Want to try the barefoot experience, but your tootsies are too tender? Barefoot-style running shoes incorporate little padding or arch support, instead allowing the foot to flex and feel the ground as you go. Here are four footwear options that simulate the experience in their own ways.
Vibram USA Inc. FiveFingers
Touted as the first footwear to offer "the sensation of going barefoot with the protection and security of a sole," Vibram's FiveFingers shoe-gloves have toe slots, stretchy synthetic uppers and thin rubber soles. $70 and up; www.vibramfivefingers.com.
Rubber lugs extend a quarter-inch from the base of the forefoot region on these high-end runners. The design attempts to promote an efficient and natural technique, minimizing heel-striking and increasing speed. $155 and up, www.newtonrunning.com.
Inov-8 applies a barefoot philosophy to trail runners, reducing padding in many models to sell shoes with a low-profile midsole and mesh uppers that offer only mediocre protection. The result? Natural foot flex on the trail in shoes that weigh half as much as the competition. Model F-Lite 230, $90; www.inov-8.com.
Deep grooves in the sole grant these Nikes the flexibility to move naturally with your foot and "activate" foot muscles, according to the company. Nike sells three "levels" of Free shoes, letting you pick a padded version on down to a minimalist racing flat. $60 and up. www.nike.com/nikefree/.