“Melting snow, the ultimate barefoot pleasure.”
That’s the title of one chapter in Richard Frazine’s 1993 book ‘The Barefoot Hiker.’ My toes go a little numb just thinking about it.
But folks like Franzine, 65, are adamant that hitting the trail sans boots is the most intense way to experience the outdoors. It’s all about loving the mud between your toes or the sun-backed rocks beneath your soles – an experience one barefoot hiker describes as like “walking on the scales of a sleeping dragon.”
“It’s a matter of sensation and having all your senses in play,” Franzine told S&TT from his home in Connecticut. “It’s a more intensive experience of nature.”
Hiking skin-to-dirt has been getting plenty of attention over the past decade. More barefoot hiking clubs have been popping up across North America while several European countries have entire parks dedicated to stomping around barefoot.
Meanwhile, plenty of big-name running shoe brands have created minimalist footwear to mimic going barefoot. But these products don’t deliver the oh-so-sweet sensation of flesh against ground, says Franzine.
For that, you just gotta kick off those boots.
Feel those dragon scales
At first, hiking barefoot is kinda freaky. Jagged rock, thorn-laden brush and maybe even the odd pile of wolf crap aren’t the stuff you’d normally like to press against your tender feet.
Franzine says to just give it time. Hiking barefoot is tied to intuition and after treading without boots for a while, your body instinctively knows how to react to hazards.
“You come to expect what each step will be like….You learn to be able to retract a step if it doesn’t feel right.”
And of course, building up a thick, calloused sole doesn’t hurt either.
But once you do develop a knack for it, hiking barefoot adds a whole new dimension to your trekking experience. Franzine says there’s a “certain sensory deprivation to wearing shoes.”
And after building up barefoot instincts, there’s no telling where this style of hiking could take you. A pair of sisters managed to hike the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia without shoes or boots. Top that.
How to hike barefoot – tips for beginners
This isn’t something you want to rush into. Go stomping through the woods barefoot without due care and of course you’ll end up with damaged hooves.
Here are tips that will help you ease into hiking barefoot:
- Start out slowly on ideal terrain. Franzine says forest floors are “delicious” for hiking barefoot. You can also practice in your backyard for starters.
- Always step straight down. Never kick or shuffle your feet as you move across the ground. There are few natural objects that will seriously hurt your bare feet as long as you’re stepping properly.
- Keep an eye on the path ahead. Stop if you’re not sure about the terrain you’re about to step on.
- Shift your weight on the ball of your feet instead on your heels. This will allow your foot to absorb more shock.
- Try a variety of different trekking surfaces before attempting a longer hike. You’ll be sore at first, but once that feeling fades it will be time to tackle longer treks.
If you’d like to learn more about hiking barefoot, check out in Richard Frazine’s book The Barefoot Hiker. Click here to read it free online.
Have you ever hiked barefoot? Got any tips for newbies? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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