Do you love running but are sick of shin pain and injuries? Maybe it’s time to swap to minimalist running shoes, without drop or arch support. Yes, less is more – even when it comes to running shoes.
Raised heels and all that cushioning we have come accustomed to having altered our natural way of running. Minimalist running shoes help us regain our natural strike. And with less ground resistance when we run on the balls of our feet, we also run faster.
Sounds great? In my article today, I share my experience with minimalist running shoes, and one model in particular: the HFS running shoe by Xero Shoes. Make sure you read it before you toss your old running shoes, as the swap won’t happen overnight.
How did this review come about?
As a marathon runner, with more than 40 years of running in my legs, I’ve worn many pairs of running shoes. My first real pair of running shoes (at least as far as I can remember) were a pair of no-name, second-hand leather shoes in the 1970s – hard and unforgiving. Back in those days, the big brands in New Zealand were Kiwi Flyers by Laser Shoes and Saucony, made famous by my friend and role model Rod Dixon who went on to win the 1983 New York City Marathon.
In the 2000s, my go-to brand was Nike. I liked their running clothes and their more minimalist 8mm drop shoes, not knowing or (at the time) caring about the sustainability or ethical aspects of their manufacturing.
In August 2018, while training in my Nike shoes on Queenstown Hill one icy morning, I slipped. I ended up with an L3/L4 prolapsed disc which required discectomy surgery. As I slowly returned to running in 2019 (and again in my Nike running shoes), I suffered a posterior medial meniscus tear, which again required surgery.
After these two accidents, I researched my running shoes a bit more. I ended up buying a pair of well-cushioned Adidas running shoes, thinking these would help with my recovery and encouraged by the fact that my son Ben swore by them.
When these reached their end of life – cushioned running shoes usually only last about 800km – I looked for a better replacement. This time, I chose the HFS running shoes by Xero Shoes.
Who is the Xero HFS running shoe aimed at?
On the Xero Shoes’ website, the shoe is marketed towards road runners. It is offered as both a male and a female version. With a non-elevated heel and minimal support, you will either already be used to this type of shoe or are planning to get into exercising in a zero-drop shoe.
If this is the first time using zero-drop or true minimalist shoes, you will need to adjust your training to build up muscles you don’t use when running in your cushioned shoes (and avoid injury). By wearing minimalist shoes, you will change your gait and your running posture. And eventually, you’ll run faster (after you have put in the hard work).
What are they made of?
The sole is made of a single FeelTrue® rubber sole with red add-ons on the inside front and outside rear sections. The toe cap is made of a plastic material. The tread isn’t very deep, which on a positive note, makes them easy to clean.
The insoles are very lightweight, 2mm thick and slightly shaped around the back of the foot with a mesh foam part at the bottom and a textile part at the top. The insoles are not affixed to the shoe and can be taken out easily.
The mesh upper material looks like it could rip easily. More than 500km later though, there are no tears. The grey flashing on the sides of the shoe looks like it could be reflective, but it is not. Three eyelet holes and two loopholes (on either side) are used to hold the laces. Laces are flat in design with thin red piping along the edges.
What is unique about the Xero HFS running shoe?
There is no instep in the insoles/no arch support, and this is the reason why so many who try this type of minimalist shoe experience pain in their arch (also known as plantar fasciitis). You definitely need to build up muscle and tendon strength in this area before running long mileage.
The shoe is zero-drop (between the heel and the toe box). It is certainly noticeable, especially having used running shoes with 8mm drop previously.
The collar/heel notch is also quite low, providing little to no Achilles support. Again, I would not recommend to rush out and do great miles in these shoes immediately. Achilles and lower calf pain can be expected as well as shin pain if your heel strike continues.
How easy is it to transition from other running shoes?
Unless you already run on the balls of your feet (and don’t roll from your heels), transitioning from cushioned, full-support running shoes to the Xero HFS shoes takes time.
I started walking about a week after my knee surgery (in my Adidas pair). Building up to 5km every other day and a 10km walk on the weekend, I felt ready to start running again about a month after my knee surgery. That’s when I changed to the Xero HFS shoes. Instead of walking all the way, I would run a kilometre, then walk a kilometre and so forth, keeping the overall distance of 5km and 10km, respectively for a few weeks. Some days, I would just walk.
It wasn’t until 14 weeks after I first wore the Xero HFS running shoes that I ran all the way – for just over 5km. Another two weeks later, I ran 10km without walking or stopping.
A bit over 6 months after my knee surgery, my weekly average is now 35-40km. I still get some calf pain every now and then, but it is manageable, and I think it relates more to the increase in training as opposed to the wearing of zero-drop shoes.
Are the Xero HFS running shoes worth the money?
The Xero HFS running shoes cost me AUD176.27 (USD127.44) with free shipping from Australia to New Zealand. My running shoes over the past few years each cost an average of AUD106.42 (USD81.50), because I normally always only purchased them when they were heavily discounted. Did you know that 50% of the retail price for a pair of running shoes is retained by the store?
The Xero HFS shoes cost more than I would normally spend. But then again, I did not buy them on sale.
Another thing to keep in mind is that contrary to cushioned full-support running shoes, minimalist running shoes don’t need to be replaced every 800km as there is no cushioning that wears out. So, you effectively get more mileage out of the shoe. At least that’s the theory. Let’s see how well mine do after 800km.
Review of the Xero HFS Running Shoes
Product Name: Xero HFS Running Shoes
Product Description: Minimalist running shoes, available in 4 different colors, sizes range from 6.5 to 15 for men and 5 to 11 for women
Brand: Xero Shoes
SKU: HFMCRN, HFMGLB, HFMPWT, HFWATB, HFWSLB, HFWSTG
Offer price: 109.99
Offer URL: https://xeroshoes.com/go/MinJourneys
Valid until: 31 Dec 2035
- Customer Service
These are my third pair of footwear from Xero Shoes, so I have had a few years’ experience with the company and its products. It was a big change however to make the move to a pair of Xero running shoes: My running style has had to change from being a heel striker to a full/front foot runner.
Like other Xero shoes, the HFS are extremely lightweight, which is a big advantage for someone like me who only travels with carry-on luggage. The low profile also means they don’t take up much space in my carry-on backpack.
These shoes are designed for road running, not for rough trails. They do not have a lot of sole grip, but they are very flexible, and you use your feet to grip the ground. Running in the HFS shoes is almost like running barefoot. With minimal support, the shoe reinstates your feet’s natural movement.
After an initial period of walking and then slowly increasing the mileage, I have really enjoyed running in these shoes. I was extremely cautious to not increase my weekly mileage too quickly. In a way, having had my knee surgery helped me ease into the new shoe.
These shoes are very flexible and mould to your feet and toes nicely. The 5.5mm rubber sole allows your feet to really feel the road surface. What is not nice, initially at least, is the lack of obvious underfoot support and cushioning: you feel every stone. Given these are minimalist shoes and not your usual cushioned running shoes, there is obviously a difference.
The upper material is a thin mesh. I feel like more air gets to your feet. You can really notice the difference from non-minimalist running shoes. Another great feature is the moisture-wicking material on the inside which is a bit rougher to touch but keeps your socks firmly in place.
As mentioned on the Xero Shoes website, the HFS runs small. It is recommended to choose 1/2 size larger than your usual size. The good thing is that there are half sizes from 6.5 to 12.
I purchased a size 12. With my normal Rockay Accelerate Anti-Blister Running Socks, they were a tight fit initially. Once I loosened the shoelaces slightly and had a few runs in them, they felt more comfortable. And once I removed the insoles, the fit was even better for me. The toe box caters for wider feet like mine (at least in size 12).
The Xero HFS shoes are designed in Colorado, USA. Like most other running shoes in the world, they are manufactured in China, and like all shoes, they do occasionally have production issues. But it is the response to those production issues that really count (more on that below).
The eyelets are not domed, so you stretch the eyelet hole when tightening your shoelaces. That said though, the area around the eyelets is reinforced. At the time of writing, I have run more than 500km in them. The eyelets haven’t changed shape at all.
The heel collar lining (where the shoe touches the Achilles) however has worn thin and a hole has formed on one shoe. I raised the issue with Xero Shoes via a warranty claim, but they concluded that the hole in my shoe was not a manufacturing fault and rather a result of wear and tear after 8 months of use. Therefore they rejected my warranty claim.
The Xero HFS running shoes come with a 12-month manufacturing warranty. The outer soles also have a 5,000-mile (8,000-kilometer) warranty, during which time the shoe would be replaced if the outer sole was to wear down to less than 1mm at the ball.
After about 50km of running, my left insole started to slip out the back of the shoe, no matter how tight I would adjust my shoelaces. This became quite annoying in that every few kilometers, I would have to stop, take the shoe off, put the innersole back in place and start again.
After several runs of doing this, I took the insoles out and started running without them. I also checked the unofficial Xero Shoes Facebook group to see if others had the same experience. Nothing. I then contacted Xero Shoes via their official Facebook Page, not knowing if they could assist, given that I’d bought my shoes from a reseller in Australia.
The company responded promptly though and their customer service was swift: “It has come to our attention that the factory may have put the wrong size insoles in some of the HFS shoes.” They then asked for proof of purchase and my mailing address, and promptly sent me new insoles to match my shoe size.
- Minimalist shoes with zero drop
- Dry easily
- Supporting a smaller shoe company feels great
- Collar/heel notch provides no Achilles support
- If these are your first true minimalist running shoes you’ll likely have a period of adjustment while your legs get used to them
- Just because these shoes are minimalist in design, don’t expect them to be cheaper than mainstream running shoes
What are potential alternatives to the Xero HFS shoes?
Are you in the market for a zero-drop shoe? Here are some of the competitive brands and models I had a look at when researching my running shoes – with criteria being (close to) zero drop and suitability for distances up to half-marathon:
- Merrell’s Trail Glove 5
- Merrell’s Bare Access XTR
- Altra Vanish-R
- Topo ST-3
- SoftStar Adult PRIMAL RunAmoc.
Article Disclaimer: I purchased the shoes from Wildfire Sports & Trek in August 2020. I was not asked to review the shoes, nor was I paid for my review. Minimalist Journeys is a Xero Shoes affiliate where we earn commissions for customers we refer to Xero Shoes.