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Is going barefoot healthier?
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Ryan Gardner
(splproductions) - F - M

Locale: Salt Lake City, UT
Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 10:04:58 MDT Print View

I've been reading websites such as barefooters.org and barefoothikers.org because I really have loved the times that I go out-and-about barefoot.

I've also found that there is a small school of thought that says that our feet have evolved over millions of years to function properly and we are messing them up by wearing shoes. (Read some of the article snippets at this link: http://www.barefooters.org/medicine/). Some of these studies suggest that shoewear increases ankle injuries, etc. Also check out http://www.unshod.org/pfbc/toysaw.htm and other information on that site.

I am by no means a doctor, but this way of thinking makes sense to me.

There is also a company "Terra Plana" that makes eco-friendly shoes (some completely from recycled material). They have a line called "Vivo Barefoot" that has a very thin, flexible Kevlar sole that supposedly makes you feel like you are walking barefoot (but still have the social advantages of wearing a shoe). http://www.terraplana.com/vivobarefoot_info.php

Thoughts anyone?

Edited by splproductions on 04/23/2008 10:15:10 MDT.

Lyan Jordan
(redmonk)

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 11:15:49 MDT Print View

While the soles of the feet adapt quickly, I don't think the rest of my feet have ever become conditioned to being slammed into rocks, roots, and thorny plants. My shoes suffer a lot of damage that would otherwise be taken by my foot, especially around the toes. I don't think backpacking barefoot works for what I consider backpacking and barefoot.

John Sixbey
(Wolfeye) - F
moccasin experience on 04/23/2008 11:19:31 MDT Print View

My tribe supposedly went barefoot most of the time, at least prior to the adoption of western clothing. I'm told their toes smelled more like fingers. I've worn moccasins for traditional dancing, but have thought about adding treads & insoles to help absorb shock.

I think going barefoot might work on trails, at least after the foot toughens up. Offtrail, though, I'd want something with a sole; two summers ago I went on a 6-day offtrail trip and ruined a pair of hiking shoes by stepping on something that ripped a ragged, thumb-sized gouge in my sole. I thought of keeping it as a trophy.

John S.
(jshann) - F
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 11:36:25 MDT Print View

Re: Is going barefoot healthier?

No

Andrew Richardson
(arichardson6) - F

Locale: North East
Re: Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 12:15:20 MDT Print View

Nice point John! ..... ;-)

I would say that in some ways, perhaps, it is "healthier," but I would argue that overall it isn't. I would say that in our current time feet should be protected simply because we weren't raised barefoot and if people in the past had the chance, I'm sure they would enjoy some shoes. I've read the stuff on arch support and how it affects the foot and such, and while it may be true, it doesn't seem like a good reason to go barefoot while backpacking.

Try to get me to keep my shoes on in a grass field though... :)

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 20:48:55 MDT Print View

Ryan:

My two cents... Whatever the advantages of going bare feet, folks who do that habitually have "leathery feet" -- tough and comfy for all kinds of walks.

But most of us -- city folks and suburbia folks -- have to wear shoes most of the time -- for school, for work, etc. Consequently, our feet are soft, and subjecting them to the rough and tumble on odd weekends may cause more harm than help. On the other hand, if you take care to walk barefeet on reasonable terrain for reasonable time duration -- and build up their stamina from there -- that could work very well.

Edited by ben2world on 04/23/2008 20:53:07 MDT.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 21:03:30 MDT Print View

I am sympathetic to the idea of going barefoot... but my feet aren't tough enough to do this and I am not committed enough to the idea to develop that toughness. Over the years I have known people who do everything barefoot. The other time they would stop going barefoot was in the winter when there was ice. Not because they got cold, but because they had sliced their feet open on an ice sliver.

I have found that flexible shoes like those made by inov-8 permit most of the natural motion while providing what is just the right amount of protection and traction for my needs. Your experience might differ.

Vivo Barefoot makes a number of shoes that are sort of modern moccasins with very thin, flexible soles and basically no cushion. They are a expensive and don't have good traction away from the asphalt jungle, but work well around town.

--mark

Edited by verber on 01/25/2009 16:00:52 MST.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/23/2008 21:29:43 MDT Print View

It's now common for runners to train by running barefoot on grass or sand. But, given I'm not a world class athlete, that's not the type of training I like to do. However, I have decided that moving in the direction of more barefoot style shoes makes sense. I just got a pair of these cross country racing shoes as a less restrictive option that hopefully won't destroy my soft city boy feet. They are flat with minimal cushioning and basically no arch support. There are the vibram five fingers that are popular with the pose running crowd, but they seem to thin and look to dorky for me.

Edited by nschmald on 04/23/2008 21:32:59 MDT.

Gail Lusk
(AlohaTink) - F

Locale: In the Middle of No Where!
BareFootin' on 04/23/2008 21:46:21 MDT Print View

When we were growing up it was very common NOT to put your children in shoes, so as to not deform the feet. Later on you worn large rounded toes tennis shoes like Keds etc..
The thinking of my parents and their pediatrician was shoes were not necessary for the proper growth of a childs foot.

My two sons hiked a few days barefoot on the JMT last year.
You should of seen the looks they got!!!

I was concerned about damage to their feet or fine bones cracking under the weight of their packs. They were fine and happy; buzzing along till the dirt/sand got too hot...so they switched to wearing rubber slippers. I worn my Crocs for hiking and my slippers as camp shoes. Bring extra slippers they break far to easy on the trails. lol

There are the Barefoot Sisters known for hiking the AT as well as a hiker who hikes barefoot using all gear made from Tyvek. I will admit you won't catch me hiking in snow barefoot that's for sure!

I think it boils down to what you are use too and comfortable with.

Just be prepared for a wider foot as the results of going without shoes for years :)

Edited by AlohaTink on 04/23/2008 21:50:13 MDT.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Barefoot on 04/23/2008 22:06:20 MDT Print View

I often go barefoot to rock climb (warming up), on short hikes, running around the house, doing yardwork, etc., and have some pretty tough soles...but I still cringe at the thought of scree and talus fields and what my feet would look like after a thru-hike...One misplaced step and oops, there goes the big toenail...
I think it all depends on where and why you're going barefoot.
Going barefoot obviously goes WAY back into human history, but then again so does footwear, depending on the region and the needs of the culture. Early humans braving Northern European winters without footwear...don't think so.
I'm a runner and do believe that running barefoot is probably fine, maybe even good for you- ON THE PROPER SURFACES. Bare human feet didn't evolve on asphalt and concrete; any runner knows how potentially destructive these surfaces can be.
Knowing that millions upon millions of humans have lived their entire lives barefoot, I'm tempted to believe it's more "natural", but then again, when have you ever seen data on how common major foot problems, lacerations, broken toes, fractured heels, etc. are in these societies? I've been going pretty hard for 30+ years without a major foot injury. Is it luck or shoes?
I'll take a lightweight pair of street running shoes with plenty of mesh for my journies (3 season)- to me, they're the best of both worlds.

Edited by xnomanx on 04/23/2008 22:14:56 MDT.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
I'll vote against it. (edit: for it) on 04/23/2008 23:10:59 MDT Print View

Intestinal worms may not be widespread...but imagine stumbling across a site freshly treated to the "smear method," ick.

Edit:
Totally for barefoot now. After very little training pros outweigh cons for me.

Edited by tippymcstagger on 08/02/2009 13:42:56 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: I'll vote against it. on 04/23/2008 23:42:47 MDT Print View

I think people are supposed to "smear" off trail. :)

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
ick! on 04/24/2008 06:57:37 MDT Print View

Yes but Ben people are supposed to do a lot of things with their waste that doesn't happen. Ewe!

Edited by kthompson on 04/25/2008 22:53:26 MDT.

Robert Devereux
(robdev) - F

Locale: Pittsburgh, PA
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/24/2008 08:30:13 MDT Print View

Shoes do appear to deform feet. If you look at photos of people who never wear shoes compared to people who wear shoes, the toes of the shoe wearers are more compressed. I went barefoot frequently as a kid, and as a result my toes are not as compressed as they are on many of my friends. I have to be very picky about my shoes because of this. Wide toe boxes are a requirement.

I have notices that I walk the same way in shoes as I do barefoot. I don't need heel cushioning since I don't slam my heals down. My legs get really stiff if I wear shoes that are too high off the ground.

Unfortunately, I can't go barefoot as often as I would like, since I'm in a city now and my feet have grown soft. I tried a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, but the fit wasn't quite right (big toe was a little too small, overall length was a little too long). Now that they've got a new model, KSO, I might try a slightly larger pair.

Those Vivo Barefoot shoes also look interesting for when I need to wear normal looking shoes.

In the end, I'm not qualified to say whether barefoot is healthier, but the research I've read shows that more minimal shoes are healthier than fancier running shoes. You don't need to go barefoot, you can pick shoes that are closer to barefoot.

Luymes Ted
(start2day)

Locale: So Cal.
No! No! No! on 04/25/2008 22:45:30 MDT Print View

If you've ever seen the gnarled, deformed feet of a person who has never worn shoes, you know the answer! Footwear was one of humankind's first and best inventions. Don't get nostalgic.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/25/2008 23:03:33 MDT Print View

I wear shoes. My feet are great.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/26/2008 00:24:23 MDT Print View

Other than the seemingly more frequent shards of glass on trails and sidewalks, spiny plants and thorns and foot borne parasites, no reason I can think of to not go barefoot...
Going barefoot is 'natural', but then so is strychnine...

Conversely, who knows what's growing in your shoes.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Why Not?? on 04/27/2008 14:33:31 MDT Print View

I also grew up "barefoot". Eventually got kicked out of high school because of it. But even in my most hard-core phase I would wear moccassins on terrain that was likely to be icy, full of broken glass, or lots of large prickles (small prickles didn't bother my feet). Heat or cold, per se, were not a problem once my feet had toughened.

As a result, I now also have very wide toes, which are hard to fit with a shoe. Birkenstocks and Crocs come about as close to fitting my foot as anything. But I still have a fully intact arch, no foot problems of any kind (no blisters, corns, bunions, plantar fasciatis, ingrown toe-nails etc...) at the age of almost 50. I would say, given the move to UL hiking, that going barefoot would be good for your feet as long as you stuck to trails that were not full of prickly stuff, and not too hard packed for too great a distance, otherwise at least put a thin layer of skin protection onto the bottom of your feet. Or stick to off-trail which is often much softer on the feet than human compacted trails.

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/29/2008 16:17:46 MDT Print View

Sounds like hooey to me! I can't see how going barefoot in the outdoors is going to do anything other than potentially set you up for a major disaster of some sort. If there were some way to research it I'm fairly certain that you'd find that in those societies where the bulk of the population is barefoot, foot injuries of every sort are widespread and common.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Is going barefoot healthier? on 04/29/2008 23:11:04 MDT Print View

> I can't see how going barefoot in the outdoors is going to do anything other than potentially set you up for a major disaster of some sort.
Sounds like a good justification for a 60 lb pack and two spare pairs of full-leather high-ankle boots.

> I'm fairly certain that you'd find that in those societies where the bulk of the population is barefoot, foot injuries of every sort are widespread and common.
Curiously, foot injuries do not seem to figure very large in African health stats.