Minimalist running shoes are a category of both road and trail running shoes designed with lightweight materials, simple construction, and minimal cushioning or support. Rather than wrap your foot in lots of cushioning and control its movement with tons of support, minimalist shoes allow your foot to flex and absorb impact naturally. Barefoot shoes are an extreme example of a minimalist shoe. With little more than laces, some synthetic material, and a thin coating of rubber to act as a sole, barefoot shoes simply act as a second skin for your feet—everything else is up to your feet. Determine the amount of cushioning you need and the amount of drop you prefer and go from there.
Consider cushioning and drop. The more cushioning you have the less impact your foot and joints will have to absorb and some argue that the lower your shoe’s drop, the easier it is to mid or forefoot strike. Ease into low drop, zero drop, and barefoot running shoes—your feet need time to adapt.
Focus on cushioning and foot protection and ease into minimalist-style trail running shoes by building up your mileage slowly. Off-road running with minimal cushioning and support requires strong feet and joints. Minimalist trail shoes offer less protection—but you’ll still find some with toe guards or extra-protective outsoles.