wikiHow to Start Barefoot Hiking

In 2001, two sisters hiked the Appalachian Trail. Barefoot![1] But surprisingly, barefoot hikers aren't necessarily thrill-seekers. They're better described as sensation-seekers, with some comparing it to the foot's equivalent of wine tasting.[2] With practice and attentiveness, your feet can adapt to the great outdoors, and anyone can experience a hike in a whole new way. Here is a suggested approach for the beginning barefoot hiker.


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    Spend some time in your front or backyard barefoot. Try different surfaces. Take your time, look around and flex your toes gratefully. If you have some local streets, parks or nature centers that are appropriate (not too much traffic or litter) you can extend your pre-conditioning to those areas.
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    Try to interpret the new sensations as just that: new sensations. At first, the unfamiliar textures overwhelm the tactile senses. The first ten minutes or so for a beginning bare-footer can be the most difficult. You will be in a process of adjustment. Most find that after this time (sometimes just as they were about to give up), the going became considerably easier.
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    Always step straight down. Never allow your bare feet to kick, shuffle, or drag along the ground. It is lateral movement that produces the great majority of risk of cutting from any sharp surfaces.
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    Always watch the path ahead. Stop if you want to take a good look at something off the path. When your bare feet are in motion, focus most often on the part of the path two to three paces in front. This practice will become very important when you hike on stony or uneven terrain. You should definitely start on your first day of barefoot hiking even if you are on the mildest of trails.
    • Being a matter of sensory coordination, much like catching a ball, this is a skill that develops mostly on a subconscious level, but you can consciously help it along by contemplating the fact that you are learning to coordinate two of your senses: the sight of your eyes and the newly discovered tactile sensitivity of your bare soles.
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    Keep your weight on the balls of your feet and not on your heels. Within comfortable limits, try to keep more weight on the forward part of your foot, for a longer time during the course of each step, than might previously been your habit.
    • The ball of the foot is supple and yielding, yet tough and resilient. It is the part where most of the weight of the body (in motion) should be borne. Notice how broad this part of the foot is and how much larger an area it presents to the ground than the heel. Feel how flexible it is, how the toes and metatarsals can move up and down independently to mold to the contour of the earth. This is what allows the ball to absorb shock so much better than the heel.
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    Develop habits of awareness. You must never forget you are going barefoot so always devote a part of your attention to your bare soles. Be careful and deliberate as you rotate and maneuver your feet around obstacles. You should be ready to retract a step if you don't like the feeling of what you are stepping on.
    • Occasionally, you will step on something pointy even though you looked carefully before placing your foot. If it's too late to retract a step, quickly shift the weight onto other parts of your foot (heel --> ball, and so on). As you become more conditioned, this will be less of a problem since your soles will be thicker and the (now stronger and more agile) muscles and tendons of your feet will be more adapted to rapid re-configuration.
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    Select a short trail with a variety of surfaces for your first barefoot hike. If there is a gravel lead-in, consider the end of the gravel as the beginning of the hike. Later, short to medium sections of gravel will be just another texture to you. When you have finished your first day, your feet may seem sore. One of the best things about barefoot hiking is the vibrant, tough and resilient feeling that comes into the feet over the next one or two days as this soreness dissipates.
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    Continue short hikes about once or twice a week. You'll find that you'll be able to go further and on rougher trails as time passes. "Mileage" will vary, but typically by following the above regimen, you should be able to do four or five miles on easy to medium trails within a month or so. If you take the time to find small-grade gravel paths in local city parks and work out on them, the toughening process can be accelerated considerably.


  • If you work your way up to long-distance barefoot hiking, it's a good idea to wash your feet at the end of each hiking day, massage them, and treat them with a strong salve. You can make the salve yourself: gently heat equal parts olive oil and beeswax in a glass bowl in the oven. When the beeswax melts, stir it into the olive oil. Pour the salve into small tins or jars and allow it cool. You can apply the salve when you get to camp, then wear socks and camp shoes for the evening, or you can put it on just before you go to bed. This will keep the soles of your feet from developing painful cracks, when the thick leather-like skin gets too dry. This is a good trick for people who hike long-distance in sandals, too.
  • Did you ever get too much wax (or some water) in your ear for a while, and then when you got it out, the world seemed really LOUD. Perhaps, when you first take your shoes off, the ground is too "loud." It's like listening to a lot of uncomfortable noise. After a while, your body adjusts and you begin to "hear the music."
  • It's a good idea to take along a friend who is either an experienced barefoot hiker or is willing to try along with you. If that's impossible, then go alone and take this introduction along as your companion. Until you have developed confidence in your bare feet, delay accompanying otherwise shod groups as a lone barefooter.
  • Bring a pair of thongs (flip-flops not a g-string) to cross small sections of trail which are very painful.
  • If you are still unsure about barefoot hiking, look into a pair of "FiveFingers" as made by the Vibram company. These will allow you to feel much of the terrain under your feet, and offer protection from the worst of what you're walking on.
  • Trekking poles (used correctly) are very helpful for barefoot hiking. You can instantly take weight off a foot that has landed on something sharp or painful, or push harmful things away from your feet as you walk. For regular hikers frustrated by the slower pace of barefoot hiking, poles may offer a compromise pace that is only slightly slower than "motoring" down a trail in shoes.
  • On your first few jaunts, you will spend more time than usual examining the ground in front of you for hazards. This is natural (you will also notice some things you had never seen before), but over time you will find that you need to look down less often and that on many surfaces a periodic glance will suffice. As your feet thicken and strengthen, with confidence and technique building, the tension and alarm you may have felt earlier will dissipate.


  • Beware of scorpions, snakes, ants and other potentially dangerous animals that may sting or bite. A sting or bite in your foot will most certainly take all the fun out of hiking barefoot for you and, possibly, your entire group.
  • It is not advisable to go barefoot on farms, in tropical countries, or in shared camp or hostel showers, because of the risk of tetanus and parasitical infections.
  • Please consult a qualified medical professional before attempting barefoot hiking. Certain conditions (like diabetes and peripheral neuropathy) may cause small lesions to heal more slowly or not heal at all. This type of activity might not be recommended under these circumstances.
  • Know how to avoid nettles, thistles, and any plants which will make your feet sting or itch.

Sources and Citations

  • East Bay Barefoot Hikers - Original source, shared with permission.
  • "The Barefoot Hiker" by Richard Frazine. Ten Speed Press. ISBN 0-89815-525-8. Some of the material in this article was adapted from this book.
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