Are Barefoot Shoes Good for Hiking?

Do you love to hike and run but hate having to wear bulky shoes? Do your feet often hurt after a long hike? Then maybe you should try barefoot running shoes.

These shoes are made of lightweight materials and allow your feet to move and flex naturally, resulting in less fatigue.

Many hikers swear by barefoot shoes and say they are the perfect solution for people who enjoy spending time outdoors. So if you’re searching for a new walking method, barefoot shoes are worth considering.

Are barefoot shoes suitable for hiking?

This is the most important distinction between barefoot shoes and conventional hiking boots. It’s vital to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each.

When you choose a barefoot shoe, you can experience the hiking trail in a completely different way.

Unlike traditional footwear, barefoot shoes require exercise to develop foot strength properly.

Many people who switch from hiking boots to barefoot hiking shoes need about two weeks to over a month before they can wear the shoes on a strenuous long-distance hike.

Advantages of barefoot shoes for hiking

Usually, hikers opt for hiking shoes with a thick sole that weighs them down with every step.

However, you should remember that people have been trekking through difficult terrain without hiking shoes for millennia. It wasn’t until the 1970s that shoes with a supportive arch, a hard body, and padding in the heel were created.

Daily usage of these support structures in conventional shoes weakens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the foot, particularly dangerous during recovery after an injury.

This can lead to significant injury, so cushioning in the shoe is counterproductive to the overall health of the foot.

Removing the heel structure in most traditional shoes can help lengthen and stretch the Achilles tendon and muscles in the calf.

Wearing minimal shoes or going barefoot can reduce injuries such as tendonitis or pull of the calf muscles – caused by tight and short muscle tissue.

When you walk barefoot, you can also develop a more natural gait that is more efficient for your body.

Aside from the benefits of going barefoot, many barefoot walkers want to feel the earth beneath their feet and enjoy the connection with nature.

You may believe it’s all about your feet when you walk barefoot. Still, it becomes a whole-body experience as other parts of your body react to the stimulation sent by your feet to ensure that you stay steady.

Even if you walk the same trail several times, it will feel different as you notice the sensations under your feet – sensations you will never fully understand if you continue to walk in your traditional hiking boots.

Just as you will enjoy the connection with the earth’s surface, perhaps Kahlil Gibran put it bes

Remember that the earth delights in feeling your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair.

Kahlil Gibran

Disadvantages of barefoot shoes for hiking

Since the feet are used to wearing conventional shoes, the soles will be soft and will most likely form blisters that will turn into calluses over time.

Until the soles harden, the feet will most likely have to endure pain when switching to wearing barefoot shoes.

Getting used to the rough ground takes time and dedication.

When you wear barefoot shoes, your feet are far less protected than if you were to go shoeless. Shoes give good protection from debris such as broken glass or jagged metal shards. They provide much-needed insulation to keep your feet warm in the winter and protect your toes from frostbite.

Tip: If you think regular hiking boots are more for you, check out my other blog article on hiking boots. Just follow the link.

Experiences with barefoot hiking shoes

It is not recommended to start minimalist barefoot hiking right away.

When beginning a new physical activity or type of footwear, it’s important to pay attention to your body.

The decision to begin barefoot hiking requires a slow transition from traditional hiking boots to minimal footwear and barefoot shoes.

Long-distance hiking with a barefoot shoe

Suppose you’re going on a multi-day long-distance hike or backpacking trip. In that case, you may need a lightweight barefoot shoe with a stiff sole that provides more grip on slippery surfaces.

It can also be helpful to bring more than one pair of barefoot hiking shoes on a long hike.

Barefoot shoes are usually lightweight and easy to pack in your backpack. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring an extra pair of waterproof shoes if the weather and trail conditions require it.

Depending on the weather forecast, barefoot shoes may need to be waterproof, water repellent, or have a thick sole to deal with sharp rocks and boulders.

Choose a sturdy material like high-quality, durable leather to ward off the worst and protect your feet during the hike.

Short day hikes with a barefoot shoe

When choosing barefoot shoes, it’s important to know how long your hike will be.

If it is a short day hike, a light barefoot shoe with a medium grip might be sufficient.

However, consider the season of the hike and the weather. If it’s raining or snowing, cheap and inferior barefoot shoes are only partially waterproof.

Also, it is recommended to choose a barefoot shoe with ankle protection if you are hiking in terrain with brambles or bushes that can irritate your feet.

Barefoot shoes with ankle protection are also suitable for dusty or sandy conditions, such as a short day hike in warmer climates.

How do I choose the right pair of barefoot hiking shoes?

Now you know why barefoot walking is a good idea, it’s time to look at the different types of shoes.

But how do you choose the right barefoot walking shoes for you?

If you are looking for barefoot shoes, you should remember that these shoes are not suitable for the same conditions as traditional sneakers.

Although there are many different types of barefoot/minimalist shoes available today, they fall into three main categories based on their intended use:

  1. Comfort/recreational running
  2. Light trail running
  3. Hardcore trail running

#1 Comfortable barefoot shoes for road running

Running barefoot on the road or other smooth surfaces is comfortable enough for many people because their feet are usually well-cushioned in adulthood.

Unless you’re wearing sneakers all day for work and like to go out barefoot (at least occasionally), it’s usually better to start with a pair of non-arch supporting, non-toe striking shoes before progressing to something more demanding.

#2 Barefoot shoes for light trail running

If you plan to make some light trail running from time to time but don’t want a hardcore barefoot shoe, a pair of Vibram Fivefingers would be ideal as they offer more flexibility, traction, and protection from sharp objects without being too bulky.

However, suppose you prefer the fit and look of traditional sneakers. In that case, Merrell has such a low-profile option that might suit your needs – provided you’re okay with the lack of cushioning.

In other words, it’s not as comfortable. Still, it offers better performance than your average sneaker for off-road use.

#3 Hardcore barefoot hiking shoes

If running on trails becomes part of your daily routine, you’ll most likely need a shoe that can easily handle rougher terrain.

In this case, it’s probably best to look for a lightweight shoe with increased traction and stability, for example, Saucony Peregrine or Merrell Trail Glove.

Tips before buying new barefoot shoes

It’s important to remember that finding the ideal pair of barefoot shoes might be difficult because there are so many different manufacturers nowadays.

So if you’re just getting started with minimalist footwear, check out several retailers before making a final purchase decision – especially if you have more than one retailer nearby.

While this can be a bit of a hassle at times, trying out, different models or brands can help you better understand what to look for in the future.

As a side note, if you’re not happy with your first pair of barefoot shoes (or Vibrams), you don’t have to stick with the same brand next time. After all, there are plenty of other options that might fit your needs better.

However, if you decide to return to a particular brand after trying something else for a while, don’t forget to consider the size of your feet and their shape (wide or narrow, for example).

Tip: In addition to shoes for hiking, you should also make sure to wear the right outfit. The blog will tell you what outfit is useful for hiking.

Who makes the best barefoot shoes?

I never gave barefoot shoes much thought until I saw a pair in a shop.

I was intrigued to learn that there were many distinct makers of these shoes.

With the weather getting warmer, I’m considering purchasing a second pair so that I may go hiking and trekking without having to worry about getting my feet wet.

  • Vivobarefoot: I would say that Vivobarefoot makes the best waterproof barefoot shoes.
  • Xero Shoes: The Xero shoe is a popular barefoot shoe that attracted a lot of attention when it first came out. It also comes in a waterproof model with breathable mesh to keep the feet safe.
  • Sidi Adventure Rain: These shoes are designed more for walking than running, but they are still a good addition to any hiker’s wardrobe. They come in both a low and high cut, so you can choose which style works best. While they are not considered minimalist shoes, they have thin soles that provide maximum traction on wet surfaces.

The best way to break in your new pair of barefoot hiking shoes

Breaking in a new pair of shoes can be a pain, but it’s worth the effort to avoid blisters and other injuries.

The same goes for barefoot shoes!

It’s important to take the time to break them in properly to enjoy your new footwear for the upcoming season.

Here are a few tips on how to break in your new pair of barefoot shoes:

  • Wear the shoes indoors: as you probably know, this is a common way to break in new shoes. You can also try different activities while wearing your barefoot shoes, as the flexibility will help you get comfortable with the feel of walking or running.
  • Try different types of socks: If you want to wear your new barefoot shoes without socks, go for it! However, some people prefer to wear thin socks with their barefoot shoes, so they have more cushioning on the ground and don’t feel excessive rubbing on their feet during long hikes or walks through nature. Remember that thinner socks tend to be more breathable than regular cotton socks because they are made of synthetic materials rather than pure cotton.
  • Use moleskin in high friction areas: moleskin is a band-aid that can be used to prevent blisters from ruining the wearing of your new barefoot shoes. Even if you already have a lot of calluses, it’s always a good idea to use moleskin as preventative padding anywhere your feet might experience an uncomfortable level of friction or irritation – especially in high-friction areas like the back of the heel and toes.
  • Buy two pairs of shoes instead of just one: If you’re not sure how long you’ll need to break in your new barefoot shoes before heading back into nature, consider buying two pairs instead of just one. You’ll have a spare pair to switch into if your first pair is still too new for comfort.
  • Break in your shoes slowly: You don’t have to start wearing your barefoot shoes every day right away if your feet still hurt here and there. Instead, go slow by wearing them for just ten minutes a day at first, then another five minutes each day until you get used to the feeling.
  • Don’t worry about getting blisters: Although sometimes it seems like a good idea to spend more time breaking in your shoes before you go outside, you shouldn’t worry about blisters. Remember that the shoes are meant to make the transition to a more natural way of walking and running easier for your feet – not harder!
  • Go for a hike: Most people who wear barefoot shoes do so because they no longer want to wear those bulky, heavy hiking boots that can be such a nuisance when walking in nature. So if you want to break in your barefoot shoes before going on a hike, consider taking a short hike to see what it’s like to wear them in real life.

Wear them for an hour or less each day until broken in.

After you’ve broken in your new barefoot shoes at home for a few days, you should be ready to get back out there and experience the great outdoors.

Tip: I explain how to clean and care for your hiking shoes in my detailed guide on the blog.

Barefoot shoes are meant to replicate the feel of walking barefoot and may help you rediscover your natural stride.

They feel light on their feet, so it’s surprising that all this comfort doesn’t come at the expense of durability.

An independent lab has tested these shoes for abrasion resistance. They are some of the most durable casual shoes around!

Check out my blog for more interesting articles about hiking.

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Hi, I'm Dave. I'm an avid outdoors and sports enthusiast who loves to share my passion with others. I publish the experiences I've gained over the years on Outdoormeta to give beginners helpful tips and bring people closer to the outdoors.

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