber soles on these fully waterproof models are a bit thicker than the norm, but the drop is barely noticeable. While they look just like a traditional hiking boot, they’re exceptionally lightweight and flexible. This boot is available in both men’s and women’s sizes.
2. Belleville Tactical Research Men’s Mini-Mil Minimalist Combat Boot
The Mini-Mil is a high nylon boot, with a 2-millimeter drop on the textured Vibram sole. Unlike many minimalist boots, these offer a small amount of support around the Achilles tendon. Despite their formidable appearance, they can be pulled on easily.
3. Dr. Martens Men’s Tobias Boot
This is the minimalist version of the original Doc Martens style, with a one-inch waffle sole and classic leather construction. The material is soft and flexible, providing admirable freedom of movement without sacrificing quality.
4. Vivobarefoot Tracker FG Leather Walking Shoe
Company name aside, these boots are equipped with rubber soles that don’t compare directly to the barefoot experience. However, they are 100 percent waterproof, can be worn in all seasons, and are well-suited for tough terrain.
5. Xero Shoes Vienna—Women’s Canvas Ankle Boots
These are some of the most flexible and lightweight boots on our list, with a barely-there sole that closely mimics the barefoot experience. The synthetic material makes these boots fully vegan—a plus for the eco-conscious hikers out there.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, which of these styles is most effective?
I could argue a strong case for all of them, but the Vivobarefoot Tracker FG gets the highest marks across the board. While the sole is slightly thicker than you might be expecting, this is an extremely tough boot, designed to be worn in all types of weather.
Because Vivobarefoot’s sizing chart differs slightly from the norm, you should try these on in person if possible. Once you’ve discovered the right fit, however, you’re bound to be satisfied with the Tracker FG.