Xero Zelen: Lightweight Barefoot Shoes For Cross-Training

June 1, 2024Barefoot cross-training with a breathable mesh upper, medium toebox, and firm ground tread.

Hello, my name’s Andrew, and these are the Xero Zelen, a lightweight barefoot shoe with a breathable mesh upper, side support, and a versatile zero-drop sole for cross-training.


Last year I reviewed the Xero HFS (aka “Highly Flexible Shoe”), and they were a beast for walking, running, and biking on all terrain, but with the thicker sole and extra padding they weren’t as agile for faster workouts.

So I asked Xero for a pair of Zelen’s to test, and basically…

They’re like someone took a razor to the HFS and carved away every gram of non-essential material to make a lean, mean training machine.

Xero Zelen Features Showcase Desk


Because the Zelen has a medium wide toebox with a highly breathable vegan mesh upper, lightweight toe guard for protection, side and heel reinforcement for durability, and quick-cinch support straps for stability.

Xero Zelen Review Desk Toebox

Inside there’s a padded heel for improved lockdown and perforated synthetic lining for breathability in hotter weather.

Xero Zelen Review Side Straps Desk


Underneath the Zelen’s got a medium 5mm zero-drop sole with excellent flexibility in all directions, as well as a semi-aggressive tread that’s flat enough for roads but tough and grippy enough to handle some light trails with denser panels at the outer forefoot and heel.

Xero Zelen Review Desk Tread


While the new HFS has a thicker 6mm sole, my original pair was only 5mm, so I definitely liked that the Zelen’s had that same minimalist philosophy.

Xero Zelen Review Walk Side Road


Going out for a walk the Zelen’s felt slightly more firm than my 4mm Vivobarefoot Prmus Lite’s, but the lines that Xero cuts cross and length-wise gave the tread some excellent flexibility, which made it roll smoothly on pavement.

Xero Zelen Review Flex Road Front


Gearing up for a long run with some tempo work mixed in the Zelen’s angled tread opened up and became more grippy the faster I went, while the denser panels helped to protect the sole tearing along rougher terrain, like gravel.

Xero Zelen Review Run Closeup Road


For hiking the Zelen’s semi-firm toe guard provided enough protection from rocks and roots without feeling bulky and the open mesh toebox let a ton of air through to help keep my feet cool and dry up above eighty degrees.

Xero Zelen Review Mesh Trail Pov


Doing some stair workouts the Zelen’s lighter sole and tread made it more agile than the HFS and the large forefoot notch allowed the shoe to literally fold in half without creating any crimping issues…

Xero Zelen Review Toe Bend Pushup

…while the 5mm sole was still plenty supportive for weight lifting and the side support and angled lugs offered some solid stability for biking both on and off road.

Xero Zelen Review Pistol Squat
Xero Zelen Review Biking


Overall the Xero Zelen is a great option for anyone who just wants one cross-training shoe that can handle everything from running to hiking to lifting to biking.

Xero Zelen Review By Andrew Folts


Because the Zelen’s mesh upper is lightweight and breathable, the reinforcement panels and side straps provide some excellent support, and the 5mm sole is tough yet agile for all-terrain use, from gym floors to gravel trails.

Xero Zelen Review Box Jump Side

However, the Zelen’s toebox may not be roomy enough for wide feet, the sole is a slightly more firm than thinner road shoes, and the synthetic fabric does tend to get warm and sweaty in humid weather, although wearing a pair of Injinji merino wool toe socks can help keep it dry.

Xero Zelen Review Top Mesh Stair Workout


In terms of similar barefoot cross-training shoes…

  • Vivobarefoot Primus Lite: wide toebox, synthetic mesh or knit upper, lightweight support, thin 4mm zero-drop sole with excellent flexibility, and minimal tread for faster cross-training and road running workouts.
  • Freet Vibe: wide toebox, synthetic mesh upper, soft padded lining, thin 4mm zero-drop sole with excellent flexibility, and firm ground tread for cross-training and running on roads, as well as light trails.
  • Vibram V-Trek: extra-wide separate toes, breathable yet rugged wool blend upper, thin 4mm zero-drop sole with superb flexibility, and firm ground for running, hiking, and cross-training on roads and trails.
  • Xero Zelen Review Front Road
    Xero Zelen Review Tread Road Heel


    If you’d like to support the channel, you can shop with the referral links below, browse and filter more products at my website barefootwear.org, or watch my Zero-Drop Transition video to learn more about barefooting.

    Finally, if you have a question about the Xero Zelen, or about barefoot shoes in general, let me know in the comments.

    Thanks for reading, catch ya next time. Peace!

    Andrew Folts

    Andrew is a writer/filmmaker who creates video guides and reviews for a community of 25K+ creative rebels on YouTube.