No Shoes for 6 Months

Last August, my friend Alan sent me an article about going barefoot. It talks about how hard-soled shoes make you walk in a way that forces you to put your heel on the ground before the ball of your foot (cow-stepping). If you take of your shoes and walk naturally you will realize that you stop walking this way. You start walking in a way called fox-stepping, where you put the ball of your foot down firs then slowly roll down your foot to your heel then apply the weigh of your body. This method of walking puts less stress on your joints as you walk.

When you put your heel on the ground first you are putting all of the weight of your body on your leg bones which are completely straight. Anyone who has ever ridden a bike knows that if your seat is too high, and your legs become fully extended it is hard to pedal and bad for your joints. This is because your body is not built to be under stress at full extension. Your joints are made for bending, not for holding a rigid shape as if there was no joint at all.

When you fox-step you avoid this stress. Instead of transferring all your weight to your foot while your knee joint is fully locked, you transfer the weight when your joints are bent. As an added bonus, when you fox-step you look more sure of yourself. Your body takes on a more natural posture, and that posture looks quite a bit more confident.

To start, I tried walking around my block barefoot on asphalt and concrete. I quickly learned that the surfaces that humans have designed for themselves to walk on are actually terrible for human foot traffic. The rigidness of a concrete sidewalk is not a good walking surface for bare footers. I then tried walking in the grass next to the sidewalk and found joy. I loved walking barefoot on the ground where I could feel the different textures. After trying the grass I went out into the street to see what that would feel like. The asphalt of the street had a great texture for walking barefoot on. So right off the bat I liked walking barefoot more than with shoes on 2 out of 3 surfaces. Over time I came to dislike walking barefoot on only 3 types of surfaces, and loved walking on all of the rest.

The three surfaces I did not like walking on are concrete sidewalks, hot asphalt, and grocery store like tiled floors. Besides these surfaces, it has been a joy to walk barefoot.

To start my barefoot trial, I decided to spend the 7 day vacation to Mauii, Hawaiii completely barefoot. I only put on shoes once, and only for about 1 minute during the entire 7 days. During the time I experiencing lava rocks, hot asphalt, beaches, restaurants, wood, 5 mile muddy hiking trail, airports, airplanes, cars, etc. It was a good experience and by the end I was starting to get callouses on my feet. Learning a barefooting lifestyle under the artificial constraint of not wearing shoes for an entire vacation was a great way to introduce it to my feet and mind.

I decided to continue to go barefoot when I came down to Champaign-Urbana for school. The number one question I got from inquisitive young minds is "What are you going to do when it gets cold?" A question to which I had no answer.

But as it got cold, answers came. While I was siting on my porch my friend's (David Grayson) dad came by and told me about some interesting barefoot running stories he had read.

  1. Why shoes are bad for us (pdf)
  2. Men who run forever (pdf)
These stories lead me to Vibram's new five-toed shoes. Which are quite good at protecting your feet in dry and chilly weather. Also, they fix most of the problems of traditional shoes because theyThis last point is probably the most important for fox-stepping. Traditionally when people test the flexibility of shoes they only test how much the toe portion of the shoe bends up. This is not good for fox-stepping because the main mechanism of walking is to first put your toes and balls down on the ground first, which is most easily done when the toes have a lot of downward flexibility.

So next time your are testing the flexibility of shoes make sure the toes can go down below the line of the sole.

These shoes were great for a time, but as it started to get wetter and colder I realized that I needed something else. The reason for this is the Vibram Five-Fingers are not waterproof and they are definitely not well insulated. This combination made it hard to wear socks to keep warm, because if it got wet then the socks just made it worse anyway.

This doesn't mean I don't recommend the shoes, they are great for running in and I will definitely wear them when it gets warm and dry again. But in the winter I needed something dryer and warmer.

That's where Minnetonka's Double Bottom Mooseskin came along. If properly waterproofed it can stand up to the cold and water reasonably well, even in below freezing temperatures. I've been wearing these shoes for the last couple of months with no problems.

People are asking me what I'm going to do when it gets warm. The answer of course is go barefoot again! It's great fun. Later I will probably write a post about the people who have been negative about my bare-footing experience, and how I learned about people's health department misconceptions.

published 2008-02-04

Questions or Feedback? Email ryan@ryantm.com or tweet @ryantm.