You may have heard the terms Zero Drop along with the term Minimalist in relation to footwear before, but what do these terms mean and aren’t they the same thing? While there can be some connection, the short answer is no.
In relation to ‘drop’ we are talking about the angle between your heel and your toes when in a shoe. The majority of footwear we use these days has some degree of drop meaning that the heel is higher than the toe. Many traditional running and hiking shoes will be over 10 mm higher at the heel than at the toe meaning that it will have a 10 mm drop. This drop (slope) leans you forward. The idea of Zero Drop is that it simulates walking barefoot in at least as far as the angle of your foot to the ground. As such is considered better for you anatomically providing a more natural posture as your muscles perform in the way they were designed. Just ask women who wear high heeled shoes for long periods.
Zero drop shoes aren’t necessarily minimalist and there are some versions with very high stack heights (the thickness of the rubber on the sole).
Altra Lone Peak 6.0 Trail Running Shoe Altra is one of the best known Zero Drop brands and is very popular in the long distance hiking community coming in both a men’s and women’s versions
Minimalist shoes can also be Zero Drop but are generally considered to be a shoe that has less than 8 mm drop. The idea with this type of shoe is that they replicate walking in bare feet. Rather than having large amounts of cushioning and padding these shoes have limited material on top and rubber underfoot, and will often be a much lighter weight version that allows for more tactile contact with the ground. One of the most unique examples this type of shoe is the Vibram Five Fingers range which is essentially a glove for your feet. They provide supreme tactile contact underfoot with the hiking based models also having a high degree of protection. Like Zero Drop shoes, Minimalist shoes also help improve foot strength and arch function.
Vibram Five Fingers V-Trail. These shoes are designed to be worn with toe socks and I like wearing these on shorter day hikes as they provide better connection with the ground than more padded shoes
Hikers have a love hate relationship with Minimalist and Zero Drop shoes. If you haven’t used Zero Drop or Minimalist shoes before then they will feel strange at first and you will feel like you are leaning back more than usual. One important thing to note here is that if you are using either of these shoe styles for the first time, then you need to allow acclimatisation time. Start off wearing them for short periods and build up your usage over an extended period.