Though opinions may vary on what constitutes maximalist footwear, we at Natural Footgear would categorize any athletic or casual shoe with significant padding or material under the foot’s sole as maximalist. Our feet and footwear philosophy is quite clear, and one of the principles that we believe in most strongly is embodied in this quote from podiatrist and natural foot care pioneer Dr. William Rossi:
To what degree possible, a shoe should have only two functions: as a non-intrusive, protective covering, and as an ornamental dressing.
In truth, maximalist shoes go far beyond simply protecting the foot’s sole, placing an excessive amount of material between the foot and the ground. Whether or not they constitute a pleasing ornamental dressing is really a matter of personal taste. As we’ve discussed in our Shoe Cushioning Myth article, any shoe with significant padding strips the foot of its ability to sense the ground, unfavorably alters gait, and encourages excessive joint loading. It’s far better, we believe, to put your feet in shoes that encourage optimal tactile feedback and allow your feet to become stronger on their own. Shoes with less sole and greater sole flexibility encourage gentler footfalls during athletic activity, including walking, which translates into reduced loads on the joints and their supporting tissues.
An additional reason why we don’t support maximalist shoes is that most models incorporate a quartet of injurious design characteristics, including heel elevation, toe spring, tapering toe boxes, and rigid, inflexible soles. These unnecessary design elements simply compound the problems already created by excessive stack height (stack height is basically the thickness of whatever is under your foot, and it usually refers to the combined thickness of the shoe’s outsole, midsole, and insole). So, despite the rise in popularity of maximalist athletic shoes, we do not consider this type of shoe to be foot-healthy. Learn more about problematic shoe design features in this post from our Educational Articles blog.
Caveat: Some folks who are transitioning to foot-healthy footwear after decades of wearing conventional shoes may benefit from slightly more material between the foot and the ground, though most people in this category do just fine with stack heights in the 10-20 mm thickness range (a shoe such as the Lems Primal Pursuit, with a stack height of 14 mm, makes for a great transitional foot-healthy shoe). Most maximalist shoes possess a stack height of at least 30 mm, and sometimes even up to 40 mm.