When buying barefoot footwear, it is important to know your foot type. This way, we will find it easier to find a shoe that suits us and know what to look out for when buying.

Here are some useful informations on how to identify your foot type.

1. Foot length & width

The length and width of the foot is the first piece of information you will need when buying a barefoot shoe. Usually, this is also only piece of information on the manufacturer’s site to help you choose the right size. Some of the barefoot shoes brands are more suitable for narrow and other for medium or wide feet.

The approximate width of your feet can be obtained by using the device, published in the Slovak website: https://bosacik.sk/meranie

In the empty windows you enter the length and the width of your feet in [cm] and the calculation shows you which category you belong to.

NOTE: The calculation is only approximate, so do not use it as a fixed data for the final choice of shoe. It is more accurate to compare the measured lengths and widths of the shoe with the foot dimensions (but there may also be deviations here).

Length and width of the foot in [cm]

A detailed guide on how to measure feet you can read here.

How much space do you need in shoes you can read here.

Examples of different foot widths can be seen in the photo below.

On the photos below you can see an examples of the shoes which work well for narrower (left) and wider feet (right). Take in mind that some narrow models can also work well for wide feet and vice versa. And not all models from one brand are the same.

Brands suitable for narrower feet:

Brands suitable for wider feet:

*affiliate link

2. Foot volume

In general we can separate the foot volume areas in three parts:

  1. Volume in toe area (around the ball of the foot and toes)
  2. Volume in the midfoot area
  3. Volume in the instep area

2.1 Foot volume in toe area

When we talk about the volume in the front part of the foot this usually refers to the volume around the ball of the foot and toes and how much space there is in the shoe.

We usually describe it with two quantities: the width of the foot and the circumference around the ball of the foot.

For example: 10 cm wide feet with circumference 24 cm around the ball of the foot are low volume feet and 10 cm wide feet with 25,5 cm are high volume feet.

Why is this important to know?

In size charts the only value you usually get is the width of the shoe, but the overall fit of the shoe largely depends on the circumference of the foot, circumference of the shoe, space above the toes inside the shoe, the construction of the sole, where the widest part of the shoes and foot is located and how the internal width is measured.

2.2 Foot volume in the midfoot area

This is the volume between toes and the instep area. If you have more volume in the middle part of the foot and the shoe is lower at this point or the foot is “limited” by the seams of the shoe, the shoes can be too tight, despite the fact that there is enough space in the instep area.

2.3 Foot volume over the instep area

Volume of the feet over the instep area we usually describe with height of the instep and width of the foot in that area (sometimes also with circumference or measurement from floor-to-floor).

Different heights of the instep

The approximate height of the instep according to Šťastné nôžky can be obtained by calculating the ratio between the length of the arch over the instep (from ground to ground) and the length of the foot by dividing the arch measurement by the length measurement.

The value approximately determines the volume of the foot (height of the instep):
low instep: less than 0.7
normal instep: 0.71 – 0.78
high instep: 0.78 and more

For my feet the ratio is: 18.5 cm / 26.3 cm = 0.70 (7.28 inch / 10.35 inch = 0.70). I’m right on the upper bound of the value for low instep.

More about this method you can read on Šťastné nôžky.

NOTE: The result is only approximate value. Deviations can occur if the foot is wide with low instep or narrower with higher instep.

Take in mind that volume is not just one dimensional thing and volume refers to how much space your feet takes up in height and width, which means foot volume is not the same as height of the instep. In most of cases, this can be the same (low volume also means low instep), but not always.

How to recognize your foot volume?

Foot volume can also be determined by observation.

That I have a low instep I realised when I tried a few different barefoot shoes and I often had problems such as: I have to tie the laces as much as it go to make the shoe secure enough on my feet, in sandals I usually need some additional holes, etc.

Even the slip-on shoe models are often not suitable for people with low instep, because they are too loose over the instep. An additional fixation of the shoe is in this case very difficult. People with high instep have exactly the opposite problem. Everything is too tight.

If you can not find in any of these categories, your instep is likely quite a normal volume and height 🙂

Example of the fit over the instep for two different slip-on shoes on feet with low instep
(Be Lenka* Eazy in Feelgrounds* Droptop)
*affiliate link

3. Shape of the toes

People have different foot shapes. Some believe that the shape of our feet tells us about our ancestors, others claim that it can tell us something about our personalities. For me it is important to know how barefoot shoes will fit our foot shape.

There is no exact naming for our foot shapes. You might have heard about Greek, Egyptian, Roman, etc. foot shapes already. To some, these names seem a bit archaic, and because they do not indicate the shape of the foot by naming, they are also difficult to remember.

I have shown the most common foot shapes in the photo below.

The shapes of the feet can be classified according to the photo above as follows:  

  1. STEEP SLOPE” (also known as Egyptian foot shape) – feet with the longest big toe with a stronger slope towards the little. You can draw a virtual straight line from your big toe to your pinky toe.
  2. GENTLE SLOPE” – the big toe is still the longest, but the slope is milder. The slope no longer falls in a straight line but in a curve.
  3. SQUARE” FEET – the slope becomes very gentle and is almost looks like a straight horizontal line. Toes are of similar length. Feet have square shaped form.
  4. “MOUNTAIN” FEET (also known as Greek foot shape) – second toe is the longest. Sometimes the difference in length between big toe and second toe is more visible and sometimes less. Three little toes slope towards the pinky toe, but usually not evenly (third toe is slightly longer)
  5. PLATEAU 2″ – first 2 toes are the same length, the other three toes usually slope evenly towards the little toe
  6. “PLATEAU 3” – first 3 toes are the same length, the other two toes usually slope evenly towards the little toe

Of course, there are even more variations of foot shapes, but I’ve only shown the most common ones here.

NOTE: new names for foot shapes are taken from BareSteps, but I decided to classify the shapes a little differently.

Barefoot shoes have different toebox shapes. Some have a very strong slope towards the little toe and are best suited to the foot shape (1), others have a more rounded toebox that better suits the shape (2, 4, 5) or more square foot shape (3,6).

From left to right: VIVOBAREFOOT*, Lukshoes, Gea Soles, Wildling Shoes*
*affiliate link

I have a foot type (4). Where I see the problem?

If you have a foot shape where the second toe is longer than the first, as in my case, you may need a little more space in front of the big toe than usual, in a shoe that better fits a foot with the longest first toe, like this is shown in the picture below. Sometimes you can manage to solve this problem with choosing enough space in front of the toes.

Type 4 in a) a shoe more suitable for Type 1, b) a shoe with a more rounded toebox shape

In the case of the foot (1) you may have an opposite problem. In the shoe where the toebox which is not adapted to your foot shape, you may have a lot of additional space in front of your little toes. This can be disturbing and in sandals also visually noticeable.

Type 1 in a) a shoe more suitable for Type 1, b) a shoe with a more rounded toebox shape

You can see the above explanation in an example in the pictures below.

In the pictures below you can see examples of barefoot shoes that are more suitable for type 1 (left) and type 2, 4, 5 (right).

You can check the toebox shapes of different barefoot brands in the photos below. In some cases, the toebox shape is harder to determine only from the outside (e.g., some winter and hiking boots (Xero shoes, Joe Nimble) and some children’s models with toe protection).

4. Shape of the feet

4.1 Straight line or shape of a “bean”

Some feet are shaped like “beans”, such as the shape of my foot (right). Here, the big toe is curved slightly to the side, away from the other toes and the inside of the foot is arch-shaped and not straight. The most of the foot width in the inside part of the foot.

On the other hand, the line at the big toe side may be straight and the foot gains its width to the outside where the little toe is (left).

Some shoes fit better to the straight shape and other to the bean shape. In the picture below you can see examples of both shapes.

Lets add those info to the picture we already used above. The problematic areas are marked below.

4.2 Shape of a fin or straight shape

According to Šťastné nôžky the width and the shape of the foot depends also on the ratio between the width of the toe area and width of the heel part. As stated on Šťastné nôžky if the heel is narrow also the ankles are narrow.

Šťastné nôžky has classified feet into 4 categories:

  1. narrow heel – narrow front part – the feet are pretty straight shape
  2. narrow heel – regular to wide front part – this type is also called fin, extending forward slightly or significantly
  3. regular heel – narrow to medium wide front part – the feet are pretty straight shape
  4. regular to wide heel – medium to wide front part – these are mild fins, the feet is extending slightly forward

The shape of your feet can change also after correction of the pronated feet (from more straight shape to fin shaped for example).

Remember! Healthy and functional feet are widest at the toes, the arch is formed, the big toe is moved away from the other toes. The feet have the ability to pronate and supinate properly. By wearing barefoot shoes and working on the functionality of your feet, the shape of your feet will change (to a healthier, more natural shape, of course).

Shoes are different lengths, widths, shapes and volumes. Therefore, when buying your shoes always check the following:

  • check internal length and width of the shoe (how much space do you need check here)
  • consider how much volume your feet have
  • check toebox shape of the shoe and compare it to your toe shape
  • check shoe shape and compare it to your foot shape

It doesn’t mean that all criteria about the shape should always 100% match (this is only possible with custom made shoes) so, don’t eliminate one shoe, just because the shape don’t perfectly match to your foot shape. Most brands still try to make shoes that will fit well to different foot types. Many times the problem is easily solved by a sufficient amount of space in front of the toes.

But with knowing your feet it will be much easier to recognise the optimal shoe for you. And I hope this post will help you a little bit with this 🙂

From left to right: Sole Runner, VIVOBAREFOOT*, Groundies, Zlatush, Ahinsa*
*affiliate link

♥ For all the latest information about which barefoot shoes suit the best to your foot type, follow me on my Instagram profile