How to Run or Hike Barefoot on the Trail

8:52 p.m. on May 24, 2011 (EDT)
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This thread is for comments on the article "How to Run or Hike Barefoot on the Trail"

Interested in trail running or hiking barefoot or with minimal footwear? Consider the following information to determine how to start safely, where to go, and whether to go truly barefoot or minimally shod.

Full article at

8:00 a.m. on May 25, 2011 (EDT)
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If I had known that this would end up a big trend I would have kept it up from my days of running barefoot XC. Around 1973. I still hike barefoot at times.

10:02 a.m. on May 25, 2011 (EDT)
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I guess I can see the lure of going barefoot on a dayhike or afternoon stroll through the woods. But I'm not sure about carrying a 30-40 pound pack through the woods barefoot. Would just seem hard on the feet to me.

Also, I think a lot of it depends upon terrain. I know some trail runners who thought it a great idea to run barefoot around here. Then after doing it, I was told they would never do it again because the terrain around here is so rocky. They said it shredded their feet.

1:45 p.m. on May 26, 2011 (EDT)
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Looking forward to and interesting thread.  See you on the trails, with my shoes on.

8:16 p.m. on May 26, 2011 (EDT)
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Rocklion: I do backpacking, barefoot running and barefoot hiking.  I usually don't go far without shoes when backpacking.  This is where minimalist shoes work great.  When the terrain is not filled with sharp rocks I will take my shoes off to enjoy the ground (it is really a sensual experience).  To overcome the heavy backpack problem I do ultralight backpacking.  Once you go ultralight you don't go back.

When it comes to barefoot running I prefer trail-running over pavement.  Again that dirt it is more sensual, though running barefoot on pavement is still fun.

10:18 a.m. on May 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Yep, could see doing ultralight and going barefoot. That helps take off some of the burden. Believe me, know what you mean about trail running. I won't run on pavement. Refuse to.

I have flirted with the idea of barefoot running for awhile. I took off my shoes once on a run and used the form I had read about in most the magazines. I have to say it was a very pleasurable experience, but I guess I'm a little bit chicken to go all the way, and I just don't have the money right now to invest in some minimalist shoes. I might try it out more in the future.

But still not up for barefoot hiking. Not my cup of tea. Not knocking anyone who does it. Just feel a little bit more comfortable tromping through the mountains in a good pair of sturdy boots. I've had too many ankle problems in the past to not trust myself to not turn an ankle out on the trail.

12:55 p.m. on May 27, 2011 (EDT)
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as i read the article, particularly about avoiding bushwhacking and spending more time on softer trails, i was thinking that barefoot is ok for some places and situations, but not others.  i have put a lot of miles on a pair of fivefingers and can attest to some benefits, but they wouldn't be my choice for jagged rocks.  is anyone really hiking barefoot in the granite-dominated white mountains? on volcanic rock or scree?

if so, how long does it take your feet to get accustomed to that, and are there some places that barefooters just won't go, or do your feet get to the point that you can pretty much hike anywhere?

2:23 p.m. on May 27, 2011 (EDT)
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Rocklion said:

 I've had too many ankle problems in the past to not trust myself to not turn an ankle out on the trail.

 At least with running (in Fivefingers), turning an ankle hasn't been a problem for me. I think having your fee flat on the ground and toes spread makes them more stable as far as that goes. But I have banged up my toes pretty bad a couple of times. But in the end I have to agree that I'm not ready to carry much of a load without a little more support and protection.

5:39 p.m. on May 28, 2011 (EDT)
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No need to feel my inner cave man. I will do like Callahan and wear my shoes.


10:11 p.m. on June 10, 2011 (EDT)
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I have ran a few times, "barefoot", in my five fingers and have enjoyed it. I find five fingers work well on the trail especially crossing rivers though I don't see the barefoot hiking trend coming on strong in the Ozarks there are too many rocks, bugs and poison ivy.

8:18 a.m. on June 16, 2011 (EDT)
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 ... Once more unto the breach, dear friends ... once more ....  (Wm Shakespeare, from "King Henry V"


I tried this YEARS AGO ... waaaay before it was "fad-ish".   The dreaded "in-crowd" is now embracing it, I see.  The 1990's "yuppies" would be pleased.

I used to live right on the ocean (in a condo) in Ocean City, Maryland.

I walked and ran barefoot(ed)  almost daily on the beach, along water's edge.   Sometimes, up to 10 miles.   When on the longer forays, I sometimes toted a light rucksack with refreshment, windbreaker, sunscreen, lip-balm,  hat, etc.   (Does that qualify as "hiking"?).

I was also a true "runner" during this time.  NOT a "jogger".   I ran competitively.   Averaged about 50-miles per week of running.    I wore RUNNING SHOES on paved surfaces .... barefoot on the beach and grassy areas.

To give you an idea of how "serious" my training was ... I ran EVERY DAY FOR FIVE YEARS.    Never missed a day.   I kept a log.   Do the math; 50-miles per week X 260 weeks.   Can you say, "Type-A Personality", boys-and-girls ???

During those five years, I did cope with several minor injuries.   ALL from going  BAREFOOT.

BTW -- Has anyone mentioned how your feet "spread" from these barefoot activities?   My Cro-magnon /  Neanderthal ancestors would have been proud of me.

When I changed into business-attire for my 'day-job', my dress shoes felt tight and uncomfortable.   Rather distressing, as I am something of a 'shoe-junkie', and have many pairs of expensive Italian shoes and loafers, that PREVIOUSLY fit me PERFECTLY.

Also, to clean my feet, after hiking / running barefoot(ed?), I had to use abrasive compounds and a BLEACH-solution.


Not for everyone ... 'eh ???

"  ... And the beat goes on .... "

... I became insane ... with long intervals of horrible sanity .... (Edgar Allen Poe)



12:26 p.m. on June 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I'm 48, 6'1" and I weigh 210.  I workout almost daily and spend much of my life outdoors and introducing others to it.  I'm giving this information because age and size are relevant to both benefits and injuries when running and hiking.

I love running hills and trails.  Years ago I had a few runs in which cramps developed in my calves that turned into huge, debilitating, full bore, muscle tearing cramps.  That happened a couple of times using conventional running shoes.

After a climbing accident that sprained the hell out of my ankle I discovered that barefoot hiking was helping my ankle more than any physical therapy so I started running barefoot.  It worked wonders for my ankle.  It had it's downside though.  The combination of steep hill running in bare feet and my age resulted in my calf muscles developing micro tears resulting in more of the extreme injury creating cramping that I experienced years before.  Now I mountain bike much more and limit my runs to 2 times a week.  (In the winter I replace biking with snowshoeing and skiing.)  If I do more running, I risk injury.  If I ran flatland in conventional shoes, the cramping would be somewhat mitigated but I'd rather mountain bike more.  Mostly my runs are barefoot but occasionally I use conventional shoes.

Hiking and walking don't damage my calves the way running does so I frequently hike barefoot.  Acorns, small rocks and sharp protrusions hurt no matter how much callus you have.  It isn't just the sharp pain, they also can bruise the flesh against the phalanges deep into the bottom of your foot.  Being careful and observant makes all the difference but it isn't perfect.  Also, walking with that care means you spend far more time inspecting the ground than looking up at the very things you came to see.  Granted, there are some interesting things on the ground, but the focus tends to be more on where you're going to put your foot.  These aren't necessarily reasons not to barefoot hike but they are unavoidable and should be part of your decision.  I occasionally hike barefoot but I prefer to do it on less challenging hikes.  On more challenging hikes I frequently wear Five Fingers.

I agree with the people who say that the increased feel in bare feet is a plus.  Largely that is because of the wonderful ability to use your toes.  In essence your toes become short fingers when hiking barefoot or using Five Fingers.  You literally wrap your toes around non-flat surfaces.  In conventional shoes you have traction.  In bare feet and Five Fingers you often have both traction and grip.

As for the question about barefoot hiking in the White Mountains.  I live in NH and have done it quite a bit.  If it is dry and you are careful about small rocks, sapling stumps, acorns etcetera, bare feet are very reliable and probably more reliable than any shoe so long as you don't get cut or injured (I haven't).  If you are going to be quite a ways backcountry, bring some form of shoes in your pack in case something goes wrong.  It is preparedness in the same way you should bring a jacket on a nice day in case the weather turns or bringing a medical kit in case of injury.

Traction-wise bare feet don't do well in serious wet (e.g. - beyond damp).  While climbing damp or wet granite can be dangerous no matter what you wear, it is worse in bare feet (and the hard soles of conventional hiking footwear).  Mud and wet granite are very slippery in bare feet.  There is no way that the whorls of the prints on your toes and feet can overcome slipping on wet surfaces in the way that a shoe with a good softer tread does because the whorls are deep enough to channel the water.  While it is far from perfect, I think Vibram's KSO Trek is a great compromise for dry and wet conditions.  That being said, I turned around last weekend when it started to rain while hiking the north slide of the Tripyramids last weekend in the KSO Treks.  Doing that in the rain is just stupid no matter what you wear.

2:23 p.m. on June 16, 2011 (EDT)
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I don't actually run barefoot - too many splinters and rock shards where we run - but do run almost exclusively in my all-time favourite running shoes - Vibram Five-Fingers. They provide the same feeling as barefoot running, with just a 3 or 4 mm sole, but provide the necessary protection from sharp objects. I have the Bikila, but prefer the KSO - they are more minimalist and provide a greater trail feel. Of course, they also open you up to an occasional bruise, but those are the days that I then go back to my "regular" running shoes (Solomon Speed Cross, which are also low profile, but offer some cushioning...).

I wear my V5F (KSO Trek's usually) all the time, and love the feeling of freedom and relaxation (a little foot massage with each step!) they provide. Can't recommend them strongly enough!

Have fun out there!

10:05 p.m. on June 17, 2011 (EDT)
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I was recently hiking the C & O Canal Nat'l Trail ....    Passed a couple barefooted hikers.   They were looking DOWN -- in the interest of avoiding stepping on something sharp ?

Too bad they couldn't notice the scenery.   Maybe (?) they plan to gaze upon the vistas, whenever they arrive at the end of their journey / hike.

Doesn't seem like fun, to me.

Question:   Is there a designated "Darwin Award" for barefooters ??



11:28 p.m. on June 18, 2011 (EDT)
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In 2009 I was the first peson to hike the 600 mile Bruce Trail in Ontario Canada completely barefoot.

It's not that big of a deal to go barefoot on the hiking trails.

The nay-sayers are usually people who have little to no experience with hiking barefoot.

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