The average price of a traditional running shoe from a mainstream running brand is between $85 and $95. The average price of a pair of barefoot shoes is $90-$120. The average mileage of a traditional running shoe from a mainstream running brand is 400 miles. An aqua shoe might get you 120 miles. A good minimalist shoe should get you at least 500 miles. There are reasons for that, and I’ll get into those in a moment.
Cost of Bare & Minimalist Shoes
Totally Bare = $0
Aqua Shoe = $8-$32
Huarache = $25-$50
Minimalist = $90-$200+
Natural Motion = $120+
As with so many active/athletic items, there are those early adopters (“gear heads”) who look willingly past a price tag to the design and functionality of a new item. There’s a cache to being an early adopter, and if there’s the possibility of finding a secret weapon that makes you faster, stronger, fitter, hipper…it has its worth.
Most of us aren’t early adopters. Most of the general population (especially in challenging economic times) are focused on the cost/value proposition of everything we buy. So it’s never surprising when a customer asks me why a minimalist shoe – presumably a shoe made of LESS components – can cost as much (if not MORE) than a traditional running shoe.
Before I get into a brief explanation of what goes into a good minimalist shoe, a quick profile of why I know anything about it.
I’m a co-founder of a small minimalist shoe company called kigo footwear. We are a passionate three-person team focused on designing and producing a line of anatomically designed, eco-friendly minimalist shoes that weigh no more than 5 ounces and that provide superior proprioception in a protective, stylish and comfortable package that makes them as useful for athletic and active wear as for lifestyle. Because we are a small team, we function as proverbial hat racks, intimately focused on the design, the textiles and manufacturing process.
So, without further ado, here is a breakdown that should illustrate the cost/value of your next minimalist shoe.
The upper is the top part of the shoe. It can be a strap, mesh, fabric, leather or a combination thereof. I start here, because there is less difference between a minimalist and a traditional shoe upper, so the production cost generally is pretty consistent. A minimalist shoe will have less going on, and it will be lighter than with a traditional running shoe.
Functionally, what you want is an upper that breathes, stretches, adjusts to your foot and provides at least a modicum of style.
Staying in the upper part of the shoe, adjustability is important. Whether that is accomplished through stretch in a slip on, straps that can be adjusted, Velcro, lacing or another device, keeping your foot stable inside the shoe provides a more comfortable fit, regardless of activity.
With a traditional shoe, adjustability is often accomplished via lacing and Velcro. With a minimalist shoe, adjustability is a more creative endeavor because things like Velcro and laces have weight. Keeping that weight out while adding those components is the kind of engineering challenge that you might remember from your High School Physics Club. (You were in the High School Physics Club, right?)
This is the piece inside your shoe where your foot goes. Often, it’s removable. Often it’s garbage. In traditional shoes, you might replace them with orthotics, custom insoles or something else (are you Gellin?). In minimalist shoes, you might not find an insole at all. You might have a thin, removable insole or just a soft interior. Regardless of which, there will be less contour, less mass and lots of softness so that barefoot is possible and comfortable. This piece will break down faster than the outsole because it is a lower density component, which is another reason why removable insoles are important. If you do remove the insole in a minimalist shoe, it should still fit comfortably.
Now we get to the heart of the matter. The outsole on a traditional shoe is made of a stratus of layered materials. Some are high compression and some are more like soft foam. If you look at traditional running shoes, you’ll see the high compression rubber on the very outside – this is what touches the ground. It’s very durable, resists puncture and has less flexibility. The soft stuff cushioning the space between the bottom of your foot and the outsole is an EVA type material (similar to your insoles), and it compresses with use. This layer is why you don’t get as many miles out of a traditional running shoe as you do with a minimalist shoe. The EVA compresses and breaks down, leaving you with what may seem like a perfectly good outsole on a shoe that is no longer comfortable.
In a minimalist shoe, that squishy EVA layer is noticeably absent. You have a high compression outsole made of something like rubber, latex, TPU, foam – the variety is surprisingly wide, and there is good reason to look at the sole material on your next minimalist purchase. The goals for minimalist outsole are a high degree of flexibility, thinness, high tear strength for durability and puncture resistance. Combined, these elements will provide you with natural motion, proprioception and protection. And because there no EVA involved, you should get 500+ miles out of your minimalist shoes whether you are using them for running, walking, outdoor activity or lifestyle. How’s that for cost/value?
There’s much more that goes into the production of a minimalist shoe, but hopefully this dissection of the shoe itself – along with the health (and performance) benefits – help to justify the average cost of a minimalist shoe. And if not, well, there’s always bare or a regularly replaced supply of aqua socks.
Rachelle Kuramoto, co-founder of kigo footwear