Best minimalist, athletic shoes for kids

In another post, I wrote about how I decided to lean towards minimalist footwear for my kids and for myself. Well, I didn’t realize that finding children’s minimalist, athletic footwear (and there are definitely degrees of minimalism here) would be so difficult! In fact, most popular brands had very thick soles and were heavy. Others were too rigid and narrow, particularly in the toebox, and even others also had positive inclines, so much that I was effectively putting my child in a slight heel. None of those made any sense to me and yet those were the majority that I found.

Below is what I eventually found (some of which I ended up buying, others which I considered). Zappos and Amazon are my go to sites for buying shoes due to their easy buy and return policy. Buying shoes isn’t like buying t-shirts – easy return policies are so key!

Tsukihoshi Mako – These are my personal favorite. They’re flexible, some sole, zero drop heel, very washable. Lots of color options (compared to some others) and athletic-looking enough that my kids didn’t feel too different from their Adidas, Under Armor-clad peers. Velcro closure for fast in and out! Plus, this model has been around for many seasons. Around $55 & up.

Photo credit: zappos.com

Tsukihoshi Kaz – These are another favorite, but don’t come in some of the larger “Little Kid” sizes. Same pros and cons as the Tsukihoshi Mako. Around $50 & up.

Photo credit: zappos.com

Merrell Kids Bare Access – These are extremely lightweight, zero-drop, and padded but thin sole. Lace-up only and more for the narrower feet. These seem to be going out of season, but are still available on some sites. It got a lot of bad reviews on Zappos for getting worn out and falling apart very quickly. They are a little difficult to get on, but I guess it’s a trade-off to finding a shoe with my target features. We haven’t owned these that long, so the jury is still out on durability. About $45.

Photo credit: zappos.com

Merrell Kids MQM Flex Low – Flexible, lightweight shoe, zero-drop, thicker sole than the Bare Access model with more traction. Bungee lace-up. Around $50.

Photo credit: zapppos.com

Altra Kids’ ONE JR Running Shoe – These running shoes for bigger kids (size 4 & up) have a large toebox for toe splay. They are flexible and lightweight. They are zero drop, but have pretty thick soles. $60.

Photo credit: zappos.com

PrioI’ve been eyeing this model for my kids to try maybe in the future. They’re not available on Zappos or Amazon, so ordering is a little more “work.” Also on the pricier side, $70. Check their website for more info and pics.

Nike Free RN (pictured below, left) and Nike Flex Experience/Contact (pictured below, right) for kids – some of the versions of the Flex and Free RN are pretty lightweight and very flexible. They tend to have thick, wide soles. Maybe that’s for stability? At any rate, I couldn’t discern much of any incline despite the thick sole on some of these models. Look carefully for what’s important to you though because there’s variation even within the models and from season to season. My kids found them super comfortable in general and said they felt like slippers. $40 – $70, depending on the model – plus these go on sale frequently when the newer versions come out.

PLAE – I don’t have a particular model in mind and we don’t own any of this brand, but almost all their shoes seemed to be zero-drop. We’ve definitely tried some of their models on a couple of times, too, but I find them a bit stiff and heavy though for a minimalist shoe. They look like a good fit for wider feet and toebox and the bottoms feel robust, for those wanting a sturdier sole. $50 & up. 

Photo credit: zappos.com

Martial arts and wrestling shoes – Most shoes used in these sports tend to be zero-drop. Their flexibility varies. Asics makes a wrestling/martial arts shoe, so it is a high cut shoe, but aside from the ankle support, the rest of the shoe is very flexible, zero drop, with varying degrees of width. Puma, Adidas, Asics also have martial arts shoes that are zero drop, somewhat flexible, but sometimes a bit narrow in the toebox, and the leather (faux?) can make the shoe a little stiffer to begin with.

Indoor soccer shoes (not the grass cleats!) – Indoor soccer shoes are typically zero drop, so we got that requirement out of the way quickly. They also have the “cool” factor, so my kids are always excited to see these. After that, you have to sift through the brands and models for the ones that suit your child’s feet. Nike has the most models that felt flexible and lightweight. Alot of them look good, but have rigid soles and for whatever reason, soccer shoes tend to run narrow though, and are all lace-ups. Around $35 & up. 

Photo credit: zappos.com

If you know of some great options, please add to the comments! I am always on the lookout for more of these types of shoes.

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