Minimalist shoes are a group of footwear that are marketed with the suggestion they have the advantages of being barefoot, without the disadvantages of barefoot activity (better social acceptibility, foot cleanliness, plantar surface protection from abrasion and penetrating objects). The soles are made of thin, highly resilient materials. The shoe upper encases the foot to a similar extent as traditional shoes. There are examples where toes are independent enclosed rather than as a single "toe box". Heel rise is minimal or none.
Shoes designed for running with thin soles and minimal heel rise is not an original idea. They have been available for decades in the form of "racing flats" - shoes marketed to be used on race day. Many recreational and competitive runners use these for training as well as racing. They are a better shoe for use in running than shoes marketed as training shoes. Thinness of sole tends to reduce frontal plane movement during locomotion. This results in more precise proprioception in the form of foot position awareness. The result is less behavior that amplifies impact in response to instability and less chance of ankle sprain. The better racing flats and "minimalist shoes" will be those with the firmest sole material. The best shoe is not yet available, but it will incorporate low resiliency sole material, which has no negative effect on balance. This low resiliency material must recover only 5% of its thickness in one second for good balance performance.
Running in both minimalist shoes and racing flats does not resemble barefoot running. If used on naturally deposited ground, the ideal condition for barefoot locomotion, these shoes essentially eliminate plantar surface (bottom of foot) localized deformations and shear stress, mechanical forces applied to the plantar surface which produce sensory feedback. These sensations are responsible for the mechanics of barefoot running. If used on outdoor man made surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, that allow minimal localized plantar deformation, these shoes will minimize shear stress thereby reducing sensory feedback to levels seen in any shoe.
Individual toe enclosures offer no advantage. Plantar flexion of the digits during barefoot locomotion is not used mainly to improve traction. It is a response to painful surface contact with the metatarsal-phalageal joints (balls of feet). It is an attempt to avoid contact to an area of he foot with a low pain threshold to deforming objects and subject to frequent injury. There will be no desire to plantar flex digits and to acquire the mechanics of barefoot running witth any shoe, minimalist or typical - with individuals toe enclosures or more ordinary.
The only conclusion available about advertising about minimalist shoes, or any other product that claims to simulate barefoot locomotion is that it is an attempt to commercially exploit the consumer who has become disenchanted about running shoe safety and/or the appreciates advantages of the bare foot, though deceptively inferring that these products allow an experience resembling barefoot running. The user should expect no advantages over running with racing flats.