A Full Guide to Buying Zero Drop Running Shoes and Top Choices
If you keep hearing about the advantages of zero drop running shoes from your acquaintances and other sources, but you aren’t sure what they are exactly or how you’d go about getting a pair, we’ve put together this guide, as well as a list of models you could pick to get you started.
In this guide, you can learn all you need to know about what zero drop running shoes are, what their advantages are compared to other types of running shoes, and some of the top models out there that you can look into and get if you like what you see.
Zero drop running shoes have made their way into the lives of runners in a big fashion in recent years, and they are worth checking out because they might be just what you were looking for to improve your running experience.
People who have been using them praise the models for their lightness and the improvement in their posture they’ve noticed since they started using the zero drop variety of the shoe.
What Are Zero Drop Running Shoes?
The big question, of course, is what are zero drop running shoes, and why would you get them over other running shoe types? There are a couple of reasons why you might prefer them to the others that we’ve assembled so you can see for yourself and decide if this type would suit you.
To answer the first part of the question, zero drop running shoes are running shoes designed in a way, so there’s no height difference between your heel and the ball of the foot. Very simply put, your entire foot would have the same height from the ground while you are wearing them.
The other part of the answer is why that would be beneficial to your running, and there’s a couple of different explanations on how they can be helpful. Not everybody agrees on their advantages, but those that use them speak very highly of the effects they’ve had on their running experience.
The main way they are supposed to help in your daily run is that they allow for free movement of your feet, not restraining your movement in any way. They also relieve the strain that would normally go to your knees when running and transfer it to your calf muscles – therefore improving your posture and reducing the chances of joint injuries.
Also, because they have much less padding and cushioning than regular shoes, they are made with less material, making them lighter. All of that makes them more popular in trail and ultra-running, where endurance is key, and speed and comfort aren’t that big of a factor.
Who Are They For?
The next big question is who they are made for, and who the people using them in their everyday life are, whether for simple jogging or some more professional running. Zero drop running shoes are used by both professionals and hobbyists alike in the trail running and ultra-running circles.
The main reason for that is that in these disciplines, you want to move your foot freely and decrease the strain on your joints that’s bound to happen when engaging in these disciplines. Having such a natural foothold can really help keep you balanced as well, which can be of utmost importance to trail runners in certain situations.
Not everyone can get behind the concept of zero drop shoes in the running world, as some people simply prefer large amounts of cushioning that will provide a sense of comfort, but even though zero drop shoes are not as comfortable, they provide a plethora of other advantages like spreading the movement so as not to affect your joints as much and the simple natural feeling that they provide while running.
Zero drop running shoes are definitely more popular with trail and ultra-runners, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t use them for other activities as well. They aren’t common in what we would call road running or in short-distance track runs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them a shot. Their lightness and the natural position of the foot they provide can come as advantages in all disciplines.
The truth is there is a vast number of different models you can choose from, each one of them bringing its own set of benefits to the table. When it comes to picking the right one, you should think about what kind of shoes generally suit you and what kind of exercises you normally do.
Once you have that figured out, it should be easy to find a model you can get on board with and give it a shot. Just in case you need some help deciding, we have a list below that presents the main characteristics of a couple of different models that you can use as your guidelines when looking into getting your first pair.
Best Zero Drop Models to Choose From
Below, we’ve assembled a list of the best zero drop running shoe models you should look into if you are interested in getting a pair to try out on your next run. There are 12 models we’ve taken a look at, and they aren’t listed in any particular order, so you should read the reviews and decide which model would fit your running style and aesthetic eye the best.
Merrell Bare Access XTR
This Merrell model provides the barefoot natural feel that zero drop running shoes are coveted for, while still being extremely comfortable. It does have some cushioning and support to it, but not at the expense of mobility and freedom of movement.
An amazing zero drop running shoe for anyone that is still considering if this is their thing, as they provide all the sensations a zero drop should provide, while still being in the same range of comfort and support to the ankle as regular running shoes with more padding.
Nike Free RN 5.0
Nike’s model comes out swinging to the zero drop running shoes scene while still maintaining both the looks and quality that Nike is known for. Not only are they stylish, but also very comfortable. However, the comfort is not provided by excessive amounts of cushioning but by the sock-like fit to your foot.
The other factor to count in is the low-density foam sole that is designed in a way that lets you feel as you are barefoot while still being very comfortable. The shoe is also extremely lightweight, making it a favorite in most of the running disciplines out there.
New Balance Minimus Trail 10v1
New Balance’s latest hit in trail running, the New Balance Minimus Trail 10v1, is a shoe that just doesn’t give up. Even though it has the thin sole characteristic for zero drop shoes, it still provides surprising amounts of support and balance.
It accomplishes that with its very wide toe-box, which lets your foot, and toes move around with no restrictions whatsoever. They aren’t just good running shoes – the minimalist approach of the design and the comfort they bring also make them a great candidate for your gym shoe, or even for your every-day shoe if your day includes a lot of walking around or standing for long periods of time.
Xero Shoes Prio
The Xero Shoes Prio is the definition of an all-around running shoe. They are great for both challenging paths and terrain that trail running presents and for your regular run on the treadmill when the conditions don’t allow you to go out for your daily exercise.
They are made with exceedingly light materials and have a very thin sole that provides the exact barefoot feeling a zero drop running shoe should provide. The wide toe-box they offer makes for complete freedom of movement for your feet and a natural position that benefits your balance.
Merrell Vapor Glove 4
Another outstanding model from Merrell, the Vapor Glove 4, is an astoundingly slick and light shoe. They are structured in a way that provides support and relieves the stress on both your foot and calf muscles, making them a great addition to any long-distance runners’ collection.
They also come with a Vibram sole that guarantees good traction and uncontested durability in the field. They can take quite a lot of punishment, and trail runners have recognized this, making it one of the obvious choices for any trail runner out there that enjoys running with their feet moving freely and feeling the ground below them.
Altra King MT 1.5
An absolute monster shoe when it comes to trail running, especially for longer distances with harsh terrain. What makes them so good in that field is the rubber sole that’s built in a way that cushions the foot just enough to protect it while maintaining the barefoot feel.
It’s also the absolute favorite for running through mud or puddles, which can be very often for those trail runners that live in areas that get a lot of rain. They have an improved drainage system that lets you conquer the trail with ease, no matter how much it rained the previous days.
A bit different when it comes to zero drop running shoes, the Asics MetaRide doesn’t rely on a very thin sole to support your foot, but instead on the engineered midsole support system. The system allows you to still feel the ground beneath you, even with more cushioning than usual with this type of running shoe.
They even bring a little bounce to your step because of the foam sole, which is not expected from most zero drop shoes. However, they do have all the benefits that a zero drop should have, like freedom of motion for your foot and the barefoot feel. They are also one of the zero drop models that are suitable for indoor use, like for a gym.
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG
If you love running off-road through some challenging terrain, you’ll love the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG as well. They are designed to overcome obstacles and provide enough traction for both steep inclines and swift turns. Even though they have some high-profile lugs that provide the mentioned traction, they still give a very natural feel to the runner, not taking away from the barefoot sensation.
For those trail runners that love a challenge, Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG is more than a solid option that will provide you with the opportunity to conquer the toughest routes yet. They are also extremely breathable and very well-suited for running across the muddy or loose ground.
Altra Torin 4
Unlike many other zero drop shoes built to increase stability and endurance, the Altra Torin 4 is a shoe engineered for speed and comfort alike. It’s a shoe you could comfortably take to practically any terrain, including the road – so it’s a great choice, whether you prefer a jog around the neighborhood or a trek through a mountain trail.
They are incredibly light and flexible, making for a running experience that’s very hard to forget. And on top of all that, they look great – their slick and elegant design is a definite bonus to their overall performance on the run.
Vibram FiveFingers V-Run
Vibram FiveFingers V-Run takes the sock-like fit to another level with separate toe pockets, each of which provides some wiggle room while still being a very slim fit. They also come with a strong but still flexible rubber sole that is sure to provide you with both protection and the feeling of being barefoot.
Built for all terrains and surfaces, the Vibram FiveFingers V-Run performs superbly in any conditions you could throw it in, from dry and rough mountainous terrain to a muddy trail through the woods. They are a great way to overcome any possible obstacles in your path and move freely on very unpredictable surfaces.
Vibram FiveFingers EL-X
The Vibram FiveFingers EL-X takes the prize when it comes to providing a barefoot sensation – they are specifically built to provide that kind of experience. Once again, Vibram provides a shoe with separate toe pockets, but this time even lighter and much more breathable.
One of their main advantages is the durable synthetic Vibram sole, which is designed to provide traction and grip on whatever surface you are running on. The definition of a minimalist shoe, it’s a model that is exceedingly flexible and lets your foot move exactly as it would without a shoe on.
Topo Athletic Magnifly 2
Topo Athletic Magnifly 2 is a textbook example of an all-around zero drop running shoe. They are light, flexible, and comfortable. The zero drop mechanic is enhanced by a dual-density midsole, which provides more comfort for your foot by allowing you to access two levels of padding – softer against the foot, and firmer or more responsive against the surface you’re running on.
You can take them practically anywhere, from your treadmill to good old-fashioned trail running, and they won’t disappoint. They are extremely versatile and comfortable in any conditions you might think of throwing them in.
Definitely worth giving a shot, especially if you aren’t used to minimalist footwear yet, as they let you ease into the process.
Zero drop running shoes have been getting more and more room in the running world, and for a good reason. They are very versatile, with models’ purposes spanning from basic jogging to extreme running. Whatever your sport is, there is a zero drop model that could benefit your running experience out there.
All you need to do is give them a shot and see for yourself why they have been getting so much praise. You may find out they are exactly what you needed to improve your daily exercise or take on that trail you’ve been thinking about all this time. If you want to give zero drop shoes a proper chance, you shouldn’t jump into them too quickly.
Make a transition period in which you can get used to the new sensations you will undoubtedly experience. Practice wearing them for shorter exercises initially and extend the length of the exercise at your own pace.
Once you are used to zero drop running shoes, it will be hard to revert to the ones you were using before. So don’t be afraid to allow them to show you what natural foot movements can do for your posture and overall running.