Xero Shoes Mesa Trail Review: The best barefoot/minimalist trail shoe?

I’m a minimalist shoe fan, and if you’re looking at a Xero Shoes Mesa Trail shoe review, then I’m guessing you are too. Or at least you’re curious. 

This wide toe box, minimalist trail runner, is one of only a few barefoot, and true trail runner shoes out there.

And with Xero Shoes offering an awesome 5000-mile sole warranty, you should get your money’s worth right? You’ll have to keep on reading to find that one out.

I’ve been rocking the Mesa Trails for 600km now, and I’m really happy to say, they are just what I was looking for. But the all-important fit was a little tricky at first, you’ll almost certainly need a different size from your standard shoe.

Wanna see some well-worn Mesa Trails? Watch the video below. (Maybe I should have given them a good wash first?)

Wanna know the details, skip down and keep on reading.

Throughout this article, you will find links to the Xero Shoes website. These are affiliate links, and it’s the only way that Illness To Ultra is alive today. If you’re interested in the Xero Shoes products, please consider using the links as it helps me bring more content in the future, and costs you nothing! Thanks!

Standout Features

  • A minimal shoe, following the natural motion of your foot 
  • Zero drop
  • A wide toe box allowing your toes to splay
  • 5mm rubber sole with 3.5mm lugs
  • A removable 3.5mm insole
  • Strategically placed overlays for the right amount of protection and durability
  • Super light weight (M9.5 8.5oz each)
  • Vegan-friendly materials
  • 5000-mile mid sole warranty

The Fit and Feel

Here’s the important one. How do they fit? And what’s my size recommendation?

To ensure a proper fit, go ½, or even a full size larger! Xero Shoes suggests you buy ½ a size larger than your normal shoe size. But after trying a pair on I decided to go a full size larger.

My usual size is US 9, and a US 10 in Xero Shoes Mesa Trail turned out to be a perfect fit for me. It depends on what a comfortable fit means to you, I like a lot of room for the toes to flex up and down unhindered, but equally I could have used a US 9 ½ and the fit would have been fine.

But don’t fret too much with the sizing. When you buy direct from Xero Shoes, they offer free exchanges so you’re 100% happy.

After getting the sizing right, you will immediately feel the airy toe box, which gives you plenty of space to splay, flex and extend those toes for a natural feel.

Moving up the shoe, the lacing system is based loosely on a traditional Huarache sandal. If you’ve ever worn any Xero sandals, you’ll be familiar with the strap system, except this time, they’re hidden behind an outer layer to protect from any abrasion or wear.

Two midfoot straps run from the soles and loop into the lacing system, and two instep straps mirror the outer straps to create a comfortable fit, but still allow natural movement.

There is a good depth to the shoe, which could be a positive or negative depending on your feet. If you happen to have shallow, less voluminous feet, there could be a little bunching in the lacing area, in that case I’d suggest only going a half size up. Personally, I’ve found the lacing lockdown to be okay and I would say I have a fairly average foot depth.

Lastly, the ankle opening is relatively large, and I had to utilize a lace lock to get a good ankle hold. But once I found the proper fit, I was more than comfortable on longer runs and had no rubbing or sore spots from the get-go.

On the Run

After lacing up and taking your first few strides, you’ll immediately notice how light these shoes are. The lightweight upper allows for adequate airflow, adding to that barefoot feeling.

The super breathable mesh upper ensures your feet don’t overheat on those hot days, and let water drain out super quick.

At the same, that does mean these shoes are nowhere near waterproof, and if you’re in freezing temperatures, some good socks are a must!

The lightweight mesh is pair with an old school reinforced toebox for extra protection. That old school look and material choice means I’m 100% confident that I’m never going to tear or breakthrough, and if I ever kick a rock, at least I won’t break a toe!

Underfoot, the super flexible sole offers a balance of ground feel and the right combination of protection, which most minimal runners want. 

The 3.5mm insole is removable which is great for those who love to be closer to the ground. If you are running on well-maintained muddy tracks, removing the insole could be ideal, but I’d suggest keeping it in for those rocky mountain trails. 

I’ve even take it a step further and used the Altra Superior rock guard in my Mesa Trails. I was amazed what a different a thin piece of plastic can make especially over sharp rocks. Just to note, if you want to do this, the Altra Superiors have to be 1 full size small that the Xero Shoes Mesa Trails.

The dual-chevron tread pattern may look familiar to many. That’s because the design works, and many other brands use it too. The arrow lug design allows for perfect grip over many different conditions whether you’re running in wet, muddy, or dry conditions. 

I have noticed a considerable amount of wear on the outer lugs, which is partially due to my gait, but at the same time, the sole is soft and less durable than other trail shoes out there. So make sure you keep off the tarmac as much as possible if you’re doing a road trail split run. 

With that being said, the softer rubber soles boost confidence when running over exposed rocks. The stickiness of the softer rubber like the Mesa Trail sports means you have incredible grip and you can focus less on foot placement and more on the enjoyment of dancing down the trail!

Gait Analysis

Something I like to look at is how the shoes affect my gait.

I do this with RunScribe foot pods, which offer up interesting force and foot swing data, showing if I lands harder, softer, extend or shorten my stride and more.

From the image you can see the average of my foot strike during a 1.3 mile shoe study performed on a fairly flat soft trail.

You can see that I’m obviously a forefoot runner, but that’s just natural when you move to barefoot shoes. And then rolling to the outside of the foot to provide cushioning from the impact.

The reduction in impact can be back up by comparing the force I hit the ground in the Mesa Trail’s vs. the Altra Superior, a more cushioned shoe.

On the same 1.3 mile loop the impact forces were 5.4G in the Mesa’s, and 6.5G in the Altra Superirors.

Although that was countered by higher braking forces (reduction in forward motion). This time we had 12.5G for the Mesa’s and 12.1G in the Superior.

The simple way to interprate this is, if you have pain in your knees and hips, you could be a great shoe totry and encourpate Xero Shoes Mesa Trails to reduce the impact forces in your legs, and enable proper posture.

But if you struggle with shin splints, calf/achiles pain, you could be better off trying a more cushioned shoe.


Coming in at $119.99 RRP, the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail shoes are on the cheaper end of the trail shoe market price. A trend that tends to be true across much of the Xero Shoes shoe range. 

Every now and then you’ll find that Xero Shoes are having a sale, and you can find odd sizes and colors being sold at 30% of the price. Now that’s a great deal!

To make the price even sweeter, the 5000-mile sole guarantee means that you can be confident that the shoe should last. I’ll keep you posted.

I also find that the lack of cushioning in minimalist footwear, in comparison to traditional shoes means that my trail running shoes last much longer. Another reason to go minimal! And bonus points for a great price range. 

Xero Shoes Trail, Road & Casual Shoes

Xero shoes have all the bases covered when you’re looking for minimal shoes. I like Xero shoes because they provide the best minimal feel but still in an affordable range. Add the 5000-mile sole guarantee and you’re on to a winner.

Personally, the Mesa Trail’s are my go-to trail shoes and the Hana’s are my only casual shoes!

Default image

Nick helps aspiring runners learn how to take a healthful approach to their training and races so they don’t crash and burn before they achieve their goals.

Articles: 67