Barefoot Shoes Kids Gear

7 Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids (Great for Exploring the Outdoors)

September 21, 2019
Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids and Toddlers

The best barefoot shoes for kids have thin, flexible soles and a wide toe-box. This allows a child to naturally develop strong, healthy feet!

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.

Child wearing Splay Shoes, barefoot shoes for kids

Splay Athletics barefoot kids shoes are flexible, zero-drop and perfect for exploring. Use code NOMANBEFORE for 10% off.

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

The soles of barefoot shoes for kids are foot shaped and flexible

Soles should be foot shaped and flexible

 

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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

Splay Athletics Barefoot Shoes for Kids | the Little Kids Loco shoe

Splay Athletics Barefoot Shoes for Kids | the Little Kids Loco shoe
Splay Athletics Barefoot Shoes for Kids | the Little Kids Loco shoe

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.  

Wildling Shoes - Barefoot Kids and Toddler Shoes
Wildling Shoes - Barefoot Kids and Toddler Shoes

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.

➳ Shop Now: Cubs (Toddler) /// Wildling (Kids)

Wildling Barefoot Shoes


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

Xero Shoes Barefoot Shoes for Kids


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 (use code NMB10 for 10% off!)

➳ Shop Now: Vivobarefoot Kids /// Zappos

Vivobarefoot Primus Junior - Barefoot Kid Shoes

Vivobarefoot Barefoot Shoes for Kids and Toddlers


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.

➳ Shop NowAmazon // Merrell // ZapposMerrell Baresteps Minimalist Shoes for Kids

Putting on Merrell Baresteps Barefoot Shoes for Kids
Merrell Baresteps Barefoot Shoes for Kids
Merrell Baresteps Barefoot Shoes for Kids

6 MUKISHOES

MukiShoes was founded in 2019 by Madlen and Marta, whose goal was to create a minimalist shoe out of natural materials that looked great. Mukishoes uses local, organic and fair-trade materials as much as possible. The shoes are manufactured in Portugal, which is where the company is located.

Mukishoes launched its kids line in late 2020, and they’re just as high quality as the adult shoes I’ve been wearing this summer. These cute and colorful sneakers are made with cotton, hemp or leather uppers. The 2.5mm natural rubber sole is super flexible and overall the shoes are extremely light. These shoes are easy for kids to put on themselves with either double velcro or adjustable elastic laces that pull tight.

My son has been wearing the Woozle Play shoes, launched as part of their Spring 2021 line (pictured below).

These fit feet that are average to a bit higher volume. I compared these to the Splay Shoes in the same size, and my son had more room around the ankles and the top. So if your child needs something a bit roomier, Mukishoes are a great option!

➳ Pricing: €69 to €90. Use code NOMANBEFORE10 for 10% off.

➳ Shop Now: MukiShoes Kids

Mukishoes hightop barefoot sneakers for kids

Easy velcro on minimalist shoes for kids
Mukishoes Woozle play are barefoot shoes with fun pops of color!
Easy velcro on minimalist shoes for kids

7 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 PedTerra. 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 PedTerra 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 PedTerra, you can easily order from brands like Bundgaard, Be Lenka, and Paper Krane, and it is risk free! On these shoes, it’s much more cost effective to order from PedTerra as the price is lower and the shipping is free. If you’re in the US and ordering on the BeLenka website, DHL shipping from Europe to the US will cost between $20 to $30. But with PedTerra, 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

➳ Shop Now: Be Lenka | PedTerra (use code NOMANBEFORE for 10% off)

Belenka Play Kids Barefoot Shoes

 


8 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!

Softstar Barefoot Shoes - Soft leather shoes
Flexible Softar Barefoot Shoes

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.

➳ Shop Now: Baby /// Child /// Youth

Softstar Barefoot Shoes


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The thin, flexible soles and wide toe-box of barefoot shoes allow a child's foot to develop naturally. Learn more about the best barefoot shoes for kids! #barefootshoes #minimalistshoes 
The thin, flexible soles and wide toe-box of barefoot shoes allow a child's foot to develop naturally. Learn more about the best barefoot shoes for kids! #barefootshoes #minimalistshoes

Let us know if you have any questions about barefoot shoes for kids, or if you have a favorite barefoot shoe brand you want to share!

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31 Comments

  • Reply Gi October 7, 2019 at 10:52 am

    thank you for the tips, I’m a busy mom trying to find some good shoes for my babies. You helped me. much love

    • Reply nomanbefore October 7, 2019 at 4:22 pm

      So glad this helped!

  • Reply Tae October 21, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Thanks so much for this roundup! I love barefoot style shoes for myself and for my toddler. A comment and a Q:

    1.Merrell also makes a barefoot kids line called BareSteps. My 2-year-old had the BareSteps H20 shoes this past summer and they’re great barefoot summer shoes. She could also put them on herself pretty easily. And only $35! FYI, though, these don’t dry as fast as advertised so they’re not a true water shoe. I’m about to buy her the BareSteps boot for the winter.

    2. Do you have any recs on good barefoot rain or snow boots for toddlers and little kids? The Hunter kids rainboot looks ok from a barefoot perspective (flat, somewhat flex sole, wider toe box), but those are not warm enough for snow. Last year, my kiddo had Baby Bogs and while I like that they’re wide, waterproof, and warm (and my 16-month toddler could put them on herself), the sole is firm and lifts up at the toe. I haven’t seen any barefoot winter/snow boots, though, so as of now I’m thinking I’ll have to go with the Bogs again. Would love any insights you have!

    • Reply nomanbefore October 21, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      Hi Tae, thanks so much for the info! I’ll have to check out the Merrell shoes.

      I’ve been searching for barefoot/minimalist rain boots or snow boots for kids, but those seem even harder to find. I understand because the extra warmth and insulation is going to make it harder to have a flexible sole.
      A couple of the shoes I mentioned above make warmer versions (the Wildlings have wool shoes, Softstar offers removable sheepskin innersoles). I know Vivobarefoot also has some winter boots, but I think they are mostly offered in adult sizes. I saw these snow boots by Plae that look like they could be promising (the description says lightweight and flexible), but I haven’t seen them in person. Might be worth a shot! If you find something better, I’d love it if you left another comment! Thanks!

      https://www.plae.co/collections/kid/products/jack-waterproof-titanium-quartz?gclid=Cj0KCQjwrrXtBRCKARIsAMbU6bFBHHetW71NH8JnmaGYc1-WWZrj7qX-zrlxjigoi2eBJboqxz2oxyIaAsuMEALw_wcB

    • Reply nomanbefore October 21, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      I just remembered another company that might be worth a shot — Bobux. They seem more minimalist than true barefoot, but they have rain boots and merino wool-lined boots.

      https://www.bobux.com/merino-collection

      • Reply Tae October 25, 2019 at 9:03 am

        Thanks so much for the recs and quick reply! If I find something else/better, or if I end up with the Plae or Bobux, I’ll let you know how they turn out!

      • Reply Tae October 25, 2019 at 9:03 am

        Thank you for the recs + quick reply! If I find something else/better, or if I end up with the Plae or Bobux, I’ll let you know how they turn out!

  • Reply Kate October 30, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    HI, Just so you know, bobux are amazing. Really flat, pretty flexible and cute. BUT the most flexible are also the narrowest (aktiv range). They aren’t barefoot, but the closest thing we have. I’m from NZ and they are a NZ company so widely available here, in fact I found you while trying to find the next step up for when he outgrows bobux. The Paddington boot are waterproof and merino lined, but it’s a very thin lining, not furry.

    • Reply nomanbefore October 30, 2019 at 10:38 pm

      Hi Kate — that’s great to hear! We’ll have to check out Bobux!

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  • Reply Abbie Hunkin February 7, 2020 at 3:21 am

    Great round-up of options. I would also recommend Attipas. Much more affordable than other options. Essentially socks with a very flexible rubber sole. Very cute and funky, and so handy as can be chucked in the washing machine. My little one lived in them – probably the closest thing to barefoot but with protection from (shallow!) puddles, stones etcs.

    • Reply nomanbefore February 7, 2020 at 9:08 am

      Hey Abbie — thanks for the recommendation. It’s always great to find good affordable options!

  • Reply Raisa March 1, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    Is Pediped barefoot or…? I found a pair at a store qnd I actually couldn’t bend it over.
    Not to mention see Kai run, super stiff shoes…

    And how about stride rite?
    Im fairly new to the US and for now I have my kid on Babilukids, a (awesome) brand from Spain That fortunately ships to the US…but sizing is difficult online so im looking to switch to an american available brand…

    • Reply nomanbefore March 2, 2020 at 1:38 pm

      Hey Raisa! That’s tough when you find something you love but it’s hard to get when you move. I’m haven’t seen Pediped or See Kai Run, but if they’re stiff then they’re not barefoot. Same with Stride Rite — I know they say they’re the best for kids learning to walk, but most of the shoes I’ve seen are pretty traditional. I’ve seen some of the Stride Rites that have a wider toe box, but usually aren’t particularly flexible. Here in the US, you should be able to get a hold of most shoes included in this blog pretty easily (however, Wildling and Tikki Shoes are coming from Europe, so they may cost a bit more to ship). And most of them have a sizing guide you can print out, which makes it a lot easier to get the size right the first time. Hope that helps!

      • Reply Jessica October 16, 2020 at 10:41 pm

        Hi, I’m wondering why Plae is not on the list? Thank you.
        I value your opinion.

        • Reply nomanbefore October 27, 2020 at 10:58 am

          Hi Jessica – last time I checked them out, they were a bit stiff and not as wide of a toe box I was looking for. Have you tried them recently? I’ll have to check them out again!

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  • Reply Shannon September 5, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    This is a brilliant list and this mama from AZ thanks you! However I have one additional ? Which one do you know of that is best for RUNNING. My son loves to run and we’re in plae brand but they cause shin split style pain for him so we want to put him into a barefoot option like myself (love my altras). Have you heard which option is best/cushioned enough for road running?

    THANKS!

    • Reply nomanbefore September 5, 2020 at 9:44 pm

      Hey Shannon – my son loves to run like crazy (just getting timed to run around a baseball field over and over is his idea of fun), and he’s been mostly wearing the Splay Athletics shoes this summer. But, he’s usually running on grass or dirt, so it’s not near as hard on your body as running on the road. I think the biggest part of transitioning to barefoot shoes as a runner is changing where and how you strike the ground. Since you’re a runner you probably already know this, but with regular cushioned shoes, most people tend to heel strike. But, if you wear barefoot shoes, you kind of have to retrain yourself to forefoot strike to lessen the impact. Heel striking does cause shin splints for some people, so it might be worth looking into both a new pair of shoes and understanding how your son is running and where his foot is striking.

      With that said, I think the Xero Shoes Prio are probably the best kids barefoot shoes for running — they are still pretty minimalist, but they do have a bit more cushion and structure than some of the other kids’ barefoot shoe. The adults Prio has been a popular running shoe in the barefoot community for awhile, and they just recently released it in a smaller size for kids. I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any other questions! -Kelly

  • Reply Maria Arefieva September 8, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    How is your experience with wearing Wildlings Shoes? Ours started falling apart after about 2 months and by the end of summer they are almost completely unusable, even with us using glue every couple of weeks to keep them together.

    • Reply nomanbefore September 10, 2020 at 7:34 pm

      Hi Maria – Sorry to hear you haven’t had a great experience with the Wildlings. Both of ours have kept together pretty well. I did notice a few of the stitchings starting to come out on the kid’s shoes, but they also seemed glued in the same place so the materials didn’t actually come apart.

      I tend to wear mine for more of regular everyday things, but my son has worn his hiking and they’ve gotten wet and they’ve held up. They may vary based on the type of material — he has the washi ones which seemed like a pretty strong material, but mine are cotton and they seem a lot more delicate. If yours fell apart that quickly, I’d definitely try contacting customer service. Of all of the barefoot shoes we’ve tried, Wildlings are some of the closest to barefoot and therefore seem the most delicate. If you’re looking for something sturdier and good for outdoors I’d recommend the Xero Shoes or the Merrell Bare Steps. Please let me know if you have any other question!

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  • Reply Alice December 5, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    My son has very deep feet. It’s impossible to find anything that fits him in childrens shoe shops. I wanted to try a barefoot and hoped you could tell me which is the deepest one. His width and length is normal just thickness of height if that makes sense??

    • Reply nomanbefore December 6, 2020 at 11:40 pm

      Hi Alice – I know it can be so tough to find the right shoe for your feet (or your child’s), especially when you can’t try them all on! If your son has a high instep, or just a larger volume foot from top to bottom, I’d recommend Mukishoes, Wildling, or Softstar moccasins. These are generally taller shoes and pretty soft and flexible, so they’re easier to get on and aren’t as restrictive over the top of the foot. I think both Softstar and Wildling have free returns, at least for your first order, if the shoes aren’t a good fit. Froddo shoes are usually good for kids with high volume feet too, and you can order them with free shipping and returns from Young Sole Shoes if you’re located in the US. I’ve also heard people say some of the Bobux shoes work well for kids with a high instep, which you can order from Zappos. Everyone’s feet are so different, I’d recommend trying a few to see which ones fit your son the best. Hope that helps, and I’d love to hear what worked best for you!

  • Reply Rachel January 17, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Hi, Kelly, since you used to lived in AZ you know what it’s like during the summer (we’re from Mesa) along with the fact that it’s a concrete jungle. Would you recommend any of these specifically for the heat and the concrete? Thanks!

    • Reply nomanbefore January 18, 2021 at 10:25 am

      Hey Rachel — Those summers are killer! I grew up in Mesa too, and every time I visit in the summer I always can’t believe how hot it can get. For the heat, I would go with either the Splay or the Wildlings. They’re what my son wears in warm weather since they’re lightweight and breathable. Most of the time, he doesn’t wear them with socks, and there hasn’t been and issue with smell or blisters.

      If you opt for Wildlings, make sure you get a summer model made of cotton or linen (as opposed to one of their winter models with thicker fabric and a membrane) — models like the Jay, Dandelion, Pola or Nebula would be really good options. Or if you want to opt for sandals, I wear the Xero Shoes Z Trail sandals all the time and really love them, especially for hiking. Hope that helps, but let me know if you have any other questions! -Kelly

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