Barefoot shoes represent a whole new world and new dimensions of freedom compared to the stiff and narrow modern shoes. But changing footwear can also be a real little shock to our feet and body, especially if we have neglected them for years. A proper transition to barefoot footwear is therefore of paramount importance.

Even though you will quickly realise that you don’t want to wear your old shoes anymore, give your feet time to slowly improve their strength and mobility, so that your toes slowly expand and become more mobile. Also spend as much time as possible barefoot.

Always adjust your transition time and footwear to your current body and foot condition to ensure a safe transition. After all, we all want a healthy and functional body that allows us to do all the things we love to do.

In the following post you will find some tips on how to make the right transition to barefoot shoes, as well as brands with thicker soles but with the right toe box shape, which can be a great choice for transitional footwear.

1. Your body needs time to make the transition

The feet contain many muscles and joints that we have spent years squeezing into shoes that are too tight and stiff. These shoes have acted like armour or plaster on our feet, preventing them from developing and moving properly. Our feet became weak and deformed.

The time it will take you to make the full transition to barefoot shoes will therefore always depend on each individual, but mainly on the current condition of your feet, the footwear you’ve worn so far and the amount of time you’ve spent barefoot.

Although some people can easily start wearing even the thinnest barefoot shoes without a long transition, it doesn’t have to be the same for you. Our foot deformities vary, and our physical condition, age, the amount of walking in barefoot shoes we do each day, the activities we do and the terrain we walk on, as well as any history of barefoot walking, all play an important role.

Always start slowly when changing to barefoot shoes. Gradually increase the time you spend in barefoot shoes each day. Observe your body and give it time to get used to the change.

For example, start with 30 min/day and then gradually increase the time you spend in barefoot shoes each day. Usually people need about 2-3 months to make the full transition, but this can vary from person to person.

In this way, you will slowly and in a controlled way improve the mobility and strength of your feet, which will respond to the change with increased toe spacing and improved mobility.

The foot will start to change shape and become wider. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with that. Your foot is just returning to its natural shape.

Your body will quickly start to demand even more toe space and an even thinner sole. Many nerves in your feet are longing to feel different textures that you have not been able to feel before.

If you feel pain (sore heels, Achilles tendon, also hips, knees, etc.), reduce the time you wear barefoot shoes. Do not rush. Injury is the last thing you want.

Take up more demanding activities (hiking, running) only when your foot muscles are strong enough to take on bigger challenges.

Of course, it is also crucial how much time you are willing to spend doing body exercises that will help restore mobility to your feet and, ultimately, exercises that will help restore strength, flexibility and balance to your whole body (yes, everything in the body is connected and the feet are not isolated from the rest of the body).

2. Examine your gait

Our natural gait is often altered by modern, cushioned shoes. Because of the great thickness of the sole, the foot does not feel the ground underfoot, so it has no sense of how hard it can touch the surface. At the same time, the loss of mobility in the foot and the inability to push off with the big toe causes the body to make a number of compensations that ‘enable’ the body to walk despite the non-functioning foot. Unfortunately, such compensations can lead to pain and wear and tear on the parts of the body that perform this task instead of the feet and the ankle joint.

We need to relearn how to walk properly. In barefoot shoes, a painful heel can quickly remind us of an incorrect walking pattern, where too much force is transferred to the ground with the first touch of the heel to the surface, and this just ‘force’ us to make a change.

When walking, it is of course correct for the heel to touch the ground first, but this contact with the heel pad should be gentle and the full load on the foot should be applied when the whole foot is on the ground. It is important to keep the whole body aligned (ankles aligned with the knee, hip and shoulder).

For more information on proper body alignment, I also recommend reading Katy Bowman’s Whole Body Barefoot.

During the push-off phase, engage your glutes and push back with the standing leg. The foot acts as a kind of spring while walking. As the foot is loaded, it undergoes pronation (the foot flattens, stretches and expands) and then supination (the arch rises, the foot contracts), which propels us forward. It is important that the big toe is actively enganged during the push-off, as this is the only way the plantar fascia can stretch and the foot become a rigid level, which propels us forward.

For those of you who are interested in more detail about our walk, I recommend the book Born to Walk. You may also find this video helpful in understanding the correct way to walk.

The sole of barefoot shoes can quickly become a good indicator of your walking pattern.

The green line in the figure shows the corresponding force pattern during walking, where the force during the walking cycle runs from the middle of the heel through the 5th metatarsal head to the 1st metatarsal head and then to the big toe.

The red line shows the inappropriate path of forces with the midfoot abrasion resulting from wearing the wrong footwear. There may also be wear on the sole, socks and hard skin on the foot in the area between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal heads (grey circle), which is caused by the concave shape of the metatarsal joints (caused by incorrectly shaped shoes that are too tight and can only be corrected with exercises).

To engage the big toe properly, the foot must be pointing straight when walking. Do not force the straight position, especially if you feel discomfort or if your knees and hips turn inwards. Turning the foot outwards can be a result of compensating when walking and a sign of poorer mobility of the ankles, hips, toes, etc. and requires work on mobility and strength of the whole body.

In the case of flat feet, inward or outward facing feet, you may notice rotation of the foot against the line of the shoe when walking in barefoot shoes (e.g. this is why some people report rubbing the pinky toe inside the shoe, even if the shoe is wide enough for them and the shape is right).

3. We need functional feet and a functional body

The modern lifestyles and conveniences we bring into our lives inevitably have many negative effects on our bodies. The use of chairs and the time we spend sitting, or in a forced posture at the computer and in front of the phone, has a profound effect on the mobility of our hips, posture, strength and alignment of the whole body.

I’m a very big advocate of barefoot footwear and its impact on our feet and body, but I want you to be aware that every part of our body needs to be taken care of in order for the body to function and function properly (mobility, balance, strength and also proper posture of the whole body).

It’s great to start with your feet. Our feet are the only surface in the body that is in contact with the ground on a daily basis, and any imbalance in this area affects the imbalance of the whole body.

Your goal should not only be to replace your footwear, but to regain the functionality of your whole body and feet – mobility of the toes, ankles, balance, correct posture, healthy weight, etc.

From my own experience, these physical changes take time and a change in lifestyle (we can talk in years here, not months and days).

It was my problem with diastasis recti after childbirth that led me into the world of barefoot shoes. Although the MuTu programme helped me tremendously and I quickly achieved very good results in foot mobility and strength with the barefoot shoes, my left foot indicated that something was still not right in my body alignment.

I started to explore further. Carrying children and a heavy bag exclusively on my left shoulder, pregnancy, working at the computer, sedentary lifestyle, etc. took their toll. I had a lot of work to do that barefoot shoes alone could not solve.

I am only sharing the current result with you. My work is not done yet. Otherwise, proper care of our physical body is necessary for the rest of our physical life 🙂

Of course, your situation may be completely different from mine, but why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to realise that everything in the body is inevitably connected, and that every dysfunctional link in the kinetic chain affects other parts of the body.

If you just take away the cushion from your feet and wear possibly too narrow barefoot shoes, that’s not adequate. The foot must become functional. This means that the toes return to the correct position (which can only be achieved with a wide enough shoe) and the foot must also be able to achieve adequate pronation and supination when walking. This is the only way it can absorb shocks as it flattens, widen and get longer and then gets shorter, acting like a rigid lever in the push up phase.

Barefoot shoes are therefore not a magic wand that will save you from all your problems, but they are an excellent starting point for the proper development of your feet and body.

And with barefoot shoes, you always get a whole package of work on yourself and body care. It’s not always the easiest way to go, of course, but your body will be extremely grateful for the changes.

It is not always easy to go through the process of body and foot transformation alone and I needed help too. There are several programmes online that can help you with your specific foot or body problems, help you achieve better mobility and bring more natural movement into your life.

Below are the programmes I have personally attended, but there are many more. You can find other experts – some of whom also offer online consultations and can help you with specific foot or lower body problems – here.

  • Gary Ward AiM – Gary’s Wake Yout Feet Up! and Wake Your Body Up! have been one of the best investments for me, bringing me a new perspective on body movement. Through identifying the pressures in your feet, Gary guides you through a variety of corrective movements that lead to remarkable changes.
  • My Foot Function – My Foot Function offers workshops focusing on different parts of the body. The exercises are well explained and easy to follow. Excellent programmes if you want to work on correcting a specific part of the body. I have attended Fix my Feet, The Squat Workshop, Whole-Body Mobility and BlackBoard Workshop. They are all excellent. You can get a 10% discount on all My Foot Function programmes with the code BOSENOGICE (affiliate code and link).
  • Petra Fisher Movement – Petra’s programmes focus on the natural movement of the body. Her explanations are very comprehensive and detailed, giving you a very deep insight into how the human body works and how to convince the body and the brain that a particular movement is safe. I have participated in her Take10 programme and Squat workshop and with her programmes I have been able to improve the mobility of certain parts of my body very well.
  • Rachel Tyler – Rachel has undergone a number of training courses and is also a qualified AiM therapist. She helped me to analyse my body movement and helped me tremendously with corrective exercises to improve my problems when I was stuck at a certain point and could not go any further. She gave me a whole new perspective on my problems with my curved spine and loose hip, which they even wanted to operate on in my teens because it was ‘too loose’.
  • VIIT V Formi z Alenko Košir – a programme that is an investment for your life, because maintaining mobility and working on strength and balance is crucial for our bodies. I have been on many different on-line exercise programmes, but none of them can compete with Alenka’s. Here you get it all in one package – working on mobility, balance and full body strength, not forgetting our feet of course (the program is in Slovene).

When changing footwear, I definitely recommend wearing toe spacers (e.g. Correct Toes) to help you get the correct position of your toes and to activate your big toe properly when walking. The greater surface area with the ground will also improve your balance and, as the toes are not squished, the blood flow in the feet is also better.

4. Choose your first pair of barefoot shoes

Choosing the first pair of barefoot shoes is usually the hardest part for any beginner. I’ve already answered many of your questions in my post How to choose your first pair of barefoot shoes?, but in this post we’ll focus on models which gives you more cushion and can be used for transition to barefoot shoes.

The appropriate toebox shape should always be the one you do not want to compromise on. The shoe you choose, whether it has a thicker or a thinner sole, must have an anatomically shaped toebox and must also be wide enough for your feet (even when your feet have reached their natural width, not just at the beginning when your toes are still squished). This is the only way to allow your toes to spread properly.

Adjustments can be made to the thickness of the sole, as a thin, zero drop sole, combined with too fast a transition and non-functional feet, can be one of the most common causes of transition pain.

Here you can choose different routes:

  1. you immediately start wearing the thinnest soles
  2. choose a model with a thicker sole for the transition
  3. combine models with thicker and thinner soles

People who have walked barefoot a lot before usually prefer a thin-soled model. In case you are not that person but would still like to start this way, observe your body and carefully increase the time you spend in barefoot shoes. You can also add an insole to the shoe at the beginning if you feel you need more cushioning (but note that this extra insole also takes up some extra space in the shoe – less available width and volume).

5. Shoes suitable for the transition to barefoot shoes

But sometimes our bodies don’t feel ready to wear extremely thin soles right away and need more time to make the transition. In this case, I recommend choosing models that have a thicker sole but a suitable toebox shape.

A thicker sole can help you with your gradual transition and reduce pain, especially if your feet are in a very poor condition. Or use a thicker sole on days when your feet just need a little ‘rest’.

The thickness of the sole should always be adapted to the activity, the terrain you walk on and the age of the person. Younger people usually find the transition easier. More challenging activities and terrain require a strong and healthy foot.

Below you will find models of shoes and sandals that have a thicker sole but an anatomically shaped toebox, so they can be used as shoes for the transition. I have personally tested some of them.

Joe Nimble

| Germany | vegan, leather | 35-48,5 | medium-wide feet | from cca. 169€ |

The Joe Nimbles were one of my first barefoot shoes and are excellent quality. In recent years they have moved from offering thin soles to thicker soled shoes that offer quite a lot of cushioning. The toebox shape has still remained good.

The shoes are available in both women’s and men’s sizes – the difference is noticeable in the higher volume, while the width remains the same (but men’s models can appear wider due to the higher volume above the toes).

Models with a thicker sole have a firmer sole that is harder to roll. The insole has a minimally elevated heel and can be exchanged for a completely flat insole.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Joe Nimble.
©Joe Nimble

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Lems

| USA | vegan, leather | 37-48 | medium-wide feet | from cca. 130€ |

Lems shoes are one of the most popular models for the transition. I have personally tested three models (Primal 2, Boulder boots and Primal Pursuit) and my father has been wearing the Nive2Five model for several years.

The thickness of the sole and the available width vary from model to model. The widest models are the Primal 2 and the Boulder boots. Some models may have more toe taper than others (Primal 2 and Boulder boots are among the widest).

The softest sole is the Primal 2, which can be rolled well despite its thickness. Most other soles are firmer and thicker.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Lems.
©Lems

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Altra

| USA | vegan, | 36-46 | from cca. 150€ |

I haven’t tried the Altra models personally, but they are often sought after by runners who want a good toebox shape. They are also suitable for those who need a casual sneaker.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Altra Running EU.
©Altra Running EU

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Barebarics

| Slovakia | vegan | 36-47 | medium and wide feet | from cca. 129€ |

Barebarics makes fully barefoot models, but I’ve included them in this list because their soles feel a bit more cushioned compared to other barefoot shoes. The sole isn’t as thick as the Lems, Joe Nimble or Altra models, but it can give you a bit more cushion when walking on harder surfaces.

Barebarics are suitable for wide feet and are best suited to low and medium height instep, but the fit may vary slightly from model to model.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Barebarics
©Barebarics

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*affiliate link


Feelgrounds

| Germany | vegan | 35-49 | medium-wide feet | from cca. 100€ |

  • Read my reviews here

Some autumn and winter Feelgrounds models also have a thicker sole, so they are also suitable for beginners.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Feelgrounds.
©Feelgrounds

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Ballop Shoes

| Germany | vegan | 36-48 | narrow and medium width feet | from cca. 65€ |

The Ballop brand also doesn’t have as thick a sole as the first three brands, but I’ve included it in the list because their barefoot models always come with two different insoles. The thicker insole has a slightly elevated heel, so they can offer more cushioning when you need it.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Ballop Shoes.
©Ballop Shoes

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Ahinsa Shoes

| Czech Republic | vegan | 37-46 | medium and wide feet | from cca. 109€ |

Ahinsa is a vegan barefoot shoe brand that offers both fully barefoot models and models from the ‘Comfort’ line. The only difference between the ‘barefoot’ and ‘Comfort’ models is the insole used in the shoe, which is slightly thicker and cushioned in the ‘Comfort’ models and has a slightly raised heel.

Their ‘Comfort’ range is therefore suitable for the transition and for those who are looking for a little more cushioning (but don’t want to completely give up the ground feel).

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Ahinsa Shoes.
©Ahinsa Shoes

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Freet

| Great Britain | vegan, leather | 37-48 | medium and wide feet | from cca. 80€ |

I have also included Freet on this list, even though their models are completely barefoot. Some of the models have slightly more cushioned soles (thicker insoles), so for example they suited my parents very well when they transitioned. One of their softest models is the Pace.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Freet Footwear.
©Freet Footwear

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Xero Shoes

| ZDA | vegan, leather | 36-48 | medium and medium-wide feet | from cca. 100€ |

  • Read my reviews here

Xero Shoes also has a few models in their range where the sole can give you a bit more cushioning than other barefoot shoes, although all their models are barefoot too. One of these models is the Kelso model, for example.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Xero Shoes.
©Xero Shoes

BUY HERE (EU) BUY HERE (US)

*affiliate link


BÄR Schuhe

| Germany | vegan, leather | 35-48,5 | medium-wide feet | from 169€ |

Bär Shoes is the brand from which Joe Nimble evolved. Although the vast majority of their models have a raised heel or some do not offer proper foot fixation to avoid toe gripping, I still decided to include them in this list because they have a properly shaped toebox area.

I think they are a good option for older people in particular, because it gives them enough toe space, even though they may not be ready to change their footwear completely.

Pictures are published with the kind permission of BÄR Schuhe .
©BÄR Schuhe

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6. Sandals suitable for the transition to barefoot footwear

In case you choose to transition to barefoot shoes in summer, here are some options for sandals with thicker soles. Some brands have both thinner and thicker soles, some only thick soles. So choose from the models that have a bigger sole thickness.

Sandals that have a soft and squishy soles with thickness of approx. 6-8 mm can often provide you with enough cushion and softness which you usually look for when transitioning to barefoot footwear and when walking on harder surfaces. This sole thickness, combined with its softness, is usually sufficient for many people. This type of sole you can find for example in Tikki or Zeazoo sandals.

For sandals, I always recommend using a printable template to determine the correct size. Read more about fitting sandals properly here.


Earth Runners

| USA | vegan | 36-48 | printable templates | from 71€ |

  • Read my review here
  • Discount: 10% discount with code KATJA10 (affiliate code)

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Earth Runners.
©Earth Runners

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Nörd Republic

| Spain | vegan | 40-45 | printable templates | from 69,90€ |

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Nörd Republic.
©Nörd Republic

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Bedrock Sandals

| USA | vegan | 35-47.5 | printable templates

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Bedrock Sandals.
©Bedrock Sandals

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Shamma

| USA | vegan, leather | 21,9-31,3 cm | printable templates | from 100€ |

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Shamma Sandals.
©Shamma Sandals

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Luna Sandals

| USA | vegan, leather | 36-45 | printable templates | from 85€ |

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Luna Sandals.
©Luna Sandals

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*affiliate link


Toetem Sandals

| USA | leather | printable templates | from 100€ |

  • Discount: 5% discount with code BOSENOGICE (affiliate code)

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Toetem Sandals.
©Toetem Sandals

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Saltic

| Czech Republic | vegan | 34-47 | from 52€ |

Pictures are published with the kind permission of znamke Saltic.
©Saltic

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Curious Red

| China | vegan, leather | 35-46 | printable templates | from 90€ |

  • Discount: $5 discount with code BOSENOGICE (affiliate code)

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Curious Red.
©Curious Red

BUY HERE

*affiliate link


Joe Nimble

| Germany | vegan | 35-46 | wide feet | from 45€ |

Pictures are published with the kind permission of Joe Nimble.
©Joe Nimble