Hiking - Knowledge

Trekking Basics: Barefoot Hiking (Pros and Cons that You Should Know About)

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Away from the borders of the busy urban world, lies the glorious and picturesque spread of high rise mountains and sparkling waterbeds, with dense and lush covers of forestry or even crisp and magical linings of snow on the pathways. Hiking is an excellent way to venturing into the great outdoors and getting your fair share of physical exercise. While hiking with shoes is a norm there are many who have joined the bandwagon of growing community of people who go for barefoot hiking.

Apart from allowing you to trek into some of the best adventures and experiences you might encounter, hiking also provides you with a wealth of health benefits. One of the most accessible and economic forms of aerobic exercise, hiking helps lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, increases your energy level and stamina, elevates your bone density and even your mood!

You can always pick the intensity of your hike, from easy and linear gradients to more difficult and steep inclines, all in while giving you the perfect opportunity to traverse across diverse and scenic landscapes and get you healthy dosage of physical activity.

Within the hiking and trekking realm, different people have varying opinions regarding related subjects like a trail, gradient difficulty, and even whether or not to trek with shoes on! While you have your predominant sphere of hikers who indulge in a sturdy pair of hiking shoes to assist them on the walk, there also exists a sufficient number of hikers who prefer the perks of trekking barefoot. Leaving behind your shoes and wandering onto a mixed terrain or dense forest might sound rather incredulous to most people, but for many others, barefoot hiking is often seen as a way to reconnect and interact with the natural world.

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What is Barefoot Hiking?

Barefoot hiking does literally consist of walking without no shoes nor socks on your feet. Many people who hike or walk barefoot tend to notice the smaller intricacies of the pathways they trudge on; like the cool and refreshing touch of the dew filled grass or the sloshy and grainy slip of the mud between their toes. Interestingly enough, walking barefoot helps expand the hiking experience as your foot consists of over 2000 nerve endings apiece, thereby heightening all your other senses on the trail. The changing textures of a trail from the grainy dirt, to soft or prickly grass and the rocky gravel, offer a plethora of sensory pleasures for your feet.

But at the end of the day, barefoot hiking does have its limitations as expected. It can prove to be very risky and hence requires a lot of preparation before one can embark on a relatively longer hike barefoot. So here is a comprehensive list of the many pros and cons of hiking barefoot.

Advantages/Pros of Barefoot Hiking

1. A Type of Natural Reflexology

As mentioned before, the sharp sensory interaction barefoot hikers have with the natural ground can be traced back to the concept of reflexology, where ancient practitioners have claimed that stimulating certain parts of your feet can actually help heal other parts of your body. Barefoot hiking is a low-key physical activity that allows people of all varying ability levels to exercise and even improve their bodily health in a more natural and refreshing manner.

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Walking barefoot on muddy pathways

Walking barefoot helps strengthen your muscles in the feet but also helps tone and build other muscular structures in the leg. Barefoot hikers have also been seen to relieve their lower back stress and joint pains through walking barefoot across freshwater streams and cool muddy forest pathways.

2. Your Feet and Calves Get Stronger

While a lot of barefoot hikers get asked whether their feet get sore or calloused from the lack of protection on their feet, it may actually come as a surprise when many of them actually don’t. Walking barefoot benefits the soles of your feet, making them tougher and sustainable across a mixed variety of landscapes.

Barefoot hiking also helps strengthen your calves and legs, where they soon start becoming better adjusted to the changing terrains of a trek. And just like our hands, our feet too can better at manipulating the ground beneath us with just the right amount of practice and experience.

3. Improved Immunity

Barefoot hiking is quite the therapeutic exercise for the body and mind. And one of these tangible physical benefits includes the enhancement of your immune system. Some studies have suggested that barefoot hiking can expose you to the non-pathological bacteria in the soil and thereby help boost your immunity.

4. A Pro For The Environment As Well

Hiking barefoot benefits not just you, but the environment as well. The damage done from barefoot hiking is far less than that from a troupe of trekkers wearing sturdy and heavy hiking boots. Hiking barefoot leaves very little to almost no trace of hikers passing through, in comparison to hiking boots that tend to trample quite a bit of plant life along the pathways and leave deep imprints in the soil.

5. A Natural Pedicure

A very common aspect of barefoot hiking is the natural contact your feet have with the world around you. In the process, walking barefoot over varying terrains can act as a better exfoliater than any other store bought pumice can stone be. The soil from the ground also tends to smoothen out the soles of your feet from hiking barefoot. Additionally, Tannins from the fallen leaves on the ground help provide your soles the leathery toughness that is quite essential for a smooth and comfortable barefoot hike. So in a way, barefoot hiking provides with an all natural and completely pedicure, along with the adventures from your trek.

6. An Economic Walk

Barefoot hiking can prove to be one of the most economical ways of trekking as it rejects the use or need for expensive trekking shoes

Disadvantages/Cons of Barefoot Hiking

1. Not Suited For Germaphobes

Barefoot hiking may not be the best idea for hikers who tend to be wary of germs and dirt. For many trekkers, barefoot hiking might not be their first choice as they may not like the idea of trudging across changing terrains and soils. The consequence of barefoot hiking is that your feet will pick up some dirt, germs or maybe even an infection.

2. No Protection To Your Feet

While barefoot hiking has its perks, it goes without saying that you’re very likely to get hurt or stubbed the first few times. You can easily stub your toes and cut your soles on grainy or rocky landscapes. Walking barefoot up a trailhead is not something that one should take so casually as it does require you to be cautious and careful of your surroundings.

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Barefoot hiking comes with its risks (Source)

Livingit Tip:
If you injure during barefoot camping or hike, it is highly suggested that you carry protection and first aid (tweezers and banadages) with you. An open and exposed wound is the last thing you need!

3. Keeping Up With The Seasons

For every hiker that decides to walk barefoot, it is very important that they prepare themselves for severe or extreme weather conditions that will affect the trail ahead. The ground can either be too hot or snow covered, making it very difficult for barefoot hiking.

Livingit Tip:
In situations of extreme weather, it is recommended that you invest in a pair of minimal trekking shoes, especially for the winter.

4. Initial Soreness

No barefoot hiker starts out with a smooth and effortless because if there’s no pain, there’s no real gain. Your tendons, calf muscles and the soles of your feet tend to become sore after the first couple of times you hike barefoot. But like any other exercise, the pain and soreness reduced with more experience and practice.

Tips To Keep In Mind To Prepare Your Feet For Barefoot Hiking

  • Start slow and small, by spending time in your backyard or in a local park, where your feet can try out the different textures and gradients of the ground. You can even try walking around your local streets and walkways barefoot, and it’s important that you take your time with really familiarising the ground with your feet. Remember to flex your toes and feet generously across the surfaces as it only further helps precondition your foot to the changing landscapes.

  • It is very important to interpret and familiarise yourself with the different terrains and the corresponding sensations. Initially, your nerves are going to overwhelmed with tactile sensory inputs and the first few times walking barefoot can be rather difficult.

  • Always remember to never let your feet shuffle or drag along the surface path. It is essential you step straight down onto the ground and avoid lateral movement, as it increases the risk of getting cuts and injuries from sharp and obstructing objects on terrains.

  • Your eyes are your feet’s best friend. It is critical that you always watch your path as sensory coordination can benefit barefoot hiking tenfold. So with practice, it is important to keep in mind that your eyes and the tactile sensitivity of your soles have to always be in sync.

  • When hiking or walking barefoot, it is important to keep your weight on the balls of your feet and not on your feet. Try and maintain the majority of your weight on the forward part of your feet as is it tougher and more resilient to pressure. The flexibility in your toes and the balls of your feet can help you move smoothly when walking barefoot and this can even prove extremely helpful in absorbing any sudden shocks from your foot strike.

  • For your first barefoot hike, choose a shorter and smoother trail. Avoid extreme weather conditions and undulating and rocky terrains for the first handful of hikes, if you plan to walk barefoot. Once the soreness starts to fade away, you’ll see that your feet become more accustomed to different surfaces and resilient to changing landscapes.

  • Practice is important and going on short hikes barefoot, about once in every two weeks can help you cross rougher trails as time progresses. Sustaining a progression of practice and experience can speed up the toughening of your feet by a considerable amount.

  • Remember to always check for any injuries or cuts on return, to intervene on any open wounds as fast as possible.

By engaging in barefoot hiking, there are multiple benefits you can obtain from it. It allows for a new way back into reconnecting with the nature around you and truly enhance your bodily senses. Hiking barefoot can help you discover a whole new side too and appreciation for nature treks.

But while the benefits are more in number, it is is still vital to remember to begin your process with walking and hiking barefoot with ample amount of practice and preparation. By taking shorter and more frequent walks across relatively easier terrains can help prepare you for the harder and more varying trails. Additionally, it is also important to keep in mind that no matter how experienced a barefoot hiker is, there still lies a greater chance of injury or exposure to diseases when walking barefoot in comparison to hiking with boots or shoes. In such situations, it is suggested that you always check yourself for any cuts or abnormalities after a hike and keep yourself equipped with adequate first aid during a barefoot hike.

Summing Up

Barefoot hiking generates an entirely new sensory meaning for a hiking experience and offers a way to not only improve your physical and mental health but also interact with the tangible environment around you.

Sometimes, it is okay to take your shoes off and feel the way the grass tickles the balls of your feet or how the soft yet grainy soil feels between the ridges of your toes or even how the cold and smooth a stony path might feel on the soles of your feet. This sensorial expansion is simply one of the many benefits that you can experience on your hike, and for any nature and trekking enthusiasts, going barefoot on a hike or a camping trip can help open up a whole new world of adventure and possibilities to reconnect with the world around you.

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