If your toes feel cramped in conventional, narrow shoes, try these barefoot athletic shoes with a wide toe box.
I spent years chasing the perfect, comfortable athletic shoe, buying name brand after name brand until I realized — they weren’t built for my feet. And when you look at a natural foot shape, they weren’t really built to be comfortable for anyone’s feet.
Most major shoe companies make shoes with a narrow and tapered toe box, and that’s just not how human toes are meant to be. Almost every foot is widest at the toes, so that’s where a shoe should be the widest. It wasn’t until I realized this that I knew I needed to look for a shoe with a different type of shape. When I tried on a barefoot shoe with a wide toe box, my feet had never been happier. My toes finally had the room they needed to splay and properly function.
If you’re tired of super cramped toes at the gym or on a run, then check out this list of barefoot athletic shoes. Here’s what these shoes feature:
- Wide toe box
- Flat to allow for natural alignment
- Flexible to allow for natural movement
- Lightweight and breathable materials
Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on one of them, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. For more information, read our full disclosure.
Transitioning to barefoot shoes for exercise
If you’re new to barefoot shoes, it make take some time to adjust as most barefoot shoes have a thin, flat and flexible sole. Most of us are accustomed to the heavy cushion and support in conventional shoes, so it takes time to build the muscles, flexibility and mobility back up in our feet.
You may be able to switch over to barefoot shoes with a wide toe box while weightlifting or doing other exercises at the gym fairly quickly, but I recommend taking your time transitioning in running in barefoot shoes. I would be comfortable with only wearing barefoot shoes for several months before starting to run in barefoot shoes. From there, start with short runs and build up. It’s also really important that you use a proper running technique for barefoot shoes with thin soles, which uses a forefoot or midfoot strike as opposed to a heel strike.
For more in-depth and personalized guidance on learning to run in barefoot shoes, check out the Vivobarefoot Running Fundamentals Course. It includes an assessment of your running technique by Vivobarefoot’s coaches plus a personal follow-up video call to answer any of your questions and tips on how to improve.
When you’re shopping for barefoot shoes, check this list of all of my discount and coupon codes first. For recent barefoot shoe reviews, check my Instagram @thebarefootshoeguide or TikTok @barefootshoeguide.
Best Athletic Barefoot Shoes
This list includes the barefoot shoes I’ve liked best for exercise. These shoes have both men’s and women’s options. Typically, the men’s sizing runs slightly wider than the women’s.
The first options on this list are more considered a “true” barefoot shoe with more minimal cushion. At the end of the list are options with more cushion.
1 Vivobarefoot Primus
Vivobarefoot launched in the early 2000s, and is one of the largest and most well-known barefoot shoe companies. The goal of Vivobarefoot is to create shoes that allow the feet to do what’s natural. The company offers an extensive range of barefoot and minimalist options, including some stylish barefoot sneakers.
Vivobarefoot’s Primus line comes in a variety of different upper fabrics, from breathable mesh to all weather options with water resistant treatments. I’ve really liked all of the versions I’ve tried. The Primus lite pictured below may be my favorite as it’s really breathable and the material around the ankle is soft and smooth so I don’t have any spots that rub.
Fit & Sizing: I’ve found the Vivobarefoot Primus to run true to size (so size EU38/US7.5 for my 23.3cm feet). They fit narrow and medium width feet best. Size EU40 and above is available in both men’s and women’s, with the men’s version running slightly wider.
Use code KELLY10 for 10% off.
2 Xero Shoes Zelen
The Zelen is an athletic shoe that was released as part of Xero Shoe’s spring/summer ’22 launch. The Xero Shoes Zelen is a barefoot athletic shoe with a wide toe box, mesh uppers, and a tread that works well for both pavement and indoor workouts. Xero Shoes makes several other barefoot athletic shoes like the HFS, Speed Force and Prio.
Materials: Xero Shoes is making more of a concerted effort with regards to sustainability, so I was really happy about that. The uppers are mostly a knit mesh, made from recycled materials. The rubber soles are noted as enhanced biodegradable rubber, though I’m not sure how that differs from typical rubber.
Fit & Sizing: My foot measures 23.3cm and I went with size US7.5, my typical size. At first they felt a little tight, but it was more of a volume issue than a length issue. These come with a removable insole, so once I took them out they felt great. Xero Shoes do have a wide toe box, and fit narrow to medium width feet best. If you’re a woman with wider feet, try the men’s version which does run a bit wider.
Xero Shoes does offer free exchanges in the US within 45 days of order date.
3 Magical Shoes Explorer 2.0
The Magical Shoes Explorer 2.0 are barefoot athletic shoes with suede and breathable mesh uppers. The soles feel really grippy, so they’ll keep you from sliding around on a slick wood floor if you’re exercising indoors. They’re, 6.5mm, very thin and flexible.
I recommend sizing up from your typical size, but double check with the size chart for this model. I opted for a size 39, which is the right fit for my 23.3cm foot length. I’m typically a size 38, but based on the Magical Shoes size chart, the 39 is 24.5cm. This gives me about 1.2cm for optimal spacing.
These can fit medium width feet—Magical Shoes seem to run in the middle of the pack when comparing to other barefoot shoe brands out there. My feet lean towards the narrower end, and I have some extra room.
Use code KELLY10 for 10% off at Magical Shoes.
➳ Shop Now: Magical Shoes
4 Lems Primal 2
The Primal 2s are Lems original shoes, and the Zen are the 2022 update version. They’re more athletic and versatile if you want a shoe that works for running, workouts, and light hiking too. They make a great travel shoe if you’re planning on doing a little of everything and want something super comfortable. I have these in my typical size of 7.5, and they fit just right. Lems does vary sizing from shoe to shoe, so be sure to check the size chart.
5 Wildling Nebula
Wildling makes shoes that offer one of the closest experiences to being barefoot with a super flexible, 2.5mm sole. Wildling uses sustainable, innovative materials in its shoe line-up including organic recycled cotton, linen, hemp, and wool. The Nebula are made from a very breathable merino wool knit.
For free shipping on your first purchase at Wildling, use code WN_KellyUS for the US website or WN_Kelly for the International website.
➳ Shop Now: Shop Wildling US | Wildling International
6 Altra Running Shoes
While all the previous shoes on this list are minimal when it comes to cushion, Altra Running shoes have a generous stack height. Altras have three different sole widths — their Original FootShape fit, the Standard FootShape fit, and the Slim FootShape fit.
If you find yourself still needing a little extra space even with the foot shape fits, Altra offers a wide version in both the men’s and women’s shoes. However, I found that this offered more volume that actual insole width. I opted for the Altra Lone Peaks in wide (seen below), but it seemed to just give more fabric on top vs actually providing a wider base. Unless you need higher volume around the toes, I don’t think the wide option makes a huge difference.
The Altra Torins are a great option in the Standard fit with a 28mm stack height. The Altra Lone Peaks are a trail running shoe with the widest Original FootShape fit and a 25mm stack height. Altras are available online at the Altra website as well as REI and Zappos. The fit of Altras change from style to style and from version to version. For example, I found that the Rivera 2 was a good overall fit for me, but the Rivera 3 felt much narrower and tighter.
7 Topo Athletic
Topo Athletic also makes running shoes with a wide toe box. Currently, they have four models that are zero drop, while most other models have a heel to toe drop of 4 to 5mm. Topos are moderate to heavily cushioned, depending on the model.
Topo’s most minimal running shoe is the ST-4. It has a zero drop sole and a 16mm stack height. It has some cushion without feeling too squishy. If you’re trying to work you way down to running with less cushion, these are a step in that direction.
Other zero drop running shoes by Topo Athletic include the Magnify 4 road running shoe, and two trail running shoes: the Pursuit and the Runventure 4.