You were born barefoot, and a growing body of evidence suggests you should have stayed that way. The technology and padding of the modern shoe protect your feet, but protection isn’t always what you want. Feet were made to stretch, flex, roll, and bend, and letting them do what they evolved to do can reduce impact injuries and provide a host of other benefits.
That said, please do not buy a pair of these barely-there shoes and start walking or running the way you always have. That won’t work, and it can lead to injuries. You need to ease into all things barefoot related, and to some degree, you need to relearn how to walk and run. In this guide, we’ve got advice on making the transition from padded shoes to “barefoot shoes” (also known as minimalist or zero-drop shoes), and we’ve rounded up our favorites. They’re as close as you can get to achieving that barefoot sensation without running afoul of “No shirt, no shoes, no service” signs.
Updated June 2022: We’ve added the Xero Aqua Cloud water sandals and updated prices and links throughout.
Special offer for Gear readers: Get a 1-year subscription to WIRED for $5 ($25 off). This includes unlimited access to WIRED.com and our print magazine (if you’d like). Subscriptions help fund the work we do every day.