Some runners that look for the right pair of running shoes want one that keeps their foot gait as natural as possible. You should check out our page on finding the right running shoe for you if you’re unsure of the runners gait.
The reasoning for it is that you don’t have to rely too much on cushioning and un-natural foot movement. Zero drop running shoes aren’t the best for everyone (Especially those people with injuries) but if its something you’re after we’ve compiled some of the best choices from various brands below. We’ve looked at comfort, terrain and style to come up with our list.
If you’re after more details on what to look out for in a zero drop running shoe check out our guide at the bottom of the page. We’ve also answered some of the most frequently asked questions that people want answered which you can check out.
Best Zero Drop Running Shoes Compared And Reviewed
1. Altra Rivera
Reasons to buy
- Thick midsole
- Body-friendly design
- Well-fitting upper
- Helps enhance natural gait
- Protective but light
Reasons to avoid
- Upper interior is slippery
- Tends to run narrow
The best zero drop shoes are designed to enhance the natural movement of the human body, and Altra knows that well. So, if you want something that feels like an extension of your limbs, try the Altra Rivera.
This shoe packs a ton of innovative features that makes the shoes feel like a part of your body.
For one, its Altra EGO midsole is both protective and cushioning. It’s hard enough to protect you from impacts but soft enough to maintain that responsive feeling that makes running so enjoyable.
It also sports Altra’s Neutral Inner Flex technology to maximize the flexibility of your foot, easing the heel-to-toe transition. The outsole has a FootPod design to support key areas of your foot’s bones and tendons. At the same time, the Balanced Cushioning helps your gait become more natural by removing the drop, providing consistent support throughout the whole foot instead.
The Rivera’s upper is just as fantastic. It’s made with a special mesh designed to wrap around your foot like a second skin. Paired with a special Bio Heel technology, the shoes create a firm heel cup that organically fits your heel to a T.
However, keep in mind that the lightweight mesh used for the upper is the slippery kind, so your heels might shift on the inside of the shoe as you run more challenging trails. Also, the shoes tend to run narrow, especially in the forefoot area. Keep in that mind when buying since these shoes are too expensive not to fit your foot perfectly.
Stable, comfortable, and instinctive, the Altra Rivera is a solid choice if you want to combine zero drop shoes with a good deal of cushioning.
2. Xero HFS
Reasons to buy
- Secure fit
- Supportive upper
- Very flexible
- Good ground feel
- Lightweight and breathable
Reasons to avoid
- Difficult sizing
- Not as durable as advertised
Lightweight and travel-friendly, the Xero HFS packs a lot of functionality into its minimalist design.
For those who want to take zero-drop shoes a step further, the minimalist Xero HFS is a great way to start. It’s pretty close to barefoot, with only a thin slice of 7.5mm padding between your feet and the ground. It also provides an incredible ground feel to make your runs feel more natural while remaining incredibly light and flexible.
The outsole is created with Xero’s patented FeelTrue sole, which maintains good flexibility throughout your runs. Thanks to this, you can easily roll up the shoes and stuff them in your bag when you’re done running.
In terms of fit, the HFS provides a secure grip on the back of the foot and the heel. Meanwhile, the forefoot and toe area feels spacious without being loose, allowing your feet to expand organically when you run. It also has adjustable straps so that you can customize the fit around your midfoot and instep.
Keep in mind, though, that the sizing is a bit tricky to figure out. Having a snug fit is critical in minimalist shoes like this, and if you have an unconventional foot shape, you might want to give this a pass. Also, the outsole is not as durable as the advertised 5,000 miles, which is unfortunate since it costs quite a bit.
Overall, if you have money to burn and want lightweight zero drop shoes that you can roll up into your travel bag, then feel free to try the Xero HFS.
3. Altra Lone Peak 5
Reasons to buy
- Promotes natural gait
- Features a rock plate
- Responsive yet protective midsole
- Durable high-traction outsole
- Comfortable and snug fit
Reasons to avoid
- Sides are not that supportive
- Doesn’t work as well on concrete
A champion of zero-drop trail running, the Altra Lone Peak 5 is a foot-friendly way to conquer the outdoors.
Designed to be versatile trail running shoes, this pair is suitable for any kind of outdoor trail. It combines Altra’s MaxTrac and TrailClaw technologies to form a protective outsole equipped with pointed, multi-directional lugs that will translate your force into unyielding traction. To protect your foot from impact, the Lone Peak 5 features an improved StoneGuard rock plate insert.
The midsole makes use of the AltraEGO technology to provide responsiveness that’s rarely seen in other trail running shoes. Meanwhile, the Balanced Cushioning and FootShape technologies allow your feet to move more naturally and have more room for your toes to expand, respectively.
Keep in mind, though, that these are dedicated trail shoes, which means they might feel sluggish on concrete roads or tracks. Also, although the upper is stiffer than usual, it still doesn’t provide the ideal side support. In reality, it’s more flexible than supportive, so be careful when using it on technical trails.
All in all, if flexibility and protection are your main considerations when running in the great outdoors, there’s no better shoe than the Altra Lone Peak 5.
4. Merrell Vapor Glove 5
Reasons to buy
- Features toe guard
- Comfortable interior padding
- Provides great ground traction
- Aesthetics are subtle and modern
If you’re in the market for the best zero drop shoes that you can take to the tracks, then the Merrell Vapor Glove 5 should be your first choice.
A dedicated barefoot shoe, you won’t find the typical amount of midsole cushioning in the Vapor Glove 5. With only 6.5mm of stack height, these shoes will feel like you are running with your own bare feet.
The outsole is durable and grips well. Plus, thanks to its Vibram Ecostep construction, you won’t be let down even if you run on light trails.
One of the things that stand out the most about this shoe is the design. Unlike the other more rugged-looking shoes on this list, its modern minimalist look allows you to pair it with casual clothes.
Other than aesthetics, another thing that Merrel got right is its fit. Designed to fit like a second skin for your trotters, the Vapor Glove 5 hugs your feet like a good friend, providing more than enough padding on the collar and tongue. Without the extra amount of cushioning found on other shoes, this pair lets your feet move as if they were barefoot – all while providing significantly more protection.
Speaking of protection, the Vapor Glove 5 also features a TPU rubber toe guard, which offers an extra layer of protection over your toes. However, this hardened portion of the toe box might not be for everyone, as it can make the shoe feel more cramped than it is. Also, although it’s still comfortably padded for a pair of barefoot shoes, it does have less padding than previous iterations.
Minor inconveniences aside, the Vapor Glove 5 still remains a solid zero drop choice for those who value style and practicality above all else.
5. Topo Magnifly 3
Reasons to buy
- Wide toe box
- Rocker midsole
- Added insole padding
- Thick midsole cushioning
- Lightweight upper
Reasons to avoid
- Tends to run small
If you’re looking for a pair of light and responsive zero drop shoes that is the perfect cross between cushioned, responsive, and barefoot, then look no further than the Topo Magnifly 3.
Although it’s a zero drop shoe, it does have a thicker layer of cushioning than the other shoes on this list. Sure, it doesn’t have that extreme ground feel, but it will still bring you closer to nature while minimizing the potential hazards of running barefoot.
The upper is made of seamless, lightweight mesh with a padded collar and tongue. This design decreases the chances of discomfort caused by abrasion without reducing the shoe’s supportiveness, especially in the heel area.
Its midsole is a hybrid variety, made of a firmer and protective bottom and a softer and more responsive cushion. It also has a gentle rocker shape to help facilitate a smoother heel-to-toe transition. Add to that the anti compression Ortholite Footbed and the wide toe box, and you have a very comfortable and natural shoe that you can run in for miles.
However, be careful about the sizing. The Magnifly 3 tends to run small, so it might be best to buy it a half size bigger than your true size.
All things considered, the Topo Magnifly 3 is a solid choice if you want something natural but aren’t willing to sacrifice comfort.
6. Vibram V-Run
Reasons to buy
- Antimicrobial liner
- Durable construction
- Convenient lacing system
- Comfortable finger cut-outs
Reasons to avoid
- Not for beginners
- Doesn’t have a discreet look
Vibram is one of the most well-known brands when it comes to five-fingered barefoot running shoes, and the Vibram V-Run is a good example of that.
Although it barely looks like a pair of super sturdy, rubber-coated socks, many consider the Vibram V-Run as the ultimate zero drop barefoot running experience.
With its lightweight and unique, fully articulated five-finger design, there’s little else that goes between your feet and the ground. This allows you the ultimate ground feel and the most natural movement when running if that’s what you’re into.
The V-Run is surprisingly very durable, considering how thin it is. The midsole consists of Vibram’s shock-absorbing Vi-lite rubber, while the outsole is made of XS-RUN, which offers high traction on smooth surfaces.
The outsole is further enhanced by Vibram MONT grip, a specialized rubber compound commonly used in extreme sports equipment to improve traction.
The upper is made with synthetic Lycra mesh to provide adequate support. It also has many perforations in its design to make it breathable and features a Drilex antimicrobial sockliner to keep your feet fresh. On top of this, it has a convenient, single-pull lacing system.
The Vibram V-Run is an iconic barefoot running shoe, which might work against its favor. It’s definitely not discreet, and you have to be prepared to draw some eyes.
Lastly, if it’s your first time running with barefoot or zero drop shoes, keep in mind that the Vibram V-Run is a huge leap from traditional footwear. You might want to ease into it, or it might be an uncomfortable and–with the price of the V-Run–expensive experience.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of true barefoot running, then the Vibram V-Run is certainly one of the best zero drop experiences you should try.
How To Choose The Best Zero Drop Running Shoe?
Zero drop shoes can help you achieve a more natural running gait. They can also relieve pains caused by unnatural foot movement and too much reliance on cushioning. You also want to have some cushioning when starting out and transitioning to a zero drop shoe though.
When picking which one is the best for your specific purposes, consider three factors: comfort, terrain, and fit.
Many zero drop shoes are also the barefoot variety, and although these types of shoes can be great, they’re definitely not for everyone.
If you’re used to having more material between you and the ground, think about getting some of the more padded shoes on the list – both on the midsole and the interior. Some examples would be the Altra Rivera and the Topo Magnifly 3.
When buying zero drop shoes, consider what kind of surface you usually run on.
The minimalist shoes in this list can increase your risk of injury if you wear them on rough terrain, especially if you’re not used to them.
Shoes with minimal paddings, such as the Vibram V-Run and Merrell Vapor Glove 5, are great for tracks, roads, and light trails. But if you’re planning to go off-road, you should pick zero drop shoes specifically made for the ride, such as the Altra Lone Peak 5.
If you want to wear your zero drop shoes like normal shoes, it should look discreet enough to be paired with casual attire.
Unfortunately, some zero-drop shoes, like the Vibram V-Run, are not good in this regard, as they tend to draw a lot of attention due to their unconventional design. If this is what you’re going for, then, by all means, go ahead, but for those who want something more casual and less eye-catching, it’s best to look elsewhere.
Pairs like the Merrell Vapor Glove 5, the Topo Magnifly 3, and the Altra Rivera are all discreet shoes – nobody would even be able to tell that they’re any different from regular running shoes. If you prefer it this way, then these three are the best zero drop shoes for you.
It’s important to find a shoe that fits well and is comfortable. You want to avoid shoes that are too tight or too loose, as they can cause blisters or other discomfort while running.
To find the right fit, it’s best to try on shoes in person and walk around in them to see how they feel. You may need to try on a few different brands and sizes to find the best fit.
Some zero drop shoes have a built-in arch support, while others do not. Consider whether you need arch support and choose a shoe accordingly. If you have high arches or flat feet, you may need more arch support to help stabilize your foot.
On the other hand, if you have a normal arch and good foot stability, you may not need as much arch support.
Zero drop shoes can vary in terms of cushioning. Some have more cushioning than others, so consider your preferences and needs. If you have joint issues or are running long distances, you may want a shoe with more cushioning to help absorb the impact of each step.
On the other hand, if you prefer a more minimalist feel, you may want a shoe with less cushioning. Cushioning however, is important when you are transitioning to a zero drop running shoe.
Think about the type of surface you’ll be running on. If you’ll be running on rough or uneven terrain, you may want a shoe with more protection and support. Look for shoes with reinforced toe caps or rock plates to help protect your feet from rocks and other debris.
Zero drop shoes can vary in price. Consider your budget and choose a shoe that fits within it. While it’s important to invest in a good pair of running shoes, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to get a good pair.
Look for sales or discounts, or consider buying a less expensive brand.
Think about why you need a zero drop shoe. Do you want a shoe that allows you to have a more natural running style? Do you want a shoe that helps improve your foot strength and stability? Knowing your purpose will help you find a shoe that meets your specific needs.
How To Transition To A Zero Drop Running Shoe
Transitioning to zero drop running shoes can be a great way to improve your running technique and strengthen your feet and lower legs. However, it’s important to take a gradual approach to ensure that you don’t experience any injuries or discomfort. Here are some tips for transitioning to zero drop running shoes:
Gradually decrease the drop
The drop is the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot of a running shoe. If you’re transitioning from a traditional running shoe with a higher drop, it’s important to gradually decrease the drop to allow your body time to adjust. As a general rule, you should aim to decrease the drop by 4mm each time you switch to a new pair of shoes.
Start with shorter runs
When you first start using zero drop shoes, it’s a good idea to stick to shorter runs. This will give your body time to adjust to the new shoe and help prevent any injuries or discomfort. As you get used to the shoes, you can gradually increase your distance.
Pay attention to your body
It’s normal to experience some muscle soreness or fatigue as your body adjusts to the new shoe, but if you experience any sharp pain or discomfort, it’s a good idea to take a break and allow yourself time to recover. Listen to your body and take it slow during the transition period.
Do cross-training exercises
In addition to running, consider incorporating other activities into your routine, such as strength training or yoga. This will help strengthen your lower legs and improve your overall fitness.
The transition period can take anywhere from 3 months to 1 year, so it’s important to be patient and allow your body time to adjust. Pace yourself and find a schedule that works for you.
By following these tips, you can successfully transition to zero drop running shoes and improve your running technique and overall fitness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Almost all barefoot running shoes are zero drop, but not all zero drop running shoes are barefoot shoes. Barefoot shoes have the additional requirement of being extremely minimalist. For many, that means having a flexible enough sole.
It depends on your preference. Some people use zero drop shoes to improve their runs, while others find it uncomfortable. If you’re interested, you can try out some zero drop shoes that are beginner-friendly and not as costly. If you end up liking them, only then should you consider a more premium option.
A zero drop running shoe is made to help you have a more natural running posture, which supposedly mimics the feeling of not having any shoes. This helps minimize heel striking, strengthen your feet, and reduce the chances of injury.
Altra is our top brand for zero drop shoes. Altra has long been known for making these types of shoes, and most of their creations feature this. However, all the other brands featured in this list create top-notch zero drop shoes. It’s a matter of finding a preference.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is through constantly challenging yourself.