Minimalist shoes have become an increasingly popular choice for folks who recognize how their muscular and skeletal health are impacted by the type of shoe they wear. While minimalist shoes aren't for everyone, more and more people are discovering the benefits of a footbed that allows the foot to naturally move and flex with the motion of a step. And this interest is definitely growing on the trail.
With discrepancies in the running, hiking, and specifically retail worlds, a definition can be helpful. A panel of 42 international experts convened at Laval University in Quebec determined that the category should include "footwear providing minimal interference with the natural movement of the foot due to its high flexibility, low heel to toe drop, weight and stack height, and the absence of motion control and stability devices." I certainly love a good definition, and that was not one of them. Let's delve further, shall we?
What most people would consider a traditional running shoe is more accurately described as a modern running shoe. It was not until around the 1970s that we began using a more cushioned heel, supportive arch, and rigid body. These bolstered running shoes lead to a pronounced heel-strike instead of a midfoot or forefoot strike. Leading with the heel causes sudden, large impacts; your lower leg comes to a stop, while your body continues to move across the knee. This induces a large amount of stress on your knee joints, hips, and lower back. Leading with a midfoot or forefoot strike allows for more surface area to contact the ground, less of the leg to come to a stop, proper shock absorption in your knees, and the ability to convert that force into rotational energy.
Furthermore, you can almost think of a cushioned heel and supported arch as a sort of brace or cast for your foot. Yes, you should be using support when you are recovering from an injury, but having that support in your everyday life is actually counterproductive. A cushioned foot can cause a weakening of its tendons, muscles, and ligaments. These small imbalances can lead to major, slow-healing injuries. This point leads me straight into a very important caveat: Do NOT jump straight into a minimalist design and hit the trails full speed. I can not stress enough the importance of a slow transition between the traditional running shoe or boot to a minimal one. I wore my Lems Boulder Boot every single day for about two weeks before I took them out on the Chain Lakes Loop. It was over a month of continuous wear before I decided to take them on the strenuous Tuck + Robin Lakes Trail.
When it comes to choosing the right minimalist design, consider two factors: personal preference, and what you want to accomplish. Fortunately, there are minimal foot beds for nearly every activity. Whether you will be choosing a boot, running shoe, casual shoe, or sandal, you can get back to the basics in all aspects of your life.