Finding Great Lightweight, Barefoot Trail Running ShoesRunning is one of the most popular forms of exercise, and for good reason. It's fun, freeing and a great way to work out, and it's basically free. You can run anywhere, and lately people have been going off the pavement and onto trails. Minimalist running shoes are also becoming really popular, due to their light weight and tactile qualities. Who wants a heavy chunk of rubber on their feet when they can have something much lighter and more natural feeling? Minimalist trail running shoes combine a light and basic shoe with a stronger midsole and great traction in order to handle the rougher terrain, loose gravel and other debris you might be running across. They let a runner get out into nature without feeling cramped and confined, and it's the closest thing to wearing no shoes at all. This article will be looking at a few of my absolute favorite barefoot trail running shoes, offering a review of each product and listing anything you might need to know, including what kind of running they are best suited towards. We'll also briefly talk about what makes up a light weight trail running shoe and what that means for your exercise regimen. Let's begin! Trail Running Shoes: Why Choose Minimalist or Barefoot?You may be wondering what the appeal is with this variety of runners, and why trail running is a growing phenomenon. There are a few great reasons why they are really popular, and I'll list a few of them here. More Energy: It may be more of a psychological thing, but the light weight qualities of minimal trail shoes for running or jogging really helps with your energy level. Your feet feel much lighter, and it's a lot easier to put one foot in front of the other. At the same time, having a rigid midsole can help put a 'spring' in each stride, which also helps. Better Grip and Traction: A specific trail oriented runner is good if you plan to run off of pavement, because they typically have the right kind of traction, grip and foot protection needed for the harsher terrain. Standard barefoot running shoes aren't always trail friendly, as they're too thin and not nearly rigid enough for the punishment they'll face. They may be durable and have a bit more grip, but they're also light and they breath really well. They're fine for running on pavement, and jaunts over sand or grass are no problem either. I often recommend them for anyone with diverse exercise habits, because it helps keep your bases covered. Merrell Barefoot Trail Lithe Minimalist Running ShoesThe Merrell Glove series is built to provide great protection and support for your feet without weighing down each stride, and these shoes do a wonderful job of keeping you fresh, dry and invigorated regardless of the terrain or weather. Utilizing a mesh upper and a flexible yet strong and vegan friendly midsole, this shoe gives you a lot of breathing and keeps your feel pretty cool on a longer run, yet they are still water resistant and will keep you dry. The sole is a sturdy rubber and provides above average grip and traction, particularly in the toe area for when you're running uphill and need to keep your feet planted. You can see this extra grip in the photos. They also have a bit of shock absorption, which is good news for your joints. The 'glove like' fit of these shoes make them one of my favorite choices for minimalist trail running shoes, and they are laced in such a way that they are easy to tighten and feel very secure on your feel. This shoe comes in multiple varieties, including the Trail for men and the Lithe version of the shoe for women. They also come in a bunch of different color schemes, which is always a nice thing. New Balance 'Minimus Zero' Barefoot Running Shoes for TrailsNew Balance is one of my favorite shoe brands when it comes to running and athletics; they just always seem to produce a great quality shoe, and I have a lot of trust in the 'technical' aspects of how they put it together and the support it will provide. The Minimus Zero series of minimal trail running shoes has a lot going for it. The fit is the key thing with these shoes, and they feel great on your feet with or without socks on. They're even odor resistant in case you decide to run without socks. These shoes really have a barefoot feel to them, mostly because there is no height difference between the front and back of the shoe. That's great for anyone with neutral pronation, but if you have very flat arches or overpronate, these might not be the best shoes for you. The top portion of the shoe is a flexible mesh that's ideal for creating airflow as you run. The midsole is really minimal and provides only a small amount of cushioning. However, that improves the tactile feel of running and enhances that barefoot feel. The sole is chunky yet very light with a really good amount of traction for such a lightweight shoe, with great grip across the whole sole. I also love how attractive these runners are. They're awesome, minimalist trail shoes for running on grass, gravel or sand, and I recommend them. Available for both men and women. Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail Running Shoe with Minimalist FeaturesThe problem that I often find with standard trail shoes is they don't offer a lot of breathability, so by the end of your run your feet are too hot and you've lost energy. The Vivobarefoot Breatho is a shoe that was purpose built to combat that issue. It combines elements of great traction and support with a light weight and barefoot appeal. Much of the upper portion of the shoe is mesh, despite it being built like a trail shoe. What's more, the interior collar of the shoe uses 'Dri lex', which helps to absorb and wick away moisture from your feet. These shoes are definitely built for off road running, and they feature a great amount of tread, meaning traction and grip will be the least of your concerns. They're definitely more at home on the trails than on pavement. Because barefoot and minimalist trail running shoes require that your foot doesn't move around much in the shoe, this one offers a 'zig zag' pattern of lacing that really helps keep your feet snug. These shoes tend to run a bit large so keep that in mind. They are available in men and women's sizes, and you have a few color options. Inov 8 Minimalist Trailroc Running Shoe: Light and FastEach manufacturer seems to have a different area of speciality, and Inov 8 has made their mark by producing shoes that are unbelievably light. This minimal trail style running shoe features a lot of support and grip, while remaining effortless to wear and run in. The shoe is a little more traditional in shape, but they have made sure the fit is as natural as possible and the cavity is shaped properly. I really like this shoe because it offers a bit more shock and impact protection than some of the other brands, and it does so without adding weight. The Trailroc outsole is heavy duty rubber, and it features a grip that is built to maintain traction at a number of different angles, perfect for when your run suddenly takes up uphill or over loose rock and debris. The mesh upper keeps air moving nicely, and the overall shape of the shoe is quite nice and modern. Most importantly, these shoes could easily be worn on pavement or concrete in a pinch, so they're great for a varied running style. ZEMgear Trail Split Barefoot Running Shoes for the PuristsIf you're really wanting the most minimal running shoe you can get, you should consider split or toe style shoes. I recommend them for anyone who doesn't have arch or support issues, since they don't offer a ton of cushioning or stability. They're also the most minimal choice you can find, and they're pretty capable in terms of trail running. These ergonomically fitted shoes have a split for the toes, and they roughly follow the natural anatomy of your feet. There is a single piece of mesh for the top portion of the shoe, and as such there are no laces required. The heel is cup shaped and the fit is quite snug, but you'll get used to it over time. They're probably best if you don't wear socks. The insole is very minimal but it provides a bit of cushioning. The outer sole is rubberized and eco friendly, and it provides above average traction as these barefoot style trail running shoes go. They can't compare to some of the beefier shoes listed here, but they're fine for light trails, sand or grass. If you like the idea of running barefoot but aren't able to, this is the next best thing. Why pick up trail running?Trail running is popular for a bunch of reasons, but the most compelling one for me is the idea of giving your body an every changing array of exercise to keep yourself in top physical condition. The fact that you happen to get the added bonus of beautiful views and the overall sense of achievement is just the cherry on top. If you are going to give trail running a whirl, I'd definitely consider what type of shoes are best for you. REI has a good article on road and trail running, and choosing the right shoes for your foot shape. 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