While the first 4 parts of this series have set barefoot as the ideal, it is unrealistic to assume that barefoot is always practical. There are many situations where some form of footwear is required, whether it be for climate (winter), safety (building construction), hygiene (hospital), function (downhill skiing), or fashion (dress code). Assuming barefoot is the best for our health, the goal when selecting footwear should be to choose something that provides as close to barefoot as constraints allow. Two principles that should be taken into consideration are:
- The purpose of footwear should be to protect the body, not correct the body. When I say protect, I mean protect beyond what the body is capable of doing naturally. For example, when working on a job site, steel shanks are required to protect the feet from sharp objects because our feet do not have this natural ability. People often think of cushioning as protective, however as described in part 2, our body already has an excellent natural shock absorption system and therefore we should not be looking to our footwear to provide this.
- Design perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing else to add but when there is nothing else which can be taken away. This principal should be at the forefront when choosing footwear, the goal should be to find the minimum that is required for the given situation. For example, in Maine there are cold winters with lots of deep snow. The requirements for footwear in this environment are protection from the cold, and the prevention of snow of entering through the top. Stiff soles, cushioning, heels, support, etc. do not fulfill those requirements and therefore are considered unnecessary and unwanted.
Keeping those two guiding principles in mind, these are some features to look for:
- Flexible uppers. The uppers should be as light-weight, flexible, and un-restrictive as possible while still meeting the protective requirements. Your feet should not feel confined in any way.
- Roomy uppers. The uppers should provide adequate room for the foot and toes to spread as required for balance and stability. The less flexible the uppers are, the more important the roominess of the uppers become. Again, the goal should be that your feet not feel confined in any way.
- Flat soles. The soles should be as flat as possible so as to not cause you to walk with a heel strike.
- Flexible soles. The soles should be thin and flexible while still meeting the protective requirements. Movement and flexibility of your foot should be natural and unrestricted.
- Breathable. The shoes should be breathable so that the foot stays dry and comfortable. This is very important in cases where your footwear is required to be waterproof.
- Durable. The construction should be of adequate durability for the intended purpose.
There will always be cases where people will be forced to compromise on one or more of the above items. The important things to understand are: what the ideal is, what the compromises are, and how those compromises affect the body.
Knowing what you want in a pair of shoes is one thing, but actually finding it is something else. That was one of the reasons Toe Salad was created, to help you figure that out!