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Nike SMS Roadrunner: A Toddler Shoe with a Flat, Flexible Sole

Today is my son Benjamin’s second birthday. As a full-blown toddler, he’s going through a period of remarkable transition – he’s learning to run, talk, joke, express displeasure, and to use the word “mine” about 100 times per day. As a parent who has a fascination with footwear, this is a particularly difficult time as he is emerging from an age where soft-soled options are plentiful and entering into that dreaded period where all he has to choose from are miniature versions of adult shoes. Put bluntly, he is going from this (yes, he does have Elmo shoes!):
Elmo Robbeez
To this:
Toddler Shox

My goal with Benjamin is to avoid for as long as possible having him wear a constrictive, stiff shoe with excessive cushioning and a lifted heel. I simply cannot understand why a 30 pound child would ever need a shoe like this, or why we insist on moving them into this type of shoe the moment they emerge from toddlerhood. He can walk around all day in his Elmo Robeez without complaint, and I see no reason why the simple act of getting older means that he needs a shoe built like a tank. Call me crazy, but given all that I have learned over the past few years, this is something I feel very strongly about.

Given this, I’m always on the lookout for decent options for parents who would like to keep their kids in shoes with flat, flexible soles. I happened to be at a Nike Outlet store yesterday afternoon and I happened upon a shoe called the SMS Roadrunner. The shoe looked interesting as it had a flexible plastic sole – all of the cushion was built into the insole, which was removable. Since I get a lot of questions about kid’s shoes (my older kid’s wear Merrell Barefoot Kid’s Trail Gloves and Crocs – the latter are cushioned, but at least are extremely wide and flexible), I thought I’d share this one as it seems like a decent option and it is available in sizes up to 10c (which bridges the gap to where they can fit in something like a Merrell Trail Glove).

Since I just bought them yesterday, I can’t comment on durability, but removal of the insole makes the SMS Roadrunner completely flat and very flexible, and also makes for a pretty roomy little shoe. I’ll try and update this post after he wears them a bit. For now, here are some photos of the shoe, which is available for sale in both boy’s and girl’s colorways at

Nike Kid's SMS RoadrunnerNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner MedialNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner SoleNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner Insole RemovedNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner FrontNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner RearNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner Insole SideNike Kid's SMS Roadrunner Insole

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Macmhagan says:

    Thanks for finding this!  My son is also 2 today.  He much prefers barefoot.  We do have crocs which are okay – we go them on sale and don’t want to shell out $60 for soft star or more for keen since it is summer.  My quick online search couldn’t find the canvas though.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Happy Birthday to your son! I couldn’t find the canvas on-line either – found them in a Nike Outlet. We also do use Crocs – easy on and off and non-restrictive. Usually barefoot in the house though.

      • Jeff Mihailoff says:

        I saw these at Nordstrom’s.  Not a bad price either.  I will probably get them, but put a thin insole in them.  Since it’s plastic I worry that they will get moist and slippery inside. 

        • Pete Larson says:

          Yeah, I though about doing the same. Probably fine with socks, but may cut out a thin insole from another pair of shoes using the included insoles as a template.

          • Jeff Mihailoff says:

            Got these over the weekend and made a new insole out of some scrap suede and 2mm foam. Very flat now.  

    • Skerminkel says:

      We have two boys (aged 2 and 3) and they both go about barefoot 90% of the time. We are fortunate to have a very mild climate!
      The older one is quite a sturdy boy with large, almost round, feet, so the only shoes that he tolerates are his crocs and a pair of bright red wellingtons.

  2. Matt at AFX says:

    Thanks for the review of this Pete, I have been looking for a flexible shoe. My little guy is 2yrs & 4 mos and I notice that when I put a conventional shoe on him, it effects his balance & coordination.

  3. Soft Star Shoes make great minimal shoes for kids and adults.  I bought Merrell Trail Gloves and Soft Star Shoes for my Grandkids for Christmas.  The Soft Star Shoes I bought them were more dress type shoes.  I expected them to run around in the Merrell Trail Gloves.  The Merrell Trail Gloves I bought for my youngest Grand Daughter were slightly too large so she wore her Soft Star Dress shoes to run in the Kids 1K race and beat both her older siblings.  The Soft Star Shoes are very flexible  and flat.

  4. Jeremy Gustafson says:

    Other good options besides the Robeez are Preschoolians & Pedipeds.    We’ve had good luck with both the Robeez and the Preschoolians.  You can find both online for the big footed toddlers like ours.  Or, if you don’t mind the look, SoftStar Shoes has lots of options for kids as well.  Unshoes has their version of the huaraches available for kids as well.
    But, since we are pretty frugal, we’ve relegated to a basic Converse shoe and just go a size larger to get the extra width.  And we’ve been doing a basic flip-flop with the strap around the heal.  Not sure we’ll find this option at our kids sizes this year.

    The only times our kids wear shoes is when we go out to a store or restaurant or church… although my wife is getting tired of the kids dragging dirt, mud and sand into the house.  We will need to find a solution to that.

    • x2 on the Preschoolians. Very flexible, fairly durable, and super cute and customizable. Not cheap, but good.

  5. Aaron R. says:

    I also saw those Nikes at an outlet last summer and thought about getting them for our (then) 4-year-old.  I was a bit worried about the durability as well, but the sole seemed quite thin and flexible.  We ended up going with Saucony’s, and he has now moved up to Merrell kid Trail Gloves.  He seems to like them a lot, especially because he can put them on and take them off with just the velcro strap.  I just wish they weren’t so expensive.

    Let us know how the Nikes hold up.  They may be a good option for our younger son.

  6. Hey Pete, my 3 year old son is on his second pair of Roadrunners.  He outgrew the first.  The sole durability is more than adequate.  My son has worn the little nubs down, but hasn’t come close to wearing a hole in the sole.  Where it looks like you bought a suede/nylon shoe, my son’s shoes are all leather. He loves them.  He didn’t want to try on anything else in the store. 

  7. Michael Patti says:

    Thank you so much for bringing these to my attention. My son is 3.5 and I’ve been struggling to find a non-sandal that is remotely flat.
    And happy birthday to your son!

    • Jbages23 says:

      My 3 1/2 yr old son wears Saucony Grid Flex, very flat compared to most shoes my older boys wear and very flexible, but not near as flexible as Robeezs

  8. I think VivoBarefoot makes a few kids shoes.

    • Pete Larson says:

      They do, but not sure if they make them in toddler size, and for older kid’s the styling is such that my 8yo son would not wear them.

      • Good point.  I must admit that I seem to agree with something I recall you said along the lines of ‘at this point, I don’t really care what my shoes look like, I’ve lost all sense of self-consciousness when it comes to shoe style.’  I’d rather run correctly and look like an Argentinian mountain goat (split-toe ZEMs) than run hurt and look good.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Unfortunately, it’s easier to do that when you don’t have to deal with elementary school peer pressure!

  9. I’m definitely interested in the topic. I’m a PT specializing in runners and pediatrics. I have a 6 yr. old boy and girl and a new 9 month old. I have fun “testing” their joint range of motion, muscle tone and videotaping them, especially the older ones now that they are running. I plan to do an analysis on their form soon for my website.

    Typical toddlers and children go through a significant amount of biomechanical changes during this time and vary in the way they get feedback from the environment (use the visual system more until ~age 7). So far I haven’t stressed too much about what shoes my kids wear or don’t wear but I haven’t noticed any major developmental problems.  Each child is different though.

  10. Barefoot Reviews says:

    Do they make the Elmo shoes in an Adult Men’s 13?  I could use some new footwear for weddings/funerals. 

  11. Garrett Bartholme says:

    I bought my 5 year olds the Teva Nilch.  They are very flexible, look like normal shoes, and they like to wear them.  I can’t speak to the durability since I bough them about a month ago, but so far so good.  I even have a pair for my wife and myself because they are cheap if you can catch them on sale.

  12. crocs kids says:

    Cool shoes. I like the sole. Looks light and comfortable for kids.

  13. PittSlim21 says:

    I couldn’t find shoes that fit quite right for my toddler when he was starting to walk. Found the Nike Roadrunners at an outlet in Oregon and never looked back; my boy is on his 4th pair with about 12 more pairs ready to go in the closet. The best shoes ever! Wish they made them just like this for adults.

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