Why Are Minimalist Shoes So Expensive?

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Minimalist shoes are designed to fit around the toes and the feet and can be akin to going barefoot, so you may wonder, why are they so expensive? After all, the average price for these shoes is about $100.

Minimalist shoes are so expensive in part because they’re so popular and look appealing. Lots of people want them, so manufacturers can afford to drive up the prices. The improved performance quality they promise also influences the cost, making them pricier than the average shoe.

After reviewing the prices of minimalist shoes, you may be wondering if these are for you. Do they indeed offer better performance than a standard pair of running shoes? Do they support your feet or could they cause long-term damage? In this article, we’ll answer those questions and more.

A Basic Definition of Minimalist Shoes

We thought it’d be best to start with a definition of minimalist shoes, just so you’re imaging the same footwear we’re discussing. Minimalist shoes are named such because they’re among the most simply designed shoes on the market. The shoe can offer “minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility…and the absence of motion control and stability devices” according to The Journal of Foot and Ankle Research.

The characteristics of most minimalist shoes are:

  • Sole protection to avoid scraping and cutting the feet on rough terrain
  • Improved sensory contact due to the shoe design
  • Weighing less than other sneakers and running shoes
  • Slim soles
  • Less cushioning than most shoes

Some shoe brands also make what are called barefoot running shoes. Although these look a lot like minimalist shoes, there are differences between the two types of footwear. Minimalist shoes have a closed toe box. Arch support and cushioning are limited, and there’s a four-millimeter heel-to-toe drop (sometimes up to eight millimeters).

Barefoot running shoes often lack the precise toe fit of minimalist shoes. Some people call them duck feet for that very reason. With a wide toe box, a slimmer sole (of three to 10 millimeters), less heel cushioning, no support at the arches, and no heel-to-toe drop, they fit and function differently as well.

Why Are Minimalist Shoes So Expensive?

Depending on the brand (which we’ll discuss next), you could pay as much as $100 and up for a good pair of minimalist shoes. Why is this? Let’s expand now on the reasons we touched on in the intro.

Popularity

You don’t even have to be a runner to have heard of or seen someone wearing minimalist shoes. These shoes are a hot new trend, and, like any trend, they’re at a premium. That gives the manufacturers the license to boost the prices to meet the growing demand. This is basic economics at work.

Design

Although minimalist shoes are slimmer than most other running shoes, they still require the same materials. The design is often even more precise, too. The soles, toe box, and cushioning must be just so for them to qualify as minimalist footwear. Like any running shoe, manufacturers also offer many customizable features on minimalist shoes, such as the exterior color. All these factors contribute to the higher price tag on this footwear.

Performance

Among the biggest reason minimalist shoes are catching on is because of the improved performance this footwear promises. Looking at the Nike Men’s Free RN minimalist running shoe as an example, these claim lasting durability with a rubber and foam outsole at the heel and toe.

You’re also supposed to be able to walk more easily with a rounded heel, which can move with you as your feet hit the ground. The shoes will contract and expand with every step you take, feeling less like shoes and more like going barefoot. The open knit stitch fabric at the shoe’s top allows your feet to breathe better. This reduces overheating as you run.

That’s just one example of the many minimalist shoes on the market. These brands all promise support and durability with a shoe that’s less clunky and heavy. In short, it’s easier and more comfortable to run in minimalist shoes.

Which Brands Make Minimalist Shoes and How Much Do They Cost?

The good news is that almost every major shoe brand has jumped on the minimalist shoe bandwagon. The price points differ from brand to brand. In that regard, minimalist shoes are just like any other running footwear. You wouldn’t expect to pay as much for a pair of New Balances as you would for Nikes, and that’s true with minimalist footwear, too.

Here are some brands and their price points for your perusal.

Nike

Going back to the Men’s Free RN Running Shoe we described above, these shoes are priced at $33 on the lower end and up to $1,705 on the higher end. That could be because you have almost every color under the sun to choose from, including combination hues and patterns. Of course, there are women’s options as well.

Xero Shoes

Xero is a brand that produces just minimalist shoes. They cost about $50 at the cheapest and up to $100 at most. You can even get hiking boots and sports sandals from Xero, both of which are designed to be minimalist.

Topo Athletic

With their zero-drop platform, breathable fabrics, and defined toe box, the mesh ST-2 running shoes from Topo Athletic are minimalist for certain. Available in a slew of colors, you’d pay between $60 and $90 for these shoes.

Altra

With their integrated tongue pattern and leather features, Altra’s Vanish-R sneaker is another minimalist shoe worth considering. These racing flats have a low top arch and synthetic soles. You can also choose from such colors as bubblegum pink or bright blue. On the lower end, these shoes cost $30, but some Altra minimalist shoes may be as much as $100.

New Balance

The Minimus Trail running shoe is New Balance’s dive into minimalist shoe territory. Whether it’s the men’s shoe or the women’s, these can cost as much as $115. That’s partly due to their synthetic materials and flex grooves for better traction. The included Vibram insole also drives up the price, as does the Acteva midsole with antimicrobial treatment for less stink.

Vivo Barefoot

Minimalist shoewear brand Vivo Barefoot makes some of the most expensive footwear of its kind. Their running shoes are often priced at $150 to $200+, but that’s because these shoes are as fashionable as they are functional. They’re also vegan, with responsibly-sourced leather or canvas.

Merrell

The colorful and smooth-looking Merrell Vapor Glove 3 Trail Runner shoes are sleek and quite pricy. They cost between $55 and $155. That’s likely because of their Vibram outsole, barefoot technology, and mesh upper fabric.

Vibram

Finally, there’s Vibram, one of the best-known brands of minimalist and barefoot shoes. Their line of Furoshiki shoes is among their most popular, as these shoes feature slight footbed cushioning, wraparound design for better flexibility, and excellent traction. The average price for the shoes is $110.

Do Minimalist Shoes Improve or Hamper Performance?

With so many brands getting in on the minimalist shoe game, that begs the question: are these shoes beneficial to performance?

It depends.

According to a 2018 article in Runner’s World, the European Journal of Sport Science found that minimalist shoes can strengthen foot and calve muscles. In said study, a group of 50 runners began slowly wearing minimalist shoes over a span of six weeks. During that time, they experienced the above muscle gains. Their weekly mileage was limited to roughly 35 percent while wearing minimalist shoes.

There are two interesting points supporting minimalist shoes that were reported in the European Journal of Sport Science article. The first is that the runners who went 22+ miles every week in their minimalist shoes had stronger plantar flexors than the runners who didn’t wear the shoes. The plantar flexion has several muscles, such as the feet and arch ligaments and the calves.

Also, towards the end of the six weeks, when the runners were on a treadmill for a 5K time trail, there was a difference between efficiency and speed based on who wore what shoes. Those in the minimalist shoes had better running efficiency and speed. That said, the researchers called these boosts “marginal.”

The main takeaway from this study is that if you do want to wear minimalist shoes, they shouldn’t be your only running footwear. Remember, the strength and performance gains the runners in the study enjoyed only occurred when they ran in minimalist shoes less than half the time.

Joel Fuller, Ph.D., a biomechanics and physiotherapy expert from Macquarie University in Australia, was the one to spearhead the study. Even he cautioned against wearing the shoes too often, saying doing so “can raise injury risk, particularly if you have increased body mass.” Fuller says the metatarsals and ankle, in particular, are at the highest risk of injury.

Minimalist Running Shoes Are Another Footwear Option, But Not Your Only One

Minimalist running shoes often cost $100 and up due to their popularity and slim, lightweight design. These shoes, which are as close to going barefoot without foregoing shoes as you can get, can boost your performance and leg muscle strength.

If you are going to invest in a pair of minimalist footwear, they shouldn’t be the only running shoes you own. Wearing them exclusively won’t increase performance and can actually lead to injury.

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