Mission Capable Approved Footwear

Bottom Line Up Front: This post will cover what makes good footwear, which shoes I current own, and which brands I recommend. It is an enduring post which will be kept updated to reflect my current thinking on footwear and what I am actually wearing.

Photo by Oziel Gómez on Unsplash

This post is broken into four sections: the characteristics of footwear I consider important, which shoes I own and for what purpose, which brands I recommend and why, and some shoe buying pro tips.

I have already written about how I redid my entire footwear line, so if you care to hear which shoes I got rid of and why, check this out before proceeding. The below is an expansion on that post with more current information. I will keep this post updated to reflect changes as well to what I own and what I recommend.

What Makes Good Footwear?

Toe splay. The amount of ability your toes have to spread apart is the amount of splay they have. If you were walking barefoot, there would be zero limits on the ability of your toes to splay; they would be unconstrained. Most modern shoes have restrictive pointed toe boxes, which squish your toes into unnatural patterns, which can cause permanent deformities such as bunions and recurring pain. Read more here and here

Restricted vs unrestricted toe boxes from cbphysicaltherapy.com

Heel-to-toe drop. This relates to the amount of change in height from your heel to your the balls of your feet. A high-heeled shoe has a significant heel-to-toe drop. A flat sandal that is the same thickness across the whole sole with no heel has zero drop. The idea is to minimize the heel height, which forces your body into unnatural positions. It is effectively like tip-toeing or walking on your toes. This causes your body to be in slight lean forward, which causes your hips and spine to adjust to compensate. You are now walking in an unnatural position because of your footwear. I am looking for shoes with no drop or very minimal when I have to choose ones that have some heel to alleviate this issue. 

Zero drop vs elevated heels from Lems

Stack height. Related to the heel-to-toe drop, stack height is effectively the thickness of the material below your feet. You could have a minimalist shoe with very thin soles and a maximally thick-soled shoe, which can both be zero drop. I used to always choose shoes with as little below my feet as possible (low stack height), but I have since taken a different position. I now feel stack height should be related to what you will do with the shoe. If you are picking shoes to run on pavement, you should have more stack height than casual walking shoes. Shoes to wear inside a gym should be low stack. I have some Altras that have very thick soles and some Vibram Fivefingers that have almost nothing below my feet. Different tools for different jobs.

Read more about heels, drops, and stack height here.

Example of a zero drop shoe

Arch support. Refers to the amount of support provided to the arch of your foot by the shoes on your feet. I used to believe in zero arch support at all times so your foot would have to get strong and not rely on some external help. However, as with walking on pavement, our modern environment forces us to make some changes. I personally had some pain in my foot caused by my high arches collapsing inward (pronating) in certain shoes. I got some shoes with arch support for overpronators and it stopped immediately. Same with my work boots. Minor recurring foot pain that I couldn’t explain. Put in some replacement insoles with arch support, pain stopped. I only choose shoes with arch support that I use to walk/run for prolonged periods of time on unnaturally hard surfaces. Thus, most of my shoes have no additional arch support. The ones I wear to run/walk on pavement and my work shoes (up to 12 hours a day in them) have support though. Arch support is to tolerance. But don’t think you need arch supports in everything. I am barefoot (or in socks) at all times in my house and almost all the time in the garage gym.

What is in My Closet?

Everything in my closet is a recommended shoe. I wouldn’t keep them if I didn’t wear them, and if I wear them, it stands to reason I’d recommend them to you. I list the sizes so you can use it as a reference across brands and models if you want to try a pair.

Athletic Shoes

Altra Men’s Lone Peak 3 Mid Neo Trail Running Shoe. Size 11 US. Got these for off-road, rain, or snow. Walked my dog in these in the winter. They are mids, so they are not a boot but not a low top either. Also waterproof. They do a great job gripping the ground and keeping your feet dry.

Altra Provision 3.5. Size 11 US. These are my pavement running and long walk shoes. Big thick soles for max protection from the evil concrete.

Vivobarefoot Stealth II. Size 44 EURO. Super thin soles. These feel closest to not wearing shoes at all. Excellent for natural trails (running or walking). Also good for wearing in a gym for a natural feel while still wearing shoes. I wear these in my garage gym in the winter when it’s too cold for bare feet.

Xero Prio. Size 11.5 US. Very solid and stable platform. You feel connected to the ground when wearing these due to the thin soles. I wear these out of my house a lot when I am doing errands. Little thin to be running on pavement but trail running or on a track would be fine if you are conditioned for minimalist shoes. Good shoe for a gym as well.

Vibram Fivefingers V-Alpha. Size 43 EURO. I wear these when off-road walking or running on trails. These have a tread to them, but any Fivefingers are great for wanting a near barefoot feeling.

Luna Origen 2.0. Size 9.5 US. These are a performance sandal, which could be used for running (I have done it) or hiking off road. I tend to wear them in street clothes a lot, but they are great for the beach or camping. I took them on a vacation as my only shoes. Wore them to the beach all day and then out in town for dinner seamlessly. Obviously don’t need socks and you can do a lot of physical activities in them. Due to the straps you can secure them to your feet really well.

Lifestyle/Casual Shoes

Altra Cayd. Size 11 US. Replaced my Van’s with these. Casual stylish shoe. Very comfortable for all-day wear.

Lem’s Mariner. Size 44 EURO. First pair of Lem’s and since I loved them so much I got two more (see below). These are boat shoes for casual summertime wear. I got them slightly smaller because I never wear socks with them.

Lem’s Boulder Boot Leather. Size 45 EURO. Little more dressy yet still casual. Very comfortable also, like slippers almost! Definitely could be used as actual hiking boots. I prefer something more rugged like the Altra Lone Peak though for real off-road work.

Lem’s Nine2Five. Size 45 EURO. Need something a little more formal I could wear with business casual attire. These fit the bill.

Work Shoes (US Army)

Belleville Mini-Mil Minimalist Combat Boots (Coyote) TR105. Size 11 US. I have been wearing these since I found them in 2014. Closest thing to minimalist and zero drop you can get as far as I am aware with its 2mm drop. Pretty good for military boots! I have had two pairs so far – changed to coyote color when our uniforms changed. Still have my sand colored pair for yard work. Have yet to wear out a pair. I am a more…senior…officer now, so I am not putting these through repeated field exercises, so I can’t speak to their durability in all situations.

Belleville Tactical Research 8″ Transition Boot, Coyote. Size 11 US. I own these, but I never really wear them. I got them so I could have a little bit more cushioning (stack height) to jump out of airplanes. They are still good as compared to the competition with their 6mm drop, but I like the Mini-Mils better. They did a good job with offering this as a transition boot as the name implies to bridge most normal boots with a huge heel and high stack height to the Mini-Mils, which may be too much to take at once if you aren’t conditioned to minimalist boots.

Recommended Brands

As per the specific models in my closet, I highly recommend the following brands. You can find many other shoes they make that may work better for you then the specific models I own.

Lem’s
This brand is very simple: they only offer a few different styles and they do them well. They do NOT have a wear and return policy, so be sure you like them before you wear them outside.

Altra
A ton of varying styles for many different uses. I have tried six different styles of these and returned three. The three I kept, I love. The three I returned or sold, not so much. For example, the Escalante 1.5 caused me pain and were uncomfortable due to their sock-like upper and squishy sole whereas the Provision 3.5 are the opposite – study, solid sole, and very comfortable. They DO have a 30-day try and return policy that I have personally used. I got a pair of Provisions in a slightly smaller size to test out if they’d stretch. Wore them for 3 weeks outdoors every day and opted to return them. Got a full refund. Bought a half size larger and kept them! You have to buy from Altra directly for this guarantee though.

Vibram Fivefingers
Also a ton of options here. I have bought, tried on, and returned more than I have kept. I got four different styles and hated three, loved one on this last order. It is a pain to do this by mail but worth the effort to get what you want. They DO have a 6-week try and return policy. Their customer service says they can be returned within six weeks for any reason, as long as purchased from them directly.

Vivobarefoot
A lot of interesting shoes here to try. I have never used it, but their website says they offer 100-day returns. I assume this means you can wear the shoes and return them within 100 days and not just that you can return new shoes within 100 days. If you plan to test it out, I’d verify.

Luna
They have a lot of very cool sandals to choose from. I got the Origen because I wanted the tire tread soles for more durability. You can really use them as running shoes too. If I ran on trails more, I would wear them for sure. The sizing is very specific, so don’t try to use your regular size. Use their actual guide here. I needed 9.5 and wear 11 in most of my other shoes. They DO have a 30-day try and return policy also so try with confidence!

Xero
They have athletic shoes, sandals, and casual shoes, all made with natural foot position in mind. If I didn’t have enough shoes, I’d try more of these! NO try and return policy unfortunately, so do your evaluations indoors.

Shoe Buying Pro Tips

  1. Unless you get an amazing sale, purchase your shoes directly from the manufacturer versus another store online to maximize return/refund options.
  2. Wait for holiday sales. They come all the time. When you are spending more than $100, 20% is worth the effort. Sign up for their email newsletters to get notified.
  3. If you find a pair you like but are on a budget OR you want to sell some shoes (or clothes) to fund new ones, try Poshmark.com. I have bought and sold more than ten items there myself. Lot of people selling lightly used items there at great discounts. Ebay is also a good option too. I like Poshmark better of the two.
  4. If you are buying online and trying the brand for the first time, buy two or three sizes to compare. Many places have free returns so there is no penalty to returning. Much better than wondering if half a size up or down is right and not being able to tell immediately like a shoe store.

Do you have any other brands and/or styles you recommend? Post thoughts/questions to comments.