Most parents, doctors and experts would agree, barefoot is best for babies learning to walk. Learning to walk while barefoot helps grow stronger muscles in the foot and doesn’t interfere with the natural, healthy walking and running gait. Plus, being barefoot means more sensory messages are being sent to a growing child’s brain that is learning all about their new and ever-changing environment.
When your baby starts walking literally everywhere and you need to put a little protection on their feet, there are quite a few companies making cute soft leather barefoot baby shoes and moccasins. But once they start hitting those toddler sizes, there are less and less barefoot and minimalist shoe options.
Earlier this year, I started researching barefoot and minimalist hiking shoes for adults. As I learned more about the benefits of barefoot shoes, I started looking into barefoot toddler shoes for my son. Though limited, there are still great options for barefoot shoes for kids and toddlers. My son has been wearing several of these shoes, and I’ve included our personal reviews here in this list of the best barefoot shoes for kids and toddlers.
➳ Read Next: Best Minimalist and Barefoot Hiking Shoes for Adults
What to look for in Barefoot Shoes for Kids
1 Wide Toe Box – Look for shoes that fit the natural shape of the foot, including the toes. There should be enough room for all of those little toes to wiggle.
2 Thin, Flexible Soles – Soles should provide protection, but still allow for a sensory connection to the ground beneath and easy movement.
3 Zero-drop Platform – A zero-drop platform means a flat sole, just like our feet. Many shoes have a raised heel, which can cause strain on our body from the unnatural position and make injury more likely.
The difference between barefoot shoes and minimalist shoes is usually a little extra cushion or a slight heel drop of a few millimeters or less. You’re still getting most of the benefits of a barefoot shoe, just a little more padding or durability which can be a great option with kids that are pretty rough on shoes.
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Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids and Toddlers
Xero shoes recently expanded into barefoot shoes for kids with a smaller version of its most popular shoe, the Prio Running and Fitness Shoe. This is a great all-around shoe with a wide toe box and thin, flexible sole, so they’ll be great for all your outdoor adventures. The Xero Shoes Prio use the company’s signature FeelTrue rubber that provides adequate protection but still allows you to feel the ground underneath. The sizing currently starts at toddler size 12 and goes up to youth size 4. The kids’ Prios are priced at $69.99.
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Wildling is a small company out of Cologne, Germany that only makes barefoot shoes, both for children and adults. Germany has been a leader in the forest school movement, which seeks to immerse children in a natural environment, and Wildling shoes feed perfectly into this. These barefoot shoes allow children to develop a greater sensory connection to the world around them, bringing a child and its environment back together.
Hudson absolutely loves his “fox” shoes as he calls them. Hudson’s pair (the Tanuki Umi) is made of a special paper-type material from Japan called Washi. You make think of paper as flimsy, but Washi is durable, breathable, and dries quickly when it gets wet. These are the best barefoot shoes for active toddlers and kids during the summer. Wildling uses other vegan materials in its shoe line-up including organic cotton, linen, and hemp. Wildling winter shoes and boots utilize wool lining and exterior for extra warmth and its water-resistant properties.
I also have a pair of Wilding shoes from the company’s adult line ReWild, and they are the closest thing I’ve experienced to being barefoot. The 2.5mm outersole is just enough protection and there’s a thin layer of cushion for comfort. I love the full sensory connection to the ground; my feet have never been so happy in a pair of shoes.
Wildling shoes starts and size US Baby 2 (EU 18). To determine the appropriate size, use Wildling’s printable FitKit. Just make sure your scale is set to 100%. I was able to get both Hudson and my size right the first time with the FitKit, but Wildling does offer a first return free, so you can return and reorder if the sizing wasn’t right for you or your child. The Cubs (Baby) line starts at $60, and the Wildling (Toddler to Youth) line starts around $70.
Splay Athletics has focused on making one shoe, and making it really well. The Splay Loco has a clean, simple design made of cotton canvas and microfiber, and feels so well made. It’s a true barefoot shoe with a wide toe box, zero drop platform and super flexible sole.
It can be hard to find the right balance between flexibility and durability for a barefoot sole, and I think Splay got it just right. I did notice that these shoes are a bit on the narrow end (even with a wide toe box), so if your child has wide feet these may be a tight fit. Hudson’s feet are average width and he has no problem with these shoes.
Splay Athletics offers one of the most affordable price points for kids barefoot shoes. The Little Kids Splay Loco (toddler sizing) is $40, and the Kids Splay Loco is $44. Splay has a sizing guide to help you get the right fit.
➳ Shop Now: Splay Athletics
Vivobarefoot is one of the most prominent names in barefoot shoes. Its kids’ shoes all have soles that are thin, wide, flat and bendy to promote the natural foot development. Vivobarefoot has a wide range of styles in its kids’ barefoot shoe line up, including active, every day, sandals, and boots.
The Primus Kids and the Primus Junior are some of Vivobarefoot’s most popular zero-drop kids’ shoes. The breathable mesh uppers on these lightweight barefoot shoes are made from recycled PET plastic bottles, so they’re cutting down on the amount of new materials that go into their shoes and reducing the plastic that ends up in landfills. Vivobarefoot also makes sandals, leather boots, and winter boots for kids.
Vivobarefoot shoes start at US Toddler size 5 (EU 20). Prices range from $60 to sandals to $90 for leather boots.
Merrell Bare Steps
Even if you’re new to barefoot shoes, you’ve probably already heard of Merrell since they’re such a big name in hiking shoes and boots. While Merrell’s typical hikers can be a bit clunky, the Kids Bare Steps line are stripped down to the barefoot basics. The Bare Steps Sneakers have a soft suede and textile upper that’s flexible, plus an extra wide toe box. The sole is minimal, but it is a bit thicker than others on this list, like Wildlings and Splay Athletics. The Merrell Bare Steps line features sneakers, water shoes, hikers, and boots. These are also at an affordable price point for kids barefoot shoes, usually ranging between $35 and $55.
Softstar makes butter-soft leather shoes and moccasins with leather soles (for early walkers to be worn mostly indoors) or super-flexible Vibram Pyramid soles made for outdoor use. This company focuses on using natural, eco-friendly materials, minimizes waste, and continues to rank as one of the Best Green Workplaces in Oregon.
Every shoe is handcrafted in Softstar’s Oregon workshop, and many of the shoes can be customized with different colors. The customizability of these shoes continues with its sizing, where you can order narrow, regular, wide, or extra wide width shoes (check out the Softstar sizing information here). It can be difficult to find properly fitting shoes for children with wider feet, so Softstars are especially great for them!
I opted for Softstar’s Rugged Rambler for Hudson which comes with a thicker 9 mm sole – we walk plenty of rocky, dirt trails, and I wanted something more rugged that would stand up to this kind of use. It’s held up really well, making me think the slightly thinner 6 mm sole would be really durable too. Even though the sole on the Rugged Rambler is a bit thicker, it is still extremely flexible. The Ramblers are easy for toddlers to pull on themselves as there aren’t any ties or strap. If you want to add more cushion and warmth, Softstar sells removable sheepskin innersoles specifically made for its shoes.
While most companies making moccasins stop at early walker sizes, Softstars sizing goes from Baby Size 2 (0 – 6 months) all the way up to youth size 6. For both kids and adults, Softstar has the PRIMAL RunAmoc, a barefoot lace-up athletic shoe with leather uppers and a 5mm Vibram Trail Sole.
Most baby and toddler moccasins are priced from $40 to $50. The Youth PRIMAL RunAmoc is $110.
Tikki Shoes is a family-run barefoot shoe brand from Romania. This brand sells full-leather soft soled shoes for babies, as well as barefoot toddler shoes including everyday shoes, sandals and boots. The Tikki Aster is a barefoot kids’ shoe with a super flexible 3mm rubber outsole, wide toe box, and high-quality leather. These shoes are made to be easy for your toddler to put on and take off themselves with an easy velco strap. Tikki’s barefoot winter boots feature water-repellent suede leather and a warm wool lining.
Tikki Shoes are some of the most affordable I’ve seen, with barefoot leather baby moccasins starting at $22, and toddler shoes ranging from $30 to 62.
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Let us know if you have any questions about barefoot shoes for kids, or if your child have a favorite shoe we didn’t include here.
I requested a pair of shoes from Wildling, Softstar and Splay Athletics for this post, and they kindly sent me a pair of shoes for review. These are my personal opinions based on my experience.