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I’m Using the Term “Barefoot Shoes” From Now On

Posted by on Dec 28, 2011 | 94 Comments

I’ve been trying to fight this trend for years now, but the masses have spoken.  In a battle that would rival BetaMax v. VHS, the term “barefoot shoes” has won out over “minimalist shoes.”  I concede.

Yeah, I know “barefoot shoes” is an oxymoron.  Yes, I know not all “barefoot shoes” give an experience that is remotely like being barefoot.  Yes, I know many of my purist friends will scoff my tossing of the towel.

The only people that use the term “minimalist shoes” are my ten barefoot friends.  The rest of the world calls them “barefoot shoes.”

So be it.  I’m sick of swimming against this particular stream.  You have won, popular culture, you have won.

What I used to call “minimalist shoes” will be referred to as “barefoot shoes.”  What I used to call “reduced” shoes will now be called “transition shoes.”

Who’s with me?

[edit- in case you don't read the comments, check out Pete Larson's excellent post about this topic here.  I agree with his analysis- we really need to begin looking at shoes with a spectrum instead of defined categories.]

[edit #2- After reading some comments and Facebook discussions, I should add a little more explanation.  Over the last few years, we (the barefoot community) have been adamant about rejecting the term.  Why?  I suspect it has nothing to do with it being an oxymoron or a concern it will  prevent people from learning good form.

I think we've rejected the idea because of pride.  For those of us that have run barefoot, we take pride in our accomplishments.  For most, going through the process of going from traditional shoes to running barefoot is a difficult process.  Running a race barefoot is even more of an accomplishment.  When someone runs a race in Vibrams, then brags about running the race barefoot, we're pissed.  It diminishes our accomplishments.  I suspect the emotions behind this is the primary reason this is such a big issue. I get that.

However, I think there's a greater good to consider.  By repeatedly and actively rejecting the term "barefoot shoes", we're building a wall between those of us that have the potential to help others due to our experiences and those that NEED our expertise.  If we accept the term and swallow our pride, we open up a whole lot of potential to truly educate people.  THAT should be our goal.

When I was a teacher, my school was adamant about banning student cell phone use.  Despite the ban, almost every student had a phone and used them regularly.  The school's response- develop more elaborate ways to enforce the ban.  A ever-increasing amount of instructional time was spent enforcing the policy with absolutely no effect on behavior.  Those that supported the idea stood by their guns- they repeatedly called for tougher rules and more enforcement.  This became a weird sort of moral crusade- they believed kids shouldn't have cell phones and were going to prove themselves right no matter the cost.

I made several logical proposals all based on a simple idea- how about we accept what is inevitable and find a way to use it to our advantage?  Kids will have cell phones.  No policy is going to change that.  No matter how much we don't like it, it's going to happen.

The same thing is happening with the term "barefoot shoes."  If anyone thinks we're somehow going to change the industry's use of the term from "barefoot shoes' to "minimalist shoes", they're either naive or stupid.  It's not going to happen.  We have two choices- change our moral compass and find a way to use it to our advantage, or stand on our soap box and continue preaching to an ever-shrinking audience that are turned off by our seemingly crazy rants.  I've made my choice.]

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94 Comments

  1. The Great “Barefoot Shoes” War « Ahcuah
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    January 6, 2012

    [...] make in the universe.  A few of my recent posts have touched on the topic indirectly, specifically changing my perception of the term “barefoot shoes” and my discussion about the nature of our changing audience.  When  started this journey, the [...]

  3. Nick Lo
    January 5, 2012

    I was walking down to the beach today barefoot discussing whether I should’ve worn my “shoes” (i.e. flip-flops, or thongs as they’re called down in this part of the rest of the world) on the hot pavement when I mentioned the existence of “barefoot shoes” to my 11 year old daughter.

    “That’s just silly” she replied “how can you be barefoot if you’re wearing shoes?”.

    “The rest of the world calls them “barefoot shoes.””. I’m not going to get caught by “Hyperbole for comedic effect” a second time, but before you give up the fight, please think of the confused little children’s faces looking up at you as you say “barefoot shoes” without a hint of irony. Is this is the kind of future you want them to grow into, where no-one flinches at even the most obvious nonsensical oxymorons.

    • Erik
      January 5, 2012

      Ha! Lovely anecdote.

  4. Barefoot Shoes??? « The Running Barefoot
    January 5, 2012

    [...] I’m Using the Term “Barefoot Shoes” From Now On Gallery #gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } [...]

  5. Brian
    December 29, 2011

    So, I went to work naked yesterday. Oh, I was fully clothed in a suit and tie but it was all light material.

  6. Kent
    December 29, 2011

    I just got a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. I plan to run actually barefoot sometimes. I’m not really worried about rocks, but I am concerned about broken glass since a lot of my running is on roads and sidewalks. You don’t find broken glass or stickers in grass in the summer time to be a concern when running actually barefoot? It seems to me these Merrells should help me get my running form back to what it was when track shoes were just a strip of rubber underneath and cloth uppers. Before the padded shoes came out.

    • Erik
      December 30, 2011

      I’ve been an adult barefooter for some thirty years, and have never cut myself (I did step on a nail when I was a kid though, and got hookworm in Africa a few years ago). If I see broken glass while running, which almost never happens, I avoid it. I think the idea that broken glass is everywhere is mostly a myth, albeit a very common one. I hear that concern a lot. It doesn’t help when sites like Invisible Shoes actively discourage people from going barefoot because of all the putative dangers. But the reality is that your chances of getting a minor cut while barefoot are probably a lot less than getting a blister in shoes.

  7. Ken Bob Saxton
    December 29, 2011

    P.S. “use the tools” … just because you use a screwdriver as a chisel, that don’t make it a “hammer”…

    P.P.S. How many people are sick of the term, “purist”? (Even though most of us considered to be “purists” do occasionally wear shoes, we just don’t happen to call them “barefoot”)

    P.P.P.S I heard Jason complain about the misuse of the term “minimalist footwear” for footwear that isn’t really “minimal” on Caity’s podcast at http://runbarefootgirl.com/2011/12/episode-27-jason-robillard/

    Have fun

  8. Ken Bob Saxton
    December 29, 2011

    Though once again yesterday I found it necessary to explain to someone that by the term “Running Barefoot” I mean that I run literally “bare” foot, not in those “silly” shoes, I’m not as concerned about the oxymoron, as I am that it is a marketing deception.

    My concern is that people are seeing barefoot/minimalist shoes/footwear as a substitute for actually letting their bare soles teach them how to run more gently and safely. They are being told that by running in “barefoot shoes” they get all the benefits of barefoot running, except they also get protection.

    On the other hand, when Nike came up with the marketing slogan, “Run Barefoot” for their Nike Free shoes, we did see a boost in people actually running barefoot, thanks to their advertising dollar…

    Still there remain many millions who tried running “barefoot” in the shoes, and even more since the rise in popularity of minimalist shoes since “Born to Run” who are bypassing the whole literal “bare” foot thing and believing that they can run “barefoot” in “barefoot shoes” and then after injuring themselves, rejecting the whole idea and spreading the word that “barefoot” running doesn’t work … all the while they have never even tried barefoot running (except in the marketing perception of the term).

    So while I agree, the world is going to continue using the term, since it’s so wildly advertised. Just like they use the term “Wheat” bread to refer to a “whole grain” bread (even though white bread is also wheat bread, and most breads marketed as “wheat” contain little if any whole grain – though they might have a bit of brown coloring from honey, brown sugar, molasses, or artificial coloring).

    And just as I continue to try to re-educate bread eaters why the brown bread they’re eating isn’t healthy (not because it is made from grains, but because it is made from refined grains – the nutrition is missing), I will remain unconfused by the mass hysteria and the big marketing machines and will continue to explain the differences, not in hopes that the term “Barefoot Shoes” goes away, but in hopes that people will begin to realize they are being manipulated by corporate greed, and by buying into the “Barefoot Shoes = Barefoot Running” deception they are missing out on the most important aspect of actual barefoot running…

    … Whenever our bare soles touch the ground we get information about the stresses, not just on our foot, but stresses, strains, abnormal torques, etc., that travel up the body. It is the senses on our bare soles that teach us to eliminate these injury-producing stresses. It is by protecting ourselves from these feelings that we continue to run in injurious manners.

    With barefoot or minimalist shoes or footwear you get everything about barefoot running except the nutrition – the stuff that actually makes barefoot running beneficial.

    • Erik
      December 29, 2011

      I wonder if you or Jason could give us a general idea of the current contours of barefoot and minimalist running in terms of movement and influences. For example, what percentage (guesstimates are fine) of people trying barefoot running get their info from advertising, and how many get it from sites like this one, or books, or other sources? What is the growth rate of barefoot running and/or minimalist running–current, past, or projected? In my neighborhood in St. Paul, and along Twin Cities lake and river paths, I haven’t yet seen another barefoot runner, and have witnessed only one siting of someone in Vibrams. Most of what I know comes from Jason’s site and his extremely well-informed commentators, so I have a very distorted view of the total picture of this trend.
      P.S., I think a practical definition of barefoot purist (how’s that for an oxymoron–‘practical purist’?!) would be someone who by preference runs/lives barefoot, and uses shoes only when barefooting is impractical or highly social inappropriate (like at a wedding or most workplaces). If you wear shoes, for whatever reason, as a preference, then you are not a purist.
      P.S.P.S., the reason I’m enjoying this post’s topic so much is because I’m a linguistic anthropologist; anything having to do with language and culture is fascinating for me.

    • Bob (Downtown Runner)
      December 29, 2011

      Well said Ken Bob. You said it better than I did.

      Jason, some of us really ARE concerned about people injuring themselves in shoes and not being prideful.

      As KB said, you can’t run barefoot in barefoot shoes. Thinking you can is dangerous for the masses.

    • barefootCourier
      December 31, 2011

      I don’t get why we should ‘concede’ when we could educate, barefoot = shoeless, minimalist = less shoe.

      Its simple, but the marketers realized barefoot running rolls off the tongue much easier, already had a ‘following’ and a bunch of advocates with helpful guides and information. Why invent something new when you can hijack all that?

  9. Thomas
    December 29, 2011

    “A name, what’s in a name?
    By whatever name, a rose still smells as sweet.”
    I like the term barefoot shoes for two reasons. First, it tells a story. We are trying to emulate barefoot running, its a good story.
    Second, I like it because it is an oxymoron! Its catchy, fun and with a sense of humor. It’s not dead serious. Its all about running, its all about having fun and enjoying life.

  10. Paul
    December 29, 2011

    Ah so Vivo and Merrell are now the new demons for the barefoot community ;)

    Im not all that keen on the term barefoot shoes… its that whole oxymoron thing that just annoys me.

    Personally I like Pete L’s approach, There are Minimalist shoes that have quite a bit of cushioning under them, and there are those that ‘supposedly’ offer a more barefoot feel by having none.

    I run barefoot, i run in shoes with no cushioning, I run in cushioned minimalist shoes, and heck i even run in ‘traditional’ built up shoes. Each has its place.

  11. Mo
    December 28, 2011

    I fully agree, Jason! Why fight a billion dollar ad campaign on terminology! I tell people I love to run barefoot. They say, “Oh in those funny shoes.” I say, “Sometimes, but make sure you learn BAREFOOT first, then you can safely run in funny shoes”… I really don’t care if people call them barefoot shoes, since usually people call them “freaky, ugly, goofy” etc… So long as we all succeed in having fun and getting hurt less, who cares? We will keep making a dent in the universe, and make a bigger dent if we go with the flow when it suits us! Like BF Ted says, VFFs are a paradigm shifting Trojan horse!

    • barefootCourier
      December 31, 2011

      Cos when those people roll in with their injuries they are ‘barefoot running’ injuries not minimalist or shoe running injuries.

      You can throw some minimalist shoes on a 5k runner and they can run the 5k without adapting their running. Take off the shoes and I’ve yet to see someone who doesn’t adapt their running fairly quickly. Which one has most chance of injury I wonder?

  12. Richard
    December 28, 2011

    I have given up a long time ago but I always use the term in qoutes. if speaking I do the two finger on each hand gesture along with the appropriate ‘I can’t believe I have to say this’ facial expression.

    • Jason
      December 29, 2011

      I’m cool with using quotes… I’ll probably do the same. :-)

  13. Unggoy
    December 28, 2011

    We are a bunch who call ourselves barefoot runners. Most run with VFFs, Evos, huaraches, etc on a regular basis. When running without any footwear, that’s what we call a naked run.

  14. Brian
    December 28, 2011

    Disagree. No such thing as a barefoot shoe. I struck up a conversation with a guy in a pair of NB Minimus and he proudly declared that he was a “barefooter”. When I asked him how often he actually ran barefoot his reply was “never”. I think they are 2 distinct styles of running and barefoot is barefoot, running or not! PS, I were a minimalist shoe at most times myself and do not nor will not describe myself as a barefooter!

  15. Echo Westly
    December 28, 2011

    Let’s not forget that it’s just easier to say barefoot shoes. I love my vibrams, and anyone that runs truly bare foot gets my respect.

  16. Charlie
    December 28, 2011

    I like the term “barefoot shoe”. It might be an oxymoron, but it makes sense to me: the average consumer who doesn’t care about researching stuff. I care about not scraping the skin off of my feet when I run.

    • Ken Bob Saxton
      December 29, 2011

      The unnatural forces that would scrape the skin off your feet are traveling up your body and causing unnatural and possibly injurious forces in the rest of your body. The bare soles are sensors that help us eliminate these excessive torques, stresses, strains, and impacts by teaching us NOT to scrape the skin off our soles.

      Not saying that you must always run truly barefoot, just that you shouldn’t confuse the a “screwdriver” with a “chisel”.

  17. Adam millay
    December 28, 2011

    I run barefoot and have for years. During winter and to cross train I wear new balance minimalist shoes. I absolutely hate when people call barefoot running shoes, how can u call something barefoot when its nothing like barefoot? That’s like calling a car with low profile tires a tireless car, let’s all just call it what it is, shoes, you run in shoes, you do not run barefoot :) haha hope I shook the cage a little!

    • James
      December 29, 2011

      That’s awesome! Not only do I run barefoot, I now drive a hover car! Life just took one big leap forward!

  18. Matt
    December 28, 2011

    I completely agree with Jason on this.

    It is the runner who is captured by the mass marketing of ‘barefoot shoes’ that is most likely going to need information on safely transitioning to barefoot running. In this case, I see it as beneficial for experts in the field to use the same terms that the marketers are using so as to limit confusion for Joe Public. Generally speaking, those already running barefoot or in minimal footwear know what they are (or are not) wearing, so what does it matter to them what terminology we use?

    At the end of the day, people that are really serious about making a transition to natural running (be that in minimal footwear or completely barefoot) are most likely going to do the research into it and it won’t matter whether you refer to them as barefoot or minimalist shoes.

    I should point out that I am only 6 weeks and counting as a barefoot (and occasionally minimal shoe) runner…

    [SIDENOTE: The most important aspect I take from the current minimal footwear shoe debate is the distinction between zero drop and everything else. From my point of view, the biggest point of difference when going from barefoot to minimal shoes is the drop. As soon as there is anything other than zero drop, the whole game changes]

  19. Erik
    December 28, 2011

    I think you’re right, on all points, but it’s too bad. I still don’t like it when people use “gender” (a cultural construal of sex identity) to refer to (biological, i.e., X + X/Y(Y)) “sex.” But over the last 30-40 years, that has become its widely accepted meaning. Now that it’s winter again I’ve had to run with minimalist shoes a couple of times and it sucks. How can anyone think it’s the same (even with 2mm soles) as running barefoot?

  20. Angie bee
    December 28, 2011

    I see the term bareshoes naturally put emphasis on the similarities of learning form and taking care to move into bare running. Minimal shoes require as much if not more care to work into as barefoot does. They should be treated the same in that regard so having similar terms does streamline teaching.

    • Erik
      December 28, 2011

      How about “natural running” as a way to refer to both barefoot and minimalist running?

      • Angie bee
        December 28, 2011

        It applies to form but there is still a distinction between barefoot and bareshoes. I don’t want to categorize them as the same. There is still a big difference.
        I believe natural running is a great term but only when referring to the form.

        • Erik
          December 28, 2011

          I agree. I intended it to refer to form too. I don’t really like “bareshoes” though, it seems too similar to barefoot shoes. Some people have adopted “minishoes,” or “minshoes,” and that helps maintain the distinction, it seems to me, between barefoot and shod.

          • Angie bee
            December 28, 2011

            Minimal shoes makes them seem too much like Regular shoes though and they are not and should not be treated as typical shoes. The emphasis should be on how they are different and just like with barefoot running great care should be made. Minimal shoes comes across as too dismissive of the seriousness they pose if not worked with right.

            Bareshoes catches people’s attention. Minimal shoes seems more like a fad to me than bareshoes.

          • Jason
            December 28, 2011

            I like the term “natural running”, and it seems to be catching on.

            As far as “barefoot shoes”, part of my point is we have no choice. Any one of us can use whatever term we want. a bunch of us can even agree on a term. Right or wrong, the rest of the world will use the term “barefoot shoes” regardless of what we do. That leaves us with the option to fight it or utilize it. After assessing my own reasons for fighting it, I made the conscious decision to start exploiting it as a teaching tool.

          • Erik
            December 28, 2011

            I have to disagree with you on this one Angie. Minimalist for me is by far the most descriptively adequate term, and I don’t get the dismissive connotation at all. But I’m just a barefooter who runs alone. I trust you and Jason’s judgment about people’s reactions to these terms. I’m just arguing my personal aesthetics.

      • Angie Bee
        December 28, 2011

        to address the below comment of which I can’t seem to get a reply option for Erik,

        You my friend are different though. You are a barefooter already! You see the difference but if you were going to teach people, which term would reach a wider audience regardless of your own aesthetics?
        The term barefoot shoes is not the way I would have chosen things to go but who am I to say :)

        I am just trying to find the advantage of what is available.

        • Jason
          December 28, 2011

          Angie- WordPress only allows a certain number of nested comments. Stupid, I know.

          I wouldn’t have chosen Barefoot Shoes either, but it’s a moot point. As far as choosing the terminology we use- we can either use the terminology the rest of the running industry uses or use our own. It’s nearly impossible to get stuff done when we do one thing and EVERYONE else is doing another. It’s sort of like the metric versus imperial system… oh wait, bad example. :-)

          I agree- looking for the advantage of what is available is the smartest thing to do.

        • Erik
          December 28, 2011

          Right, which is why I said I trust you and Jason’s sense of these things. I have no idea what best gets across to people. I’m a barefooter first, runner second, and have very little contact with the wider running world, barefoot or shod, outside of Jason’s blog. Plus I know next to nothing about minimalist shoes. I got SoftStar’s Moc3s & RunAmocs for when temps or wind chill dip too low, and some old moccasins I’ve had for years and years as my trusty casual stand-by. Mostly I prefer cheap sandals. If popular culture says “yes” to ‘barefoot shoes,’ or ‘bareshoes,’ instead of ‘minimalist shoes’ or ‘minshoes,’ then so be it. I have the luxury of using the term I find most accurate/adequate. You and Jason don’t.

          • Erik
            December 28, 2011

            that was supposed to be a reply to Angie’s last comment …..

  21. Angie bee
    December 28, 2011

    I have comfortably adopted Barefoot Josh’s term bareshoes. Works for me.

  22. Emily
    December 28, 2011

    I call them minimalist shoes and I haven’t made the total switch to barefoot yet (working on it, though!). So does that make me number 11? Ha!

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Emily, yes. Welcome to the club. ;-)

  23. mark lofquist
    December 28, 2011

    i still use ‘low cushion’ and or ‘flexible’ shoes in my conversations with people out of our circles. i’m all for descriptive language.

    If i’m within our circles I’ll say altras, merrills, VFFs, etc. we know what i’m talking about.

    how abut ‘ancestral shoes’ :)

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Mark- I REALLY like the term!

      • Erik
        December 28, 2011

        “Ancestral shoes” to me suggests moccasins or huaraches, or perhaps even wooden clogs.

        • mark lofquist
          December 29, 2011

          that’s your connotative response. ancestral footwear to me is just another example of how we’ve deviated from solutions that WERE better suited for us. ((such eating things that aren’t slow acting poisons)).

          ancestral also has the advantage of being non-descript :). maybe the volcanization of rubber was a good thing for shoes. i own minimal shoes that use some high-tech materials – but the amt of cushion and the flexibility and the (lack of) heel raise make my shoes liken to what my ancestors would wear.

          • Erik
            December 29, 2011

            Right, ‘suggests’ = ‘connotes,’ and highly connotative or evocative terms like ‘ancestral,’ which mean different things to different people, are probably best avoided when developing a technical-descriptive vocab. That’s why I prefer ‘minimalist’ — it has more denotational oomph, and it’s already in circulation. Even ‘natural’ shoes would probably have a more restricted range of meanings. :()

          • Erik
            December 29, 2011

            opps, that was supposed to be a smiley face …

  24. mike nelson
    December 28, 2011

    i about choked when i told this women i run bf and she said “my friend has those toe shoes”. i was like ugh. and now you too? bf style but not bf shoe.

    what gets me even more than that is to say “traditional” running shoes. there’s nothing traditional about current shoes. call them modern please but not traditional. call them faddish or trendy and please never call them conventional. there’s nothing conventional about running in high heels.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Mike, the “traditional shoe’ rant was in the making, too. I use the term but hate it for the same reason you mentioned. I liked BF Ted’s “foot coffin” description, but it turned off too many people that wore… well, foot coffins. :-)

      • mike nelson
        December 28, 2011

        ya, i’d rather educate people that i’m not hardcore because i run bf. i think they are hardcore for running in modern shoes. those damn things are heavy. i use to roll my ankles at least once every run. if i stayed in shoes i wouldn’t be running at all.
        it’s so much easier to run bare or in min shoes. it’s also a lot more fun. it shouldn’t take a phd to realize that running in heavy shoes equals more work and those people with one can be the hardest to talk to.

        • Ken Bob Saxton
          December 29, 2011

          When people call me “hardcore” or say that I must really have tough feet to run barefoot, I often reply, “If I had tough feet (or was hardcore) I could probably run in shoes!”

          If I have time as I’m passing them, I might add, “But shoes hurt my feet…”

  25. BarefootNick
    December 28, 2011

    Jason, I have a lot of respect for you and what you have accomplished both running and otherwise. I really respect that you have been a driving force behind getting the word out to people and I have always been able to direct interested individuals to your website.

    This changes everything (aside from the respect part, you’re still an inspiration). I can’t honestly tell if this is a US version of April 1st I simply am not aware exist.

    If you back down on this, it’s not a battle being lost, it’s a ceasefire granting you a Pyrrhic victory.

    That said. You’re the one working and doing the heavy lifting. If you find this is the right choice, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing.

    • Erik
      December 28, 2011

      I agree with you Nick, I trust Jason’s judgment. It’s just too bad it probably has to be this way.

      • Jason
        December 28, 2011

        Keep in mind, I’m not happy about the adoption of the term. I fought it for years. The term reached a critical mass and passed the tipping point within the shoe industry awhile ago. Nothing we are doing or can do will change that. Now we need to refocus and figure out how we can use the term to help teach people.

        • Erik
          December 28, 2011

          Yah, I think you’re doing the right thing Jason. Your reasoning seems sound to me. I’m not sure if I belong to this movement, but I’m sure glad you’re at the helm furthering its cause. Your pragmatic, open-minded approach is refreshing and probably the best way to lead such a fast-moving trend.

          • Jason
            December 28, 2011

            Thanks Erik. I know a lot of people disagree, but we’re past the point of influencing this vocabulary. Failure to get past this semantics issue will prevent us from doing what’s really important- continuing to learn about good form, influence the development of good shoes, and educating the people that seek it out.

  26. Lee Parker
    December 28, 2011

    Flat out – there are NO barefoot shoes no matter what the marketing types say. I didn’t go into the barefoot lifestyle to be associated with a shoe style. I do wear huaraches or water shoes when needed. I do not wear barefoot or minimalist shoes.

  27. Bob (Downtown Runner)
    December 28, 2011

    Sorry Jason, I can’t go along. As someone who got a stress fracture wearing VFFs thinking they were the equivalent of running barefoot I just can’t go there. The reason I’ve been able to transition safely after my injury is because I finally understood that there is a difference between running skin-on-ground and running in shoes (of any kind).

    If it wasn’t so important for people to understand that there is a transition involved (not to shoe or no shoes, but to good running form) then I might agree with you. But “barefoot running shoes” really is a misnomer and oxymoron and for the sake of metatarsals everywhere I think it is important to make the distinction.

    I don’t really care what the billion dollar industry thinks or does. I have lots of options for what I put on my feet when I need something there that don’t involve the big names in said industry.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      But Bob, we can use the term “barefoot shoes” to stress the need to learn good form and transition properly. We’ve always made the assumption that the term “minimalist shoes” somehow made people seek out education. That simply doesn’t happen.

      If we embrace the term ‘barefoot shoes”, it’s not a stretch to get people to understand the reason why it’s called ‘barefoot” is because there has to be a change in running form and transition period. The fact that A LOT of shoe companies are starting to do some form of running gait education helps reach that end.

      • Bob (Downtown Runner)
        December 28, 2011

        Well, I’m with you 98% of the time but not on this one. And I don’t think I’m being elitist or a purist.

        The average Joe or Jane isn’t going to research and read and understand the distinctions involved here. They will see “barefoot” and assume they just go out and run just like they did. At least “minimalist” makes a distinction and they will think that maybe they have to do something different.

        Back when I broke my foot the term minimalist wasn’t really being used. If I had understood what that meant I might have spent a little more time reading before I did TMTS in VFFs. Perhaps not. But just giving in to “barefoot running shoes” takes away the distinction and the masses will make assumptions they shouldn’t.

        Guess we have to agree to disagree…..

        You’ll get plenty of traffic on this one…. LOL

        • Jason
          December 28, 2011

          I don’t know, Bob. I spend a lot of time with people that are barefoot-curious. The term “barefoot shoes” evokes far more interest and questions than the term “minimalist shoes.” I would suggest “BFS” is a better vehicle for education for most (but not all) people.

          • Bob (Downtown Runner)
            December 28, 2011

            But that’s just the thing. You are with people that are barefoot-curious. They will ask the question, do the research. They are with you because they came to your talk, or read your blog, etc.

            But MANY won’t. They are too shy, too lazy, or just too busy to ask questions. They will see “barefoot shoe”, think that’s “natural” and “good for them”, and head out.

            As others have said I have a TON of respect for you, in a lot of ways, some even not associated with running at all. But gotta hope you’re wrong on this one. Time will tell.

  28. David Repp
    December 28, 2011

    I can go as far as saying “barefoot style” shoes, but can’t say “barefoot shoes.” When I was buying my newest SHOES, the guy behind me was buying some Five Fingers and telling the salesperson all about running barefoot in VFF. I wanted so bad to say, if you like running barefoot so much, why don’t you run barefoot? I think minimalist running is just fine, but I think people say “barefoot shoes” because they want the attention that barefoot running gets without running barefoot.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      I don’t disagree, but the fact that the VFF dude will probably run in the VFFs with horrible form is the greater issue. We often talk about the confusion of the term “barefoot shoe”, but the confusion exists in our small community. The more significant confusion happens when we talk to Joe Public and use the term “minimalist shoe.” They don’t get it. For the sake of improved communication, it’s easier for me to change than try to change the masses.

  29. Michele
    December 28, 2011

    Jason, This is the first time I am disagreeing with you. Wht give up so quickly? Why not instead educate the shoed runner?

    The industry adopted to the BF shoe terminology for exact reason you indicated in your reply above; to make millions of dollars. Who cares if they are a little misleading, right?

    In my mind, anything that is protecting the feet should be classified as shoes.

  30. Michele
    December 28, 2011

    Jason, This is the first time I am disagreeing with you. Wht give up so quickly? Why not instead educate the shoed runner?

    The industry adopted to the BF shoe for a exact the reason you indicated in your reply above, to make millions of dollars and who cares if they are a little misleading?

    In my mind, anything that is protecting the feet should be classified as shoes.

  31. Michele
    December 28, 2011

    Jason, This is the first time I am disagreeing with you. Wht give up so quickly? Why not instead educate the shoed runner?

    The industry adopted to the BF shoe for a exact the reason you indicated in your reply above, to make millions of dollars and who cares if they are a little misleading?

    In my mind, anything that protecting your feet should be classified as shoes.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Michele- it’s a battle that’s been raging for years now. :-)

      It’s a judo-like approach- don’t fight the billion-dollar industry. Use their huge marketing budgets to our benefit.

  32. Mamarunsbarefoot
    December 28, 2011

    I think I would call my Nike 3.0 minimalist but my KSO’s would be barefoot because those are way closer to my bf stride.. :)

  33. Brian G
    December 28, 2011

    I think this is a very good idea to use and focus on the singular terminology used most broadly, at least for the purposes of reducing confusion.

    All the current style of highly supportive, cushioned running shoes are called “traditional” running shoes by BFR’s and such. For me, traditions are those things with 100+ years of history, not just 40 years. But that’s the term most folks use for that style so that’s the term that should be used. Otherwise folks may not understand what you’re talking about or think you’re talking about something else. I figure with the trend to lesser shoe we are now going back to real traditional running shoes.

    Jason, how about building some sort of “slang” dictionary for all these terms with histories, derivations, synonyms, etc?

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      I like the slang dictionary idea… I may have to start working on that!

  34. Rob Y.
    December 28, 2011

    I sort of agree, but in a backhanded way. Long before “The Book” was published, long before the first VFFs came to market, there were a few trail shoe companies who started producing what they termed “minimal” or “fell” running shoes. Think Inov-8 and some models by Montrail and a few others. At the time these were indeed quite reduced compared to their chunky, heavy brethren. So as a long time trail/ultra runner who experienced this phenomenon, “minimalist” shoes will always be associated with light weight, low profile shoes; racing flats either for trails or roads… After “The Book” came out, it seemed to me that the term “minimalist” was taken to describe this “new” type of barefoot like footwear. That I disagree with. Call them barefoot shoes or “ultra minimalist” but in my mind they are NOT minimalist or “transitional”. Believe it or not, not everybody has the desire to transition to barefoot shoes or barefoot running. A lot of us are simply satisfied to be running in more reduced footwear, the original definition of “minimalist”.

    Then again who cares what we term or label all this stuff? However, some agreed upon terminology must be utilized to avoid confusion.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      The original running shoes were minimal,even before the trail shoes. We’re just getting back to our roots. ;-)

      • Rob Y.
        December 28, 2011

        Exactly! But not “minimal” in the same sense that the new age “minimal” runners are using the term. In the traditional sense there wasn’t concern over prioproception, toe splay, etc… it was all about cutting down weight and lowering the shoe profile to keep the shoe flexible; quite often the shoes would still fit quite tight as that was norm. I still think there should be a distinction between what we’ve traditionally called “minimal” and how the term is used today.

  35. Marc B.
    December 28, 2011

    I’m disagree about that, I’m minimalist runner not a barefoot runner yet, there is a big difference between both. I would be shame to say that I run in a “barefoot shoes”, I’ve to respect for the real barefoot runners.

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Marc- yes, there is a big difference. However, I think some barefoot-exclusive runners get a little… well, pretentious about running without shoes. A lot of us run barefoot. Most of us also wear shoes when needed, or don’t run in conditions that warrant shoes.

      I propose we spend less time classifying people for wearing shoes and more time educating about the pros and cons of both barefoot and shod running.

      • BarefootNick
        December 28, 2011

        “A lot of us run barefoot. Most of us also wear shoes when needed”

        I’m confused now. Are you talking about running barefoot, or barefoot?

        • Jason
          December 28, 2011

          *like* :-)

      • Erik
        December 28, 2011

        I agree that there can be a certain pretentiousness to barefoot runners making this distinction, but I don’t find barefoot running vs. minimally shod running more difficult at all. It’s a much more enjoyable and sensuous experience. For that reason, it’s hard for me to categorize it as the same thing as minimally shod running, which may involve the same form, but lacks the earthy sensuousness.

  36. Peter Larson
    December 28, 2011

    I use minimalist shoes to describe the spectrum of options for “less” shoe, and within that there are transitional/reduced shoes, and barefoot-style shoes. Attaching the “style” makes it easier to swallow the oxymoron :)

    I wrote my take on the topic here:

    http://www.runblogger.com/2011/09/what-are-minimalist-running-shoes.html

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Pete- I like the “style’ idea.

      Nice article, BTW. I like the idea of describing shoes on a spectrum, and I think that idea becomes more appealing as more shoes hit the market. Lines are blurred enough already, and this trend is going to continue. Your multivariate statistical analysis makes my head hurt, though. :-)

      • Peter Larson
        December 28, 2011

        I had to add a token academic bent to it of course :)

        • Jason
          December 28, 2011

          Pete, your academic bend allows me to completely ignore rational thought, research, and objectivity… I can just link back to you. Thanks, man! :-)

  37. Vanessa
    December 28, 2011

    Noooooo! Hold out a while longer!! I make a clear distinction on Active for our readers and people seem to understand. I think terminology is key..

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Eh, I’ll still use “minimalist shoe” out of sheer habit… and my unconscious idealism. I’ll just sprinkle the term “barefoot shoe” in more often. :-)

  38. Jonno Gibbins
    December 28, 2011

    In my opinion there is still a distinction to be made between barefoot shoes and minimalist shoes. What I would call a barefoot shoe would be a shoe that simply protects the sole of the foot without offering any kind of support, heel lift or cushioning. EG one of the various sandals out there or a VIVOBAREFOOT shoe. Others that are minimalist (probably the ones you refer to as transition shoes) still have a slight arch support, thicker sole giving some cushioning and a slight heel lift – such as those made by Inov8, Saucony, Nike. Even Vibram Five Fingers have a think heel and some arch support – I had a client recently who had moved from a normal cushioned running shoe straight to VFF without changing his technique at all. The thick heel on the VFF allowed him to continue his heavy heel striking action without realising it…consequently putting his body under even more stress than before. It’s a fine line but I reckon there’s still a distinction between minimalist and barefoot shoe. Or perhaps we can think of a better term for the barefoot shoe?!

    • Jason
      December 28, 2011

      Jonno- making any distinction is getting more difficult due to the sheer number of shoes hitting the market this upcoming year. The different features make it nearly impossible to determine what is a “barefoot shoe”, “transition shoe”, or any other distinction. In reality, we should probably stop trying to classify them and just refer to them as “shoes.”

      You’re right about the heel striking. ANY shoe can allow heel striking, even the most minimal shoes on the market. Watch any large road race- you’ll be horrified.

      As far as a BETTER term for “barefoot shoe”, we had one: minimalist shoe. Unfortunately, the entire shoe industry adopted the “barefoot shoe” standard. A multi-billion dollar industry has a greater effect on terminology than my dog and pony show. :-)

      • Zak
        December 28, 2011

        Jason, I don’t agree that “the entire shoe industry adopted the barefoot shoe standard.” that is not actually true. Lots of manufacturers use a wide variety of terms. The most visible exception is Merrell, the main company aside from Vivobarefoot to actually use the word barefoot in the title of their line. New Balance, for instance, does not categorize their Minimus line as barefoot…they built their brand on the term “minimal,” obviously. I know your work with Merrell and your long, proven history of true barefoot running may have you using the word barefoot more frequently, but many of us that came to the natural running movement later just never gravitated to the term barefoot running, given that many of us rarely or never actually run barefoot. I would feel weird talking about barefoot running. Barefoot style is another animal entirely; it is descriptive but doesn’t should like an oxymoron. It is also not misleading, as others have suggested. I almost always use the term “natural running” in my own blog, but usually drop minimalist in there as well…I also think that is a very descriptive term and covers a wider section of the running shoe spectrum. Using the term “barefoot” shoes sounds like we are talking specifically about Merrell to my ears. With. Their great success, lots of people will discover natural running that way, as many of us did in Vibrams or truly barefoot in the past. It is a complex debate, I guess.

        • Jason
          December 29, 2011

          The term ‘barefoot shoe” is used to describe the category we usually refer to as “true minimalist shoes”, it’s not a term that’s used in marketing by all. Industry insiders (that have very little knowledge of barefoot running, I might add), have adopted the language. The companies that track shoe sales use the term to describe the entire category as a sub-set from what is often referred to as “minimalist shoes’, which includes Nike Frees, Kinvaras, racing flats, and other shoes (we liked to call these “reduced shoes”.)

          I don’t like the term barefoot shoes, but it’s pointless to get hung up on language.

          As far as gait, I like the term “natural running”, too. There is no set standard that’s been adopted widely, so I would suggest everyone start using that particular term (many of us already do.)

          • Erik
            December 29, 2011

            By that logic, you and most other barefoot blogs/sites that allow for minimalist running, or at least minimalist shoe reviews, should substitute ‘natural’ for ‘barefoot': Welcome to the “Natural Running University”, “Natural Runners Society,” etc. ;)

          • Ken Bob Saxton
            December 29, 2011

            Jason, I don’t think you need to get “hung up” on the language, just avoid using terms WHEN they are obviously inaccurate. No matter what the marketing world does, as leaders of barefoot running it is our duty to educate, and the wood-shop teacher doesn’t call a “screwdriver” a “chisel” even though they may be used interchangeably by the masses.

            By calling the shoes barefoot shoes, you’re buying into (or at least appearing to buy into), and worse yet, becoming instrumental in perpetuating the corporate marketing machine’s tactic of trying to brainwash people into believing that using barefoot shoes is the same as barefoot running.

            Not saying that you should never use the term, or always run barefoot, or never accept that marketing people are going to use the term, or always avoid working with corporations, just try to retain some integrity along the way.

            Do take advantage of the fact that the term “Barefoot Shoes” is making people curious, then use that as an opportunity to educate and clarify, rather than perpetuate deceptive and inaccurate marketing tactics and trends and language.

            In other words, rather than teaching students that “fantastic” is spelled “FantastiK” (registered trademark) just because there is a product that uses that name. Instead use this as an opportunity to point out that this is a trademark for a product, a marketing term. And that just because the name says, “FantasitiK” doesn’t mean the product is (or isn’t) actually “fantastic”.

            We don’t need to dumb ourselves down to the level of using the advertising world as our primary educators, but we should be pointing out to our “students” the need to think critically about products/names/terminology used in marketing.

          • Ken Bob Saxton
            December 29, 2011

            While I’m on my “rant”, I also think it is important not to confuse the terms we use to describe footwear (or lack of footwear) to describe who we are. After all, just because you don’t “always” run “bare” foot, doesn’t mean you aren’t a “barefoot runner”, just as people who call themselves “runners” aren’t “always” running. If you run barefoot, you can call yourself a barefoot runner. But most likely if you run barefoot in public others already are calling you a barefoot runner.

            That doesn’t mean that you must now “always” run barefoot, or that you are a “purist”, or that you don’t “fit in” anymore, etc.. It just means that you like, probably most of the population on earth, actually do enjoy running barefoot on occasion.

            In other words, don’t confuse the tools with the trade. You can use a screwdriver to chisel away at something, and it does mean you are chiseling.. but the tool is still a screwdriver.

            You can run in a natural way, even if you are wearing footwear, but that doesn’t make the footwear, “not footwear”.

          • Garth
            December 29, 2011

            Jason, with respect I disagree that it is “pointless to get hung up on language,” and I hope you will reconsider caving into something it sounds like you don’t agree with. Ignore the industry/marketing taxonomy and keep talking about what characterizes a proper running shoes and how to learn correct running form.

            Forgive my crankiness, but is the barefoot community apparently now so ashamed of their shoes that they would invent such a term as “barefoot shoe?” Running in any shoe is in fact an order of magnitude different from running barefoot, making “barefoot shoe” not just an oxymoron but an impossibility that I think HURTS your case for true barefooting by suggesting that it is pretty much the same as running in a “barefoot shoe.” We need to understand what has happened that makes someone feel like they need to proclaim, as posted above, “I am a barefooter,” while running in shoes. Do we feel ashamed now to just be a runner?

            As an outsider, I think in a way that you are conceding too much to the opposition. Are we saying “barefoot shoes” are simply an alternative category to “typical shoes,” and that “natural running” is an alternative running technique for some people to … what, “shoe company designed running technique?”

            IMHO, stick to your guns: teach and promote correct running technique; talk about what makes a proper running shoe; specialize in incorporating barefoot running as a development tool. (Again, sorry to be so direct about it)

            For inspiration, do a search for “Gordon Pirie running fast and injury free” None of this is new, and Gordon did not give one inch in regard to proper form or shoes. I think if he were alive today he would be thrilled about the shoes we now have to choose from, but perplexed by this new terminology.