Naked Toes On The Trail

Barefoot running gains traction — is hiking next?
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Barefoot running gains traction — is hiking next?

Little kids don't ever seem to care that they're barefoot. In fact, they prefer it that way: Except for the odd splinter, grass, gravel, asphalt, and even trackless wilderness are fair game without complaint.

Gear Junkie Stephen Regenold reports that some runners are rediscovering the childhood freedom of jogging, competing in marathons, and even trailrunning sans footwear. Some podiatrists even extol the virtues of barefoot running, noting that shoes just get in the way of millions of years of evolution.

“The phenomenon of cushioning in running shoes is a recent invention,” said Dr. Paul Langer, a podiatrist and marathon runner in Minneapolis. “We’re now seeing that all the innovations pushed for years by Nike, Adidas, et al., may not be better than a naturally functioning foot.”

For one, running in cushioned shoes causes the foot to land on the heel, rather than on the forefoot as nature intended. Some barefoot runners say their back and joint pain melted away after ditching their kicks. To compensate for the trend, Nike, Vibram, and others have created ultra-minimalist shoes to mimic running barefoot.

But for purists, only the naked foot will do, and as Regenold discovers, going from a pink-footed weakling to a hyper-callused, barefoot superstar can be a painful process:

During my initiation run, Laiti and I went three-quarters of a mile before I noticed the blood. A pinky toe, worn through from pavement, dangled sad and injured, a flap of skin signaling my defeat. Pads behind my toes were turning red.

Gah. If running barefoot gets us closer to better, safer movement on the track, then reason follows that it could be good for the trail, too. Still, environmental dangers and weather hazards will probably ensure most hikers will keep their boots strapped on for the time being — after all, humans often hike beyond our species' natural environment. We adapted by crafting shoes out of animal hides, hay, and eventually molded Vibram rubber. In those cases, a little foot tech can go a long way.

But hey, if you want to attempt that glacier traverse barefoot, ace. Do let us know how it goes.

Barefoot Running (Gear Junkie)