What features should you focus on when you shop for a barefoot version of hiking shoes? We'll tell you what to look for, give a brand overview and shoe care recommendations.
Are you smitten with barefoot shoes so much you don't want to make another step without them? If you're a hiking enthusiast, you're probably racking your brain about the multitudes of hiking footwear. Are barefoot shoes suitable for this activity? How to choose and what brands are available?
Passionate hikers know that it's not enough to have high-quality clothing providing thermal comfort. Footwear is just as important as appropriate jacket or trousers. However, once you switch to barefoot shoes, the idea of wearing classic hiking boots is certainly not very appealing. Can barefoot shoes be worn off-road, you ask? The answer is – YES, they can. And without any worries.
Daily walks around town on even surface made of asphalt or cobblestones make feet tired much faster than walks in nature. The main reason behind that is the harder pressure it put on joints. In contrast, varied terrain provides the feet with much more interesting stimuli, such as uneven grassy areas, forrest paths, field roads, dirth and more. The feet have to bend much more, resulting in better stability of lower limb joints. As soon as you put on your barefoot shoes, your feet will be more perceptive to the terrain of your trail. Thanks to the thin outsole, the small muscles of your feet will respond to stimuli more quickly to prevent ankle sprain and other similar injuries.
If you have always worn only regular shoes, we don't recommend you to get barefoot trekking shoes and to go for an all-day hike right away. Start with shorter trails in first in nature, only then in the city. The terrain there is more varied and the sensations of walking will be much more intense. You'll start to perceive not only the surface, but also the motion of your foot. You will apply this experience on your walk around town later on. The other option is to pack your old shoes in your backpack and change your barefoot pair if you feel very uncomfortable.
Before you pack your bag, think carefully about your destination. It is essential to know if you'll spend all your trip by hiking around mountains, or if you'll visit a town as well. Walking on stones, in the sand or mud is very much different from walking on cobblestones or asphalt. Sightseeing can easily be done in hemp canvas sneakers, while challenging terrain requires waterproof hiking boots with a sole pattern strong enough to tackle Camino.
"In summer, I enjoyed walking barefoot in the nature. But I was used to classic hiking boots on more difficult terrain. After switching to barefoot shoes, it became clear that my feet would not enjoy it in the mountains, so I took the risk of wearing lightweight barefoot shoes. I started slowly, because I often suffered from sprained ankles before. But since I changed my hiking boots for barefoot shoes, I believe in 2014, I haven't had a single problem with my foot. The muscles that naturally strengthen the foot have recovered, and I have learned to be much more aware of where I’m stepping.
For example, I managed to climb the 5,000 m high Mt. Kenya in one of the most minimalist pair of barefoot shoes. At first, the guide didn’t want to let me go in them. But by the end of the second day, everyone wearing heavy hiking boots was complaining about blisters but I was as fresh as a daisy. Everyone realised, there’s something about it. I didn't mind the cold thanks to merino socks. Barefoot shoes enable blood circulation in the entire foot – even though I felt like my ears were freezing under my hat in the morning, my feet were totally fine," says Matouš Vinš, traveller and author of the Travel Bible.
If you want to purchase a pair of barefoot hiking shoes, the question of material is essential. The material the shoes are made of affects their breathability, durability and the level of water resistance. Naturally, the material also affects the weight of the shoe – after all, trekking sandals are a little bit different from winter ankle boots made of leather. So, what can your hiking barefoot shoes be made of?
Blogger and an adventurer Viktorka Hlaváčková, shares her experience: "Before I got barefoot shoes, I had been trekking almost exclusively in zero-drop running shoes for two years. I guess mainly because of that wasn't the transition to BF significantly painful or uncomfortable for me. As a BF beginner, I feel a tug in my Achilles after a day mountain hike and my calves are slightly strained. My back muscles are also working a little differently than they are used to but that will soon settle down.
I have a comparison with my friends who are hiking with me in hiking boots – I am able to tackle a demanding terrain much easier and I am faster. I was very suprised to find out that I don't feel cold while wearing barefoot shoes even when walking through snow or when it’s under zero degrees – my feet have great blood circulation when I have barefoot shoes on.”
Winter mountain hiking naturally requires a different pair of shoes than walks on a sun-dried meadow in summer. But some barefoot shoes can be worn throughout the year, unless you expose them to extreme conditions. What brands to watch out for?
"Our personal experience with barefoot shoes is nothing but the best. We have not worn other type of shoes for almost 2 years. This is also the case with the trekking shoes from Xero Shoes. We tested them for the first time in Madeira, where we hiked over 70 km in them. We recently hiked up a 4,000 m volcano in Guatemala. They are lightweight, extremely durable, waterproof and like all barefoot shoes, they absolutely respect the function of the foot. For us it is the best decision we ever made, we will never go back to regular shoes," say Lucie & Aleš Lenfeld.
Shoes have to fit well and this is especially true for hiking boots. You don't want them to start hurting you after an hour in the mountains. If your hiking barefoot shoes don't fit the first time you put them on, you need to keep looking. On the other hand, if they're comfortable right away, then you've won. But make sure you put them to a test before a challenging day hike. Walk a few kilometres on a terrain similar to where you're going to travel. That's the only way to see if they'll serve you well.
Just like other type of footwear, hiking barefoot shoes require regular care.
If your feet get sore after a long hike, enjoy a few minutes of relaxation with the NABOSO Neuro Ball. You can use it as a massage ball to relax stiff parts of the foot or use the solid Micro Round for precise work and penetration of small muscles.
Barefoot shoes are simply made for hiking. Your feet will benefit from natural flexion and to feel the terrain to avoid injuries. What's more – you'll be able to enjoy even the most challenging trails in virtually any weather.