Why Barefoot is Better: 5 Best Replacements for Birkenstocks

Birkenstocks have long been celebrated for their unique blend of comfort and style, but why are they so popular? With their distinctive cork footbeds, sturdy straps, and foot-shaped design, they’ve become a staple in many wardrobes as a healthier alternative to modern footwear. Yet, as awareness of the benefits of barefoot shoes grows, there’s increasing interest in alternatives that provide similar style while promoting better foot movement in the long term.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the best barefoot alternatives to Birkenstocks. Whether you’re looking for relief from foot pain or just want to enjoy a more natural walking experience, these options will give your feet the freedom they deserve.

Birkenstocks vs. Barefoot: Which is Better Long-Term?

Are Birkenstocks good for your feet?

Birkenstocks are often praised for their supportive design, featuring a contoured cork footbed that molds to the shape of your foot. This can provide arch support and help distribute weight evenly, which many people find beneficial while seeking a solution to their foot pain. They also feature a foot-shaped design (a rare gem in conventional footwear, but a must in every barefoot shoe) which allows your toes to spread out naturally.

However, there are some downsides. While the rigid support might feel great initially, it can cause your feet to become dependent on it. Over time, this reliance on external support can lead to weaker foot muscles, as they aren’t required to work as hard (just like after immobilization). Essentially, your shoes might be masking foot pain rather than addressing the root cause.

A better long-term solution is to mobilize and strengthen your feet to improve their function rather than relying on external support forever.

Beyond Modern Sandals: Why Going Barefoot Might Be Better for You

While the stiff and rigid sole of shoes can limit your foot’s ability to move and bend, going barefoot, or wearing minimalist shoes with thin and flexible soles that mimic the barefoot experience, allows your feet to move and flex naturally. Walking barefoot is proven to strengthen the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in our feet.

Birkenstock vs. barefoot sole flexiblity

Barefoot shoes also don’t have any arch support, which gives your feet the chance to use their arches again rather than relying on artificial arch support, which can even make your foot weaker! Barefoot shoes also allow proper attachment to your feet (which most slip-on sandals don’t) ensuring a proper gait without compromising your walk by toe gripping in slides.

Birkenstocks vs. barefoot  - arch support vs. no arch support

What Are the Best Barefoot Alternatives to Wear If You’re Looking for Similar Design?

Just starting to walk barefoot, adding foot exercises to your daily routine, and finding the right barefoot alternative can make a significant difference in your foot health (head over to our homepage for more information). Here are the best barefoot replacements!

Koel Ariana and Abriana

Koel sandals have a strong resemblance to Birkenstocks. They come in two different models – Ariana and Abriana. Ariana is the adult model and is wider, while Abriana is designed for older kids with a narrower sole. Both sandals feature a cork footbed and offer some cushioning, making them very comfortable. The uppers are made from quality leather and provide good adjustability over the instep with a buckle. The Abriana model for kids is available in bright, fun colors, while the Ariana comes in neutral shades like black, brown, and metallic.

Sizing & Fit: Koel Ariana sandals are ideal for medium-width feet and offer good adjustability for different foot volumes. The kids’ Abriana model is narrower and best suited for narrower to medium-width kids’ feet.

Where to Buy: Koel sandals are available on their official website, though stock is limited. You can also check various retailers for availability in different styles and colors. Mugavik, a retailer that ships worldwide, stocks some of these styles.

Softstar Shoes Camino

Softstar Shoes Camino is the only style on this list that offers the classic “Birkenstock” look with two straps across the foot and large buckles. As expected from Softstar, the leather is high-quality and slightly thicker, promising durability and a premium feel. Unlike Birkenstocks, they include an added heel strap and a barefoot sole. The sole is zero-drop but slightly thicker and cushioned than typical barefoot shoes, perfect for those seeking extra cushion and support. The footbed adds a foamy and squishy feel.

Both the front straps and heel strap are adjustable. Initially, I needed some tweaking with the straps to find my ideal fit—I prefer the straps tighter to prevent my foot from sliding forward.

Sizing & Fit: These sandals best fit narrow to medium-width feet, up to medium-wide. They taper slightly at the big toe side, so ensure the sandals are long enough to keep your big toe comfortably on the sole. I wear size US10 with foot dimensions 26.3/10 cm.

Where to Buy: Softstar Shoes can only be bought online on their official website.

Feelgrounds Seaside

Feelgrounds Seaside sandals are one of our all-time favorite barefoot sandals for everyday use, and we reach for them constantly. They are also among the widest fitting sandals on this list. Made with a rubber outsole and a cork footbed, you can choose between cotton or faux leather for the upper, available in several colors.

The cork footbed makes the sandals more compact and less flexible, but it offers a very comfortable feel. The sole is a mix of firm and soft, providing minimal cushioning so you won’t feel every pebble underfoot, making them perfect for those who want a bit of cushion in their shoes.

The straps are soft and comfortable from the start, and they are easy to put on thanks to the Velcro strap on the heel.

Sizing & Fit: These sandals are perfect for wide and extra-wide feet but can also fit narrower feet if they hold well over the instep. They are best suited for low-medium and medium instep heights due to minimal adjustability. Those with high-volume feet might find them tight. There is an elastic insert for minimal adjustment over the instep.

To choose the right size, use their printable templates and ensure your toes stay on the sole when positioning the marked dot between your toes. I wear a size 42, with foot dimensions 26.3/10 cm.

Where to Buy: Feelgrounds Seaside sandals are available exclusively online on their official website.

Be Lenka Promenade

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The Be Lenka Promenade model is the most elegant and dressiest option on this list. They are made of a leather upper and leather footbed. Each year, they offer a few classic, timeless colors and add some new ones. The sole is thin and firm, providing minimal cushioning, making them ideal for those accustomed to thin soles.

Sizing & Fit: When trying on the Promenade, I tested both size 41 and 42 (foot dimensions 26.3/10 cm). I ultimately chose size 42, as the strap placement between the toes affects the foot’s position in the sandal. With size 41, my long toes hung over the sole, and the shape and width weren’t ideal. Size 42 fits perfectly, and the extra length at the heel doesn’t affect my gait or cause tripping.

These sandals are best suited for those with low to medium-height insteps. There’s no additional tightening possible over the instep, so they must fit well. The elastic at the sides allows for minimal adjustment.

Where to Buy: Be Lenka sandals can be bought on their official website (the widest selection of colors and sizes) and at various retailers worldwide.

Tara Soles

Tara Soles is a brand offering shoes that strongly resemble Birkenstocks. Their model, called Santiago, features a thin and soft leather upper available in black or brown. What sets these sandals apart is the unique placement of the toe strap. Initially, I was puzzled by the position of the hole, thinking it was designed for someone with short toes. However, I soon realized the strap is attached further forward for a reason (see photo above). This design ensures that you don’t feel any strap between your toes, while still providing excellent foot hold. The Santiago model feels very secure and offers an incredibly comfortable and pleasant walking experience.

Note: Tara Soles also sells the Alegria model, another barefoot Birkenstock alternative. However, most of their other models are not fully barefoot-approved as they lack proper heel support.

The standout feature of these sandals is their sole, composed of a Vibram outsole, a cork midlayer, and a microfiber fleece footbed. This combination provides a perfect balance of flexibility and shock absorption with minimal cushioning, making them delightful to walk in.

Sizing & Fit: These sandals are best suited for narrow to medium-width feet. My feet are already at the width limit, but I hope they will offer wider options in the future to accommodate more people. The sandals provide good adjustability over the instep, catering to different instep heights.

Where to Buy: Tara Soles sandals are available exclusively online on their official website.

Need More Barefoot Options?

Looking for more barefoot sandals? Check out our complete list of barefoot sandals for additional options. Visit our homepage to help you get started on your journey to better foot health. We have a wealth of information and resources to guide you in finding the perfect footwear and improving your overall foot health. Your feet will thank you!


Our feet are naturally strong and capable, often more than we give them credit for. By transitioning to barefoot shoes and giving up overly supportive footwear, you can empower your feet to function as nature intended. It might take some adjustment, but your body will thank you with improved foot health and overall well-being. Embrace the freedom and strength that come with barefoot living—your feet, and your whole body, will be grateful for the change. Start small, stay consistent, and experience the difference.

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