During today’s BBC Countryfile programme, there was an interesting feature on Edgar Brown – a man who enjoys walking in the countryside with no shoes and socks on.
Now this captured my imagination – as a child I loved nothing better than walking through the fields around our house barefoot, taking in all the sensations and feelings. Even to this day, I enjoy walking barefoot through dry grass and across sandy beaches.
I also am currently suffering from athletes foot after the last couple of wet walks – a problem solved by not wearing shoes and socks. According to Adam Goldman on the Ramblers Forum:
About a year ago I took up barefoot hiking. Not only do I no longer suffer from blisters, sweaty feet, fungal infections and so on, I do not suffer from the pain in my knees or lower back which previously would affect me after a couple of miles in any kind of footwear.
Now your first thought would be that perhaps walking barefoot would be painful and that you would suffer injuries – well shaggy from the USA (again on the Ramblers Forum) adds that he as not suffered anything worse than a stubbed toe or minor scrape. Your next thought might be that perhaps barefoot walking is only suitable for short distances – well Adam has hiked 13 miles in Sussex, on a mix of roads, rough paths, grass, and mud (although obviously you need to toughen up your feet over shorter distances first), and knows a fellow barefoot walker who has hiked around New Zealand’s South Island.
“100% perfect ‘fit’, very comfortable, durable, self-repairing, highly flexible yet stable, waterproof, lifetime guarantee, reduced damage to footpaths”: If this was an advertisement for walking boots, how much would you be prepared to pay!
Edgar highlighted a number of advantages to barefoot walking including:
- Less impact on the environment – in a physical sense rather than a whimsical sense. Walking barefoot leaves less of a footprint than walking boots.
- You can walk quietly and be stealthy – Edgar has crept up behind a fox
- It is good for your feet.
- It feels great on you feet.
- It is a wonderful feeling, and you don’t get smelly socks!
As the article, “You Walk Wrong” from the NY Magazine goes through in detail, shoes are not good for our feet:
“Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.” In other words: Feet good. Shoes bad.
There are also medical benefits – According to Herbs Hands Healing, walking barefoot helps to discharge static electricity from the body, calming the nervous system. There is also evidence that walking barefoot can help strengthen leg and foot muscles, here is an except from “Barefoot walking/running and the use of shoe inserts” by Damien Howell:
The theory behind barefoot walking/running is that the nerve endings on the bottom – when stimulated cause reflex muscle contraction to avoid the irritation. Stepping on something sharp or rough is painful – the muscles in the foot and leg contract in order to get off the irritation. This constant cycle of sensory stimulation and reflex muscle contraction is thought to improve the strength of the foot and leg muscles.
So I thought I would give barefoot walking a go for today’s dog walk….
and do you know what…. I really enjoyed it!
Here are a few photos of my feet in action:
The freedom and sensation of walking barefoot was brilliant – the ground was damp, as it had rained fairly recently, and I have to admit that it took about 10mins before the feeling of slimy, squelchy mud between your toes stopping feeling horrid! You definately need to watch where you are stepping, mainly to avoid dog poo, cow pats, stinging nettles, large thistles and stones. Very quickly my feet started buzzing, and I was happy to walk through all the muddy puddles!
When I got home, I hosed down, washed and dried my feet, just like I do for the dogs. The soles of the my feet just feels amazing – the top of both feet have reacted slightly to the pollen as I have hayfever, however after a suitable anti-inflammatory pill this quickly died down.
Would I do it again? Yes almost certainly – provided no one was looking. Fortunately I didn’t bump into anyone, but I did feel very self conscious wondering around without shoes and socks on!
A delightful sensory stroll across 24 terrains, from springy grass to squelchy mud, this unique “DIY reflexology” experience is guaranteed to get all the family’s toes tingling and faces smiling.
There is an excellent review of the Trentham Estate Barefoot Walk on the Guardian website.
For other sources of information on barefoot walking: