Abstract Despite the growing interest in minimalist shoes, no studies have compared the efficacy of different types of minimalist shoe models in reproducing barefoot running patterns and in eliciting biomechanical changes that make them differ from standard cushioned running shoes. The aim of this study was to investigate the acute effects of different footwear models, marketed as "minimalist" by their manufacturer, on running biomechanics. Six running shoes marketed as barefoot/minimalist models, a standard cushioned shoe and the barefoot condition were tested. Foot-/shoe-ground pressure and three-dimensional lower limb kinematics were measured in experienced rearfoot strike runners while they were running at 3.33 m · s(-1) on an instrumented treadmill. Physical and mechanical characteristics of shoes (mass, heel and forefoot sole thickness, shock absorption and flexibility) were measured with laboratory tests. There were significant changes in foot strike pattern (described by the strike index and foot contact angle) and spatio-temporal stride characteristics, whereas only some among the other selected kinematic parameters (i.e. knee angles and hip vertical displacement) changed accordingly. Different types of minimalist footwear models induced different changes. It appears that minimalist footwear with lower heel heights and minimal shock absorption is more effective in replicating barefoot running.