My barefoot journey began about 15 years ago and for the last decade it has become my new norm. Today I generally feel awkward in shoes. In fact, six months ago I misplaced my one pair of shoes. As of now, I’ve made it a half-year without owning shoes or sandals. I still remember the day I began asking the question, “Can I walk barefoot?” One step at a time, I broke free from shoes and deepened my connection with Earth and with my own body. And I literally mean one step at a time. I had intentional practices. I set goals. I learned my limits and I pushed them.
Today I am happy to share my top tips to help you begin your barefoot journey, and if you’ve already begun, then to help strengthen your feet and go barefoot more often.
Read my Barefoot Journey here.
Start on easier terrain
As with any skill, you must start somewhere and that somewhere must be within your ability. Start out walking barefoot on surfaces that you find manageable, such as inside your house, residential lawns, public parks, sandy beaches, groomed trails, smooth sidewalks and roads.
Work up to some more challenging terrain
As you build the strength of your feet and re-accustom your nerve endings to a variety of different sensations, you can start to walk on surfaces that challenge you more. Start walking on surfaces that challenge you a little bit, such as bare Earth that has loose rocks and sticks, beaches with pebbles and stones, sidewalks, roads that are rougher and maybe even dirt roads.
Don’t push yourself beyond your limits
They key to breaking free from shoes for the long term is to grow within your limits. If you go beyond your limits you may injure yourself and set yourself backwards. Pay attention to your limits and push beyond your comfort enough to grow your practice without going beyond your limits.
Loose gravel roads and paths are the most challenging surfaces for me even after ten years of being barefoot.
As your feet build up thicker soles, you’ll be able to handle more pointed objects and protrusions from Earth. Your nerve endings will learn what is a risk to your body and what isn’t. Your feet are re-acclimating to being in direct contact with Earth.
Make goals to increase your ability to walk barefoot. Perhaps in your first week your goal is to do a lap around a yard or park. Perhaps after a few weeks your goal is to walk a quarter mile, or a half mile or a mile barefoot. Perhaps after a few months your goal is to walk five miles. As you walk farther, the shorter distances and day-to-day barefoot activities will become more normalized and you may find that being barefoot is now your natural first choice over wearing shoes.
Wear socks instead of shoes
There are many barefoot shoes on the market, but they certainly aren’t needed in order to break free from shoes. For some extra foot protection and padding, you can simply wear some socks and you can even wear two or three layers. With socks, your feet can flex and bend just as if you were barefoot. Your nerve endings can be stimulated. Your feet are substantially more in contact with Earth in socks versus rubber soles. Socks do wear out. One tip I have to do this sustainably and with minimal finances is get cotton or wool socks at the thrift store and once they are worn out, compost them.
Put your feet on the heat
I have noticed that the fastest way to build up my soles is to walk on hot surfaces. I’ve seen surprising sole thickening in just a week’s time when each day I was testing my limits by walking on hot surfaces such as sand, rocks or blacktop. Dark colored surfaces absorb the sun and light colored surfaces reflect the sun, so seek out darker colored surfaces for the hottest places to walk.
Know your limits and test your limits. You could try just one minute one day and then a couple minutes the next day. Or you could try one minute and then even an hour later try another minute.
Get out a little earlier in the spring
If the goal is to walk barefoot more often and be in contact with Earth, extending the season in which you walk barefoot is key. If you live in a climate with winter, simply get out a little earlier in the spring even though your feet may be cold. In my experience, exposing my feet to cold builds up my ability to walk barefoot just as much as long distance walking. Plus, by getting out earlier in the season, you increase the length of time that you are strengthening your feet and by summer your feet will have that much of a jumpstart.
Stay out a little later in the fall
Extend your barefoot season by pushing your cold limits into the fall.
Here on October 11th in Northern Wisconsin, I am barefoot walking and biking at 45 degrees Fahrenheit with relative ease.
The longer you can extend your season, the less your feet will soften up, making it easier to get started in the spring and quicker to rebuild your tolerance in advance.
When testing your limits of cold, keep your feet dry
If you are testing the limits of cold, I find it best to keep my feet dry.
When it is 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, I can often comfortably walk on a dry sidewalk or road, but if it is wet I find it much more challenging.
In the warmer winter days when the sun is shining down on the dry sidewalk, I can do some barefoot walking even when it is below freezing out.
Know that some cuts and scratches are okay
Getting some minor cuts and scratches on your feet is not only okay, it can help to build your tolerance. The main issue is not the minor cuts themselves but the fear around them. Our bodies are resilient and heal themselves. I have had small pieces of glass in my feet dozens of times over the last decade and I simply remove them with tweezers, a needle, or a knife.
Now, most cuts and scratches do not go deeper than my sole, so I don’t even feel them. Glass often goes into my sole but doesn’t penetrate the flesh where it hurts.
Break free from societal norms
More than the sensitivity of your feet, you are likely to be restrained by societal norms. To drop the worries of what others are thinking has been one of the most liberating tools I’ve found for accomplishing my goals in life and living in integrity. Walking barefoot in itself is a practice to help you drop societal norms. The more you do it, the more you’ll get used to people looking at you or commenting. Letting go of these norms takes practice. See How to Break Free From Societal Norms.
Give gratitude to your feet
Spend time thinking about all that your feet help you to accomplish. Be grateful for your feet. Love your feet. Your feet are not ugly. There is no such thing as an ugly foot. That is only in the mind. When you love your feet and do not feel shame for your feet, you will likely find it much easier to walk barefoot in public spaces.
Take care of your feet
Be diligent about taking care of your feet and your whole body. I have found that if I have a foot issue and I don’t deal with it promptly, it can restrict my enjoyment of my barefoot time. For many people, that is the moment when they put shoes back on and never get around to taking them back off.
I like to massage my feet with coconut oil. The oil moisturizes the skin and minimizes cracking of the skin and sole. The massage is an opportunity to look at my whole foot and see if there are any issues that need tending to. Foot massages are a part of my overall well-being.
I like to keep my feet dry. They are often wet and I love to walk and run in the rain and spend hours in the water. However, once I am out of these situations I like to dry my feet and keep them dry at all other times.
Design your life around being barefoot
The more that you design your life around being barefoot, the easier it will be to spend more time being barefoot. Spend more time outside and less time in stores and businesses that don’t allow being barefoot. Designing your life around being barefoot may prove to be a key to living in closer connection and harmony with Earth and with more health and happiness.
Being barefoot has been a useful tool to keep me out of the places that I don’t want to go. Bars are a place that generally require shoes. I don’t want to go to bars and by being barefoot I’ve made it a lot easier to stay out of them.
See: Quit a Job that Doesn’t Serve You or Earth
Build community around being barefoot
Most everything is easier with community. If you are spending all your time with people who are wearing shoes, you are more likely to wear shoes. If you are spending time with people who tease you for being barefoot, you are more likely to be peer pressured back into shoes. On the other hand, if you are with people who are barefoot more than you, you are more likely to spend more time barefoot and strengthen your connection to Earth. Seek out like-minded people and build community. Invite others to walk barefoot with you. It’s okay if none of your family or friends want to join you. Create a casual barefoot club and make new community. Post on social media, form a group at your school or workplace, put up fliers around town. Do whatever you need to do to build a community of like-minded people around you.
One step at a time, it is possible to walk barefoot more, and in doing so, reconnect with Earth and reconnect with yourself. As with any skill, walking barefoot takes continual practice and effort. I hope that you find these tips useful on your barefoot journey and I encourage you to revisit this page or print this page as a positive tool for reconnection.