Going Barefoot 101

Going Barefoot

“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art” – Leonardo Da Vinci

I.  Growing up

Compared to today’s shod people, I suppose I have always been a bit of a barefooter.

As a kid I ran around  barefoot most of the time – growing up in South Africa you have the weather on your side.
There were even pre-high schools I attended school where we went to school barefoot.   And up to the age of ten, I also played rugby for the school, barefoot.

It was when I was about eight that I had the only foot injury that I can remember.  A bunch of us were playing in the woods  where we lived in Acacia Park near Cape Town.  I remember running down a little footpath and must have stepped on a broken off tree stump hidden under some leaves.  It jabbed into the soft inner part of my foot, just underneath the foot bridge.

Bleeding quite a bit, my friends helped me home and my mom must have fixed it up good, because I  do not remember any more about that incident.

In that same Acasia Park, I did have another barefoot experience that got seared into my mind.  I was going to use the hose pipe to water the garden and as I opened the tap, something moved under my foot.  I looked down to see a snake slithering from underneath my foot.  I did not stay around to find out what type it was or where it went.

II. Why?

So why write about being barefoot?  Why go barefoot?

So let me tell you where it started.  Or rather, when it got serious.

Early in August a customer came into my store and asked for a leather cord or strap to make sandals with.  He was not satisfied with anything I showed him.  From what he described, he wanted to make huaraches, running sandals used for centuries by the Tarahumara Indians of South America.

Frustrated that I could not help him, I researched huaraches in detail on the web that night and the next day it did not take me long to make a pair for myself:
Huaraches By Johan

Over a few days of reading, I realized there is more to these sandals than just some alternate form of footwear.   Runners are starting to wear them more and more because they do not offer and orthopedic support and more and more people seem to realize that it is all the support that causes foot, knee and leg problems.

I came across groups like the Primalfoot Alliance, The Society for Barefoot Living, the Barefoot Runners and even one that I joined – The Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota.

Other resources I liked were:

The number one resource is “The Barefoot Book” by Daniel Howell, an absolute must have.

A Harvard study on barefoot running.
The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy – Yes, he is a Minnesotan too!
For Parents and general info

My conclusion was clear: this is something to investigate more and try out seriously!


Adopting a more serious barefoot lifestyle did not mean too big a change for me.  I mostly walked barefoot at home and in my garden in any case.  Even when we visited good friends, I would be barefoot at their house.   As South Africans newly transplanted in the state of Minnesota, we quickly adopted the local habit of taking your shoes off when you enter someone else’s home, so that your shoes do not carry dirt or snow onto their carpets.  So if I was not barefoot, I would have socks on only.

One of the first times I changed my behaviour, was when I went on a walk around the block with my wife and also at a local park.   I left my shoes behind.  And it felt good, very good.  Invigorating.

I started driving my car barefoot with my flip flops tucked under the seat for when I had to go into a store or somewhere where shoes were required.  There was even one store that I ventured in without shoes on all together – the local health supplement store.    I also started going to the gym barefoot, but when I get there I put my old watershoes on that I used to use for kayaking – no support, just a covering.

My son, Jacques, joined me one Sunday when I went on a barefoot hike with the Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota:

You can read more about this hike at my “Snow” blog.

The one other place that I have deemed it safe to go barefoot, is to church.  Not for Sunday services, but when I go to set up the multi media projection on a Wednesday evening or when I go to join a small group book study.

I read that there are die-hards that go barefoot well into winter to a point where they start calling it snowfooting.  The point was that you can tolerate a fair amount of cold with you bare feet if you keep your body warm.  I found this to be true and had no problem going barefoot outside until the temperatures here in Minnesota dropped to below freezing and the snow came down to make it wet AND cold.


First I have to deal with the realities of our weather.  For the next few months we will have very few days, if any, above freezing.  With snow permanently on the ground and lots of sharp ice, outside barefooting is not going to be too much of an option for me.   But I hate loose the benefits of being unshod.  To start with I am going to order a pair of Stem Footwear Shoes.  These offer no support, imitates being barefoot and look like regular sneakers.

I will therefor be wearing my big old clunkers of shoes only when nothing else will do.  And at home I might do socks for warmth when needed.


I have experienced major benefits from ditching my shoes at every possible opportunity.

My feet are never swollen any more.  My legs and knees never give me the “warm-up first before you go down the stairs” routine.
I feel a lot more healthy and when I stand the whole day at work, my feet do not get tired in the same painful way it used to.

The biggest proof I have that barefooting is beneficial, is the sheer hell I go through when I wear anything but my Crocs or when I am barefoot.

The fact that I can tolerate more cold with my feet and that they are never swollen any more, proves to me that I have much more blood flow to my feet.  This can only be good.  

I reading all I can about barefooting and the people who do it for various reasons, it is interesting to note just how the wearing of unhealthy shoes are completely part of our genes and something modern society finds very hard to question.

In telling some people about barefooting, the reaction is “Oh I would not be able to do that – I have high arched / flat feet / plantar fasciitis / …. “  and any number of other foot and leg problems, all probably caused by the shoes they are wearing!

So my advice (as a novice) is:  do your research and reach as much as you can and then give it a try!   You can only gain more health!

One thought on “Going Barefoot 101

  1. I suggest reading the article I wrote on plantar fasciitis and following the exercises as a starting point. Hiring a really good fascial therapist who has a successful history treating PF would be a good idea too. I have had great success in treating PF. In most cases, moving out of the acute pain stage within 3-4 sessions. Once you are out of the pain stage, it is time to focus on flexibility and corrective exercises to strengthen the arches, knees and hips. You will find a few in this article.Now, my guess is that you have been wearing shoes with a significant heel lift for many years. (I consider the heel lift of most running shoes to be significant).

    The heel lift in shoes places your achilles tendon in a shortened position. It does not get stretched out fully when you walk. This is compounded by heel strike. Over time the achilles and lower leg muscles in your calf become somewhat permanently shortened. This is the primary issue that causes PF and just about every other foot pain issue. The shortened state places strain through the plantar fascia and other structures which eventually become inflamed (for lack of a better term). This is also the reason going barefoot is so painful. When you are barefoot, you are forcing the full natural range of motion of your now shortened ankle which places excess stress on the achilles tendon. Plus the muscles of the lower leg and arches are not strengthened to handle this new ROM. So they get fatigued quickly. The key will be to work through the active pain of PF. Then begin a rehab process that focuses on increasing flexibility and strengthening the ankle and calves. When it comes to walking around barefoot: I would keep the amount of time down. Spend 5-10 minutes a day at first and over the course of weeks slowly add more time. It MUST be PAIN FREE. Start buying shoes with less of a heel wedge. Don’t make a drastic move from the higher heels you are currently wearing to a zero drop over night. But eventually you will want a zero drop shoe, if your foot can handle it. This is a process that will take at least a year and possibly two years to fully adapt into. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions. Also, something you didn’t mention in the above post. Do you wear orthotics?
    Jesse James Retherford

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