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The Best Baby & Toddler Shoes: Why Soft is NOT Enough?

As our little one starts their journey from crawling to walking, we’re faced with an important decision: choosing their first shoes. It’s literally a big step! But here’s the thing: it’s not just about buying the cutest pair on the shelf. Choosing the best shoes for babies learning to walk plays a crucial role in their foot development. You might think, “Soft shoes are the key, right?” However, there’s more to it than just picking out something soft.

You might wonder what’s the big deal with baby shoes? It’s all about setting up those little feet for success. We’re aiming for more than just warm toes; we’re focusing on supporting healthy foot development – think bones, arches, and all that good stuff. And here’s a little spoiler: sometimes, the best shoe is no shoe at all. Yes, you heard that right!

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through finding the perfect fit to avoid any cramped toes and highlight the top shoe options for both new walkers and those little ones who’ve already gained some confidence on their feet. Consider this your ultimate guide for everything you need to know about shoes for toddlers. Are you ready to dive into the baby shoe universe? Let’s get started!

Disclaimer: Please note that all information in this article is for informational purposes only and is intended for healthy individuals. We always recommend consulting your doctor.

Why Kids Should Be Barefoot (As Much As Possible)

Our feet are incredible structures, equipped with 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Yet, your baby’s feet are not simply smaller versions of adult feet. Instead, babies’ feet are mostly made of cartilage, making their foot structures softer and more pliable since their bones and muscles are still developing.

X-ray: See how bones change with age

As kids grow, their feet become stronger through natural movement and by feeling the ground beneath them. Over time, their bones gradually harden and fuse together. During this critical period, allowing their feet to move freely and without constraints is crucial for healthy foot development.

Perfect baby feet and deformed adult feet
As their feet grow, choosing stiff shoes that don’t match their foot shape essentially molds their feet into the shape of the shoe.

The best support for natural foot development? Let kids be barefoot as much as possible. When going barefoot isn’t practical, the next best option is to choose barefoot shoes, which don’t restrict their foot movements.

Kids usually don’t need shoes until they actually start walking. And even then, they should only wear them when necessary — like in cold or rough conditions where barefoot isn’t safe or practical.

Baby with bare feet
Let your kids explore the world barefoot whenever possible.

Choosing Your Baby’s First Shoes – What Really Matters?

Most children are born with healthy feet, yet as adults, we face more foot problems than ever. Why is that? Many of these issues can be prevented simply by choosing the right footwear. Rigid, narrow, and pointy shoes have deformed the feet of many, compromising our strength, mobility, and the natural width of our feet, forcing us to compensate in our movements.

If you’re an adult, it’s not too late to make a change! Check out these amazing before-and-after stories from our readers.

Shoe-shaped feet in rigid, narrow, and pointy shoes versus natural, undeformed feet in foot-shaped shoes
Shoe-shaped feet in rigid, narrow, and pointy shoes versus natural, undeformed feet in foot-shaped shoes

So, what should you look for in shoes that will support the best development of your child’s feet? Here are some essential features:

  • Thin, flexible sole: Rigid shoes prevent kids’ feet from flexing and moving properly. A thin and flexible sole allows the muscles to work and stay strong. It also lets the child receive all the sensory information from the ground. Our feet, with their thousands of nerve endings, crave this sensory feedback to maintain constant communication with our brain.
  • Zero drop sole: This means there is no difference in height between the heel and the toe of the shoe. Any difference, even as little as 5 mm, forces our body to find a new neutral position to keep upright. An elevated heel shortens connective tissues and can cause significant compensations in a child’s posture, more so than in adults.
  • Foot-shaped shoe: This is crucial! We see many brands offering wider shoes for first walkers, but often, the shape is still not quite right. Most soft shoes for first walkers have a semi-circular toe box, which does not mimic the natural shape of a foot. Shoes should have an anatomical, asymmetrical shape with no tapering at the big toe. If the shoe narrows too quickly on the big toe side, it will push the big toe inwards during walking, forcing the child to compensate.

It’s interesting to note that while many companies make wider shoes for first walkers, as the sizes increase, the shoes often become narrower, even though our foot shape doesn’t change with age.

While many companies make shoes wider for first walkers, sizes typically narrow with age—despite our foot shape remaining the same.

As parents, we’re usually careful about buying wider shoes for our kids but often forget to maintain this standard as they grow. Remember, children—and even adults—need foot-shaped shoes throughout their lives to ensure proper foot movement.

Continue wearing foot-shaped shoes throughout your life.
Continue wearing foot-shaped shoes throughout your life.

Lastly, remember that shoes don’t need arch support. The arch of a baby’s foot develops until they reach school age, so most toddlers appear to have flat feet with a thick fat pad in the middle, giving them that chubby look. Just wait and allow their natural arch to form and develop properly through unrestricted movement.

Developing of the foot arch with age
A child’s foot arch develops naturally with age; unrestricted movement ensures proper formation.

Making Sure Your Toddler’s Shoes Fit Right

Because young children can’t always tell us if their shoes feel right due to neurological reasons, it’s crucial for parents to ensure a perfect fit. Here are some essential tips on how to make sure your toddler’s shoes fit well:

  • Measure their feet regularly. Checking the length, width, toe shape, and foot volume is essential in ensuring a good fit. Measure very young children’s feet every month and older kids every 2-3 months.
  • Compare measurements with brand size charts. Sizes can vary between brands, so always choose a shoe based on these specific measurements.
  • Ensure enough space inside the shoes. When loaded, a child’s feet get longer and wider because their softer structures can expand more than an adult’s. Remember, winter shoes might need more space than summer ones due to thicker socks.
  • Try on the shoes before buying. This ensures that they fit well in real-world conditions.
Regularly measure your toddler’s feet to make sure shoes fit perfectly in both length and width.

TIP: If a child trips while wearing shoes that are the correct length, don’t opt for a smaller size. Instead, look for a model that suits them better. Tripping can be due to several factors, such as protective rubber at the toes, the sole shape, too much friction between the sole and the ground, or simply because the shoe has too much volume or width for the child’s foot.

If tripping occurs in most shoes, even with adequate room, it’s worth checking the child’s movement patterns.

The Best Barefoot Shoes for Babies Learning to Walk

Choosing the right shoes for those precious first steps is crucial. Initially, go for shoes made from the softest materials possible. As your child gains confidence in walking, you can opt for shoes that provide a bit more protection at the toes with a tougher rubber sole, to withstand active play without wearing out too quickly.

Whenever possible, choose low-cut shoes that don’t restrict ankle movement and give your child as much independence as possible when putting on their shoes. Select fastening methods that are suitable for your child’s age and abilities to encourage their independence.

In this chapter, we’ll cover the best options for both ultra-soft models suitable for the earliest stages and slightly more structured models for toddlers who are ready to explore more actively. Whether you’re looking for something super soft or a bit more robust, we’ve got the top picks that will support your little one’s walking adventures.

Lang.S and Tikki Shoes

| Romania | Leather, Vegan | EU 18-45 | 36€+ |

Use BOSENOGICE10% for 10% discount

Why we love them: Tikki Shoes have a special place in our hearts—these were the shoes our little ones took their first steps in! Tikki is known for its high-quality craftsmanship at reasonable prices. They offer some of the softest and most minimalist styles perfect for kids, like their Nido and Ziggy models, which are fantastic options for babies just starting to walk. They also have several styles with a more structured sole for kids who are more comfortable walking and running, making them an excellent choice for toddler shoes.

With their new brand, Lang.S, they’re expanding their range to include even more styles, and we’re excited to see them succeed. Their shoes are best suited for kids with narrow to medium-wide feet and those with low to average foot volume.


Wildling Shoes

| Germany | Vegan | EU 18-48 | 59€+ |

Use AWN_BAREFOOTUNIVERSE for FREE SHIPPING

Why we love them: Wildling Shoes is known as the most minimalist barefoot shoe brand out there. Their shoes are exceptionally soft and flexible—yes, even for adults! They are the softest thing you can get in barefoot shoes. Made from sustainable, natural materials like cotton, hemp, and wool, their Roscida model is the lightest shoe we have ever held and finds its place as one of the best shoes for babies learning to walk. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the shoes in their collection. Just be careful, though—they might not fit well on very chubby, high-volume toddler feet.


VIVOBAREFOOT

| UK | Leather, Vegan | EU 20-49 | 54€+ |

Use BUVIVO20 for 20% discount

Why we love them: VIVOBAREFOOT is another brand that is crushing it in the barefoot shoes market for babies and toddlers. They offer several durable styles perfect for active toddlers. However, their Pluma Knit, which feels like a sock, could be the best choice for your baby as it’s the most minimal protection you can provide for their feet against cold, heat, or sharp objects. Their shoes are ideal for narrow and medium-width feet and work well for those with low and average foot volume.


Muris

| Spain | Vegan | EU 20-30 | 55€+ |

Use BAREFOOT10 for 10% discount

Why we love them: Muris is another standout brand known for their exceptionally soft and light shoes, which maintain their lightness even in larger sizes for bigger kids. Like several other brands on this list, Muris is committed to sustainability. All their shoes are vegan and plant-based, featuring a very minimalist, timeless design. Kids absolutely love wearing them. If you’re looking for a shoe that doesn’t have the sock-like or slipper appearance but offers a more structured look with similar softness and flexibility as sock-shoes, then Muris is your go-to choice. Just keep in mind that Muris currently ships only within the EU. These shoes are perfect for kids with medium to medium-wide feet, average heels, and average instep height.


Zeazoo

| Bulgaria | Leather | EU 18-47 | 53€+ |

Use BOSENOGICE for 5% discount

Why we love them: Zeazoo is a brand with years of experience in producing barefoot shoes for early walkers. They offer several leather models, with some styles being among the softest barefoot shoes for kids learning to walk, while others provide more protection for the confident walkers. We are big fans of their sandals for kids, and kids love wearing them too! These shoes are great for narrow and medium-width feet.


Froddo

| Croatia | Leather, Vegan | EU 20-42 | 32€+ |

Use BFUNIVERSE for 5% discount at Mugavik Barefoot

Why we love them: Froddo is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024, boasting a long tradition in shoemaking. Since they entered the barefoot world, they have quickly become one of the most reputable and popular brands for kids. They offer a huge range of styles and colors (they sell through retailers, so check different ones if you’re looking for a specific style!). Compared to other brands on this list, their shoes have a more structured and firm design. If you want the softest style from Froddo for your toddler, opt for sandals with a Vibram sole, which are nicely soft and flexible. We recommend other styles for more confident walkers, but it’s worth noting that the soles do get softer with wear, too. These shoes are great for narrow and medium-width feet with low to average volume.


Magical Shoes

| Poland | Leather, Vegan | EU 20-29 | 44€+ |

Use BOSENOGICE for 10% discount

Why we love them: Magical Shoes is one of the most affordable brands on this list, offering several styles perfect for toddlers and babies. Their sandals are among the thinnest and lightest options available, and they were a perfect fit for our little 1-year-old tester. Some of their closed-toe styles feature different soles, which may feel more robust for babies learning to walk. For this reason, we recommend them for toddlers who are more comfortable with walking.


Oma King

| Estonia | Leather | EU 18-26 | 35€+ |

Use BU10 for 10% discount

Why we love them: Oma King crafts various styles of leather slippers for little kids, using extra soft leather that’s perfect for tiny feet. These can also serve as first baby shoes. While they can be suitable for outdoor use as well, keep in mind that the upper may wear out faster if your baby is still in the early stages of walking and does a lot of crawling on different textures.


Tip Toey Joey

| Brazil | Leather | EU 20-32 | 53€+ |

Why we love them: Tip Toey Joey designs very cute and stylish barefoot shoes for toddlers and babies. Up to size 24, all their styles are super soft and extremely flexible. Featuring large Velcro straps or elastic laces, they are also very easy to put on. If your toddler spends a lot of time playing on all fours, keep in mind that the shoes might wear out faster at the toes. This brand is available through various retailers, each stocking different styles. So if you’re after a particular style, be prepared to do a bit of searching.


Snugi

| Slovenia | Vegan | EU 18-39 | 25€+ |

Use BU7 for 7% discount

Why we love them: Snugi creates very soft slippers for babies and toddlers that are versatile enough to serve as first walking shoes or just to keep your little one’s feet warm in the stroller. They offer a wide variety of colors and styles, and even some personalization options, like adding a name or adjusting the width/volume. This makes them a fantastic choice for kids with wide feet. For more information about Snugi, check out our Best Barefoot Slippers blog post.


Gogsig

| Denmark | Leather | EU 20-30 | 88€+ |

Use BU10 for 10% discount

Why we love them: Gogsig is a brand that impressed us with their high-quality materials. Their shoes are soft and flexible, yet they come in a more structured design that offers extra protection for active toddlers. These shoes are best suited for toddlers who already feel comfortable with their walking, providing both support and durability for little adventurers.


Bar3foot

| Poland | Leather, Vegan | EU 19-39 | 36€+ |

Why we love them: Bar3foot is one of the most affordable barefoot brands for kids and also offers some of the widest shoes available. Their designs feature a wide toe box, making them perfect for toddlers who not only have wide feet but also a higher volume. Most styles can adjust well to lower volume feet too. The soles are soft yet feel more structured compared to some of the softest models on this list, making them ideal for toddlers who are already confident walkers.


Koel

| Portugal | Leather, Vegan | EU 20-43 | 65€+ |

Use BFUNIVERSE for 5% discount at Mugavik Barefoot

Why we love them: We absolutely love Koel for our kids, and their stylish sneakers for toddlers are no exception. While we wouldn’t recommend these for babies who are just taking their first steps, they are perfect for toddlers who are already confident on their feet. The soles are thin and flexible, and they become even softer with wear, providing great support for little ones as they explore and play.


Jack & Lily

| Canada | Leather | 12-36 months | $35+ |

Why we love them: Jack & Lily shoes were the first choice for my niece. Their timeless T-straps are a perfect choice for babies taking their first steps. They are easy to put on, very thin, and soft, offering several cute designs that make them not only functional but also adorable.

More Great Shoe Options for Your Toddler

Softstar Shoes

| USA | Leather | Size 3 – Size 5 child | 88€+ |

We haven’t tried these personally, but knowing the quality of Softstar Shoes’ leather, these should feel amazing as babies’ first shoes. Available in three different widths, they’re a great option for babies with chubby and wide feet who need an extra-wide toe box to comfortably fit their feet.


Little Love Bug Company

| USA | Leather | EU 19-39 | 47€+ |

Little Love Bug Company produces cute leather shoes for first walkers and has just introduced a new foot-shaped barefoot sole. We’ll test these and update you soon!


Zapato Feroz

| Spain | Leather, Vegan | S-XL, 24-44 | 45€+ |

Zapato Feroz offers so many lovely designs for little kids, and we absolutely love them! Most of their styles for kids are made from durable microfiber, which is very easy to clean and maintain, making them perfect for even the most active toddlers and confident walkers. Since they are so soft and light, they would also be an amazing choice for babies’ first shoes.


Nike Baby Shoes

| Vegan | EU 18.5-23.5 | 59,99€ |

Yes, the first Nike shoes on our list! This model stands out as the only one from the brand that respects the natural shape of our feet, making it a unique pick for those seeking a more natural footwear option from a mainstream brand.


Paperkrane

| Australia | Leather, Vegan | EU 22-44 | 48€+ |

This brand offers a delightful array of colorful and lovely shoes perfect for toddlers, bringing both style and fun to their tiny steps.


Dodo Shoes

| Romania | Leather | EU 19-25 | 41€+ |

This brand features a variety of leather slippers that are perfect for babies’ first steps.


Affenzahn

| Germany | Leather, Vegan | EU 21-37 | 85€+ |

Ideal for toddlers who are more confident on their feet, providing durable options to keep up with their active movements.

Use BFUNIVERSE for 5% discount at Mugavik Barefoot


KIUU

| Germany | Leather, Vegan | EU 20-40 | 89€+ |

Vegan shoes for toddlers who are already walking confidently.


Bundgaard

| Denmark | Leather | EU 21-33 | 42€+ |

Another fantastic option for baby walking shoes, this brand offers very soft and flexible leather shoes that are perfect for those delicate first steps.

Use BFUNIVERSE for 5% discount at Mugavik Barefoot

Conclusion

Choosing the right shoes for your toddler as they start walking is about more than just picking something cute—it’s crucial for healthy foot development that lasts a lifetime. We hope this guide helps you find the perfect shoes for those precious first steps.

Make sure to check out our other posts on kids’ shoes for even more great options. And don’t forget about yourself! We’ve got plenty of advice on adult shoes that are all about keeping your feet happy and healthy. So, keep exploring our content and let’s keep those feet in tip-top shape together!

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