08/15/2011 08:23 am ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

Barefoot Running Shoes: We Tried It

Note: Our tester tried these for running, but they are not specifically designed to be running shoes. They are all-purpose shoes designed in the barefoot trend. Consult a fitness professional before switching running shoes to be sure you find the best ones for you.

The barefoot running shoe trend was a little intimidating to me at first. I’m not a great runner, and I am a great lover of style, so the idea of jogging around wearing shoes that look like shrunken flippers was not exactly calling my name. But in the interest of testing out all the hottest fitness crazes, I shoved my feet into a pair of FILA Skeletoes and waddled out of my house.

The feeling of wearing them was…weird. The FILAs are four-toed, and just getting them on my five-digit foot was a bit of a challenge. It’s also strange to have the sole of your shoe be so stiff and close to the bottom of your foot. Without the normal cushioning of a running shoe, it really does feel like you’re waddling as you walk.

But as I started to run, the feeling changed. I was warned before I even starte up the treadmill belt to go slowly in the shoes, since I would be activating different muscles than I do running in my cushy Asics. Going at an easy jogging pace, I noticed this was true, but not in a bad way, or even an odd way. I felt solid. I thought about an article I’d recently read in Women’s Health explaining that any vertical motion in running is wasted energy, and in the Skeletoes I noticed a serious reduction in the amount of air I was catching. I was chugging away, having a nice little run.

At about minute 20, I started noticing that without socks, the shoes were rubbing against my feet. And not just on the back of my heels -- everywhere. The hard sole was scratching up the bottom of my toes, causing me to push back into the heels, which were also getting blisters. By pushing forward to avoid those blisters, I was creating friction on the tops of my feet, creating more blisters. By minute 25, my feet were in crippling pain. I stopped the belt and hopped off, frustrated that I hadn’t managed to finish my workout. I sat down on a rowing machine to squeeze out another 15 minutes, but the blisters were so bad that the pressure on my feet from just sliding back and forth was too much. I hobbled toward the locker room, dying to get my feet back into my flip-flops.

And that was it. The barefoot shoes had bested me, and despite the fact that the running was pretty easy, the blisters weren’t worth the tradeoff. I threw them into my closet and buried them, lacing my Asics back up for the next day’s workout.

But for some reason, yesterday, as I threw on some running shorts ready to head back to the treadmill, I pulled the Skeletoes out again. One trip in them didn’t seem like a fair shake, I needed to give them another go. I resolved to go even slower this time, jogging at a pace that scarcely graduated from walking.

This time, I finished a 30-minute jog (if you can call it that), feeling only minimal toe-scratching and no heel-blistering. But on the arch of my right food there’s a blister to rival all the others put together, so I’m calling it a draw. I’m not sure if I was getting closer to breaking them in or just got luckier, but either way, when you only have 30 precious minutes to exercise and searing pain in your feet (and not lack of endurance) keeps you from finishing, losing even two workouts is two too many. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has had a better experience with the barefoot shoes -- in fact, I think the “We Tried It” section will be seeing a few more pairs in its future.