There was a time when I wore shoes. I had all kinds, too: hiking shoes, winter boots, business shoes, running shoes, flip flops, slip-ons, slippers, Velcro shoes, skateboard shoes, water shoes, athletic sandals… and the list could go on and on. I think it’s safe to say that I liked shoes. I probably owned around a dozen pairs at any one point in my early adulthood.
But as I grew a bit older (I’m still very young) I decided to start pushing my limits. I decided to break free of my preconceived notions of what was possible. I wanted to push the boundaries of my body. And ultimately, I wanted to live simply, free of many of the modern luxuries and conveniences that so many of us consider necessities. I had an idea that our feet could function just fine without shoes. I had an idea that our bodies had evolved over hundreds of thousands of years WITHOUT shoes on our feet and that today, our feet could probably still do just as well without them. In fact, I had an inkling that my feet might even be better off without shoes.
So I started to give it a try. Growing up I had done a fair share of being barefoot at the beach, playing in the fields, swimming, etc. But I’d never really tested the boundaries of my feet.
When I visited New Zealand during university I had a mentor named Garry, and he could do everything barefoot. He was climbing mountains, hopping over rocks, and doing everything I could do in shoes, only better. So, I’d take my shoes off and walk with him for a while. I was able to manage but my feet were definitely sore after just a few miles.
I kept at it and with each barefoot walk I was able to go further and further without my feet getting sore. A four or five mile barefoot walk became an accomplishment for me.
Eventually, I just started to leave my shoes at home completely. I’d go out for the whole day barefoot. I’d show up at parties without shoes, and I was excited to have shed an unnecessary part of my life.
After walking barefoot became easy, I started to run barefoot too. One day I was in Northport, New York and saw that the Cow Harbor 10k was the next day. I decided to run it barefoot. Since I had never done anything like that before, I started at the back of the pack and aimed for an hour. I ended up passing about 2,000 or 3,000 shoed runners and finishing in 43:30. I had no idea I could do that! It was faster than I ever ran a 10k with shoes on!
I continued to push my boundaries and was able to do hikes up to 25 miles barefoot with no problems.
I even biked about 3,000 miles across the United States barefoot!
And I got these flat pedals to make it more enjoyable.
With this new-found freedom, my adventures were more fun than ever before.
I dumpster dive barefoot, too. The thing about being barefoot is, you really start to pay attention to your surroundings. You might think I’d be hurting my feet all the time, but my feet have never been more in touch with the ground that I walk on.
I still wore shoes for doing business, but eventually I gave that up, too. I thought this would be a challenge but because of a huge change in mindset, it went better than I could have imagined. I decided that people would do business with me based on the merit of my character, not the clothes I was wearing or the shoes on my feet. Around that time I also got rid of my dual lives, my personal life and my business life. Instead, I chose to have only one life so people could like me for who I really am.
I even started to do the news barefoot when they covered my adventures.
And not just out in the field, in the studio too! I was nervous to go into a news station barefoot the first time, but last year every news story I did, I was barefoot.
The possibilities became limitless. It took a little while, but eventually I felt like my feet had grown a natural pair of shoes right on them.
By now I’ve realized I don’t need shoes at all anymore. There is the obstacle of other people not understanding my way of being, but I don’t really want to go the places that require shoes anyway. Being barefoot keeps me out of the places that I don’t want to go (like the bars). And this keeps me healthier and saves me a lot of money.
There are a few places that I do need to slip on some shoes- public libraries, public transportation, Amtrak, and sometimes flying–although I’ve gotten away with many of my flights lately without having to put shoes on. For these occasions when I know that I may be forced to wear shoes (or else be rejected service), I just bring the tiniest pair of shoes that I’ve found: Xero shoes. They’re basically a rubber sole and a string but people run 100 mile ultra marathons in them. They are perfect for me because I can put them in my bag and they weigh next to nothing and take up very little space.
It’s not always easy being barefoot, though. Here you can see a time when I had about 50 burs in my feet.
And I’ve also had a few injuries. Recently I cut myself open hiking…
But while I’ve learned to live more simply, I’ve also learned to be more self-sufficient. I stitched this cut up with a needle and dental floss.
Some would say that I’m being absurd. They would say the fact that I’ve injured my feet while barefoot is blatant proof that I should be wearing shoes. But to me, an injury like this once per year is worth the freedom of bare feet. That would be enough in itself, but I think that wearing shoes causes more injuries than we’d like to think. Feet have not evolved to have a rubber sole around them that separates them from the ground they are on. There are more nerve endings per square centimeter in the foot than any other part of the body. These are cut off once you put shoes on. Our feet are designed to supply us with information about where we are walking. Wearing shoes deprives these masterpieces their ability to sense information, such as the temperature, grade, and slope of the surface we’re walking on.
I believe that shoes weaken the muscles and structure in the feet by not letting them flex and move as they naturally would. The muscles atrophy through years of wearing shoes and shoes can actually cause problems like fasciitis, foot neuromas, and arthritis. A few years back I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and was blown away by the evidence and scientific studies that supported everything I was thinking.
I’ve also chilled out since taking off my shoes. I used to injure myself playing sports and running because I feel that shoes really allowed me to over stretch my boundaries. They allowed me to strike my feet down harder than my knees could actually absorb. This resulted in sprains, strains, and my fair share of injuries to my feet, ankles and knees. But being barefoot has taught me to take the impact with my legs in stride, and I’ve had vastly fewer injuries of this nature since switching to a barefoot lifestyle. According to research, “there is no evidence that running shoes do anything to prevent injuries. None. In fact, research currently in progress indicates that runners in shoes experience far more impact than barefoot runners.” Also, expensive running shoes cause more injuries than cheaper ones. The billion-dollar shoe industry doesn’t care about our feet as much as they care about our money, and I’ll trust my feet to nature, not a corporation. I’m not wasting my money (or the Earth’s resources) on these piles of crap anymore.
If you want to learn about the science of being barefoot, I recommend reading Born to Run.
In high school, I developed a rare foot problem called Freiberg Infraction. I saw multiple doctors, and thousands of dollars were spent on appointments, custom orthotics, and walking boots. Even after seeing a specialist the problem didn’t go away. After over a year of agony I gave up on their way and decided to do it my way. I started going to the beach and walking barefoot in the sand, and within a few months the problem had faded away. Since going barefoot I can see many muscles in my feet and lower legs that have developed. My balance is better. My feet have transformed and my life is drastically different.
Another benefit: Taking off your shoes and heading out in public is an excellent way to make friends. Everywhere I go, people ask me about my bare feet. It’s a great conversation starter, and it’s a fun way for me to get people thinking outside of their box.
If you want to go barefoot, I recommend starting one step and one day at a time. Your calluses will grow. Your confidence will build. Your legs will strengthen. Your feet will awaken from their slumber.
Feet don’t naturally smell. This just occurs by keeping them inside of shoes and socks that hold in sweat and bacteria. Free your feet from the stuffy shoes and they’ll never have a foul smell to them again, unless you step in dog poop, that is!