Updated on June 23, 2015
Barefoot Hiking or Almost
If you haven’t heard of barefoot running by now you must be living under a rock, but you may not have considered barefoot hiking. I use the term loosely to include the movement towards “minimalist” shoes such as Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trailgloves, and Huaraches.
How it Happened
Let me back up a step for those of you who are still wearing heavy hiking boots or hunting boots. Unless you are lugging around half of your body weight they are likely unnecessary and slowing you down. I first switched switched to running shoes in college when I started shaving down the pack weight. We can get in to ultralight backpacking at a different time, but reducing your back weight and dropping the heavy boots will make a big difference.
Around this time I started hearing about barefoot running and all of the benefits touted in the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Much of my exposure came from the Primal/Paleo lifestyle blogs and forums that I was exploring. In short the idea is that your feet are designed to be walked upon not crammed in to shoes and that many injuries result from the unnatural movements encouraged by today’s over padded and supportive footwear. If you are reading this, I will assume you have at least a cursory understanding of these benefits.
Getting Out There
As with running barefoot or with minimal shoes; you need to start slowly. Not only will your achilles tendons and foot muscles not be up to your normal mileage, but the sharp rocks will kill your tender feet. After hiking this way for a couple of years even with Vibrams a sharp rock to the forefoot or arch hurts.
You may want to take something with a little more padding in case the going gets too tough. Or perhaps just something soft for camp until your feet get more accustomed.
You will find yourself moving more slowly and with greater caution. This is good.
Birthday Shoes: AKA Barefoot
This is where you probably don’t want to start. I have done short stretches barefoot and generally go barefoot around camp. I spend my week in an office like most of you probably do and my feet just aren’t up to the challenge for any distance on rock trail.
Huaraches: Bedrock Sandals
You may call these thongs or Jesus sandals; regardless of the name they are simply a flat rubber sole with some kind of straps. What makes the Bedrock brand unique is their ingeniously simple adjustable straps. The soles are 6mm vibram nubby soles and have military grade tubular webbing straps. The Earthquake (EQ) model includes recycled bicycle inner tube sewn in to the heal for stretchiness and a better fit.
This is currently my choice for hiking footwear. They fit snug and provide slightly more padding while maintaining adequate ground-feel.
These are the toe shoes that you see people running around in. They may look ridiculous, but the experience is very close to being fully barefoot. The couple millimeters of razor sipped rubber sole will provide your feet with a little padding against sharp rocks and some extra grip on the slippery ones.
As I mentioned early on you will notice sharp rocks on the trail. The toes at least for me; tend to be a magnet for saplings and other small plants. Lastly they tend to be hot and a little uncomfortable when wet.
Minimalist Shoes: Merrell Trailglove
Something like the Merrell Trailglove would be a good place for you to start if you have never worn minimalist footwear or spent any considerable time barefoot. While it may be tempting to jump straight to another option, your feet and legs will thank you for going slowly. Remember you have likely spent most of your life in over supportive and your body has learned to move with them. It will take a while to adjust, and pushing to fast will be painful and can cause injury.