TOE SHOESCool looks, less feel
Likes: Extremely comfy and natural feeling. No support mechanisms to detract from "barefoot" flexibility and freedom. The elasticized laces look cool and give a nice custom fit. About 6 ounces in the equivalent of a size 9 (41 in Vibram's sizing).
Dislikes: If, like me, you're used to the Vibram Sprint (the category standard), you'll notice significantly less ground feel in the Bikilas due to a thicker rubber outsole and polyurethane insole than leaves you about 7 millimeters off the ground.
Price: $100. (978) 318-0000; http://www.vibramfivefingers.com
Inov8 EvoSkin: One-piece toe shoe made entirely of silicone that's 31/2 mm thick.
Likes: The best ground feel of any minimalist shoe reviewed here — even better than my Vibram Sprints. You notice every little change in road texture, as if barefoot, yet you're protected against all but the sharpest road debris. A dimpled texture on the inside of the sole allows air flow, keeping feet surprisingly sweat-free. The adjustable strap allows good fit. Each shoe weighs 6 ounces. Comfortable, although the shorter-toed Vibrams fit my blunt foot better.
Dislikes: Durability is a big question mark. I saw no wear in three runs, but I fear the soft silicone will not hold up as well as a rubber sole.
Price: $65. (508) 480-8856; http://www.inov-8.com
Fila Skele-toes: Casual walking/running neoprene toe shoe with a tough sole and large single pocket for the pinky and fourth toe.
Likes: Quite comfy and quicker to put on than other toe shoes due to the two-toe "EZSlide" compartment. I like the styling. Great for walking — I wore them for six hours in one day while sightseeing in Washington, D.C., on sidewalks, dirt paths and other surfaces. Size 9 shoes weigh 71/2 ounces each.
Dislikes: While you can easily run in them, and there is decent ground feel, Skele-toes feel overbuilt for barefoot-style running due to a substantial arch support and a harder, relatively inflexible sole. For this reason, Fila does not consider them a running product. Also, the neoprene gets quite sweaty when worn without toe socks.
Price: $60 for adults and $55 for kids. (800) PRO-FILA; http://www.fila.com
Merrell Trail Glove: A multipurpose, on- and off-road "adventure shoe" with a mesh upper, 4-mm midsole cushioning and a thin hard-rubber sole (made by Vibram) with a forefoot plate to protect against stone bruises.
Likes: Very good for running and hiking on all surfaces. Quite comfy with a huge, roomy forefoot that lets toes spread wide and a narrow waist that hugs your midfoot. Great ground feel for a shoe — just a notch less than with the Bikila. Shoes weigh 7 ounces in size 9. While simply not as "barefoot" as the Bikila and the Evoskin, these can probably take you to far rougher places.
Price: $110. (616) 863-866-5500; http://www.merrell.com
Barely there lightweight
Somnio Nada: Stripped-down 4-ounce shoe with mesh upper and foam rubber sole.
Likes: A great "barefoot" street shoe — even better than Merrell's Trail Glove. So light it almost feels like you're wearing nothing (after all, they call it Nada). With a 6-mm midsole and no real structure, it's essentially a sock with a super-flat sole.
Dislikes: It's too delicate for off-road surfaces and won't last long on pavement either. Two small pieces of hard rubber at the ball of the foot and the heel aren't enough to prevent the foam-rubber bottom from wearing out very quickly. They should have been made with a thin Vibram sole.
Price: $80. (831) 688-7861; http://www.somniorunning.com
Not minimus enough
New Balance Minimus: A lightweight shoe designed to marry flat, barefoot positioning with a conventional feel.
Likes: It's light for a normal running shoe, at 81/2 ounces in size 91/2.
Dislikes: It's uncomfortable and has poor ground feel, due to an overpadded upper and thick, 3/4-inch sole made of soft rubber formed in odd hexagonal blocks. It made my normal barefoot-style gait clunky and unnatural. The heel is 4 mm higher than the forefoot, causing wearers to lean forward just a tad. This encourages a heel strike, which is anathema to the very idea of barefoot running. In fact, the sole has a hard-rubber impact patch on the heel, strange for a shoe designed to teach you to run with a "barefoot-style forefoot landing."
Price: $99.95. (800) 343-1395; wwwnewbalance.com
Wallack is the author of "Run for Life" and "Bike for Life."