Walking barefoot

The end of the barefoot walk

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.

Barefoot Walkers - image from Capital-Journal

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:

Cimbing a stile barefoot The end of the barefoot walk

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!

For the less adventurous trialists, try the Barefoot Walk at Trentham Estate (see related press release):

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:

23 Replies to “Walking barefoot”

  1. Great blog post. Really inspirational.

    The closest I get to barefoot walking now-a-days is occationally carrying my flip flops at a festival or when in a field i see is relativly cow pat free.

    There was a time when I was travelling, that for a whole six months I didn’t wear shoes or socks.. Partly in the Islands of the south of Thailand and for some time in the slightly dirtier streets of Bangkok and Chaing Mai.

    Years later I found myself working as a cow hurder in the Swiss Alps and once again put my shoes in storage to walk barefoot in the mountains while i worked.

    The inspiration to occasionally go without footwear came to me after a course I attended at a meditation retreat in Penang, Malaysia. We were told to be mindful of every step, to slow down and feel the ground beneath our feet. It was an incredably spiritual, liberating sensation.

    In no time at all my feet had hardened enabeling me to walk barefoot on all surfaces but the hottest tarmac.

    Your blog post brought loads of great memories back and I totally connect with what you are saying.

    Thanks for writing this post, but especially for taking a chance and heading out into the wet British countryside without boots. I am sure your feet will get back into great shape in no time at all.

    Good Luck!



  2. Hi great video, i’m into going barefoot but i’m nervous about what people will think. Where abouts in th UK are perhaps we could arrange some kind of Barefoot get together for anyone whos interested.

    Keep em Bare


  3. Hi,
    I’ve been barefoot walking since l was about 9,
    came to the firm conclusion it’s the best way to
    travel! ln time you’ll get leathery soles which
    won’t mind where you walk.Certainly bare feet
    give me a good grip whatever the conditions
    underfoot.They don’t wear out,pinch,or leak,and are self-repairing.Don’t worry what
    the others say,or the odd looks.If you’re happy
    to go barefoot,do it!

  4. I began barefoot walking and running at age 45
    I have delicate small feet for a man
    Although I’m sure that those who begin in childhood or early 20s will be able to run, like some Africans, on anything, even people like me can achieve enough toughness to run and hike on 95% of terrain. As four years of experience shows, i can enjoy hiking in the lakes or running in London without the hindrance of shoes
    As a result, i no longer “pronate”, i cannot literally sprain my ankles as they are too strong and flexible now, and my feet never smell
    my senses are alerted every time i walk out
    and my experience of the landscape is akin to taking ear muffs of after so many years

    all the best

  5. I do enjoy walking barefoot outdoors and even exercise like this at my local gym. Try not to worry what people think- most of the time they don’t take much notice anyhow and if someone asks say “My preference- I prefer it like this” !!

    I would be careful claiming that walking barefoot is good for your feet though. I have some knee and achilies problems brought about by running etc (with shoes on). so I have had lots of chats with physiotherapists and podiatrists. Most will say that shoes are beneficial to your joint health and to correct foot alignment problems. The trouble is that most people’s feet are not perfect (probably because we have grown up wearing shoes) and therefore need corrective support to work properly.

    That doesn’t stop me walking and exercising barefoot though !!

  6. In the opinion of most regular barefooters, most podiatrists just want to sell shoe-inserts . . .

    Would no more consider hiking in shoes than I would consider hiking with a blindfold. It’s like shutting off a whole other sense, really spoils the walk for me.

    Always amuses me how expert people who always wear shoes are, on the dangers of barefooting -get some experience people (slowly and carefully, little and often, you can’t run before you can walk etc etc. 🙂

    Sure there are conditions where boots are useful, in the same way hats and gloves are, but in the same way, you wouldn’t want to wear hats or gloves all year round -would you????

    Most recent major barefoot hike: Langdale Pikes, Lake District.
    Today: going for a barefoot stroll in the snow -just for a few minutes!

  7. I am planning to walk from John O’ Groats down to Lands End this summer and to do the whole journey barefooted, and if anyone would like to join me for some or all of the way then please get in touch.
    I love jogging/walking barefoot and am convinced that it is more healthy than wearing trainers.
    In 2005 I was the first to run the London marathon without shoes.

  8. Thanks daylight_gambler – I will be aiming to raise serious money for Cancer research but am of course looking forward to the enormity of the challenge.

  9. Hi Steve,

    I hope you don’t mind me contacting you like this. I’m doing some research for The BBC One Show on a four minute item on Barefoot Walking and came across your blog. It will be presented by John Sergeant and filmed early September. I’m looking for people to discuss the subject with John and perhaps encourage him to have a go. If you are interested or know anyone who is please contact me on 0113 2034070 or email on hannah@reallife.co.uk.

    Many thanks

    Hannah McDermott

  10. I love de idea. I would like to find women who like to walk barefoot in London. Mostly weekday mornings. I don’t feel brave enough to do it on my own.

  11. I really enjoy walking around in bare feet- and regularly walk on coast paths and even on Dartmoor without shoes (although I normally keep some sandals in my bag just in case). And I’ve don it in urban areas as well. Yes I get funny looks but it feels so nice to me.

    I tried looking up barefoot walking on the Internet. Unfortunately, there are too many foot fetish weirdos out there, all male, who dominant the scene and spoil things. I just do it because it feels good. [minor mod edit]

  12. I walk barefoot around the home often, and enjoy slipping my sandals or flip flops off to feel tarmac or the tickle of grass beneath my bare feet. It’s a truly liberating experience, and it connects you directly to the earth. Yes, I also agree it’s a bit annoying when people stare, but only when they’re being scornful; a foot fetishist is something I don’t really mind because at least it brightens their day. It’s the bigoted folk that get on my nerves! Still, Conkers is a place that helps promote a ‘Barefoot Walk’, so at least we’re getting somewhere nowadays.

    However, certain people must take care if they suffer from cracked heels: germs may get in, and can cause a nasty infection – I’m speaking from personal experience here.

  13. I have taken up barefoot walking recently and am raising money by walking across Dartmoor (from north to south), I love the sensations and feel more and more comfortable every time I do it. Next year maybe I’ll attempt the South West Coastal Path.
    I don’t care what people think when they see me hiking barefoot with my bag and tent, it’s easy to shun something you don’t understand.

  14. Due to a foot injury I have recently taken to going barefoot when I can and it is a wonderful experience. Last Saturday (10/12/11) I went all the way from Clacton-on-Sea in Essex to watch a football match in Weymouth, Dorset and undertook the whole journey from Clacton-on-Sea railway station to Weymouth railway station, including travelling on the underground, barefoot.

    I got a few quizzical looks and when I was in the Hamilton Hall pub outside Liverpool Street station waiting for my train back to Clacton a guy asked me why I was barefoot. I explained why and that I didn’t want to go back to wearing footwear as I’m more comfortable without and he accepted my explanation. Other than that no one commented on it.

    One word of caution though, it’s very easy to overdo things when you first start. I am only 12 days into this and I’ve sustained a minor muscle injury to the top of my left foot due to attempting too much too soon. I live in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex and thought it would be a good idea to walk along the promenade. But when we walk barefoot we walk very differently to when we wear shoes and use our muscles in a different way putting more pressure on some and less on others. In retrospect I should have started with 15 minute walks rather than the hour ones I undertook! Oh well, live and learn.

    Consequently I’m waiting for my foot to heal before I attempt any more barefoot walks outside, although I am always barefoot indoors and only wear flip flops when I go out.

    If you are interested in going barefoot and would like would like to discuss barefoot issues or join in going barefoot please feel free to contact me at daveward100@mail.com. I also have a blog at http://barefootintheuk.blogspot.com and you can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/barefootdave100.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Dave Ward

  15. I often walk barefoot – I’ve done 10 miles+ round Cheddar Gorge as well as many smaller walks in and around the Bristol area. I’ve walked miles across the gorse in the New Forest (the forest itself is too full of holly sadly)

    Worst I’ve had is dried thistle – hard to spot on the hay but they stay sharp for ever lol.



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