Minimalist Kid’s Shoes: What My Children Wear

Ben Merrell Flux GloveI get a lot of questions about minimalist footwear options for kids, and it’s a topic that I’m very passionate about. I feel strongly that kids should be in shoes that respect natural foot shape and allow for normal function and development. With that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to write a post listing the shoes that I put on the feet of my own kids with a bit of commentary on each.

I have three children: a 2 year-old boy (that’s him in the photo above sporting his Merrell Flux Gloves), a 7 year-old girl, and an 8 year-old boy. Given a choice, they prefer to be barefoot most of the time, and this is a habit that I encourage. But, there are times when shoes are needed, so this list presents the shoes that they wear most often.

I’ll start with the shoe that all three of my kid’s absolutely love and that would be their preferred option 99% of the time if allowed to choose on their own:

Red Kid's Crocs

I can already hear the gasps of horror, but the venerable Croc is a favorite in my household. It’s cheap, practically indestructible, and easy to put on and take off (minimal parental assistance needed) – the benefit of this is it means they are more likely to just pull them off and go barefoot. Although it is well-cushioned and has a bit of heel lift, I’m willing to accept that given the fact that they are incredibly roomy and will not scrunch up their toes. Crocs may be the least restrictive option available for a kid’s foot short of a loose fitting moccasin.

Now, because my older kids are in elementary school and gym class will not allow Crocs, they have more traditional looking shoes that they wear as well. For my 8 year-old boy, his current “running” shoe is the Merrell Barefoot Flux Glove:

Merrell Flux Glove Kids

The Merrell Flux Gloves are awesome kid shoes because they’re zero drop, minimally cushioned, super flexible, and provide a roomy toebox. The Vibram sole is very durable – the same sole is found on the kid’s Trail Glove which my son wore for most of the last school year without wearing through it – the kid’s Trail Glove is another great option:

Merrell Trail Glove kids

One issue my son had with the Trail Glove is that the toe bumper began to separate from the upper material – I think the black portion of the upper at the tip of the toebox shrunk a bit after getting wet which let to the delamination. It never progressed beyond being a cosmetic defect, so not a big deal, and he could have cared less.

Some parents may balk at the price for the Merrell kid’s shoes ($65.00 for the Flux Glove, $60.00 for the Trail Glove), but my take would be that if you are buying a shoe that your child will be wearing for 7-8 hours per day at school, better to spend a bit extra on something that is flat and roomy and does not constrict their growing feet (though mine were review pairs provided by Merrell for review, I will happily buy another pair when he outgrows his current pair of Flux Gloves, and have spent a roughly equivalent amount on a pair of NB Minimus kid shoes). Given that my son’s Trail Gloves lasted for most of the last school year, I have no issues with the cost of these shoes (especially since we adults often don’t hesitate to throw down a hundred bucks or more for a pair of running shoes that might get used for a few hours a day at most).

My daughter also wore the girl’s Merrell Trail Glove last year, and she was a big fan. This year she has been wearing the Skechers GoRun girl’s shoes:

Skechers GoRun Girls

The kid’s version of the Skechers GoRun (currently available for girls only)differs from its adult counterpart in lacking the midfoot “bump” or rocker that is present in the adult shoe (I’ve done some shoe development work with Skechers and shared my opinion that the kid’s version should have no bump and should be as flat as possible – was pleased with the final product they sent me, though I’d love to see it zero-dropped). Although the kid’s GoRun is fairly soft, it’s super flexible (both longitudinally and torsionally), fairly roomy, and has a minimally structured upper (e.g., no heel counter). The heel-forefoot differential is about 4mm, so much less than the shrunken-adult monstrosities that many manufacturers put on the market for our little ones.

In addition to the Skechers shoe, my daughter also has a pair of the girl’s Merrell Flux Glove (provided free of charge by Merrell for review purposes), which in my opinion is probably the best kids shoe available right now:

Merrell Flux Glove girls

Until recently, Merrell did not make their barefoot line in toddler sizes. I was pleased to see that with the release of the Flux Glove, they now have “barefoot” shoes for the little guys. My 2 year-old was in Robeez for most of his early toddling days, but now when his “piggies” aren’t free he wears either Crocs or the toddler Flux Glove (just like his big brother, except his have a velcro closure):

Merrell Flux Glove Toddler

As you can see, I’m a big fan of the Merrell Barefoot shoes for my kids. If I had to pick just one shoe for them to wear, it would either be the Flux or Trail Glove for all three of them. I did recently buy a pair of the New Balance Minimus Trail kids version for my son, but they are still too big for him (dad got his size wrong…). These strike me as another decent option – probably wider in the forefoot than the Merrells, but less flexible and they have a slight heel lift.

So there you have it, my picks for kids footwear. If you have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

The Merrell Barefoot Kid’s &Toddler Flux Glove can be purchased at Zappos

The Merrell Barefoot Kids Trail Glove can be purchased at Zappos

The Skechers GoRun youth girl’s shoe can be purchased at Skechers.com. Use code ENT15 to save 15%.

Below is another photo of my son sporting his fancy new shoes:

Ben Merrell Flux Glove Trucks

About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Jamie P Tierney says:

    Thanks for the great article. I was at the New Balance store in Skowhegan Maine and COULD NOT get my 7 year old daughter to go for the kids minimus. They only had dark blue and black.No girly colors, = no deal. I am going to try and get her into some Merrells.

    THANKS

  2. facebook-23918912 says:

    My kids have been in snow boots all winter. Do I have to be careful putting them in a minimalist shoe like these?

  3. Buys Walmart Shoes says:

    Why no love for the Converse All-Star and the various cheap knock-offs?

    Zero rise, low cushion, low price, minimal construction.

  4. I cannot agree more with what is said here.

  5. California Dad says:

    Thanks for the great post. As a father of two young boys, this is an important issue for me.
    Vivobarefoot makes several different kids shoes, including a kids Neo in both velcro and lace-up versions. Unfortunately, they’re even more pricey than the Merrells, and I have no idea what their durability is like. We haven’t tried them (because of cost), but I expect they’re great shoes (zero-drop, roomy, flexible, no cushion).
    My 6-year-old son has been wearing Trail Gloves for about a year and absolutely loves them. My 8-year-old son doesn’t like how they look. He also found the Kinvara and the NB Minimus uncomfortable. We ended up getting him some indoor soccer shoes (Adidas Samba), which he thinks look very cool (and they do). They appear to have little if any heal lift and relatively little cushioning. They’re not as flexible as the Merrells, but still not bad. I think indoor soccer shoes generally tend to fit the bill (not much heal, not much padding, pretty flexible), so that might be an option for people to keep in mind.

    • Pete Larson says:

      My daughter had a pair of Vivobarefoot Pally shoes – very durable but expensive. My son doesn’t care for the look of their shoes though. Not athletic enough.

  6. Westie Magnuson says:

    I got my son (18 mos old) a pair of Kinvara 2s at a thrift store a couple weeks ago and my wife and I love them, as does he. He’s always bringing them to me and saying “shoes”. He seems to have a really easy time running around in them compared to other shoes he has.

  7. I’ve been wearing the Skechers GoRun Ride for about 6 weeks and really enjoy them. I keep waiting to see a GoRun version for my 6 yr old son. Do you know if one is coming? It seems strange that they only have a girl’s model currently.

  8. Metar Heller says:

    Does New Balance make the MR00 in kid’s sizes too? It’s my absolute favourite shoe, and I’d be very, very happy if I could get a pair for my kid brother when he outgrows his Nike Frees.
    Speaking of which, these appear to be a decent option too – kid-friendly closure system (velcro main strap plus elastic), and he runs a lot more than in his previous Crocs or traditional kid’s shoes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Good question – as far as I’m aware they do not make the MR00 for kid. Would be a great option! I have heard that Altra is making a flat kids shoe.
      Sent from my iPad

  9. RunningShoes.com says:

    Those shoes are just precious!

  10. Don Gustavson says:

    public service announcement – Brooks now makes the PureFlow for kids… super cushy, flexible and low drop, big toe box and flashy colors. Even my 9yo daughter LOVES them, and as a budding fashionista she had previously avoided sneakers (and the color pink) like the plague.

  11. Merrell are cool in terms of their design,etc. I am not sure why they stopped making shoes for kids. Maybe they didn’t think that the line was profitable. However nowadays more manufacturers are developing children’s clothing and footwear.

  12. Tom Buckner says:

    Great article…wish I had this kind of info and choices when I raised my kids. Thanks for the great reviews!

  13. Robert Osfield says:

    My three girls wear plimsolls (pumps) much of the time, this types of shoes have been around since well before my childhood, the only difference seems to that there is greater range in designs of the upper. The sole is flat and totally flexible, zero support and as long as you shop around can get ones which don’t cramp the toes.

    I also wear plimsolls when not running, as long as you shop around you can find them with reasonable lasts – but I’ve found that often the adult versions tend to have a pointy more “fashionable” last that just cramps your toes. Costs can very from £5 to into the £30′s depending upon how “fashionable” they are. I don’t have any pretensions so make do with the black cheap ones.

    Plimsolls have long been used, and often stipulated, for school gym classes in the UK, so it’s quite a firm part of peoples childhood memories. However, I’ve found for running they just aren’t breathable enough, have sufficient grip or hold your foot securly enough so I haven’t’ run too many miles in mine as an adult.

    I wonder if the US and other is missing countries are missing out on these low cost, minimal shoes as I’ve not seen them discussed as a solution for a minimal footwear.

  14. My older daughter is loving her NB minimus kids.

  15. My kids always had to wear dress shoes in school. I suppose I’d try to find the same thing in those. Low drop, good flex, roomy toe box, encourage barefoot time?

  16. awesome, great that more options are becoming available more often, even getting rid of a skechers bump, cool lol, when i have kids someay, i will say i’d be extremely picky about heel lifts, or squishy stuff, but by then i hopefully won’t need to worry

  17. Brett Kinggard says:

    I have two daughters, ages 11 & 5. Though they have plenty of shoe options provided by their mother and grandmother, both of them wear Toms shoes most of the time. flat, flexible, and slip on. Many times they’ll even beg to wear them.

  18. Maya West says:

    Merrell has stopped making the barefoot flux glove for young toddlers, smallest size is now 10. So sad, I was planning on getting them for my son’s 2yr bday and summer. Back to the drawing board.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I was trying to buy a second pair for my little guy and noticed that. Shame as it was the best toddler shoe I’ve seen, my son’s first pair is still going strong after nine months of wear and he still hasn’t outgrown the ample toebox.
      Sent from my iPad

  19. Pete, I got 2 pairs of nikes roadrunner you had recommend before and loved them on my near 3 year old. They seem completely flat with a thin layer of rubber between the feet and the road. I absolutely love them and get a lot of compliments from people about them. I was surprised you didn’t mention them in this post.

  20. Most kids shoes like this start at toddler sizes 10. What about for my daughter, almost 3, size 8? What do we do for her?

  21. Michael Wehrle says:

    For my 2 year old son, we get the Champion Toddler Impact II Runner. They are very CHEAP, very flat, and very flexible. He can run in them. I like the the crocs, but those shoes tend to have a “stubby” toe box in them, and I can’t tell you how many times he has fallen when taking off to run in shoes like them.

  22. Thanks, Pete. Great stuff as usual. Any experience with the toddler version of the Saucony Kinvara? I recently picked up a pair of Kinvara 2′s for my 2 year old. I don’t think they’re zero drop, but they are unbelievably flexible, much more so than his Crocs. Any thoughts on buying kids’ shoes in wide to allow more natural foot motion and minimize foot restriction?

  23. I have two girls, the oldest is almost two and I love the fact that she has plenty of options. I got her a pair of the Merrell Flux and she loves them. Not sure if it is because there are 0-drop, roomy, and super flexible or because they are purple. Either way, I love the fact that she has quality footwear options.

  24. My son and my wife have both been wearing Merrell Trail Gloves for a few years. We love them! Thing is, they’re not warm or waterproof, and we live in upstate NY. He’s been in Bearpaw sheepskin boots for the winters (and rain boots or snow boots as needed) but he doesn’t like the bunchiness of the fleece inside. We’re looking for something that’s not all about the mesh like the trail glove (and it doesn’t look like the flex glove is an improvement). Merrell just came out with their new kids line and it looks like they’re backing off the barefoot in favor of “minimalist” – more cushion, less ground feel, still low/no drop. ARGH!

    What would you recommend for us?

    • Been thinking of writing a post on this with updates about what my kids are wearing. The options are limited as kids get older, so I have mine in shoes with cushion but that retain a wide fit (I think the latter is most important). My older two kids are in the Altra Instinct Jr., 3 year old is in the Merrell Mix Master Jam. The Merrell is cushioned but is pretty flexible and fits nice and wide.

  25. What are your thoughts on the pediped line? They make infant to size 4.5 kids and their tag line is “the next best thing to bare feet.” Trying to find a good shoe for my active 2 year old little guy. Hopefully something that doesn’t break the bank!

  26. Hi there –

    What a wonderful article! By chance, do you have any updates on what is available for toddlers in 2014; that would be great! I can’t find the shoes you mention for my twin boys (almost 2 but not size 10 yet).

    THANKS!!!

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