The Great Barefoot Running Debate

Good morning!

When Matt and I were in Pittsburgh for Easter last month, we hit up REI so he could buy some gear for his upcoming trip to Peru (as I write this, he’s hiking the Inca Trail… so jealous!). While there, I got sucked into the barefoot shoe section. Before I knew it I was coming home with these beauties:


Those would be the Merrell Pace Glove Cross-Training Shoes and I’m completely in love with them.

Ever since reading Born to Run (amazing book if you haven’t read it — it made me want to run 600 miles barefoot and eat chia seeds all day), I’ve been really curious about the whole barefoot running craze. I even tried on some of the Vibram Five Finger shoes a year and a half ago, but didn’t like them — I have really small toes (and feet in general) and they wouldn’t fit into the slots! So imagine my delight to see barefoot shoes with a regular toe area at REI.


Basically, the thought surrounding barefoot shoes is that we weren’t made to run (or walk) in clunky sneakers, and that by doing so, we have ruined our natural alignment and weakened our calves and ankles (and our feet). I’m not sure if I completely believe that we should be running around without shoes in this day and age (I mean… pavement, anyone?), and the term “barefoot shoe” is obviously a bit of an oxymoron, but I figure walking around in these shoes won’t hurt if they help strengthen other areas of my leg that are usually neglected! Plus, they are amazingly comfy and fit like a glove — no socks necessary.


So far, I’ve been wearing them to school, biking, and at the gym, and also rocked them pretty much all weekend at Fitbloggin’! They were especially perfect in the trampoline fitness class :) I’m not sure if I’ll try to run in them or not — I kind of feel like I should stick what has been working for me so far, but we’ll see. Maybe I’ll give them a try on one of my favorite soft trails…


What are your thoughts on the barefoot running craze? Have you tried any of the “barefoot” products? What did you think?


  1. 1

    Barefoot running is the bomb! Let me know if you ever need any of my input!

  2. 2

    I loved that book! My latest pair of running shoes are Saucony Kinvaras, which are described as in between running shoes & Vibrams because they have more support but encourage more of a barefoot, midfoot strike. I love them, and they worked well in my half training and race, and I definitely felt my calves working more with them.

  3. 3

    I’m running in a combination of Vibrams and barefoot. You just have to take it slow during the transition. Pavement really isn’t an issue, even if sand and grass are preferable; pavement doesn’t hurt. Good luck.

  4. 4

    I’m kinda on the fence. I think the idea behind barefoot running totally makes sense and I do think we need to strengthen our feet, ankles, and calves. But I know two people who have stress fractures from running with minimalistic shoes! Did they jump in too fast? Maybe. Also, I’m annoyed by all these companies jumping on the $100 minimalistic shoe bandwagon. You can buy a pair of watershoes for $5…

  5. 6
    Lisa Baldwin says

    Love Love Love the Merrell Gloves! Not a runner, but an avid walker. Would wear them all day if I could at work! Seem to be having less foot pain since I transitioned from my Nike Free (which I still like, but they keep changing them!) My son has the 5 fingers, and likes those also, but, don’t think I want to go that far. Sticking with the Merrells.

  6. 8

    i love it. absolutely love it. my friends think i’m a little bazzaro, but they have gotten used to it. i feel so much stronger than my pre barefoot (minimalist) days. the difference between pavement and ‘soft’ ground really negligible if you’re running the way your body forces you to without the cushion of sneaks. hard impact goes away. i keep it totally barefoot rarely these days, but sometimes its good to do it even if to just check in with your stride. the biggest thing i learned when i (slooooowly) made the switch, is how unnatural my running stride was for so many years. i got faster very quick after the switch, stronger and haven’t suffered a running related injury since (this could be luck, i realize, but i suspect not). have fun!!!

  7. 9
    larissa h says

    you have to take it slow… which make sense- since it is what our bodies are not used to.. it will take time for those unused or weaker muscles to get up to speed and be ready to run…. edible perspective did a great series on transitioning… it was very educational and thought out!

  8. 10

    I think this can work for some people, but I’m pretty heavy for my joints and I’d probably kill my feet.

  9. 11

    So glad to hear about these shoes! I’ve been curious about barefoot running but severly overpronate so didn’t think that running in Vibrams would be a good idea. I love that these have the barefoot technology but are still a cute normal shoe that I could wear around for the benefits!

  10. 13

    I had the same reaction after reading Born to Run and do eat chia seeds pretty much all day now. I love that variety of barefoot shoe you found, it looks almost like a regular sneaker. I might have to give it a try. I’ve been lucky injury wise and haven’t had too many problems but my knees are starting to act up (old knees my doctor calls it), maybe going barefoot (or more towards barefoot) would help! Enjoy the shoes!

  11. 14

    Glad to hear you like your Merrels! I have been walking around in my vibrams for about 6 months, and just started running in mine about a month ago. I love the way it makes me feel running in my vibrams, though the transition period is hard. I’ve been training for half marathons, and you are not supposed to jump that high into the mileage on the vibrams at first as you need to slowly transition your body into the higher mileage. So I have been doing my shorter training runs in the vibrams, and the long runs in regular running shoes. As i inch my way into the higher miles. We’ll see how it goes. I’d be curious to hear how you like running in yours, even if it’s just a few miles.

  12. 15

    I’m always curious about it, and people who wear them really love it. I just don’t know if it’s for me. I have sensitive feet/legs and have so many lingering pains that I feel when I wear non-supportive shoes like flip flops or even fashionable flats. I’ve read that it means I’m on the path to healing, but those pains aren’t healing pains. I’m sticking with the cast-like tennis shoes.

    • 16

      These are super different from flip flops and flats – my feet (especially my arches) ache in shoes like that, too. These are supportive in a weird way – go try a pair on!

  13. 17

    I guess I’m skeptical of anything that becomes popular due primarily to mass marketing of a particular product. I think most of the barefoot running popularity should be credited to advertising, not science.

    I do appreciate your take on it though. Those are by far the cutest barefoot shoe I’ve seen!

    • 18

      Yeah, totally agree – which is why I resisted so long. Plus, like I said, “barefoot shoes” = huge oxymoron. But they are SO comfy I figured what the hell. :)

    • 19

      Yeah, I hear ya. My biggest complaint with all this barefoot technology is that I think they (the vibram 5 fingers at least) are way too expensive. But I wouldn’t knock it ’til you try it. Since I’ve started “barefoot” running, I have a hard time wearing regular sneakers. When I do, I get shin splints.

  14. 20

    I’m interested in barefoot running, but coming back from a shin splint, I’m a little worried. My PT told me to be easy on it for a year…clearly I didn’t listen to him 100% since I’m training for a marathon, but he cleared me for doing that so I’m not too worried.

    Maybe in a year or so I’ll check out barefoot running. :)

  15. 21

    I just picked up the Vibram Five Fingers. Talk about a serious leg workout. They require breaking-in only in that your calves need to get used the extra physical stress. The philosophy of barefoot running just makes sense to me. Evolution designed our feet to work a certain way and adding bulky sneakers changes that.

  16. 22

    I am a little nervous about trying barefoot running too after coming back from a couple of injuries that took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to heal, but I really like the idea of wearing them for other activities first to see if they work for me. Since a stop to REI is already on the menu for today I will have to check them out and give a review here

  17. 23

    The shoes look awesome! I’ve been considering trying a barefoot pair, but (and this may sound silly) but I’m scared to try it. I’ve had so many injuries throughout the years and one foot surgery… I guess I have to do my research. :)

    Also, as a proud Peruvian, I am truly jealous of your friend!! I’m dying to do the Inca trail sometime in the near future!

  18. 24

    I have never heard of these but they look comfortable. Where can you buy them? On line

  19. 26

    I love barefoot running. I bought a pair of vibrams last year and started by wearing them ALL THE TIME (just walking and biking and such). Then I started with short runs after my toes and feet got use to them, and then HELLO CALVES!! they were super sore after every run for the next like 10 runs! And I was running regularly before the vibram purchase. But I have to say that the pain of sore calves and ankles was worth it because I love how strong and light I feel now when I run. Running barefoot has trained me to become very mindful of my form and foot placement. The vibrams I have are the sprints- they don’t have as much support and I am interested in buying one of their new pairs that have thicker tread on the bottom so I can use them on rocky trails (b/c vibram sprints on rocky trails= ouch!). Anyway, I hope you try barefoot running! I think you’ll love it.

  20. 27

    I have two pairs of the same shoes and I love them. I also have the mary jane style and love it too. I don’t know if I would ever run in them, but I wear them all the time. The good thing about REI is if you are a member you can wear them for a while and if you don’t like them they will take them back. I love REI!!!

  21. 28

    The toe ones completey creep me out – ahh I can’t even think about them. I have an issue with feet.

  22. 29

    I’m curious about barefoot running. Hope to try it someday!

  23. 30

    I bought some vibrams a few months ago and enjoy them for walks with the dog. I try to run 1-2 min in them at a time on pavement, but then stop and walk again so I don’t hurt myself. Eventually, I’d like to work on wearing these a bit more on the trail and continue to build my foot strength.

  24. 31

    I can’t wait to hear how you like them after you’ve been wearing them for awhile. I’ve been wanting to try something like this for a long time, (I prefer being bare foot anyway) but haven’t wanted to spend the money just yet.
    Thanks for the discussion!

  25. 32

    I just read a great article on barefoot running:

    The Merrells were included, I’m thinking of giving them a go.

  26. 33

    I’m all over the barefoot walking/running. I understand that the vibrams could feel uncomfortable to some, if you have long or short toes, etc. I think the shoes you got are a great option and I’ve been looking at getting them myself! I have a hard time wearing any type of thick soled shoe, or heals, since I’m in my Vibrams so much. All other shoes feel heavy and just plain horrible on my feet now! I’m all for the barefoot movement!! :)

  27. 34

    I have the Nike Free’s and I LOVE them! They are seriously the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned and I feel myself running better (form, pace, etc) when I wear them. I don’t love them on equipment (because they tend to slide around in the pedals more so than others), but for running I highly recommend them!

  28. 35

    I have Vibram 5 fingers, but I’ve never gotten brave enough to run in them. I used to wear them to work, but my feet always throbbed by the end of the day. They also kind of pinch on the ankles.

  29. 37

    I have these same shoes in red!!! I am obsessed with them. They’re great for trail running and I even just wear them around campus. They’re so light and comfortable.

  30. 38

    What a coincidence! My Merrell pace gloves just arrived by Fedex today. I can’t wait to try them out for walking and hopefully eventually running. I think I have the right size, but was wondering do yours fit snuggly? Are they supposed to fit snuggly? I guess they are called pace GLOVE and should fit like a glove. :)

    • 39

      Mine fit very snugly :) I wear a 7 in running shoes, but I bought the Merrell’s in a 6! I usually wear a 6 in open toe shoes/flip flops, and they just felt perfect, so I went with it!

  31. 40

    Pls keep us posted on this, Anne. Very curious about it — but not ready to try it!

  32. 41

    I like those much better than the one with individual toes haha I would love to try them. Are they expensive?

    • 42

      Yeah, unfortch. The same price as my running shoes… a little cheaper but not much. I think I paid $75 for them but now they seem to be a bit more expensive?

  33. 43
    Ashley K says

    Ugh! I am so jealous of you, I have been lusting over those shoes for the past 2 months. I can’t afford a pair right now, but I tried them on and loved how they fit as well! Glad to see you’re enjoying them, look forward to hearing how it goes if you decide to run!

  34. 44

    I am not a runner but my bf is and purchased the vibrams. Sadly, he says he likes the idea but the vibrams on one foot hurts him and for the money I think that’s bolony. He also said he’d rather just run on the sand barefoot at the beach.

  35. 45

    Just ordered those shoes from REI. You are right, they are about $25 more than what you paid for them. I hope I can beat my husband to our post office box. Hehe

  36. 46

    I’ve always been intrigued by barefoot running but I’m so afraid of getting injured, since I’m so prone to them. Although I’ve heard they’re great for everyone, as long as they’re broken in at a slow pace. Definitely need to learn more about this! :D

  37. 47

    People do get worked up over this! I agree with you — trying to emulate pre-modern running gear in post-modern running conditions is a little weird. But if they’re good to simply walk around in, porque non?

  38. 48

    I’ve been really curious about this too but haven’t gone there yet. I just saw an ad for a brand that has several levels working toward barefoot to help prevent injury, which, in concept, seems like a really great idea. I took a foot fitness class last year and wow, what we don’t realize we’ve changed about our natural gait because of our shoes!!

  39. 49

    I’ve been curious about barefoot running…I have Nike Frees, which are supposed to be like running barefoot, but probably not as intense as the Merrels or Vibrams. I LOVE my Frees– I run so much better in them than in traditional running shoes! They’re also really pretty…

  40. 50

    I tried the Vibrams a little over a year ago. I too had read Born to Run, and was really intrigued. I listened to \ the warnings to start out very slow in them because your feet will not be used to running “barefoot”. Well, despite only gently jogging one measly mile in them, I got injured. Basically I am very suspicious that the plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis that I developed shortly after that run were a result of the shoes. I haven’t worn them since. :( I still think it’s a cool concept, just not very practical unless you have PERFECT alignment and bio-mechanics!

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