The Best Minimalist Trail Runners of 2013

keen tunari cnx merrell proterra mid sport evolv cruzer minimalist minimal trail shoes running shoes

   Photo: Inga Hendrickson

Keen Tunari CNX Trail Shoe

BEST FOR: Day Hikers

There are plenty of concessions to minimalism in Keen’s new CNX series: a slim four-millimeter drop, deep grooves in the tread for a more flexible outsole, and a pared-down design overall. But we liked the ten-ounce Tunaris for the features Keen didn’t cut. A contoured arch provides a touch of midfoot support, and Keen’s signature toe bumper took the sting out of the occasional misstep. A good choice if you’re leaning toward true barefoot shoes, like the Vibrams, but aren’t ready to make the leap.

Merrell Proterra Mid Sport Trail Shoe

keen tunari cnx merrell proterra mid sport evolv cruzer minimalist minimal trail shoes running shoes
  Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Overnighters

Hikers accustomed to next to no padding will love the low-to-the-ground feel and flexible fabric upper. Some testers went so far as wearing the Proterras without socks. But these one-pound, 13-ounce shoes aren’t high-tops for runners. A plastic arch shank and ten millimeters of foam under the midsole provided serious support even while bushwhacking with light packs. The inverted lugs (think indents) served up solid grip on dry trails, but we could have used a few more teeth in the mud.

Evolv Cruzer Trail Shoe

keen tunari cnx merrell proterra mid sport evolv cruzer minimalist minimal trail shoes running shoes
  Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Scrambling

The thin canvas upper on these 7.7-ounce approach shoes gives less lateral support than the others have, but it’s still plenty for long approaches to peaks in the wilderness. The sticky, climbing-shoe-like rubber outsole and tight-fitting toe box make the Cruzers techy enough to handle long, mellow scrambles and short pitches to the summit. Even better? The low-key styling won’t make you look like a rock jock when you head to the bar after a day of climbing or peak bagging.

Salomon Synapse Mid Trail Shoe

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  Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: Long Hauls

Salomon added two polyurethane strips to the outsole of these rockered, mesh-uppered kicks, so they’re not only surprisingly airy at 13.8 ounces, but also stiff and supportive enough to carry medium-weight loads. We liked how the Synapses’ midheight cuff kept out scree and debris, but the shoes could have used traditional laces. The speed laces tighten via a cord lock and had a habit of loosening on long downhills. Still, these shoes were the testers’ choice for hard days on the trail.

Teva TevaSphere Trail Shoe

teva tevasphere salomon synapse mid vibram fivefingers spyridon ls minimal minimalist trail shoes
  Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: CHANGING YOUR STRIDE

These 9.5-ounce Tevas feature a rounded heel that encourages hikers (or runners) to land midfoot, forcing a forward-leaning position. Their other unique feature? Three-and-a half-inch-wide, shock-absorbing pods on either side of the arch. Testers either loved the stability the pods added on flat trails or couldn’t get used to how conspicuous they felt, especially on rocky, technical terrain. One thing is for sure: if you’re serious about hiking more efficiently, the ’Spheres are like training wheels that remind you of your form.

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon LS Trail Shoe

teva tevasphere salomon synapse mid vibram fivefingers spyridon ls minimal minimalist trail shoes
  Photo: Inga Hendrickson

BEST FOR: True minimalists

Basically a muscled-up version of the classic five-toed slip-on, its multidimensional tread looks like a mountain-bike tire (great traction even on wet, leaf-covered trails), and its flexible nylon-mesh sheet in the midsole prevents your feet from the worst rock bruises. But let your soles toughen up before taking the Spyridons on long hikes or strapping on a heavy pack. At 6.9 ounces, they’re nearly half the weight of the Merrells and Salomons and offer roughly half the protection and support.

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