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Top Barefoot-Style Road Running Shoes of 2012

Posted on December 30 2012

Time for post #2 in my “Best of 2012” shoes series. In this list I tackle my top barefoot-style road shoes of the year. I define barefoot-style shoes as zero drop shoes with minimal cushion between the foot and the ground. Vibram Fivefingers and Vivobarefoot pioneered this category, but these days my preferences have moved to offerings from other brands (toe pockets don’t work too well for me, and the Vivobarefoot sport shoe aesthetic is not my favorite).

Barefoot-style shoes are my preferred choice for all-day casual wear (I wear them regularly at work), and I also use them for the occasional run (they are great for form work). Running in this type of shoe requires a very gradual buildup to avoid transition injury, and you can expect to feel every pebble underfoot (so not the best choice for gravel or trails).

Here are my top 3 for 2012:

3. Altra Samson

Altra Samson

The Samson is by far the roomiest of the barefoot-style shoes that I have worn this year. The toebox is squared off (Birkenstock-shaped), and if you remove the insole your foot is separated from the ground by only a thin layer of flexible rubber. Some might balk at the squarish shape of the toebox, and the interior finish is a tad on the scratchy side, but if ultraminimal is your desire the Samson is an excellent choice. I have not yet written a full review of the Samson.

Purchase the Altra Samson at Running Warehouse.


2. Inov-8 Bare-X 180

Inov-8 Bare-X 180

The Inov-8 Bare-X 180 is probably my top choice if your goal is to get as close to the ground as possible (thought the soon-to-be-released Merrell Vapor Glove my take that spot if my early experience with it continues). The 180s have a more traditional shape and aren’t quite as roomy as the Altra Samson, but compared to most shoes on the market the 180s are plenty spacious. Ground feel is excellent. I wear the 180s frequently at work, and they are fantastic as an all-day casual shoe. You can read my full Inov-8 Bare-X 180 review here.

Purchase the Inov-8 Bare-X 180 at Running Warehouse.


1. Merrell Flux Glove Sport

Merrell Flux Glove

I haven’t written a formal review of the Merrell Flux Glove because it’s essentially a fusion of the best aspects of the Merrell Trail Glove and Merrell Road Glove. The sole is ported directly from the Road Glove, and the upper is essentially a modified version of the Trail Glove upper. The Merrell Barefoot last is nearly a perfect match for my foot shape, and I like the snug, glove-like fit through the midfoot and heel (some may not like the support under the arch though). The Flux Glove has more cushion than the Altra Samson or Inov-8 180, so it gives up a bit of ground feel, but the harder rubber sole makes the Flux Glove a bit more versatile. Like the Inov-8 180, this is a shoe that I use frequently for all-day wear.

Buy the Merrell Flux Glove Sport at Zappos.


—->Next up, my top 3 cushioned, zero drop road shoes of 2012.

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