Please help.

I am training to do a one-day 28.3 mile hike in support of children's cancer research -- and I plan to do the entire hike BAREFOOT! Please SPONSOR ME in the Ultimate Hike and help support this great cause. Thanks!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Why Barefoot?

The short answer is because it's fun and it's easier on my knees and hips.

Really, it's that simple.

Barefoot hiking is nothing new.  Walking barefoot in the woods has been done since the beginning of human history.  It just isn't done often in our culture.  That makes what I'm doing a bit of a curiosity and I'm happy to use that to bring greater awareness to CureSearch and children's cancer research.  If you want to be truly impressed or amazed, meet some of the families dealing with children's cancers and learn about the research being done to help those families. 

For those of you who'd like to learn more about how I started barefoot hiking and what it's like I'll share the details in two posts.  Today I'll give you a bit of my own story and tell what motivated me to start down this barefoot trail.  In a future post I'll answer some of the common questions I get about barefooting (such as, "Doesn't it hurt?").   You can leave a comment below if you have questions for me.

My barefoot journey starts with my family history of osteoarthritis.  I'm currently 45 years old.  In my mid-30s I was already starting to notice occasional knee and hip twinges that caused me concern.  Did I inherit bad knees?  Am I destined for joint replacement surgery?  What can I do to prevent or postpone osteoarthritis?

I did some research and discovered that musculoskeletal alignment is a significant factor for osteoarthritis. There's more being written about it all the time.  Do a google search of "osteoarthritis and posture" today and you'll get about 1,500,000 results.

OK, got it, I need good posture.  Except I didn't have it nor did I know how to get it.  In fact, after many years working as an engineer sitting hunched over my computer at work, my posture was so far out of whack that I didn't have a clue what good posture looked like or felt like.  I just knew mine wasn't it.  That started my decade-long (so far) quest for healthy body alignment.

Each year has brought more learning and greater improvement.  At the bottom of this post I've included links to some of the wonderful sources of information that have helped me on this quest.  I started reading more and more about the negative effect heeled shoes have on joint health.  Obviously women's fashionable high-heeled shoes are a bad choice, but it turns out even the slightly elevated heels in a typical running shoe can cause problems.

About 4 years ago I decided to act on what I was reading about heeled shoes and bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers.  Wow!  What a difference!  Within a week, encouraged by a group of barefoot runners, I took off the Fivefingers and started going completely barefoot.  Over the last 10 years I have done many things to improve my body alignment but nothing has had a greater postive impact than taking off my shoes!  The knee and hip twinges went away.  I walk lighter.  I can even run without pain in my knees and shins.

The more time I spent not wearing shoes the more I preferred being barefoot.  I started going barefoot everywhere all the time.  I found that running barefoot, unlike running in shoes, is actually fun for  me. Initially my runs were on pavement and then I started running on trails.  The first time I stepped barefoot on a trail I literally laughed out loud!  There was something so primal about connecting barefoot with the earth that it caused me to spontaneously giggle in delight like a child!  It still makes me smile every time I step on the trail.

I ran on and off for about 2 years, all barefoot.  Perhaps I'll share more info about my barefoot running experiences in a future post.  During those years I also started visiting the trails for short hikes on non-running days.  The barefoot hikes were my favorite.  I could spend longer on the trail and I enjoyed the experience more.  Eventually the running gave way to a preference for hiking.

When I walked (barefoot) into the Ultimate Hike info session earlier this week the coordinater, Joe Miller, asked if I planned to do the entire 28.3 mile hike barefoot.  I told him that if I did the 28.3 miles it would have to be barefoot.  If there was something about the hike (the terrain, the rules, etc) that would prevent me from hiking barefoot, I simply wouldn't do the hike.  My knees and hips might not forgive me.

Here are some the excellent guides I've had on my quest for improved alignment and joint health.
Katy Bowman
Esther Gokhale
Kelly Starrett
Mark Sisson
Daniel Liberman
The Barefoot Runners Society
Pete Egoscue



  1. It's a shame no one's commented on any of your posts yet. Much of what you say about the experience of becoming barefoot resonates with me. Walking, hiking and running becomes much more sensual and sensuous when the soles of our feet aren't interfered with. I'm very much coming to believe that our brains expect that sensory information at some level and sometimes wonder if the sense of disconnect that many people feel today is due, in some part, because of us wearing shoes so much.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Scratch (becomingshoeless)! My blog is just getting off the ground; it's less than a month old. I'm seeing that the traffic is increasing, which is good. I expect that trend to continue as the word gets out and I hope that more people will start to leave comments.

      I so agree with you that walking/running barefoot is such a sensual experience. When I hike with a group I often comment about the temperature or texture of the ground. I find that many people are surprised to realize that they had never even considered how much of a sensory experience they were missing by wearing shoes.

  2. Karen... wow I see this post is over 4 years old... are you still around? My wife and I (mostly me) have an interest in barefoot hiking and have done a bit here and there, but would love to connect with a local group in Raleigh area that does it... are you still hiking barefoot? Does such a group exist?