|A small selection|
Yes!I am a barefoot believer. How I wish I had a story of back or knee pain gone or ligament damage reversed but I don't, that said I also don't have any stories about having to get my feet to adjust or vicing shin pain etc.
Anecdotally I can offer more surefootedness when I run or walk but that is about it. I'm not dead yet so who knows where it will lead, surefootedness however is no minor consideration as in my conventional running shoes (asics) I frequently rolled my ankles which was bound to lead to trouble. I run far less now than in the past, due mostly to changes in my life. I will note that my feet hurt if I do a lot of jumping or skipping on hard surfaces. It is possibly better that the soles of my feet hurt stopping me exercising and preventing me from placing a damging load on my joints.
(Pre) Historically footwear has long been an issue and as T.J Elpel noted that this probably prompted many native peoples to go barefoot much of the time. He illustrates this nicely with a story of Native American climbing a scree slope and wearing out several pairs of moccasins. Native Americans also used to spend evenings repairing their footwear.
|Brain tan Moccasins and a modern take on Highland Currans|
I am yet to find a paleolithic or Mesolithic trackway that was made by anything other than bare feet. Even the trackways in the caves were made by well formed bare feet. While offering some protection moccasin type foot wear is pretty slick in wet conditions and requires premium parts of animal hide such as Elk (Alces alces) neck they also wear out in short order. Early medieval waste sites show many hundreds of discarded shoes.Indeed it might be thought that the most useful aspect of a leather shoe would be the fact that it will protect any sock or other insulation. Oetzi's shoes were essentially a net for keeping dried grass next to his feet.
For modern folk walking barefoot is something of a challenge, German Soldiers in the first world war commented that Europeans would never be able to walk barefoot as Africans who were born to it could. Modern folk also have to contend with litter and continually changing surfaces as we move through our lives, recreationally a barefoot walk in the woods can become a soberingly painful experience when we meet with a cinder path. Even well cared for woods in South East England contain agricultural relics like barbed wire and rather wonderfully in my friends woods a V2 wreck.
My friends tried walking barefoot as the !kung do in the Kalahari but said the sand was far too hot. Footwear appears optional in the kalahari but the Hadza almost universally wear shoes made from tyres. Suggesting that perhaps culture and different environmental factors will dictate whether
Walking barefoot is not so much of an option for modern people living in something of a more dangerous environment., though I have known more than one country eccentric person who walks, or rather walked barefoot on a more or less permanent basis. For most of us however we will need to be walking in some form of footwear. Thankfully over the past few years the barefoot running phenomenon has led to the companies that make barefoot shoes moving into other areas of footwear.
Barefoot shoes are more than just shoes with a zero drop. Some sport manufacturers have been making zero drop shoes, or rather did not start adding padding to their shoes, for sometime. Converse springs most easily to mind. There are other types of shoes for women that have more or less flat soles. Barefoot shoes are more than just zero-drop however and have a flexible sole that is more or less puncture proof they also have a much wider toe box. Both of these features allow your foot to move in the manner which it has evolved over millions of years to do. The toe box is particularly useful to me as I have wide feet and have had problems buying shoes for years.
In fact, thinking about it, it is a sign of how mental our society has become that barefoot shoes are a niche and are not the default or "null hypothesis" of shoe manufacture. Many years ago I talked to a physiotherapist who told me that the human body was poorly designed. I told her that it was probably less likely poor-design but more sitting on chairs and other abuses we pile on our savannah-living frame. I may as well have spoken Hungarian. I've seen the same face on doctors and dentists. The assumption is that we are born wrong because the needs of culture cause us problems, not that culture places demands that our biology (and I would argue, psychology) cannot accommodate.
There are plenty of other sites and blogs dealing with pro-prioception and the anatomical advantages of walking in barefoot footwear and I don't really want to go over this here. I really just want to relate my experiences of having worn barefoot shoes for a few years.
One of my methods for teaching silent movement and tracking skills is to get the students to try a simple skill such as carving or laying a fire but with boxing gloves on. This is a pretty effective demonstration of how wrapping up a sensitive appendage in padding makes it , yes safer, but also insensitive and clumsy. Being a wind bag I will also make a quick point about predation, in that animals with insensitive/less sensitive feet such as deer and horses are prey while the predators, especially cats, have very sensitive feet. This doesn't hold up across mammalia but is a pretty good general rule and makes a nice story. In addition most people who take courses wear the "traditional" countryside footwear which makes them look like they have Challenger tanks on their feet.
To paraphrase Mick Dodge, your feet don't toughen going barefoot they get more sensitive. The foot changes, and this is one of the challenges of wearing barefoot shoes after a while going back to conventional shoes becomes a very unattractive prospect and indeed when wearing conventional shoes I trip and stumble in a way that alerts me to how infrequent that is when in contact with the ground. It is a bit like wearing sunglasses on a dull day, or maybe like wearing boxing gloves! In addition one's foot widens and conventional shoes feel very restrictive, my wife has noted that her normal shoes now feel very tight. She also relates how the way she moves has changed especially running as some movements are impossible without the cushioning effect of a padded heel. Another barefoot convertee told me that his knees now hurt in conventional shoes as they "correct" the natural walking pattern of his foot. I often think the rolling, dominating slobbish gait of many people would be completely impossible without paving and padded footwear.
Nearly always comfortable, vivo shoes are quite inconsistent in terms of durability and many of the styles are really pretty ugly. They can also be pretty pricey. The company is really sketchy and the 13-14 winter range has been postponed again, not such a problem for me but for retailers I know a major annoyance. I have tried changing shoes with them which has been hard and their store in Brighton stocked shoes for giants and midgets and no-one else. I am also reliably informed that their women's shoes are horrible and I'm not too keen on their men's designs either. The designs are very inconsistent in their durability. Some shoes last for a long time in good condition whereas the expensive hiking shoes started to split within hours of being worn. They are very stiff and cut my feet if I don't wear very thick socks. I have been told that the boot version of this style have the same problems. Not very impressive at over a hundred pounds.
You can't go back. Basically I am waiting for other shoe companies to try and get a piece of the barefoot action or better for some of the manufacturers to be bought out by bigger companies and professionalised. A running coach was telling me that most of the mainstream shoe companies are minimalising their lines which is something of a move in the right direction.
Until Vivo and the other minimalist manufacturers get some real competition we are going to be stuck with shoe companies that don;t actually seem to have the courage of their own convictions and seem to make shoes designed to be flimsy fashion items for yuppies rather than practical utilitarian footwear for real people, yes I am a real person.