by Todd Walker
I must have stubbed it a dozen times my tenth summer. I’d scream in pain (if my buddies weren’t around), rinse the blood off, man-up, and chase another crawdad.
If you have a ‘feeler’ toe like me, one that’s longer than your big toe, you’ve probably experienced the same pain. My ‘feeler’ on my right foot curled to match the length of my big toe after years of meeting stumps, rocks and other immovable objects.
But that hasn’t stunted my love for walking and running in my birthday shoes. Why in the world would I choose to run barefoot?
My minimalist lifestyle, Keep It Simple Sherpa, requires that I do so. Not really. It’s actually the way humans are meant to run.
Just because I was born in the 60s doesn’t make me barefoot hippy holdover. I grew up bare-footing in creeks and dirt roads and woods on our farm. An occasional stub of my ‘feeler’ toe or a sand spur in my arch came with the naked feet experience.
The conventional wisdom on preparedness websites wisely promotes proper footwear for bugging out, homesteading, and even slaying zombies. I own shoes and boots. But I don’t always wear them.
If you’ve ever had a foot injury, you know how limiting it is to your mobility.
If you’ve ever had to wear a cast on an arm or leg, what happens to your appendage when the cast is removed? Your arm is weakened and atrophied. It’s not allowed to move naturally for x amount of weeks.
Consider what happens when your feet are wearing casts (shoes) for, well, all your life. They become weak and don’t perform as nature intended. For those set on bugging-out, wouldn’t you want your ‘dogs’ to be as strong as possible to get you to your destination?
Down and Dirty
“Eeew, won’t your feet get dirty.” Yes. Your feet will get soiled walking/running barefoot. But if you’re scared of germs, the last place you’ll want your feet is in foot coffins. Shoes are the worse environment for your feet. These damp, dark, cramped spaces are known to cause fallen arches, bunions, corns, athletes foot, and other fungus-among-us infections.
Fear of not wearing foot coffins on the dirt should be the least of your worries.
There aren’t many jobs or public places that allow you to go un-shod. Keep you shoes but set your feet free regularly.
Benefits of Bare Naked Feet
1.) Stay grounded. Grounding is good for you. Ever notice how refreshed you feel after a walking barefoot on the beach? There’s more to it than just the ocean breeze in your face and waves lapping over your feet. Researchers are finding that our immune system benefits greatly from negatively charged electrons being transferred from the earth to our bodies.
Grounding, or ‘Earthing,’ has been shown to reduce inflammation, stress, chronic fatigue, and autoimmune disorders. And it’s free! Just get your body in contact with the dirt, sand, grass, and even concrete – especially when it’s wet.
2.) Run right. For millions of years humans have gone without shoes or used minimalist footwear (animal skins or leather sandals). The modern rubber soled running shoe is a relatively new invention that came on the running scene in the 70s. Since then, all sorts of injuries have followed. It’s been estimated that up 80% of all shod runners experience shoe related injuries each year. Of course, you’ll never see that stat on a Nike ad.
Here’s the irony. Expensive running shoes cause the problems they’re suppose to fix.
The cushioned running shoe with its elevated heel invites ground collisions – over striding – and is overly stressing on the joint of your feet, legs, and back. When landing in shoes, the typical runner strikes the heel first, sending shock waves through the body. With enough repetitive collisions with the ground, the train wreck finally happens. Try landing on your heels while running barefoot. Your body will immediately tell you to stop! You’re doing it wrong! Pain is the great communicator. Listen.
3.) Randomness builds antifragile feet. When walking or running unshod, you’ll benefit from random, uneven terrain and textures.
You see, there are millions of proprioceptors in your feet. If your feet could talk, proprioceptors would be the mouthpiece to your brain. The Latin word “proprius” means “one’s own.” Combined the term with the receptors in your feet and you’ve got a superhighway of communication going to your brain, muscles, and tendons to help you adapt to the acorn you just stepped on. The signals tell you to adjust, lean, or crumple to the ground. A survival shock absorber.
Last week our son and I went jetty fishing on the gulf. For those unfamiliar with the term jetty, it’s a structure made of rocks in bays and rivers. Of course, we walked out over the rocks on bare naked feet. It was a great workout and my feet loved the challenge of balancing and finding the best spot to step.
We may have made it to our fishing honey-hole quicker with shoes, but that wasn’t our goal. I like to experience nature with all my faculties. Wearing shoes to fish the jetties would be like wearing a raincoat in the shower. I’d get wet, just not the natural way.
4.) Stealth. This morning I successfully overtook (snuck up on) a lady walking her dog in the park. They had no clue I was there until I gave a “good morning” ten feet away. I always try to alert folks that don’t hear me coming. Especially when they have dogs.
This could play to my advantage when stalking game, zombie hunting, or playing hide-n-seek with the grandkids.
In his book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall shares a story of modern hunter-gathers that actually run down big game animals. You see, we cool our bodies by sweating. Animals do it by panting. This allowed humans to hunt in packs over long distances to take game. I’m thinking you’d need lots of open prairie land to catch them – or a .308 :)
Note: There are times and places I wear shoes for safety purposes. You won’t catch me barefoot while welding. Use you noodle.
In my best ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial voice, “I don’t always wear shoes, but when I do, I wear minimalist.”
When the occasion requires shoes, I wear two pairs of shoes, a pair of flip-flops, or a pair of boots.
Beginning from the pair on the rock and working clockwise we have, Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trail Glove, and the Minimalist Training Boot by Belleville. The features I look for in minimalist footwear are: wide toe box, flat insoles, and no heel.
- The Belleville boots are my utility boot. They’re for handyman stuff, hiking, hunting, and other rough stuff. I wear them to school 90% of the time and they perform very well.
- I hardly wear my FiveFingers except occasionally on rafting/kayak trips.
- In my wild workouts in the woods, lifting heavy things, and sprinting, I wear the Trail Gloves.
If you’ve never worn minimalist shoes, you’ll want to take it easy getting started. They’re designed to mimic, poorly I might add, barefoot locomotion. Even if you put several miles a week in modern running shoes, you’ll find a new level of sore if you don’t take time to get your feet and legs use to minimalist running.
If you’re interested, here are a few resource for re-learning how to run in your birthday shoes. And believe me, it is a re-education process. But I’ve found it well worth it.
- 5 Tips On Running Barefoot During The Zombie Apocalypse – No joke. It could save your life – maybe.
- Beginner’s Guide to Barefoot Running
- Barefoot Running – (I found this site very helpful when I started) This website has been developed to provide an evidence-based resource for those interested in the biomechanics of different foot strikes in endurance running and the applications to human endurance running prior to the modern running shoe.
- How to Prepare for Barefooting – Mark’s Daily Apple is a great resource for all things Primal/Paleo like running barefoot.
Barefooting is not my ‘Plan A’ for getting from point A to point B. It’s comforting to know that my bare naked feet could get the job done if I had to make a run for it. It’s all a part of my doing the stuff mentality. Practice now before you’re forced to perform.
It might help you outrun the undead. Wait. Are zombies barefooting, too?
Doing the stuff,
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