If you’re a nature lover at heart, you’ve probably done it a million times as a kid—until your mom scolded you to put your shoes back on. Before the barefoot craze went trendy, many preferred to barefoot hiking to wearing shoes without giving it too much thought, other than “it just feels good.”
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And if you’re one of those kids who spent most of your time getting the couch filthy with near-black soles—your body will remember.
But if it’s been a while or if you’ve never tried it barefoot, hiking without shoes isn’t as daunting as it sounds. First of all, it’s not as strenuous as running and you don’t need to choose difficult trails to experience when you’re just getting started and trying to figure out if hiking barefoot is for you. Here are some tips to get into it.
Minimalist Trail Shoes
You can ease into it with some minimalist trail shoes and short, mellow, hikes at first. At this time, you’ll work on strengthening your ligaments. You can also use minimalist or extremely light footwear for difficult parts of your hike (although many actually find these portions to be easier without shoes at all) or for very cold (or very hot) surfaces in extreme weather conditions and climates.
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You should use proper form, as you would when learning to run correctly—striking with the ball of your foot first rather than your heel. Many claim that hiking barefoot will actually help you to naturally develop proper gait and form.
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The misconception is that hiking without shoes is more painful and more difficult than running without shoes because of the rougher terrain. Not true. Hiking requires less pounding and you'll most likely be hiking on softer and more forgiving surfaces than you would run on. To get started, try out a few short, mellow hikes first. Start out with two or three miles at a time until you know what to expect and how you handle the barefoot experience. Really, you’ll only need to practice on these short hikes a few times a week for one or two weeks before you’re ready to move onto longer and steeper outings.
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