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A step away from barefoot

Fits like a glove

Vibram FiveFingers: Minimalist shoe with individual toe compartments and a form-fitting, pliable one-eighth-inch rubber sole.

Likes: Feels almost as close to barefoot as a sock — at just 5 ounces, you’ll barely feel it. Great combo of protection and ground feel. No cushioning, so you won’t be tempted to heel-strike. (Also provides nice dexterity and protection for surfers and sailors, for whom the product was originally intended.) Rubber sole wraps over the end to protect the toes. No need for socks. Dries quickly.

Dislikes: Takes an extra 10 seconds to put on.

Price: $70. (978) 318-0000; ()
Gives just a bit of heel support

Nike Free 5.0: A “semi-barefoot” shoe that prepares you for full-bore barefooting, with a highly flexible forefoot and some heel cushioning.

Likes: A good transitional shoe. For some, skipping straight to a barefoot shoe may create too much calf strain. This lightweight shoe (8.5 ounces) has a half-inch-thick forefoot sole so flexible it can be rolled up like a newspaper, allowing a barefoot-like tactile feel. Very comfy; structure-less upper drapes over your foot like a sock.

Dislikes: The one-inch heel cushion still allows heel-striking, which is impossible in barefoot running. Lacks toe protection.

Price: $84.99. ()
Sports a tough sole

AEI: Minimalist shoe made of thin Lycra and a hard, thin, studded-rubber sole.

Likes: Ultra-light (4.5 ounces). Sandal-like strapping system keeps it snug. High cuff keeps out dirt. Quarter-inch-thick rubber sole isn’t quite as tactile as Vibram’s, but is more protective against rocks. Sole has good grip on dirt and road surfaces.

Dislikes: Although sole is tough, it lacks toe protection.

Price: $85. (303) 246-4139; ()
Looks great and it’s good too

Puma Cortlandt XC: A good, lightweight racing flat.

Likes: Like many flats (which are designed for speed), this one makes for a good “barefoot” shoe because it’s light (7.1 ounces), has a low profile and has minimal padding between your foot and the ground. It stands out with great looks; a grippy, tactile sole; a thin, comfy mesh upper; and a very low price.

Dislikes: Lacks toe protection.

Price: $55. (888) 565-7862-; ()