Hiking Gear Kids Gear

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

September 21, 2019
Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids and Toddlers

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

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.

➳ Shop Now: Kids

Kids Xero Shoes Prio - Barefoot shoes for kids


Wildling

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.  

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 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.

➳ Shop Now: Cubs /// Wildling

Wildling Shoes - Barefoot Kids and Toddler Shoes


Splay Athletics 

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. 

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

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: Little Kids /// Kids

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

Vivobarefoot

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 shoes start at US Toddler size 5 (EU 20). Prices range from $60 to sandals to $90 for leather boots. You can purchase Vivobarefoot shoes directly from the company website or on Zappos. 

➳ Shop Now: Vivobarefoot Kids

Vivobarefoot Primus Junior - Barefoot Kid Shoes


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.

➳ Shop Now: Toddler // Child

Merrell Bare Step Sneakers, Barefoot Shoes for Kids


Softstar  

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.

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


Tikki Shoes

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.

➳ Shop Now: Baby /// Kids

Tikki Shoes Aster - Barefoot Kids 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 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.

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10 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!

  • Reply The Best Winter Clothes for Kids: How to Layer to Stay Warm November 12, 2019 at 12:00 am

    […] learned about how important footwear is in the development of feet, which is why I created this post here talking about the best barefoot shoes for kids.  Many winter shoes tend to be heavy and have little bend, which can be both uncomfortable and […]

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