Best Zero Drop Running Shoes Reviewed & Rated
Footwear, particularly modern types, doesn’t often take your foot’s natural anatomy or movement into account. In particular, heels can cause a variety of problems for your feet, legs, and back. Thus, in an attempt to go back to a more natural way of moving, zero drop designs have become popular in the running community.
For the uninitiated, these are shoes that have no height difference between the heel and the rest of the foot. This is said to be better for your feet for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it allows your feet to strike the pavement in a more natural fashion while you’re running.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 7 hrs of research
Mesh and TPU Upper
TrailProtect Off-Road Support
- Merrell Trail Glove 4
- Altra Escalante
- Altra Torin 3.0
- Vibram Bikila EVO
- Vibram Spyridon MR
- Merrell Vapor Glove 3
- Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
- Xero Shoes Prio
- Brooks PureFlow 7
- Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. Merrell Trail Glove 4
Mesh and TPU Upper
TrailProtect Off-Road Support
Another design from Merrell, the absolute champion of minimalist footwear, the Trail Glove 4 is an off-road option for all of your nature-exploring needs. It has a sock-like fit and is guaranteed to lock your foot inside properly. For maximum performance and cushioning, there is a Vibram outsole to keep the quality level high.Read more
The upper of the Trail Glove 4 is made from mesh for breathability and TPU for support. The lining is also made from mesh materials, to reduce the chance of sweaty feet. A TrailProtect pad is what provides support when you’re training off-road, and the Vibram TC5+ outsole delivers stability and slip and skid resistance like no other.
When it comes to this type of footwear, there is hardly a brand that can beat Merrell. The Trail Glove 4 is a great option for challenging terrain, for when you’re bored of the tame roads and what to experiment a little. It will keep you supported, cushioned and secure, and it is really all anyone needs from a design of this type.
2. Altra Escalante
Unique Traction Pattern
Wide Toe Section
Limited Long-Term Durability
The Escalante from Altra is a stunningly attractive option packed with features and technologies that work with your foot and overall gait to improve your run. Footpod technology allows the design to flex naturally with you. An Altra EGO midsole, as opposed to traditional EVA, promotes a healthy balance between support and energy return.Read more
Footpod technology is probably one of the most impressive features of the Escalante. Over time it will learn the layout of your feet, down to your bones and tendons. This will allow for a truly custom fit that moves and flexes with you. The unique traction pattern also promotes a strong grip.
Bucking tradition in favor of innovation, the Altra Esclanate does not have an EVA midsole. Rather it uses a material known as EGO, which is a proprietary foam blend developed after years of research. This material balances both energy return and cushioning, keeping you comfortable and putting an extra spring in each step.
We were quite surprised by the price of the Escalante, which costs markedly less than other options, even other models made by Altra. These not only stand out for their price but for their stylish sock-like fit and advanced features as well.
3. Altra Torin 3.0
Thick Protective Outsole
Breathable Mesh Upper
Wide Toe Section
Limited Long-Term Durability
The Altra Torin 3.0, like its predecessor, is a unique design that also features a thick sole. The cushioned footbed promotes support and comfort, while the mesh upper allows for breathability to keep your feet comfortable throughout your run.Read more
A thick sole is uncommon in minimalist footwear, though some people do prefer them. This is why Altra uses such a sole in the Torin series. A thicker outsole is heavier, but it has more long-term durability and shock absorption than thinner soles tend to. The thicker outsole also further protects your feet from feeling any hard or sharp objects on the ground, making rocky trails a breeze.
EVA is a foam polymer that promotes energy return, resists compression, making footwear last longer, and is flexible and lightweight. So it's no surprise that EVA is a prized material for footwear. It can also be used in the insole as well, though the Torin features it in the midsole.
4. Vibram Bikila EVO
Rubber Pods on Outsoles
Too Thin for Some
The Vibram Bikila EVO is a minimalist option designed with medium distance runners in mind. This thin-soled toe shoe is so thin and flexible you’ll feel as comfortable as you would going barefoot. The MegaGrip soles allow for better traction and protection on rougher terrains, and the antimicrobial sock liner will keep these from developing foul odors.Read more
The lightweight soles and separated toes will curl and flex along with your feet, allowing for a more natural and comfortable run without forgoing the protection of wearing footwear. The strategically placed rubber pods on the outsole of the Bikila will allow for a stronger grip on the track. They are light enough to provide all the benefit of a heavy duty tread without adding on all of those extra ounces.
If you’re looking to make the transition over to a minimalist design, it could be worth looking into buying a pair of Vibrams.
5. Vibram Spyridon MR
- 3D Cocoon Rockguard Midsole
- Wavegrip Outsole
- Bungee Lacing
- FiveFinger Separated Toe Technology
- Some Uncomfortable Seams
Minimalist designs are perfect for everything from mud runs to your daily errands. Vibram has found the perfect balance between a nearly barefoot feel with a tough protective sole that will keep rocks and debris from throwing off your stride. Vibram’s FiveFinger design allows for your toes to flex and splay naturally as you run.Read more
You’ll feel as good as barefoot with this lightweight Rockblock nylon mesh midsole. It protects your feet from the elements while remaining thin enough that you can feel the ground beneath your feet. The multidirectional wavegrip outsole permits stronger traction even on the slipperiest of surfaces. Even steep muddy trails should be no problem with these on your feet.
The price tag is nothing to sneeze at, but given the quality of the product, it is a reasonable cost. If your wallet can take the hit, your feet will thank you for spending the extra money on the Vibram Spyridon MR.
6. Merrell Vapor Glove 3
Vulcanized Rubber Outsole
Breathable Mesh Upper
Improving on the design of its predecessor, the Vapor Glove 3 by Merrell is a flexible and lightweight pair designed for those who don't like bulky soles. The Vibram outsole features multidirectional lugs for traction, while the mesh upper promotes breathability and temperature management.Read more
Vibram soles were originally designed for mountaineers, and have since their inception become a staple of both fashion and athletic footwear. The original tread design was based on tank treads but has expanded to include designs like multidirectional lugs, which allow for superior traction while keeping a lightweight design. The sole of the Vapor Glove 3 is made of vulcanized rubber- a process that involves combining rubber with sulfur- to give you the most in durability.
You can generate a lot of energy when running, which translates into heat. If this heat has no way to escape, it can cause issues like sweaty feet and odors, which are both uncomfortable and embarrassing. The Vapor Glove 3 has a mesh upper for this reason, as it promotes breathability and keeps your feet cool and dry even on the warmest days.
While prices will vary based on size and color offerings, the Vapor Glove 3 is priced similarly to its predecessor. Where these designs stand out is their vulcanized Vibram outsole, the wide range of size options, and durable construction.
7. Merrell Bare Access Arc 4
- Extra Cushioned Heel & Toe
- 8mm Cushioned Footbed
- Odor-Control Fabric
- Machine Washable
- Uncomfortable For High Arches
The Merrell Bare Access Arc 4 is perfect for people looking for an extra-cushioned option. 8mm of cushioning in the footbed, along with extra cushioning in the heels and toes ensures a comfortable run. This design is treated with odor protection and is machine washable. They are easy to keep looking and smelling as fresh as the day you bought them.Read more
8mm of cushion will carry your feet through your longest runs. The extra cushioning in the heel and the toe ensures comfort as you get used to the feel of a zero drop design. No matter how sweaty or muddy your footwear gets, the odor-control fabric will keep the worst of the stench at bay. The Bare Access Arc 4 is also machine washable for easy cleaning.
These aren’t terribly expensive for a quality design. If you’re looking for your first minimalist shoe, these will give you the most bang for your buck.
8. Xero Shoes Prio
Optional 2mm Insole
Wide Toe Box
Protective and Flexible Outsole
Despite being a relative rookie in the field of minimalist footwear, the Xero Shoes brand is carving a name for itself as a leading manufacturer of this type of designs. The Prio is their best-selling product, a sneaker which has a wide toe box, a protective outsole, vegan-friendly materials, and an optional 2mm insole, among other great features. If you’re looking for a starter design in this field - you’ve found it!Read more
The Prio has a comfortable fit, helping your toes evenly spread out and relax. It is flexible, meaning that it promotes the natural motion of the foot, and you can insert a 2mm insole if you feel like you need extra cushioning. The outsole is made from FeelTrue rubber which helps you feel the ground while protecting you from debris at the same time. The V straps on the sneaker can be tightened to provide better lockdown without constricting your toes.
Furthermore, the Prio can be worn both with and without socks, whichever option you prefer, and it has reflective straps which make it suitable to wear for night runs. In this well-rounded option, you have no reason not to fall in love with minimalist footwear on your next jog outside!
9. Brooks PureFlow 7
- BioMoGo DNA LT Midsole
- Flexible Response
- Lightweight Cushioning
- 3D Fit Print Upper
- Narrow Fit
Brooks' PureFlow 7 offers lightweight cushioning and gives a flexible response. It is a sleek, neutral option, which offers 3D Fit Print upper technologies. The PureFlow 7 comes equipped with a removable articulated sock liner and a full-length BioMoGo DNA LT midsole, which deliver adaptive cushioning at a lighter weight. Their rounded heel promotes better alignment which will reduce stress on the muscles and joints.Read more
The 3D Fit Print upper is a revolutionary process that uses screen-print technology to apply engineered structure to the uppers, maintaining the structure with increased flexibility and lighter weight. The BioMoGo DNA LT midsole is a cushioning system that adapts to runners of all sizes and speeds, providing unique and comfortable wear.
The Brooks PureFlow 7 is designed to provide unique cushioning while maintaining a lightweight and breathable feel. It is not the cheapest on our list, but it is definitely worth the cost.
10. Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2
Lightweight and Breathable Upper
Secure Lacing System
Sticky Rubber Outsole
Protective Toe Bumper
Insert Moves Around Inside
Aside from being a mouthful in terms of its name, the Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V2 is actually not created specifically for running. This design is a climbing trainer, but it has been long accepted into the world of running as well. It keeps the foot close to the ground, provides an easy fit and Rope-Tec protection, which means a superior grip and a durability like no other.Read more
The Bare-XF 210 V2 is a lightweight design, with breathable materials. It offers plenty of room for the toes and a good feel of the ground. The forefoot is outfitted with the Meta-flex technology for natural flexibility, and there is a special lacing system that keeps your foot secure inside the design. The outsole of the Bare-XF is a sticky rubber for maximum grip, and the entire construction is incredibly long-lasting thanks to the rubber toe bumper.
If you want something that will withstand hard wear, that will keep you on your feet no matter what and protect you from stubs and challenging terrain at the same time - this Inov-8 design is the right option for you! The Bare-XF has everything you need for off-road activities, and it will surely not let you down, no matter what you do.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
This type of footwear allows the heel to sit level with the forefoot, providing a more natural run. To achieve this, all additional padding is removed from the design, which can leave the foot more exposed to rough terrain. This is why the outsole is so important, because it acts as the only level of protection between the foot and any external hazards like sharp objects or rocks.
Additionally, the outsole must compensate for the support and cushion which is lost with this type of footwear. There are many features and styles of outsole available and knowing how to choose the best option may be difficult. The following is a list of different outsole variations available in this footwear style.
EVA: EVA is a lightweight foam rubber which is used to provide an added cushion as well as to absorb shock.
Rubber: Rubber offers superior traction and grip, which is why it is so commonly used as outsole material. It is slip-resistant and water-repellant, making it an excellent consideration. The following are variations of the traditional rubber outsole.
- Carbon Rubber: A durable rubber compound that is the most common material used in running footwear outsoles.
- Blown Rubber: A rubber which is lighter than regular rubbers, as it’s air-injected, making it softer as well as more flexible. Most times, blown rubber is used in the construction of the forefoot on the outsole.
Trail-Specific: This type of outsole is designed for off-pavement running or walking. It is made with deeper lugs which offer better grip for off-trail activities.
Road-Specific: Designed for use on paved surfaces, road-specific outsoles will traditionally have a more shallow lug pattern, which will offer less grip.
When choosing which type of outsole to purchase, it is important to consider what type of activity you will be wearing the footwear for. Will you be running on the sidewalk or off-trail? Will you require water-resistance, or are you in need of a more supportive option? These are all questions to ask yourself before deciding which pair is the right one.
Traditional running footwear is designed to provide additional arch support and heel sculpting, whereas the options in this guide do not. This is why a secondary footbed may be necessary to help those with certain requirements.
For example, a supportive insole would offer some of the arch support and heel sculpting of a regular design without adding the incline from the forefoot to the heel. This type of footbed would be beneficial for those with a flat, or low arch.
A completely flat footbed, which offers less support, would be preferable for those who desire to strengthen the muscles in their feet. This can also be achieved by removing the insole that came with the design.
Lastly, a runner may require an insole which offers additional support, especially if their legs and feet collapse inwardly - in what is called overpronation. Stability wedges can be inserted into a design without pushing the arch upwards, which could potentially weaken the feet over time.
Brand power is an important consideration when choosing a design, in part because there are a smaller number of manufacturers than for other types of footwear. This is why there are now a select few ‘big names’ that pop up in conversation and come highly recommended by runners everywhere.
The following is a list of those five biggest names:
Altra started off in the back room of a Wasatch Mountain store. Founded by store managers and elite athletes, Altra is a brand that delivers footwear which lets you run the way that you were made to. They are the only company that provides a cushioned zero drop platform and the FootShape™ toe box.
Merrell has been manufacturing footwear for over 30 years and is currently one of the world’s top manufacturers of outdoor sports equipment and apparel.
Vibrams’ FiveFingers are a minimalist design which is meant to replicate being barefoot. They manufacture footwear with thin, flexibles soles, which contours to your foot to provide the ultimate minimalist experience.
Nike has been manufacturing sports equipment and apparel for over 50 years. They are a trusted brand for a wide array of clothing items, and zero offset footwear is just another thing to add to their list.
New Balance aims at helping athletes achieve excellence and their footwear does just that! 2018 alone will see nearly 10 original zero drop styles from New Balance, all of which are guaranteed to pump up performance.
The ‘drop’ of a design is the height between the heel and the forefoot and is traditionally around 10 to 12mm. Zero drop, or minimalist footwear is designed to provide a more natural experience for the runner, which mimics the feeling of running barefoot.
Zero drop designs facilitate a better run by discouraging a heel strike, whereas, a 10 to 12mm difference actually encourages the heel to unnaturally strike. Minimalist footwear is preferred by many runners, in part because it is thought to reduce the risk of injuries.
The drop of a shoe can range anywhere from zero to 16mm, but the best one for you will depend on your own foot structure. The following list breaks down the different drop sizes available and explains the type of foot each would be best suited to;
When it comes to footwear for this activity, comfort is a big deal, especially for long runs and uneven terrain. An ill-fitting or uncomfortable design will quickly cause pain and fatigue, which can hinder performance and motivation, as well as increase the risk of possible injury.
Minimalist footwear is by nature more comfortable as it guides your feet into a natural striking pattern.
Most of us, however, are used to footwear with a moderate or high drop. Going straight from a high to a zero drop design can be difficult or even uncomfortable in the short-term, as your feet now have to adjust to the lack of height. This is why it is advised to gradually lower the heel height in your footwear, allowing your feet a few months to fully adjust before moving down.
A lot can go into the comfort of a design; things like support, cushioning, and breathability come to mind. It's important that all of these different factors combine together to provide the comfort you need.
A well-cushioned option is nice and all, but if it doesn't have the right amount of breathability you will likely still find it uncomfortable. This is the same if the design has great breathability, but is lacking in support. Comfort is relative, and you have to consider what is most important to your unique feet and running style.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
If you're used to wearing sneakers or other shoes that have a heel to them, getting used to wearing or working out in zero drop shoe can take a bit of time. You may notice soreness in your Achilles tendon, due to the added bit of stretch the tendon gets with zero drop shoes.
Give yourself a bit of time to get used to the shoes first, and ease into running or other workouts.
Zero drop shoes have grown in popularity with sport enthusiasts over the years for a number of reasons. One being better foot and tendon health, as have no drop in your shoes helps keep the Achilles tendon strong, and flexible, and minimizes odds of ankle strains or sprains.
Other Factors to Consider
As runners, the health of our feet and legs is our primary concern. Running on sore feet or with an aching back isn't just uncomfortable, but the strain could lead to permanent damage. We need to take care of ourselves, including our feet, and that means buying the proper equipment.
Minimalist footwear has a lot of benefits, not the least of which is easing the burden on your knees, hips, and back as you run.
While some of the options on this list can be a little pricey, if you're concerned about foot pain, you can't afford to skip at least trying out this type of footwear. It will take some time for your body to adjust to the new heel height, but the potential benefits are well worth it. The money you spend on more expensive footwear can help curb the medical costs you might face down the line if you use a running option that is not right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
q: Why is there a transition time?
You have spent your entire life running in footwear with lifted heels, which has neutralized the Achilles and lower calf muscles. It will take time to redevelop them. This is why runners may experience lower calf soreness for the first few weeks when transitioning to a zero drop, but once your muscles adjust, your lower legs will be stronger and more powerful.
q: How long is the transition time?
Transition times will vary based on the level of cushioning. Models with lighter cushioning will strengthen the legs more but will require a longer transitional period. Moderate cushion levels allow for an easier initial transition, usually two to four weeks.
q: What are the benefits of this type of footwear?
The benefits include:
q: Will I be able to achieve the same speeds with these shoes as I do with regular ones?
A large number of runners who wear minimalist footwear report that they achieve greater speed, in part because they experience less knee and leg pain. There are no indications that a minimalist design will cause any reduction in the speed which the user achieves.
q: I have high arches; would these shoes be good for me?
If you have high arches, these may not be comfortable for you at all because they lack the cushion of footwear that is meant for high arches. You may find that shin splints and foot pain reappear when wearing minimalist designs.