Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?
One of the most significant hiking dilemmas is finding a good pair of shoes. Sure, you want something with plenty of support that offers protection to your feet. But you also want a pair of shoes that are comfortable to wear. After all, you are likely going to be spending a great amount of time walking around in them.
While some hikers prefer a shoe that provides an abundance of protection and added support, such as a boot, others argue that it is better to wear a shoe that more closely mimics the form and function of your own feet. No matter which side of the fence you are on, it is always essential to go with whatever style of hiking shoe works best for your body and the kind of hiking that you do.
What is Barefoot Shoe?
The single most defining feature of a barefoot shoe is the zero-drop design. This means that the shoe has no elevation or excess padding in the back of the shoe, located at and around the heal. Essentially, your heel is aligned with the ball of your foot. This design helps to put your body into its proper alignment. When your body is correctly aligned, you significantly reduce your risk of injury to your feet and knees, and even your hips and back.
Barefoot shoes come in a variety of designs and offer a range of functionality. For example, there are barefoot running shoes, as well as barefoot hiking boots. Ultimately, the primary purpose of these particular shoes is to engage in more natural footwear – in an anatomical sense. Because barefoot shoes mimic the natural alignment and form of your feet, they are expected to be a better option when it comes to hiking.
Can you use them for Hiking?
Barefoot shoes that are designed for hiking, or are at the very least waterproof, are great for hiking. They keep your body properly aligned during your hike and allow you to feel and adapt to your surroundings and the variances in the terrain along your path. There may be certain hikes that require a shoe that is more supportive and offers more protection in the form of a hiking boot, such as a downhill hike or a hike through deep snow. However, barefoot shoes, overall, make an excellent choice for a hiking shoe. As with any other kind of shoe, be sure to research brands that offer a high-quality product.
Did you know that there are about 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles in your feet? That’s over a quarter of all of the bones in your body! So, it is no secret or surprise that our feet are incredibly complex on a mechanical and anatomical level. It is important for these joints, bones, and muscles to move freely, which is what happens while wearing barefoot shoes.
Barefoot shoes differ in design from typical sneakers and boots. They are shaped more like your foot – wider and flatter, than your average sneaker or boot. They are more ergonomic and closely resemble the structure of your feet allowing more movement within the foot. Rather than constricting the nerves, muscles, and bones within your foot, barefoot shoes will enable them to move more freely.
Barefoot shoes also allow the hiker to account for their ever-changing terrain. There are plenty of things that change over the course of a hike, the angle at which you are walking, the texture of the ground, unevenness, and slickness. Big, chunky boots can make it challenging to recognize and adequately adapt to these changes. Barefoot shoes allow the wearer to feel these changes and make corrections and adaptations accordingly.
Plenty of research shows that barefoot shoes are effective at reducing musculoskeletal injuries, such as plantar fasciitis – a condition that has long plagued thru-hikers. Barefoot shoes have also been shown to improve the walk the people walk when they wear them. For example, runners usually switch to forefoot striking rather than relying on rearfoot striking while wearing barefoot shoes. This helps to prevent stress injuries that are caused by making contact with the ground by way of the back of the foot.
Many of the issues experienced by hikers, especially those who are thru-hiking, are connected to their feet or their legs, which makes sense considering how heavily they are relied on during a hike. The most common complaints that you will hear from hikers revolve around shin splints, bursitis in the hips and knees, stress fractures, and even Achilles tendonitis. The worst part about these injuries is that they can greatly affect your alignment, which leads to injuries in other parts of the body. Because the injury is one of the primary reasons that people abandon their hikes, it is important to take the necessary precautions to prevent an injury. Your barefoot shoes may be the best option because they decrease the chance of musculoskeletal injuries and problems.
Merrell Vapor Glove 4: My Favorite Barefoot Shoes
Weight (pair): 12 oz.
Upper: Cordura (Mesh/thermoplastic polyurethane)
Outsole: Vibram TC5+ rubber
Merrell Vapor Glove shoes are super flexible, thin and have a Vibram sole. The upper is minimal but feels nice, comfortable and provides a little bit of protection. The toe box comes up over the top and provides nice protection against kicking rocks and stuff like that. I use these primarily for hiking on paved or well-groomed trails. Nothing very rocky! There are very minimal padding and no insole offered by these shoes. There is, however, a sewn-in insole but it’s not removable and very thin. The shoe weighs around 6 ounces, which is insanely light for hiking and backpacking.
The toe box is fairly wide and the heel fits snuggly. This combination provides a stable fit even on uneven terrain. The design is very simple and it mimics the shape of a bare foot. It features some traction on both pavement and dirt trails. Keep in mind that Vapor Glove is designed for road running with zero-drop and no cushioning. It may not be an ideal choice for most hiking trails where you need a lot of support that typical hiking boots provide. If you are planning to hike on mostly pavement and well-groomed trails then Vapor Glove can a good consideration.
What I like: Super lightweight, provide freedom of movement, good ground feel
What I don’t like: Less durable than typical hiking shoes and boots, laces are short, grip is not consistent
Hiking boots and other trekking shoes are not just meant to add support and protection to your feet. They help to keep your feet warm and dry, which is especially important if you are hiking in areas that experience heavy moisture, rainfall, or snowfall. Can barefoot shoes provide the same form of protection against the elements? In a word – yes!
Luckily, there are plenty of barefoot shoes and barefoot hiking boots that are waterproof while maintaining their zero-drop design. These thin, flexible shoes, with a wide to box and no platform, are completely safe to use during inclement weather as long as they are waterproof. You can always add insoles to help supplement the warmth, but these may defeat the purpose of the barefoot shoes, at least for some people. The insoles could compromise the flatness of the shoe.
Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?
If you are a dedicated runner, you have probably heard about the significant benefits of running barefoot and minimalist shoes – but are barefoot shoes also good for hiking? Serious hikers are starting to wear more minimal footwear on the trail, such as Vivobarefoot and Xero barefoot hiking shoes.
Barefoot shoes are good for hiking, especially for hikers who recognize the benefits of allowing the foot to flex with every step naturally. Preparation and gradual conditioning of your feet is very important. Take your time transitioning to a minimal shoe and be sure to choose the right type of barefoot shoe depending on the hiking terrain and weather conditions.
Continue reading through the entire article and ww will explain the pros and cons of hiking in barefoot shoes rather than hiking shoes, the differences in hiking long-distance and shorter day hikes with barefoot shoes, and the best waterproof barefoot shoes available on the market.
Hiking in Barefoot Shoes – Pros and Cons
Barefoot shoes are very different from traditional hiking shoes, and it is essential to note the pros and cons. Deciding to wear a barefoot shoe allows you to experience the hiking trail in a completely different way. Unlike conventional footwear, these barefoot shoes require training to develop foot strength properly.
Many people that transition from hiking boots to barefoot hiking boots take approximately two weeks to over a month of continuous wear before taking the shoes out for a strenuous long-distance trail.
Pro: Strong Feet
Typically you might decide to throw on a pair of hiking boots with a thick sole that will weigh you down with every step you take. But consider for thousands of years, humans have been wandering outdoors on rough terrain without hiking boots. It was not until the 1970s that footwear started featuring a supportive arch, rigid body, and cushioning in the heel.
While these cushioned heels and supportive arches in traditional footwear are useful during the recovery period from any injuries, having these supporting structures everyday causes weakening in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the foot. These can cause significant injuries, so in actuality, the cushioning in the shoe is counterproductive to your overall foot’s health.
Removing the heel lift structure in most traditional shoes can help your Achilles tendon and muscles in your calf lengthen and stretch. Wearing minimalist shoes or walking around barefoot can reduce injuries such as tendinitis or the pulling of calf muscles caused by tight and short muscle tissues. When going barefoot, you can also develop a more natural walk that is more efficient for your body.
Besides the benefits, many barefoot shoe enthusiasts like to feel the earth beneath their feet on hikes and enjoy the connection with nature. While you might think that barefoot shoe hiking only affects your feet, it becomes a full-body experience as every part of your body responds to the stimulation received from your feet to ensure you stay balanced.
Despite hiking the same path multiple times, the trail will feel different as you experience sensations underneath your feet- feelings you will never quite understand if you keep hiking in your traditional hiking boots. Just as you will enjoy connecting with the earth’s surface, perhaps Kahlil Gibran said it best, “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the windows long to play with your hair.”
Con: Requires Gradual Transition
Since your feet are used to wearing traditional shoes, the bottoms of your feet will be soft and most likely develop blisters that will turn into calluses over time. Until the pads of your feet toughen up, you will most likely be in some pain as you transition over to wearing barefoot shoes. Getting used to the rough ground requires time and dedication.
You will lack most foot protection when wearing barefoot shoes. Shoes offer a lot of protection from debris such as broken glass, rocks, or rusty nails. They offer much-needed insulation to keep your feet warm in colder weather and protect your toes from frostbite.
Long Distance Hiking in Barefoot Shoes vs Shorter Day Hikes
Jumping straight into minimalist barefoot hiking is not safe, and you should always listen to your body when starting with a new physical activity or type of shoes. Deciding to proceed with barefoot hiking requires a slow transition from the traditional hiking shoe or boot to minimal footwear and barefoot shoes.
Shorter Day Hikes
Figuring out how long the hike will be is key to choosing the best type of barefoot shoes. If it is a shorter day hike, using a lightweight medium grip barefoot shoe might be good enough for a shorter day hike.
However, consider the time of the year of the hike and the weather. In the case of rain or snow, cheaper and low-quality barefoot shoes limit the amount of water resistance or quality waterproofing that you can expect.
You might also want to choose a barefoot shoe with protective ankle coverage if you are hiking in terrain with brambles or bushes that can irritate your feet. Barefoot shoes with ankle coverage are also good for dusty or sandy conditions, such as a quick short day hike in warmer situations.
Long Distance Hiking
If you are going on a long-distance hiking trip for several days or a backpacking experience that requires you to carry equipment, you might need a barefoot shoe that is light while has a more rigid sole that has more grip for slippery surfaces.
It might also be helpful to take more than one pair of barefoot hiking shoes on a long hike. Barefoot shoes are most often light and easy to fold into your backpack, so carry an additional pair of shoes just in case of any weather and trail condition.
Depending on the weather forecast, you might require waterproofing or water resistance in your barefoot or a thicker sole to deal with sharp rocks and trail debris. Choose a more rugged material such as high-quality, tough leather to keep out the worst while protecting your feet during the hike.
Who Makes the Best Waterproof Barefoot Shoes?
Many shoe manufacturers offer minimal or barefoot shoes for hiking activities, but Vivobarefoot and Xero Shoes make one of the best waterproof barefoot shoes for barefoot hiking enthusiasts.
Vivobarefoot brand shoes offer waterproof hiking shoes made from high-quality leather with waterproof lining and thermal protection designed to protect your feet while walking on rough terrains. They feature everything from the ultimate minimalist hiking boots to lightweight and packable camping shoes for any recreational activities you plan on doing.
Vivobarefoot provides a 100 day trial on all orders and will give you a full refund if you do not like the shoes, so they stand behind the quality. Many highly rated reviews from experienced barefoot hikers note that Vivobarefoot manufactures well-constructed and comfortable shoes while being very stylish. Reviewers also mention ordering multiple sizes to find a shoe that fits perfectly.
Xero Shoes is another brand that offers fully waterproof barefoot hiking boots. These barefoot hiking shoes let your feet relax naturally with a heel that is non-elevated for the proper posture while providing the support and protection you need for any trail and weather condition.
Xero Shoes’ Men’s Xcursion is one of their most highly rated and best waterproof hiking boots available for purchase. With a sealed waterproof liner, protective toe cap, and flexible sole, these hiking boots offer protection and stability while performing like a “barefoot boot.” Reviews note the lightweight and well-made shoes and rave about excellent grip in irregular and wet conditions.
Barefoot shoes are good for hiking, but preparation is vital. Select the best type of barefoot shoe depending on the weather and hiking conditions, and consider trying highly rated brands that are known for their quality, such as Vivobarefoot and Xero Shoes when deciding to purchase your next pair of waterproof barefoot shoes.
Barefoot Hiking Tips & Benefits – All You Need To Know!
Barefoot hiking has generated quite a buzz among outdoor enthusiasts lately. Some hikers quickly became smitten with this unusual trend of hiking, while others expressed doubt and disapproval of going completely shoeless.
Although barefoot hiking remains a debatable topic in the community of hiking lovers, its appeal is still undeniable, as seen in the growing number of hikers who switch to barefoot hiking.
So what is barefoot hiking? Are there any benefits associated with hiking without any footwear? If you are interested in giving barefoot hiking a try but still a little hesitant, check out our comprehensive guide on barefoot hiking below.
We will walk you through everything you need to know about barefoot hiking so that you can confidently make up your mind on whether to hike with or without your beloved shoes.
What is barefoot hiking?
As the name suggests itself, barefoot hiking refers to the way people hike in the most minimal form – with their feet only, free from any kind of footwear and even socks.
Hiking with no footwear at all does sound like a dreadful thing for a lot of us, but it is absolutely feasible and worth trying. In fact, humans used to walk with their bare feet for thousands of years before the introduction of footwear.
Our feet are made for walking, aren’t they? So why can’t we run or hike with only our feet? Isn’t that the natural way?
It is easy to cringe at the idea of taking off your shoes and trekking into the wild, especially when most of us are used to wearing shoes or boots or other kinds of footwear.
Without them, we would feel unprotected. I, too, used to think of barefoot hiking as an insane idea, but once you get to know the benefits of barefoot hiking plus all the essential barefoot hiking tips and tricks, you may think twice about it. First, let’s explore all of the barefoot hiking benefits.
Barefoot hiking benefits
To be fair, barefoot hiking does bring about plenty of benefits for hikers. The easiest benefit we can notice is barefoot hiking is a lot more environmentally friendly. When you hike with your bare feet, you will hardly cause any erosion along the trail, as opposed to all the imprints you possibly leave when you wear your hiking boots or shoes.
The second benefit of trying to hike with your bare feet is an opportunity to strengthen your muscles. Without any shoes or boots, your feet will get to do all the work. Plus, hiking barefooted can be better for your joints. You’ll be surprised at how tough your feet are and what they are capable of conquering, as long as you give them a chance.
Thirdly, barefoot hiking can give you an edge when you hike along a muddy or slippery trail. No matter how advanced your hiking shoes are, your feet stand a much better chance of clinging and helping you maintain your balance while crossing slipper or rocky terrains. Why? Because your feet are naturally clingier and more tactile than any pair of hiking shoes, you ever own.
Fourthly, going barefooted gives you a unique opportunity to actually feel the earth underneath. You will be truly close to nature while being able to embrace the feelings of leaves or soil below you. Isn’t it a memorable backpacking experience?
The next benefit that barefoot hiking can promise you is a chance to develop your bodily senses and refresh your health. Your feet will get to interact with the earth, and it will not only strengthen your feet but improve your overall health as a result.
Last but not least, when you become better at barefoot hiking, you can save quite a few bucks on expensive yet unnecessary hiking shoes. This will be a relief to those who love minimalist hiking.
However, as appealing as barefoot hiking sounds, there are indeed a couple of drawbacks that every hiker should be aware of before attempting to try barefoot hiking.
Barefoot hiking drawbacks
Apart from many of its amazing benefits, barefoot hiking does pose some risks to hikers. The first and also the most obvious limitation of barefoot hiking is the complete exposure to dirt and germs and possible infection.
Be prepared for really, really dirty feet, and this can be a major turn-off for those who prefer hygiene and cleanliness.
In addition to getting dirty, your feet will be completely unprotected. They may even sustain unwanted injuries, as it’s normal for your feet to get hurt or stubbed along the way.
Thus, hikers must be extra careful of what’s underneath their feet. Also, it is going to be much more challenging for barefoot hikers when they travel in situations of unfavorable weather.
Another drawback that you should consider is that your feet need time to adapt. In other words, if you are used to wearing shoes or sandals , you’ll need to be prepared for lots of foot pain when you first try barefoot hiking.
Your toes and the soles of your feet will get really sore, and at some point, along the way, you may feel like giving up. But there will be no gain without pain, right?
Barefoot hiking tips
With all of its pros and cons listed above, it is safe to say that barefoot hiking should never be attempted without proper preparation. The more you are prepared, the more likely you are to succeed. Anyone can try hiking barefooted, as long as they keep in mind the following barefoot hiking tips.
1. Take things slow
Both you and your feet need time and lots of practice in order to become a barefoot hiker. Take it easy and take it slow. Try walking short distances with your bare feet to familiarize yourself with the feeling. You can try walking around your garden, or around a park.
Try it for a day to see how your feet feel afterward. Set realistic goals instead of trying to push your feet over their limits to prevent injuries.
It is wise to give your feet plenty of practice through walking or running on different textures and terrains. Start first with a hard surface. Increase the mileage gradually. Practice makes perfect, and who knows, you may be able to even try a barefoot thru hike like a pro.
2. Take good care of your feet
This one sounds obvious, but not everyone knows how to take care of their feet properly. After each practice session, wash your feet thoroughly and give them a real treat such as a massage. Trust me; they deserve it.
You should also always include first aid kits in your belongings to care for your feet when needed. Even the toughest barefoot hikers can suffer from cuts or wounds along the way.
3. Pay attention to the way you walk
When you try walking or hiking barefooted, it is important always to avoid shuffling or dragging your feet along the path because otherwise your feet will be more vulnerable to cuts and injuries from pointy or obstructing objects on the trail.
It’s also necessary to remain wary of your surroundings and always watch where you are going. To avoid tiring out your feet, always try to keep your weight on the balls of your feet and not your heels. That way you will be able to move smoothly with less pressure on your feet.
Barefoot hiking winter
The above tips will be able to help you prepare for barefoot hiking successfully, but how about hiking in extreme weather? Is barefoot hiking even possible during winter? And how can you prepare for that?
The thought of standing barefoot outside in the cold weather is intimidating enough, let alone hiking barefooted in winter. However, as long as you are prepared, barefoot hiking winter is totally possible.
The trick is simple. In order to hike with just your feet in winter, you’ll need to enhance the strength and tolerance of the feet to low temperatures.
Give your feet time to get used to increasingly colder temperatures to help them adapt. It may take months before your feet become ready for the winter journey. When you start your hike, remember to keep yourself as warm as you can – try wearing thick insulated clothing, a hat, and insulated leggings or pants.
Should you hike barefoot or not?
On the whole, barefoot hiking is no different from other types of hiking. It requires careful preparation and loads of practice, but at the same time, it offers rewarding experiences and plenty of benefits.
Barefoot hiking may not be the right choice for fainthearted travelers, but if you are among those who seek a true connection with Nature, you should definitely give barefoot hiking a try.
It’s an alternative way to see and feel the world like you have never seen and felt it before. While some people are still doubtful about barefoot hiking, with the right tools and preparation, you’ll find out that barefoot hiking is not as hard as it seems.
Through your engagement with barefoot hiking, you may even realize a new side of you and the formidable power of your feet.