When I talk about hiking up and down a mountain barefoot, people often look at me like I’m about to say I was doing it on my way to and from school in a snowstorm. It sounds a little crazy even to those who love and live in the woods. There was a distinct mixture of intrigue, admiration, and concern the first time that I saw someone hiking without shoes. I wondered how he had made it to the summit.
I’m going to share with you what it takes to get started on your own barefoot adventures. Even if you don’t decide to hike the high peaks without shoes, this post will help you reconnect with yourself and the world around you. Let’s get started.
Take Off Your Shoes
Go on. Do it. Take your socks off while you’re at it. Congratulations! You’re one step closer to that barefoot summit. It seems simple, but taking your shoes off and getting used to the feeling of being uninhibited will make you more comfortable as you prepare to hit the trail. Once you’ve finished wiggling your toes, stand up and walk around.
If you’re not already accustomed to spending a bunch of time barefoot, you might not think about how many different textures we trek over every day. Spend some time walking around your house and your yard, feeling the cool tile, shaggy carpet, and prickly grass that each has to offer. Your feet may be sensitive at first, but the more time they spend free from shoes, the more they will grow comfortable on the ground beneath them.
The best part of this process is that you can take it at your own pace. If you don’t travel farther than the front yard without a pair of flip flops on, that’s great! If you’re soon selling all of your shoes and encouraging others to do the same, that’s awesome too. Barefoot hiking is like regular hiking – go at your own pace and make it your own experience.
Be Grateful For Gravel
You’ve taken your shoes off, and gotten used to the different surfaces around you. Now you’re ready to up the ante. It’s time for gravel. I know, that sounds like torture. And, it’s gonna be rough when you first get started, but it will whip your feet into shape. And gravel is small potatoes compared to the mountains you’re gonna climb.
If you’re lucky enough to have a gravel driveway (or a friend who does, and knows what you’re doing), you’ve got it easy. If you don’t, I would look for trails that are gravely, or another safe, uneven surface to walk on. Obviously, areas with a lot of high traffic and broken glass are not ideal, unless you want a bonus trip to the hospital.
Smaller gravel will be easier on your feet when you’re first getting started, so keep that in mind. The idea is to spend some time walking on the surface and getting used to the sensation of hard, uneven ground. It might not feel great at first, but it will get easier the more you do it. The trick is to work up to longer and longer walks, as your feet toughen up. After a long walk on gravel, it feels like I just had a great food massage.
There’s A Big World Out There
Take your experience with gravel and expand your horizons. If you’re at the beach, walk across the sand, even when it’s warm. Your feet will grow used to it and it won’t bother you. Enjoy the different surfaces you can explore when you get outside in nature – smooth stone, packed dirt, sand.
Another thing to know is that walking barefoot is going to use muscles in a different way than walking with shoes on. After walking on an especially uneven surfaces, like sand, your legs might still be feeling it the next day. When I started going barefoot all of the time, my calves had to get used to it, and I felt it for a while any time I had been without shoes for a long time. As you get stronger, that goes away.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon find yourself in love with going barefoot, and will be ready to start exploring small trails and adventures without your shoes. When you do finally hit the trail (or nice, soft walking path), don’t forget to bring your shoes along. You always want the option to throw them on if you need to, and getting stuck without them will make any hike a nightmare.
Take Care Of Your Toes!
It’s important to take care of your feet, especially after getting off the trail. Chances are good that even on small hikes, your feet are going to get very dirty. I usually carry wipes to clean them before putting my shoes back on. Once you get home, make sure to check them over for any cut or bump you might have missed. I rarely hurt my feet when I am outside, even on rough terrain, but I check every time.
After my hikes, I give my feet a good scrub in the shower – getting all the dirt off. Then I throw some lotion on to keep them from drying out. It’s important to keep your toenails trimmed and neat so they don’t get caught or torn on rocks and roots. If you do happen to scrape or cut your foot, that needs to be taken care off, too. I will cover first aid in more detail in a later post.
Take The First Step
You’ve taken your shoes off. You’ve read this post. Now it’s time to get started barefoot hiking. The good news is that you can start that journey right in your living room, or backyard. Take your time and enjoy feeling the earth in an entirely new way. It will give you a whole new perspective on being outside or on the trail. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to tackle your first summit.
I want to hear about your first barefoot steps! Leave me a comment telling me how your journey is going.