Today's article is an interview with a barefoot thru-hiker - WalkAbout - who is currently backpacking the Appalachian trail (mostly) barefoot. Since hiking, backpacking, and trekking are activities close to my heart, I thought it would be great to get a barefoot/minimalist perspective from someone other than a runner...
Tell us about your thru-hike. When did you start? Where did you start?
I started at the north end by climbing Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, ME. I climbed it wearing my Vibram Five Finger shoes which was a stretch for me because I was using hiking boots for the hike and had not even considered going barefoot at that point. Using the boots I started hiking June 6th. I hiked for a week but my boots tore my feet up so I had to stop. I started again on July 2, from where I had left it. This time I tried hiking in sandals, but only got about 3 miles in before I took them off and went barefoot.
What is your motivation for embarking on this trek?
I've always enjoyed endurance sports and love hiking. The AT sounded like the perfect blend of the two. 5 months of hiking. Ultimately though the only reason I had for embarking on this trip was; I want to do it and right now I can.
I understand that you are doing the hike barefoot. I am sure there is a story there... what made you decide to do it barefoot?
My hiking boots were giving me lots of pain and I figured that if people hundreds of years ago could carry heavy packs while barefoot, then so could I. There were two sisters who hiked the trail primarily without footwear a number of years back, and I like doing wild crazy things, so I ditched the shoes in favor of making people tell me I am insane.
Have you done the entire hike barefoot?
No unfortunately. The first 85M were done in my hiking boots. Then I managed 114M barefoot before getting a nice sized cut on the bottom of my foot. At that point I bought a pair of trail runners and wore those through the rest of southern Maine and all through the White Mountains. I just got through the Whites and am currently off the trail due to some family matters, but when I go back it will be barefoot again.
How many miles a day are you currently able to do in bare feet?
Barefeet in southern Maine with a nice sized sharp mountains I was able to do 10-12 miles a day. That's only about 5 less than what I was able to do with runners on.
How long did it take your body to adapt?
It only took a couple days for my body to adapt to a new style of walking, though the ankles took close to a hundred miles.
What do you find most difficult?
Staying humble. Other hikers see you walking barefoot and they wouldn't dare try it so they think you are absolutely amazing. It is hard to remind myself that it is very simply a personal choice. They could do it too if they wanted to.
Not beating myself down when other hikers breeze past me because they are wearing boots/runners in a rough terrain section.
How has hiking barefoot changed the way you walk? Do you walk primarily with a heel strike, a forefoot strike, or some combination thereof?
Generally come down on the ball of my foot, just lightly setting the heel down briefly. On the flat my feet come down more flat on the side of the foot. Either way I roll off my big toe at each step.
Do bare feet work in all trail conditions? If not, which conditions are not favorable?
They have worked in every condition depending on how much time you have. The Avery Peaks in Maine were arguably the roughest for bare feet, but I had the time to go slow so made it across without breaking out the Five Fingers. Typically sharp granite, tangled root systems and gravel roads are the hardest conditions. Unless you are walking on knives, every condition is passable in bare feet if you have the time to GO SLOW!
What are you using if/when you aren't barefoot?
Merrell Trail Runners (NTR Seismic). There were not many options in the small town of Rangeley when I needed them! They work quite well so far. They have much better grip than the Five Fingers I otherwise use. Currently my minimalist footwear is the blue and yellow Vibram Komodo Sport.You can read more about WalkAbout's journey on her blog: Simple Life Adventure.
Thanks for the interview!