Going barefoot

First, here are some quick facts about going barefoot in general:

  • Going barefoot is natural and very healthy. The human foot was designed to function perfectly without the need of “support” or other enhancements.
  • There are NO health department rules, regulations, or other laws that require people to wear footwear anywhere, including restaurants.
  • There are NO laws requiring shoes or other footwear to be worn while driving, anywhere. Driving barefoot is NOT illegal.
  • Bare feet do not pose any more of a liability risk to business owners than ordinary footwear does, and in fact, statistically speaking, there is a much greater likelihood of a footwear related injury that results in a claim or lawsuit.
  • Almost all foot ailments are caused or exacerbated by shoes, not prevented by shoes. These include such things as bunions, hammer toes, neuromas, corns, calluses, blisters, athlete's foot, toenail fungus, plantar warts, and foot odor.

So, whether hiking or doing other things, being barefoot is safe, legal, and FUN! For more detailed information on all aspects of going barefoot, the Society for Barefoot Living is an excellent source of information.

Another excellent source of information is a recently published book The Barefoot Book by Daniel Howell, PhD. This book can be purchased through most book sellers, including directly from the publisher, Hunter House.

Barefoot hiking tips

  • If the hiking surface is relatively smooth and flat, walk in a normal gait with a gentle initial heel contact (strike) with each step, followed immediately by a roll forward of your weight to the front part of your foot. Don't allow your feet to kick, shuffle, or drag along the ground.
  • If you encounter particularly rough terrain, such as gravel, switch to stepping with the ball of the foot touching down first. We're not talking about tiptoeing. As you advance your foot for the next step, point the toes forward, and simply let the ball of your foot come down and make the initial contact with the ground, instead of the heel. Then let the back part (heel) come down. The front part of the foot (ball) will absorb — kind of form itself over and around — any sharp objects. Or, if it's too sharp for comfort, you will feel it first before your full weight is down, and therefore be able to adjust your foot position.
  • Steep downhill slopes may also be better negotiated with an initial forefoot contact, similar to walking on rough terrain.
  • Steep uphill slopes are generally better handled with a flatfooted step, both ball and heel making contact at the same time.
  • Where there are rocks or roots sticking up on a trail (as is the case with most mountain trails in WNC), as you walk, lift the back foot off the ground at a slightly vertical angle for a few inches before bringing it forward for the next step. This will help avoid possible stubbed or scraped toes.
  • As you walk, try to keep the knees as flexible as possible. They serve as great shock absorbers, which is especially helpful on rough or uneven surfaces. If you step on a rock that is a little sharper than you expected, merely letting the knee on that side flex a little more will greatly compensate for any temporary instability or discomfort you may feel. In addition, when going downhill, flexing the knees a little more deeply as you step will add to your stability.
  • Always watch the path ahead of you and where you will be stepping a few yards ahead. We're not talking about looking straight down as you step - that would destroy any hiking enjoyment. Just be aware of the path ahead and look for such things as roots, rocks, or holes.

There is an excellent reference for everything you would ever need to know about barefoot hiking, the book The Barefoot Hiker by Richard Frazine. This book is currently out of print, but can still be purchased from some resellers. It is also available for reading in its entirety on-line.

webmasterLast updated: April 8, 2019