Monday, February 23, 2015

Is trendy barefoot hiking the way to go?

To go barefoot or not to go barefoot, that is the question.
Photo courtesy of Photoree.
Among the hiking trends of the early 2010s is barefoot hiking, in which hiking boots, shoes and sandals are left at home. Instead, the trail is hit just as our ancient ancestors did it – with the sole of the foot literally hitting the dirt.

Those who champion barefoot hiking say it allows you to get better in touch with nature, as you literally remove the man-made materials separating your body from the environment. It certainly adds to the sensual experience of a hike, as the sole feels the ground’s different textures; indeed, that’s among the chief reasons many like to hike barefoot through a beach’s warm sand. Another reason to barefoot hike is increased agility and movement, which is easily achieved given that each of your boots and thick socks adds a few pounds of weight to your feet.

Still, unless walking across a clean beach or the grass of your own backyard that you’re familiar with, I’d advocate against barefoot hiking. Going barefoot may actually get you too in touch with nature, with pointed twigs, sharp rocks and insects piercing your skin, leading to infection or disease. The sole’s skin is very soft and thin, so even if nothing cuts through it, you’ll feel every small bump – from a pebble to half-buried stick – that you step on, and it’ll be irritating at first and then just plain painful. The padding and support a hiking boot delivers also helps absorb the shock on the sole and knee joints that comes with walking across rough terrain, especially if you’re lugging a backpack or a child carrier.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.