If you are a dedicated runner, you have probably heard about the significant benefits of running barefoot and minimalist shoes – but are barefoot shoes also good for hiking? Serious hikers are starting to wear more minimal footwear on the trail, such as Vivobarefoot and Xero barefoot hiking shoes.
Barefoot shoes are good for hiking, especially for hikers who recognize the benefits of allowing the foot to flex with every step naturally. Preparation and gradual conditioning of your feet is very important. Take your time transitioning to a minimal shoe and be sure to choose the right type of barefoot shoe depending on the hiking terrain and weather conditions.
Continue reading through the entire article and ww will explain the pros and cons of hiking in barefoot shoes rather than hiking shoes, the differences in hiking long-distance and shorter day hikes with barefoot shoes, and the best waterproof barefoot shoes available on the market.
Hiking in Barefoot Shoes – Pros and Cons
Barefoot shoes are very different from traditional hiking shoes, and it is essential to note the pros and cons. Deciding to wear a barefoot shoe allows you to experience the hiking trail in a completely different way. Unlike conventional footwear, these barefoot shoes require training to develop foot strength properly.
Many people that transition from hiking boots to barefoot hiking boots take approximately two weeks to over a month of continuous wear before taking the shoes out for a strenuous long-distance trail.
Pro: Strong Feet
Typically you might decide to throw on a pair of hiking boots with a thick sole that will weigh you down with every step you take. But consider for thousands of years, humans have been wandering outdoors on rough terrain without hiking boots. It was not until the 1970s that footwear started featuring a supportive arch, rigid body, and cushioning in the heel.
While these cushioned heels and supportive arches in traditional footwear are useful during the recovery period from any injuries, having these supporting structures everyday causes weakening in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the foot. These can cause significant injuries, so in actuality, the cushioning in the shoe is counterproductive to your overall foot’s health.
Removing the heel lift structure in most traditional shoes can help your Achilles tendon and muscles in your calf lengthen and stretch. Wearing minimalist shoes or walking around barefoot can reduce injuries such as tendinitis or the pulling of calf muscles caused by tight and short muscle tissues. When going barefoot, you can also develop a more natural walk that is more efficient for your body.
Besides the benefits, many barefoot shoe enthusiasts like to feel the earth beneath their feet on hikes and enjoy the connection with nature. While you might think that barefoot shoe hiking only affects your feet, it becomes a full-body experience as every part of your body responds to the stimulation received from your feet to ensure you stay balanced.
Despite hiking the same path multiple times, the trail will feel different as you experience sensations underneath your feet- feelings you will never quite understand if you keep hiking in your traditional hiking boots. Just as you will enjoy connecting with the earth’s surface, perhaps Kahlil Gibran said it best, “Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the windows long to play with your hair.”
Con: Requires Gradual Transition
Since your feet are used to wearing traditional shoes, the bottoms of your feet will be soft and most likely develop blisters that will turn into calluses over time. Until the pads of your feet toughen up, you will most likely be in some pain as you transition over to wearing barefoot shoes. Getting used to the rough ground requires time and dedication.
You will lack most foot protection when wearing barefoot shoes. Shoes offer a lot of protection from debris such as broken glass, rocks, or rusty nails. They offer much-needed insulation to keep your feet warm in colder weather and protect your toes from frostbite.
Long Distance Hiking in Barefoot Shoes vs Shorter Day Hikes
Jumping straight into minimalist barefoot hiking is not safe, and you should always listen to your body when starting with a new physical activity or type of shoes. Deciding to proceed with barefoot hiking requires a slow transition from the traditional hiking shoe or boot to minimal footwear and barefoot shoes.
Shorter Day Hikes
Figuring out how long the hike will be is key to choosing the best type of barefoot shoes. If it is a shorter day hike, using a lightweight medium grip barefoot shoe might be good enough for a shorter day hike.
However, consider the time of the year of the hike and the weather. In the case of rain or snow, cheaper and low-quality barefoot shoes limit the amount of water resistance or quality waterproofing that you can expect.
You might also want to choose a barefoot shoe with protective ankle coverage if you are hiking in terrain with brambles or bushes that can irritate your feet. Barefoot shoes with ankle coverage are also good for dusty or sandy conditions, such as a quick short day hike in warmer situations.
Long Distance Hiking
If you are going on a long-distance hiking trip for several days or a backpacking experience that requires you to carry equipment, you might need a barefoot shoe that is light while has a more rigid sole that has more grip for slippery surfaces.
It might also be helpful to take more than one pair of barefoot hiking shoes on a long hike. Barefoot shoes are most often light and easy to fold into your backpack, so carry an additional pair of shoes just in case of any weather and trail condition.
Depending on the weather forecast, you might require waterproofing or water resistance in your barefoot or a thicker sole to deal with sharp rocks and trail debris. Choose a more rugged material such as high-quality, tough leather to keep out the worst while protecting your feet during the hike.
Who Makes the Best Waterproof Barefoot Shoes?
Many shoe manufacturers offer minimal or barefoot shoes for hiking activities, but Vivobarefoot and Xero Shoes make one of the best waterproof barefoot shoes for barefoot hiking enthusiasts.
Vivobarefoot brand shoes offer waterproof hiking shoes made from high-quality leather with waterproof lining and thermal protection designed to protect your feet while walking on rough terrains. They feature everything from the ultimate minimalist hiking boots to lightweight and packable camping shoes for any recreational activities you plan on doing.
Vivobarefoot provides a 100 day trial on all orders and will give you a full refund if you do not like the shoes, so they stand behind the quality. Many highly rated reviews from experienced barefoot hikers note that Vivobarefoot manufactures well-constructed and comfortable shoes while being very stylish. Reviewers also mention ordering multiple sizes to find a shoe that fits perfectly.
More info: vivobarefoot.com
Xero Shoes is another brand that offers fully waterproof barefoot hiking boots. These barefoot hiking shoes let your feet relax naturally with a heel that is non-elevated for the proper posture while providing the support and protection you need for any trail and weather condition.
Xero Shoes’ Men’s Xcursion is one of their most highly rated and best waterproof hiking boots available for purchase. With a sealed waterproof liner, protective toe cap, and flexible sole, these hiking boots offer protection and stability while performing like a “barefoot boot.” Reviews note the lightweight and well-made shoes and rave about excellent grip in irregular and wet conditions.
More info: xeroshoes.com
Barefoot shoes are good for hiking, but preparation is vital. Select the best type of barefoot shoe depending on the weather and hiking conditions, and consider trying highly rated brands that are known for their quality, such as Vivobarefoot and Xero Shoes when deciding to purchase your next pair of waterproof barefoot shoes.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.