Top 5 Barefoot Trail Running Shoes - Hands-on review 2024 (2024)

Many people think that barefoot running and trail running don’t mix. However, a community of enthusiasts and I beg to differ!

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll skip the pitch on the benefits of barefoot running.

Let’s focus on discovering the ideal barefoot trail running shoe for you!

In this article, I’ll share my top 4 trail running shoes, including one that’s on my wish list, and I’ll also detail which shoe is best suited for whom and under what conditions they excel.

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II

Width: Average

Stack height: 6mm + 3.5mm insole

Weight: 8.2oz / 232g

Ground Feel80




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Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG

Width: Average

Stack height: 2.5 mm + 4 mm lugs + 3mm insole

Weight: 8.9 oz / 250 g

Ground Feel75




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Merrell Vapor Glove 6

Width: Narrow

Stack height: 6mm

Weight: 4.59 oz / 130 g




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Altra Superior 6

Width: Narrow

Stack height: 21mm

Weight: 9.5 oz / 270 g

Ground Feel50




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Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II

Last year I ran most of the Colorado Trail (500 miles) in the original Mesa Trail, and they’re still in my shoe rotation!

I didn’t think any shoe could top the Mesa Trail for ground feel, grip, and fit – but I was wrong.

In the end, Xero Shoes decided to better themselves with version 2.

Which minimal running shoe is for you?

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The main upgrades focused on durability.

Admittedly, the original Mesa Trail was a soft, super flexible barefoot trail shoe. And that didn’t always work, especially when flying down technical rocky trails, and that’s why Xero Shoes needed a version 2!

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Is the outsole and upper protective over rugged trail terrain?

The outsole on version 2 stiffened slightly, allowing you to step on sharp rocks and not feel a shearing pain. That means some barefoot flexibility has been lost in the Mesa Trail II, but this compromise had to be made. I’m so confident in this new version that I’m taking them on my upcoming technical mountainous 50 km race.

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The overlays protecting the side foot are minimal but enough. And the toe box protects against unwanted stone kicks. The shoe’s lifespan is extended in extreme conditions thanks to the semi-flexible plastic that protects against rock scuffs and scrapes.

What conditions is the Mesa Trail suited to?

The outsole is semi-aggressive, with 3.5mm rubber lugs to cut into muddy conditions. I’ve taken this shoe out in the dry, the wet, and the snow! And it works in all conditions. The only time I’d opt for a more aggressive shoe would be in the bogs of the UK, but almost no US-based shoe company has options for those conditions.

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Who’s the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II for?

  • Fit: Wider heel and midfoot and an average toe span. It will not work for those with shallow feet.
  • Conditions: Dry to moderately wet weather.
  • Feel: A true barefoot feel, with enough protection to call it an aggressive trail shoe.
  • Weight: 8.2 oz/ 232 g

  • Stack Height: ~6 mm + 3.5mm lugs + 3.5mm removable insole

  • Medium-Wide Toebox, high volume

  • True to size

  • Perfectly placed overlays

  • Just enough protection + ground feel

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II


Vivobarefoot Primus Trail II FG

Next up! Vivobarefoot.

Another top favorite of mine, but they don’t get in my rotation quite as much as I’d like.

As with nearly any athletic Vivobarefoot review, I start by saying.

How do the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG fit?

If you have a more voluminous bridge, or your width starts from the back near the ankle, Vivobarefoot may not be the brand for you.

I make them work by removing the insole to get a little extra room.

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The upper is tough and unforgiving, which is great for durability and lockdown, especially in a trail shoe, but if they do not fit right, you’ll have a challenging ride.

But if you find a good fit, you’ll have no heel slipping, no movement forward or backward in the shoe; it’s just a dream.

It’s important not to tighten the shoe excessively, as this can create pressure points. Simply keep the laces taught without pulling on them too hard. It’s also helpful to loosen each eyelet to release any pressure points.

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What is unique to Vivo is the ample room for the big toe. You’ll see almost no taper on the big toe side of the shoe, and it’s almost square, which suits those with a wider toe splay.

How does it feel underfoot?

They’re close to the ground with 2.5mm base rubber and 4mm lugs! And that also means they are superbly flexible.

For a general feel, I’d say these shoes are fun! I feel super secure in the upper, and I’m confident in planting my foot and knowing it won’t slide around.

Again because of this tougher plastic/rubber upper, there is reduced breathability. And with these shoes being designed in England, it’s not such an issue there, but if you’re in the Texas heat, take that in to count.

Who’s the Vivobarefoot Primus Trail II FG for?

  • Fit: Those with a fan-like foot shape, narrower at the heel and wide at the toe, will find the shoe great. Just be wary of the lack of depth of the shoe.
  • Conditions: Dry to moderately wet weather.
  • Feel: A true barefoot feel, with excellent protection all around.
  • Weight: 8.9 oz/ 250 g

  • Stack Height: 2.5 mm + 4 mm lugs + removable insole

  • True to size

  • Wide Toebox, low-volume

  • Solid lockdown with foot protection

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG


Merrell Vapor Glove 6

I can’t believe a Merrell made it into my list.

When I first decided to review the “glove” range from Merrell, I had a distinct bias.

I thought they were all narrow and didn’t have adequate room for the toes. But the Vapor Glove was out to prove me wrong!

Yes, it’s still suited to narrow-foot types, but it’s super flexible and a fun ride! And I 100% encourage people to try them!

Let’s answer some of the top questions.

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Can you spread your toes in a Vapor Glove?

The toe box is not the widest in the industry. I’d compare the toe box width to Xero Shoes. This may be the sticking point for some people. There’s not enough room in the toe box for some to splay their toes without hitting the side walls. In particular in the little toe area. The big toe area did seem to have some more room than models like the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II, but not as much as the Primus Trail.

How much ground feel does the shoe have?

It’s minimal but with a slight squishy feeling without using a cushion. The shoe has fantastic ground feel with a twist. To explain that twist, you have to look at the outsole. The lug pattern underfoot extends throughout the outsole, but the surface area that touches the ground is relatively minimal. It’s almost like a hybrid trail/road shoe. And because the lugs are pretty thin, they flex when under load, creating an interesting “squishy” feeling. It almost acts like a cushion but with no cushion.

You feel everything, with the outsole dulling pain from sharp objects. Because the outsole is thin, you feel a lot! That’s great for ground feedback but tough on the feet. The lug pattern does help dull the feeling of sharper objects, but it’s important to be mindful of the surfaces you run on.

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Is the Vapor Glove Durable?

The durability may be the weakest point of the shoe. I’d expect so, too, as this shoe comes in $20-$80 cheaper than its competitors.

Gluing fragile material onto soft rubber seems like a recipe for disaster. It could quickly fail if your foot pushes out on the upper in any seamed area. I hope this doesn’t come true, but the small blobs of glue I found on my newly boxed pair didn’t inspire confidence.

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I was happy to see the Vibram brand on the outsole, but the rubber feels softer than I expected. Softer usually means more grippy, but at the same time, less durable, and that concerns me. My hunch tells me I should just trust that Vibram has the durability aspect sorted, but I won’t put my 100% guarantee on it!

Who’s the Merrell Vapor Glove 6 for?

Fit: Narrow to average foot throughout without a substantial toe splay. Shallow to average depth.
Conditions: Dry, easy trails.Feel: Maximum barefoot with an exciting squishy feel.

  • Weight: 4.59 oz / 130 g

  • Stack Height: 6mm

  • Narrow for a barefoot shoe.

  • Amazingly flexible and lightweight

Merrell Vapor Glove 6


Altra Superior 6

I know, I know. Altra’s aren’t really barefoot shoes.

I agree with you! But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a cushioned shoe in your rotation for those aggressive trails or easy runs.

If you still need some convincing, read my philosophy on barefoot running.

The Superior 6 has only just been released, and I’m already impressed with it.

The new upgrade of the outsole rubber has transformed the shoe from good to awesome.

Pair that with a slightly firmer midsole; we will hit higher milages than previous versions.

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Is the forefoot wide enough for great toe splay?

The forefoot is nice and wide and beautifully squared towards the big toe. Altra’s foot-shaped toebox still exists! It’s wide enough for super toe splayers and even fits my stupid bulbous big toe.

How deep are the Superiors?

But beware, the shoe isn’t that deep at all. If you have volume in your feet, you will feel a lot of pressure on the top of the foot in Altra’s. For me, the Superior 6 is no different. So my super sneaky trick is to replace the insole with something thinner, like a Xero Shoes insole.

How does it feel underfoot?

The responsiveness felt “poppy,” like I was bouncing forward with nothing holding me back. The new shoe has denser foam, enhancing bounciness, and works in conjunction with your foot and ankle muscles.

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The redesigned toe box is much more stout! If you kick a rock, that means more protection for the shoe and your feet. It also helps keep the shape of the toe box nice and square over the top of the toes, even if we could do with a bit of wiggle space.

And that’s a theme running through the shoe. It does mean it’ll take a little more time to break in, but in the long run, that’s ok.

Who is the Altra Superior 6 for?

  • Fit: A shallow foot with a wider toe splay and fitted midfoot.
  • Conditions: Dry to moderately wet weather.
  • Feel: Some flexibility and ground feel, but not a true barefoot shoe. Great for dipping your toes in the water before going 100% barefoot.
  • Weight: 9.5 oz / 270 g

  • Stack Height: 21mm

  • Burrito style tongue

  • True to size

  • Wide Toebox, fitted upper

  • Amazing grip

Be Lenka Trailwalker 2.0

This one’s a wild card because I’ve never used them.

But it has some interesting aspects that shoot it onto this list and my wish list!

It has a crazy wide toebox and midfoot. So if you’ve been craving more space, look at Be Lenka shoes.

The upper is also Leather, which may not sound like the best idea for a trail running shoe. But if you’re looking for an upper that will last, that is natural and uses less man-made materials. It’s an option to consider.

I would consider leather in the winter months or colder climates like my homeland of the UK.

Because the upper is a soft leather, and the outsole is only 4mm of rubber, it’s minimal and super flexible.

I would guess that this is the most flexible option out of the 5.

But that should come with a warning too; depending on the rubber compound, 4mm could wear through fast.

The rubber is also built up around the sides of the shoe. Much like a climbing shoe, further protecting the leather and helping the shoe last longer.

If the outsole lasts long enough, the Trailwalker is an excellent option for those looking to invest in quality and reduce their plastic/artificial material usage.

Who is the Be Lenka Trailwalker 2.0 for?

  • Fit: Wide, Wide, Wide feet!
  • Conditions: Dry conditions due to the shallow lugs.
  • Feel: Maximum flexibility, with all the ground feel you could want!
  • Stack Height: 4mm

  • True to size

  • Wide Toebox, Wide midfoot, high volume

  • Leather upper, wrap-around rubber.


(14-day exchange period)


The fit is the biggest factor when choosing between these barefoot trail shoe options.

As you have seen, Xero Shoes fits differently to Vivobarefoot, and Altra is unique too.

If you have a deep and wide midfoot, I’d always push you towards Xero Shoes, and that’s not to say that Vivobarefoot couldn’t work if you take the insole out.

Vivobarefoot Primus Trail is the way to go if you have a wider toe splay.

And as long as you don’t have super deep feet, the Altra Superior 6 fit most people out there!

You can read the full reviews for all these trail shoes right here! Dive deep to find the right shoe for you!

Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II Review
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail II FG Review
Merrell Vapor Glove 6
Altra Superior 6 Review

Top 5 Barefoot Trail Running Shoes - Hands-on review 2024 (2024)
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