Questions & Answers

A transition? or straight to barefoot?

I've been wondering this lately. I'm deciding to go barefoot (potentially - and hopefully - for the rest of my life), but I'm curious to know if I should perhaps go through minimalist footwear first? or if I should go directly to barefoot?

For those that don't know, I'm training for a barefoot hike soon that should last 2 and a half months over all sorts of Canadian terrain. My worry is that If I go to minimalist footwear first, my skin wont toughen up as quickly as it would simply going barefooted. I realize that it will help in many other ways, however.

Take note that I have a year and a half until my trek. Should I go with minimalist footwear first to help build proper muscle structure and so on? or Should I go directly to barefoot?


Answers and Replies


You can go direct, but you need to exercise extreme patience, and start out with very short distances, and build up the mileage slowly. You also need to take at least 1 day off between BF activities, especially in the beginning (2 days off would be even better in the beginning). If you don't follow these guidelines, your chances for injury will be much greater. Good luck!


I second the suggestion to go barefoot from the start if that's your long-term goal. It's best to get a head start since you have a lot of different things to adapt to:

-nervous system needs to get used to processing so much extra sensory information through your feet -skin on your soles needs to thicken and toughen -muscles need to strengthen (in the feet, legs, etc.) -connective tissues need to strengthen and regain their elasticity (ie ligaments, tendons) -bones need to strengthen, too

Those are the physiological changes in a nutshell, then you have all the different performance adaptations (distance, speed, weight carried, etc.) and environmental adaptations (sand vs stone vs grass ground types, hot vs cold temperatures, wet vs dry, etc.) on top of that.

Then there's the skill component. Sure, almost anyone can walk barefoot on soft sand or grass without a problem. It's very different when walking over different terrain, such as asphalt, concrete, packed dirt, mud, tall grass, fine gravel, course gravel, wooded trail, etc. Each terrain requires unique attention to detail in how you walk and/or run.

I don't try to discourage you, since I think going barefoot is one of the best decisions you could ever make. However, I do want to point out that it MUST be approached incrementally with a mindset for long-term progress. One of the biggest mistakes so many new barefooters make is to rush into it - that's how you get injured (like a bone spur or a strained/torn achilles ligament).

Take your time, but do challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone. Learn to distinguish pain from discomfort. And also remember that shoes are tools, and we should use them when it would benefit us most.


Great posts guys! That's helped quite a bit. There is one thing though that I'm having difficulty with...

In my city (Edmonton, AB, Canada) it can get to -40c and further on a regular basis in the winter (I'm not worried about our summers which can get to +30c). I want to train as much as I can, but I have no idea how I can start in the winter when I have don't no prior preparation.

Is there any way I can start now?


I'm gonna plug the gravel bucket idea again.

I've been running in the cold in bare feet (Southern AB), and I have noticed that it does not build the padding on the feet... the tolerance to cold, yes, but no padding. In fact, the sand and salt that gets dumped for traction on the icy roads can wreak havoc on any work done to build padding especially if your feet are getting wet (circulation warms feet and melts snow underfoot). Beware the salt!!!

March on gravel while watching the news or whatever. Then protect the padding growth that you are stimulating by wearing footwear that breathes well or socks that wick moisture well, keeping your feet dry.

When it gets nicer out, stick with bare feet, but carry a pair of comfortable minimalist shoes with you. When your feet tell you they are done, put the shoes on and head home. You don't want to destroy work done by over doing it.


haha, good tip! I'll remember that one! Unfortunately the weather here wont get "good" (above -10) and stay there for some time (although it's been nice today!). So I'm not quite sure if I'll be able to head right out so soon unfortunately. When spring comes, so does some intense training!


I think you could train already! Why? It's cold! Feet are freezing!.. That's right, but what's the problem?

I know -30 or even -40 is COLD... but still. Take off your shoes - and socks... step outside on the snow (I think you have snow)... Start to lift your feet (while you are walking in place) - let your feet take the shortest possible touch on the ground - lift it up a little - lift another foot etc... Remember The focus on lifting the other foot all the time... you can do this several times a day. Take a time: first day maybe 30 sec, second day 1 minute...

Tell me how it goes ;-) ... this is the first step...


I was also thinking of suggesting the gravel bucket idea- it's one way to build up the soles of your feet, but remember the real work is building up the muscles, bones and tendons in your feet, and there is no shortcut for that.


Perhaps we should develop an 'off-road' treadmill... just cover the belt with some dirt and rocks. That way you get the best of both worlds, foot conditioning and muscle/ligament strengthening :-)


Have you ever seen those climbing walls that are actually a huge belt with a bunch of holds on it that goes around-and-around? Maybe we need one of those and put it horizontal.


You know, Nathan and Damien, I had the same idea earlier last year. I was thinking a custom treadmill with various attachable surfaces, but I'm not one to finance prototypes :)


hahaha, Well I just ran on my treadmill yesterday for most of my run barefooted after getting annoyed with how hot my feet were getting from my shoes (with gore-tex, supposedly breathable). it felt SOOOO much better and worked out a lot of muscle groups that don't usually get used with footware on. So i'm very impressed with the difference and will be running barefooted as much as I can (i don't think a gym will allow it though)


That is where minimalist footwear can help. If you need to be in places that require footwear, but you are trying to train for barefoot, use the most minimalist shoes you can get away with. They won't let me be barefoot in the office, but they don't mind FiveFingers :-)


I'm trying to get fivefingers allowable where I work too. almost everyone there has them! but they are worried about legal issues of course.


At a camping store of course! I've just heard that they may not allow minimalist shoes for two reasons.

A) Because they may not be safe due to punctures such as a nail or what have you (we also have a large back room with a powered lift thing

B) Because we don't (currently) sell that kind of shoe (Vibram Five Fingers, although it's likely that we will soon).

I'm pushing them to see if we can. Reason A is definitely the reason why I can't go barefoot. Although I'm pushing that as well ;)

They're (like all companies) just making sure they are safe too with all of this. which is perfectly understandable.


If you need some extra ammunition for the dispute for minimalist shoes at work, I could send an argument or two your way. The largest obstacle is that we humans struggle with change especially in regards to social norms. We get far too comfortable with ignorance in general.


It's unbelievable with companies, who don't allow minimalistic footwear - specially VFF, but the truth is - VFF looks like kind of weird for people who has not seen them before.

So long, when you are struggling with VFF issue - there is Terraplana VivoBarefoot Aqua - which look likes casual shoe... Personally I think it's good alternative to conservative working places... How minimal is it - it's different subject ;-)


Sure! I wouldn't mind a for arguments :)

But the main issue is that we don't currently sell Vibram fivefingers, not so much that it's a hazard to wear them. All the employees are trying to push to sell them though (we carry a lot of brands that have vibram in them as it is).

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