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Why I Love Xero Shoes

Note: this is not a sponsored post.

I always thought I had oddly shaped feet. My "big toe" is a quite a bit bigger than the next in line, but I was always able to find shoes that fit by "sizing up". To put a finer point on it, if not for my big toe, I would likely be a size 12 and I am generally a 13 with some room at the top of the toe box. I have been able to get away with 12.5 from time to time, but most of that is based on the width of the toe box as well. I often default to 13 because the width is there and wider shoes are hard to come by, especially if you don't want to pay full price or worse, a premium on top of the normal price for "special" shoes.

One other point of interest here is that I love being barefoot. Perhaps that is because of ill-fitting shoes or simply because I got used to walking around in designer sandals back in the surfer dude heydays of the early 2000s, but whatever the reason, I have strong feet and great balance because I spend as much time as I can without shoes on where it is deemed appropriate.

Asolo, Agent EV Hiking Shoes

In hindsight, I started my barefoot-style, minimalist shoe journey back in 2014 when I found out that hiking shoes had wider toe boxes than a standard shoe. I started wearing a pair of Asolo shoes as much as I could get away with. Waterproof, low cut, and comfortable in almost any context, I started seeking out other options that afforded the same things. The Asolo shoes were stylish enough, but I needed something that was a bit more work appropriate. Next, I got a pair of Astral Designs Loyak. They are technically water shoes (since Astral is a company focused on water sports use cases), but they look like a casual loafer more than a water shoe of old. The Astrals became my everyday wear throughout the summer. Finally, I purchased a pair of Sorel slippers as house shoes and that rounded out my wide-toe-box-comfortable-all-around shoe needs.

Astral Designs, Loyak Mens

I stumbled upon the modern barefoot movement when reviewing natural movement exercises on YouTube. It had never occurred to me that there might be ways to feel as comfortable as I was in my Asolos and Astrals in other contexts and that modern shoe design was creating a two steps forward (when barefoot), one step back (when shod) situation for my body. I read the amazing book Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman and gained more clarity on the loads we place or fail to place on our bodies that have robbed us of more natural flexibilities and posture. I took inventory of my shoes and started to notice that those I gravitated to fit the barefoot mold, so I started down the rabbit hole of the modern barefoot movement.

Before too long, I had purchased my first few pairs of modern barefoot shoes (inventory at the end of the post), working out the sizing kinks and styling differences along the way. I took a more pragmatic approach to save my wallet and allow myself to reset my shoe collection while keeping in mind the desire to be more minimalistic. I created a list of needs, broken down by time of year and use case. The list, in the end, was a mere seven items long with the notion that shoes can be worn with or without socks, at different times of year, and within varying contexts.

  • Casual
  • Hiking boots
  • Work Appropriate
  • Dress
  • Sandals
  • House Shoes/Slippers
  • Winter Boots (for Wisconsin)

Examples of multifunctional use cases in my mind are: work appropriate shoes can be casual or dress depending on the choice of shoe or outfit, hiking boots can be used as a casual shoe, house shoes can be worn year round if the choice isn't lined, nicer looking sandals can be worn in a variety of situations.

As an aside, it is probably best to define what I think of now when I say barefoot or minimalist shoe because the brands that accommodate my definition are expanding but are still niche and still considered countercultural. Note too that Astrals is a great company and should be given credit as the original barefoot shoe brand; they were founded in 2002 and I have been hard-pressed to find another shoe brand in this category that has been around that long; I wouldn't be surprised if I continue to have pairs for years to come.

In my mind, a barefoot shoe must check the following boxes:

  • A foot-shaped design with a wider toe box to allow for toe spreading
  • A thin outsole to feel the ground and for better balance and reaction time to environmental changes
  • A flexible outsole to allow my feet to bend and move
  • A zero-drop design without any heel elevation for proper posture
  • A tread design that meets all of the above and still has traction (after all, I live in Wisconsin)

At this point, I have purchased or tried shoes from the following barefoot-focused brands and have liked them all for different reasons: Vivobarefoot, Xero Shoes, and Lems. I will use the example of winter-friendly barefoot boots to provide context for my choices here and the reasoning for the title of this post.

Xero Shoes, Denver Leather

For context, I started this process in the midst of winter and wanted to replace my old Clark dress boots with something that was work appropriate, warm, and at least water resistant if not waterproof. My Clarks lacked traction anymore, so they were in need of replacement anyway.

Since I had started my modern barefoot journey with Xeros, I started there and immediately fell in love with the Xero Denver Leather, but alas my size was sold out, so I started looking elsewhere, reading and watching every online review I could get my hands on. In the end, I tried the Lems Boulder Summit and the Vivobarefoot Scott III Eco.

Lems, Boulder Summit

The Lems were a close second to the Xeros, but the boot and stack height, as well as the fact that they aren't technically zero-drop had me second guessing that choice. When I got them in hand, two things became apparent: Lems run bigger than any other shoe I had yet tried when considered true to size, so a 13 was half a size too big, and the shoes themselves were heavy, owing likely to the stack height which included two different outsoles, a full rubber layer and an injection blown rubber layer. (Thanks to YouTube channel Rose Anvil for cutting a pair in half.) A barefoot shoe (to me) means light and flexible.

Vivobarefoot Revivo, Scott III Eco

Vivobarefoot's Revivo website (where they refurbish their shoes and resell them at a discount) had the Scott III Eco, which fit all of my criteria including the lightness, flexibility, and zero drop characteristics missing from the Lems, but the boot height inevitably threw me off. I immediately developed a hotspot where the gusseted tongue rubbed my ankle raw just wearing the shoes around the house to test. I will say this: the construction on these shoes was great and the company has so many things going for it. With socks I possibly could have made the Scotts work, but I got into this to minimize my collection with only the best options for me, so settling right out of the gate felt wrong. Another unexpected consequence of buying from Vivobarefoot is the fact that they are a UK company and I am still awaiting word on whether my return will actually get back to them for my refund to kick in. Sufficed to say, I am going to be a little more hesitant when buying from companies outside the US moving forward, especially in situations where sizing may be a problem.

All that to say: yesterday I received a pair of Xero Shoes' Denver Leather in the mail. Xero Shoes is currently having their Spring 2023 Sale, so I have been frequenting the site more often than perhaps is usual. I ordered a pair of camping/house shoes (The Sunrise) for myself and a pair of Prio Neo for my daughter. Add to that, out of curiosity, I checked the Denver Leather for my size and lo and behold, they had them. Instabuy!

Which (finally!) brings me to the title of this post. I am not generally a brand person; I don't go out of my way to purchase things from brands I "trust" or know unless there is a good reason and I absolutely don't generally write about such things (unless it is Apple). However, being a minimalist has led me to dislike the entire category of "Clothing and Accessories". There are too many brands with too many ties to too many global problems that when I find a brand in this category I trust, I latch on. Taylor Stitch for clothing with longevity, Pact Organics for affordable well-made basics, and now Xero for shoes.

I don't really know how it happened, but in looking at my inventory (below), I converted (basically) all of my shoes to Xeros. Their shoe construction, sizing, and design are consistent, their outsole warranty is unparalleled, and their engagement with their community is nothing short of astounding. I'm hooked.

The Inventory

The following is a transparency measure on my part; I have not checked all my needs off of my list, but I have donated all of my non-barefoot shoes and have replaced the ones I think I need for now. Below is my current inventory of shoes; NB means not barefoot.

  • Xero Aqua Cloud, Blue Sapphire - Sandals
  • Xero Aqua X Sport, Steel Gray/Blue - Casual and water-friendly workout shoe
  • Astrals Designs Loyak, Gray White - Casual and water-friendly all-around shoe, work appropriate
  • Xero Denver Leather, Brown - Work Appropriate, Winter-friendly boot
  • Xero Sunrise, Gray - House shoe
  • Kamik Nation Plus, Dark Brown - Snow boot, NB

I have one additional shoe in the mail from Lems: the Primal Pursuit Mid in Juniper. As noted about the Lems Boulder Summit, these were too big for me at 13, so I exchanged this hiking boot for a 12.5 to try. If they work, these will suit me for a variety of use cases: a three-seasons casual shoe, a waterproof hiking boot, and a potentially winter-friendly casual shoe. Stay tuned.

I still potentially need to round out this collection with a non-water-focused workout shoe (think spring/fall running shoe) and a black dress shoe (because the Xero Denver I have are brown, but they will work 90% of the time). As mentioned above, Xero is having their Spring '23 Sales event and the Prio Neo (the refresh of their original, running-focused shoe) and the brand new Glenn dress shoe are both on sale. I am tempted, but the need is not necessarily there at the moment.

In any case, check out the sale and the $100 giveaway here if you are interested. Thanks for reading.