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, and more traditional shoes with stiff soles and narrow toe boxes.
However, having comfortable, flexible shoes that allow our feet and body to move naturally is important at any age. Wearing barefoot shoes means that toddlers and kids can continue to develop a natural walking and running gait, and keep their sensory connection to the world beneath their feet.
I started wearing barefoot and minimalist hiking shoes several years ago, and as I learned more about the benefits of barefoot shoes, I began buying barefoot toddler shoes for my son. Thankfully, over the last year or two there has been a lot of growth in the market with companies offering great barefoot shoes for kids and toddlers. We’ve been testing out shoes to share our personal reviews here of the best barefoot shoes for kids and toddlers.
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.
➳ Read Next: Barefoot Sandals for Kids: The Best Summer Sandals
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Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids and Toddlers
1 SPLAY ATHLETICS EXPLORE
Splay Athletics has focused on making one shoe, and making it really well. After testing out a number of barefoot shoes for kids, this one was the everyday favorite. The Splay Athletics shoe strikes the right balance between durability and flexibility, comfort, and it’s easy to put on. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable options out there (and with code NOMANBEFORE, you get 10% off!). Sizing starts at US8 (or EU24), so that means even toddlers can start wearing these shoes!
The Splay Explore 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 has a velcro strap and the tongue pulls back, so it’s easy for kids to put on this shoe all by themselves.
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. My son is on his second pair of Splay shoes after growing out of the first, and both have held up well to a lot of outdoor use.
These shoes are a bit on the narrow end overall (even with a wide toe box), so if your child has wide feet you may want to size up. Hudson’s feet are average width and he has no problem with these shoes. Splay has a sizing guide on its website to help you get the right fit.
➳ Pricing: $44 to $48. Use code NOMANBEFORE for 10% off!
➳ Shop Now: Splay Athletics
2 WILDLING KIDS SHOES
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 shoes are the closest to being barefoot with a super flexible, 2.5mm sole; they 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. We’ve been wearing Wildlings for about almost two years and tried out both the lighter summer models and the warmer winter ones. Wildling uses sustainable, vegan materials in its shoe line-up including organic cotton, linen, hemp, and wool.
Hudson’s summer 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 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 barefoot 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 on its website. 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.
➳ Pricing: The Cubs (Baby) line starts at $60, and the Wildling (Toddler to Youth) line starts around $70.
3 XERO SHOES PRIO
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. The vegan exterior materials are light by really sturdy. This is the best option if you’re looking for a great barefoot hiking shoe for kids.
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.
➳ Pricing: The kids’ Prios are priced at $69.99.
➳ Shop Now: Kids Prio
4 VIVOBAREFOOT PRIMUS KIDS AND PRIMUS JUNIOR
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 barefoot winter boots for kids. Vivobarefoot shoes start at US Toddler size 5 (EU 20).
➳ Pricing: Prices range from $60 to sandals to $90 for leather boots.
5 MERRELL BARE STEPS SNEAKERS
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.
Every style in this barefoot line is made of 45% recycled materials, so these shoes have a lesser impact on the environment. They start at size US Toddler 4, so they’re great for kids just learning how to walk.
➳ Pricing: The Merrell barefoot toddler and kids shoes are at an affordable price point, usually ranging between $35 and $55.
6 BE LENKA PLAY KIDS BAREFOOT SHOES
Be Lenka was founded in 2017 by Lenka Cenigova, a former long jump Paralympian that is passionate about barefoot shoes. Be Lenka currently sells five different styles of casual barefoot shoes for both men and women and recently launched their children’s barefoot shoe, the Play. The Play is a high top sneaker with a 6 mm flexible sole that allows the foot to move and bend naturally. These shoes are handmade in Europe with nubuck leather. Often times the color selection for barefoot kids shoes can be somewhat limited, so I love that Be Lenka added fun pops of color and patterns to their kid’s line, like mango, metallic pink, and rainbow stars. Sizes start at EU 25.
The Be Lenka kids’ shoes just launched this summer and I’m impressed with the quality of these shoes. My son had some hightop Vans a few years ago he really loved before we switched to barefoot shoes, and these really remind me of them, but with a much thinner, more flexible sole and wider toe-box.
If you’re located in the US and want to try these shoes (or several of the other amazing European barefoot brands), then check out the online retailer Young Sole Shoes. Like us, they’re passionate about healthy, barefoot shoes and realized how difficult it can be to get some of the amazing barefoot shoe brands based out of Europe here in the US – so Young Sole Shoes simplifies the process of buying comfortable shoes for your children by making it easy to order new barefoot shoe brands with no shipping or return costs. With Young Sole Shoes, you can easily order from brands like Bundgaard, Be Lenka, and Paper Krane, and it is risk free! The retail price for the kids’ Be Lenka sneakers from Young Sole Shoes is about the same as ordering directly from Be Lenka plus paying for shipping (DHL shipping from Europe to the US is $19.90). But with Young Sole Shoes, you get the benefit of free returns if they don’t fit and you can use code NOMANBEFORE for 10% off!
➳ Pricing: $66 to $93, depending on size and retailer
7 SOFTSTAR MOCCASINS
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.
➳ Pricing: Most baby and toddler moccasins are priced from $40 to $50. The Youth PRIMAL RunAmoc is $110.