I am probably like most people in that my back and feet hurt a lot. Having a desk job and then doing “weekend warrior” stuff probably doesn’t help. Recently, this whole “minimalist footwear” movement has been catching my attention for its potential to prevent some aches and pains. I’m sure almost everybody has heard or read a little about the whole “barefoot running” phenomenon, and this is a part of that.

It bubbled up on my radar screen more from enjoying the FIMBY blog, and following their family’s reviews and pursuits of minimalist footwear for work, life, and hiking. So I finally got a pair. But first, here is some background on why I wanted them.

A debate is raging about this fad. In a nutshell, on the “pro” side:

  • Creationists and evolutionists alike can appreciate the amazing human foot, and it’s obvious design for performing solo, without the modern shoe
  • Most shoes elevate the heel, putting undesirable pressure on the toes and the ball of the foot
  • Most shoes encourage too much “heel striking” rather than landing more on the pad of the foot where there is more shock absorption. They also encourage us to take longer strides than when we are barefoot.
  • Shoes don’t allow the foot to “do its thing” very well- they constrain the toes and limit flexibility. This restricts our foot’s ability to conform to the terrain, potentially increasing strain elsewhere, like on the ankle.
  • Lots of people have back problems- is this just part of life, or is it caused by our insistence on constantly wearing shoes?
  • Let’s not even talk about women’s shoes with high heels…

On the “con” side:

  • Sure, our foot was an amazing design for barefoot locomotion: historically. A design never meant for locomotion on concrete-especially running! Such hard surfaces surely call for extra cushioning that maybe only a modern synthetic shoe can provide.
  • Though the best examples of the human foot may make a mechanical engineer weep from the beauty of design, there are plenty of genetically flawed examples of feet which are far from perfect. Like mine: I have flat arches, and my feet are quite mismatched. One has a flatter arch than the other, and they are a half a shoe size different.
  • Most of us are carrying way more weight than our feet were ever designed to bear, so the extra padding and stability of shoes may be necessary.

I can appreciate both sides of the argument, so I might have not been lured by the barefoot-like shoe experience. Except that I love going barefoot. When I was in college in Eastern Washington, during the hot summers, I went barefoot twenty-four-seven. There was a transition period each spring, when the weather would start to warm enough to make going barefoot feasible. I had to gradually acclimate my tender winter paws to going solo. But over the summer, I’d develop a thick and permanently black foot pad which was impervious to gravel, mud, broken glass, or hot pavement in one hundred degree weather.

The experience of going barefoot all the time is fabulous. There is something about your feet really touching the ground that gives you an extra dimension to sensory perception. Passing across grass, bark, concrete, dirt, gravel, pavement, sand, bumps, holes, rocks, ridges: your brain all of a sudden becomes aware of the surfaces upon which you are walking, experiencing them as if your hand was running across them. There is no more of sweaty feet, smelly feet, foot fungus, something getting stuck in your shoe, having to put on and take off shoes and socks, blisters from ill-fitting footwear, or feet stuck in wet footwear so they can’t dry. No more shopping for shoes to wear. Just pure comfort and simplicity.

But unfortunately, college in the summer doesn’t last forever. There is winter weather, Western Washington slugs (of which I am terribly phobic), some law about driving with shoes on, two-hundred pound livestock stepping on my toes, and looking professional and normal because you have a job. So my barefoot days ended years ago, though never to be forgotten.

imageSo that is primarily why I got the shoes, hoping to recapture some of that barefoot experience. And also to see if they might relieve some aches and pains. I withheld great expectations, keeping in mind all the reviews of horrified chiropractors and podiatrists who say you are crazy for wearing these shoes. I chose Merrell’s Barefoot Pure Glove in black: ok enough to wear to work with Khakis, and yet workable with most other clothes too. I figured if I liked them, I’d buy another pair or two in other colors or styles. These have the Vibram sole: the same as the odd-looking five-finger shoes you see on brave souls around the region, but without the gecko-looking individual toe holes that make people stare at your feet and ask too many questions.

The verdict: I love them. Love them. After just two weeks, I don’t want to wear anything else. Slipping on my muck shoes just long enough to do chores in the pasture conjures up foot pains I didn’t feel all day. I actually find these more comfortable than my slippers, and definitely nicer than even the most minimal of sandal designs. They really do give some of the barefoot sensory experience, you can feel the ground underneath your feet, and it barely feels like you have shoes on at all. 

And the ultimate test: I’ve been spending long, long hours on the weekends in the barn, on concrete floors, working on the wiring. Standing and walking on concrete all day will normally make my feet bark like crazy. Not now: I don’t even think about my feet. I love how agile they make my feet feel- climbing on ladders feels safer, and it feels awesome to let my arches and toes bend and stretch, making them work like they are supposed to.

Now, if the minimalist folks would just design something appropriate for farm and livestock work…