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Archive-Name: barefoot-faq/part1
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Last-modified: 1997/04/13

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

                 SECTION 1: Introduction and table of contents

SUBSECTION 1A: Introduction

          Frequently-Asked-Questions for

          Paul J. Lucas
          (with contributions from fellow barefooters)

          Copyright (C) 1994-1997 Paul J. Lucas.
          Permission to copy all or part of this work is granted,
          provided that the copies are not made or distributed for resale
          (except a nominal copy fee may be charged) and provided that
          the AUTHOR, COPYRIGHT, and NO WARRANTY sections are retained
          verbatim and are displayed conspicuously. If anyone needs other
          permissions that aren't covered by the above, please contact
          the author.


          Monthly on, alt.answers, and
          news.answers; via:


          with archive mirrors at:




          and also available from the author directly.

          Set your feet free and your mind will follow.


SUBSECTION 1B: Table of Contents

  PART 1

        SECTION 2: Why?
                Q1: Why walk barefoot?
                Q2: Doesn't it hurt?
                Q3: What about broken glass?
                Q4: What about hot surfaces, e.g., asphalt?
                Q5: Isn't is gross with all the dirt?
                Q6: Don't toughened soles lose feeling?

        SECTION 3: Health
                Q7: Is it actually healthy to go barefoot?
                Q8: Can I go barefoot even if I have flat feet?
                Q9: How do I get my feet in shape?
                Q10: What should I do if I get a blister?
                Q11: What about catching diseases?
                Q12: Should I walk differently when barefoot?
                Q13: What can I do if I develop "cracks" in my soles?

  PART 2

        SECTION 4: Getting by in a Shod World
                Q14: What can I say to passers-by if they make a comment?
                Q15: Is it legal to drive barefoot?
                Q16: Why don't many stores permit bare feet?
                Q17: Which stores do permit bare feet?
                Q18: What do you wear when you are forced to wear shoes?
                Q19: Is there such a thing as soleless footwear?

        SECTION 5: Reference
                Q20: Is there anything written about bare feet?
                Q21: Are there barefoot groups?


                                SECTION 2: Why?

Q1: Why walk barefoot?

   The simplest of answers: Because it _feels good_!

   Having your feet free of confining, hot, sweaty shoes, open to the air
   and sunshine, able to wiggle your toes, able to _feel_ the various
   textures and temperatures of surfaces as you walk, is _wonderful_! It
   is one life's most simple pleasures and is part of what it means to be

   It's completely natural to walk barefoot. In fact, it is quite healthy
   and good for your feet to do so. (See Q7.)

   Additionally, there's something to be said for the "barefoot
   aesthetic." Bare feet on a person just plain look attractive!


Q2: Doesn't it hurt?

   This is almost a silly question. The obvious answer is no. We are not
   masochists. Again, walking barefoot _feels good_!

   Occasionally, you do step on something uncomfortable and it especially
   hurts if it presses into the soft arch. But stepping on uncomfortable
   things is greatly reduced by doing one simple thing: Watch where
   you're going! You ordinarily do this to avoid walking into fire
   hydrants, deep puddles, etc., anyway.

   But, despite watching where you're going, you will still step on
   something uncomfortable eventually. That's life and you just have to
   accept it. Do you know how many times I've injured my hands in my
   lifetime? (Getting fingers caught in doors, smashed by hammers, sliced
   by knives, burned, knuckles scraped, for example.) Nobody thinks,
   "This would not have happened if I wore gloves." You have to have the
   same mind-set about your feet and not think that you ought to have
   worn shoes because you injured them. The injuries are few an far
   between and the intervening pleasure of going barefoot far outweighs


Q3: What about broken glass?

   Yes, broken glass exists, but it is not "all over the place" even on
   city streets. Unless it's a recent breakage, it gets kicked/swept into
   cracks, against walls, or right against curbs and isn't strewn about.
   For the little glass that does remain, again, just watch where you're

   But, for the seasoned barefooter with tough, thick soles, most broken
   glass is not a problem even if you step directly on it.


Q4: What about hot surfaces, e.g., asphalt?

   [The following paragraph was contributed by Neil Kelley

     Some background: The actual temperature of a surface depends on a
     number of factors such as how dark or how efficiently the surface
     absorbs the sun's UV and IR radiation. A surface that appears very
     dark to the eye may not be as dark in the infrared. Also, the
     surface temperature can be affected by how much the soil below
     conducts heat away from the top layer. The better the conduction,
     the lower the surface temperature. Therefore, you can't look for
     what you might hope is a cooler surface based on its color.

   In general, for me, most asphalt is either pleasantly warm or at or at
   least tolerably hot _unless_ the ambient air temperature is 90F or
   over _and_ it's mostly sunny. In such cases, there isn't much you can

   [The following paragraph was contributed by Ross Thompson

     On particularly hot days, I will go from shade patch to shade
     patch, and hang out until the burning subsides before continuing.
     One trick I've learned is that if you walk briskly, then the time
     your foot is in the air is enough to dissipate a lot of the heat
     absorbed during the previous step. Also, if you concentrate on the
     foot that's in the air, you will be focusing on where the heat is
     dissipating, not where it is accumulating. This gives you a
     psychological edge.

   _Note:_ Prolonged exposure to hot surfaces can cause burns and
   blistering; pain is an indicator that tissue damage is not far behind.
   However, some barefooters report that, through gradual acclimation,
   one can greatly increase one's resistance to hot surfaces.

   _Tip:_ When you cross at intersections, the white stop-lines are
   cooler; you can walk on those.


Q5: Isn't it gross with all the dirt?

   It depends on your point of view. Personally, I don't think so.
   Walking barefoot is natural and dirty soles are the natural result. It
   is to be expected. Your body sweats and your hair becomes oily. So
   your soles get what? Ever play sports or engage in any
   other prolonged physical activity? You still do it even though you
   will get dirty and sweaty. A shower later and you're clean. Walking
   barefoot is the same thing.

   Personally, I can't stand sweaty, smelly feet which is what you get if
   you wear shoes: to me, _that's_ gross. There is also a greater dislike
   for dirt you can see versus dirt you can't. People touch many dirty,
   germ-laden things with their hands all day such as doorknobs,
   handrails, etc., that many other people have touched after doing
   who-knows-what with their hands and fingers. Nobody gives that a
   second thought, however, because you can't _see_ that dirt.

   But other barefooters I know and I myself actually think it's _fun_
   and cool to get dirty feet, as black as you can possibly get them.


Q6: Don't toughened soles lose feeling?

   [Contributed by Mike Berrow <>.]

   Most barefooters don't get really thick and hard callouses. More
   usually, the sole simply becomes thicker while retaining flexibility
   (not really stiff or hard). The actual degree of toughness seems to
   vary a lot among barefooters.

   Any slight reduction in sensitivity due to thickening is more than
   compensated for by continued development of the sensory receptors in
   the soles (possibly also the relevant part of the brain).

   Did you ever get too much wax (or some water) in your ear for a while
   and then when you get it out all sounds seemed to be really _loud_? If
   you did, you'll understand the following:

   For some, when they first start going barefoot, the ground is too
   "loud" -- it's like listening to a lot of unpleasant noise. After a
   while, however, your body adjusts and you begin to "hear the music."

   Really, if we couldn't feel the ground, that would take away a large
   part of the pleasure of walking barefoot. We enjoy everything from the
   "rough, scratchy" feeling of gravel to the soft, damp moss on fallen
   trees. Many of the sensations are nothing short of delicious!


                               SECTION 3: Health

Q7: Is is actually healthy to go barefoot?

   Very much so. I quote from the following article published in _Women's
   Sports & Fitness, August 1994_ issue:

     A recent study demonstrates that the skin on the soles of your feet
     resists abrasions and blistering and that going barefoot is
     _beneficial_ to the musculoskeletal structure of your feet and
     ankles. ... Kicking off your shoes can help prevent a host of foot
     injuries: bunions, heel spurs, and bone deformities, among others.
     "Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that
     they can't move fluidly," [Steven] Robbins [MD and adjunct
     associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia
     University, Montreal] explains. "The foot becomes passive from
     wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself." ...

          _-- Cheryl Sacra_

   To see excerpts from published papers in medical journals that support
   the claims that going barefoot is healthy and that footwear is
   entirely unnecessary and, in many cases, detrimental to foot health,
   go to:

   Some people hold the ignorant view that human feet are somehow
   uniquely inadequate among all the Earth's creatures and that they need
   support and protection. Nonsense. The human race could not have
   survived and flourished if the human foot were somehow "flawed" and
   thus incapable of being bare. Evolution (or God, depending on your
   beliefs) has provided well.

     The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

          _-- Leonardo da Vinci_

   Additional info: Barefoot populations universally have a very low
   incidence of running "overuse" injuries, despite very high activity
   levels. In contrast, such injuries are very common in shod
   populations, even for activity levels well below "overuse."


Q8: Can I go barefoot even if I have flat feet?

   Basically, if you can walk barefoot and it doesn't hurt, then yes.
   Many barefooters were born with arches lower than the "ideal"
   (whatever that is) but still enjoy the pleasures of going barefoot.

   For someone with low arches or outright flat feet, habitual
   shoe-wearing often exacerbates the problem due to weak feet (see Q7).
   Additionally, forcing feet into shoes with arch supports against their
   natural shape can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

   In contrast, going barefoot strengthens the muscles, ligaments, and
   tendons in the feet and helps to counter low arches or flat feet. Some
   barefooters have reported that, once they started going barefoot
   regularly, their arches raised almost if not entirely to "normal"

   Why do many podiatrists push arch supports and corrective footwear?
   Part of it has to do with what they were taught; but, just because
   something is in a textbook doesn't make it right or necessary. Many
   people tend to want perfect bodies: perfect faces, noses, buns, etc.,
   and this tendency can extend to feet which equates to high arches.
   Many podiatrists are catering to this tendency.

   Bottom line: If you can walk barefoot and it doesn't hurt, don't worry
   about it. (If it does hurt, however, do see a podiatrist.)


Q9: How do I get my feet in shape?

   Walk barefoot. Walk barefoot some more. Go barefoot everywhere you
   can. Your soles, foot muscles, ligaments, and tendons are like any
   other parts of your body: you have to use them to develop them,
   otherwise they will atrophy.

   Note that you wouldn't need to build up your feet if you went barefoot
   from birth as nature intended. What you're actually doing by "building
   them up" is getting them _back_ to their natural state. Regardless of
   whether you have been mostly barefoot since birth, you can still build
   up your feet -- there is no such thing as a permanent tenderfoot.

   Walking on gravel is an _excellent_ way to develop the soles of your
   feet quickly. A few jaunts daily will thicken and toughen your soles
   in a few weeks. (It is within the realm of human capability to _run_
   barefoot on even the most punishing gravel.)


Q10: What should I do if I get a blister?

   Once your feet are in good shape, I would be _very_ surprised if you
   ever got a blister from walking barefoot. Blisters are caused by
   continual rubbing in the _same_ spot over and over; while walking
   barefoot, your soles get rubbed all over and no one "hot-spot"

   But, should you "over-do" you barefoot training and get a blister, you
   can follow the procedure below.

   [_Note:_ I am not an MD and the following does not constitute medical
   advice. It is my own personal experience and is what works for me.]

   What worked for _me_ when I used to get blisters was to lance the
   blister with a sterilized needle and squeeze the fluid out. Leave the
   flabby skin on! If the blister is small, it may "reattach"; if not, it
   will protect the soft, "virgin" skin under it until it becomes harder.
   Then, after a few days if it does not reattach, carefully trim it off
   with a small pair of scissors or a nail-cutter in a chopping manner.

   After treating a blister, the the best thing to do, believe it or not,
   is to walk barefoot more! (You _did_ leave the skin on, right?) Your
   body will recognize the "need" for thicker skin and this will help
   prompt the skin to reattach.

   A blister, if you followed the above procedure, will get to the point
   where you don't notice it in under a week. You will still see a
   "crater" for up to 3 weeks, though.

Q11: What about catching diseases?

   _Athlete's Foot (fungus):_
          The following is an excerpt from a pamphlet on Athlete's Foot
          by the _American Academy of Dermatology, April 1994_:

		Athlete's foot does not occur among people who
		traditionally go barefoot. It's moisture,
		sweating and lack of proper ventilation of the
		feet that present the perfect setting for the
		fungus of athlete's foot to grow.

          Therefore, by going barefoot, the perspiration from your feet
          evaporates just like it does from the rest of your body; your
          feet then remain cool and dry in the open air. The fungus can
          not survive under these conditions. As a result, going barefoot
          will most likely _cure_ athlete's foot.

          Additional text from the pamphlet can be obtained at the URL:


   _Hookworm (parasite):_
          This is almost entirely confined to tropical, third-world
          countries where people habitually walk in soil contaminated by
          the excrement of infected humans and domestic animals. In the
          1940s, hookworm occurred in some regions of the southern USA
          but has largely disappeared even there thanks to improved
          sanitation. The chance of getting hookworm from barefoot hiking
          on trails in a temperate region such as North America or Europe
          is very small. Hookworm is easily treatable with vermifuges
          such as tetrachloroethylene: its prevalence in tropical regions
          is largely a matter of public health, due to poor sanitation
          and lack of access to medical facilities.

   _Ringworm (fungus: this has nothing to do with worms -- it's a
          The same text about Athlete's Foot applies for Ringworm.
          Additionally, one can get it anywhere on one's body.


Q12: Should I walk differently when barefoot?

   No, but some people do not walk properly to begin with. You should
   walk by placing most of your weight on the balls of your feet (the
   pads in the front behind your toes) rather than your heels.

   Heels are rigid and many people "slam" them into the ground,
   "shocking" the legs and knees. Instead, while you should still make
   your heels touch the ground first, you should shift most of your
   weight forward onto the balls of your feet. The balls are flexible and
   will "mold" to the contour of the surface; they also have a wider
   surface area to better distribute your body's weight. Once you get
   used to walking this way, it will become natural for you.

   Aside on foot anatomy: The above shows off one of the most beautiful
   and functional aspects of the human foot: the arch. Just like the arch
   of a bridge, the arches of your feet "carry" your weight across from
   your heels to the balls of your feet where it can better be
   distributed. Structurally speaking, an arch is extremely strong.

   As for walking barefoot, you should _always_ step down and never slide
   or shuffle your feet. If perchance you do step on something
   uncomfortable or sharp, you will notice before you place your full
   weight down. Sliding your feet puts them as risk of being gashed,
   getting splinters if walking on wood, etc. You ought to slide or
   shuffle your feet only when you _know_ the surface you're dealing
   with. Carpeting or tile floors do feel nice.

   There is one technique that contradicts the above advice. When walking
   through prickly, dried grasses, you can put your feet down, but,
   within the last couple of inches, sweep them sideways in a
   semicircular fashion. This will knock over the grass and you'll step
   on the sides rather than the pointy ends. Take extra care when you
   can't see the ground surface.

   In time, you will develop a "sixth sense" about placing your feet
   since your soles are a wonderful sensory organ.


Q13: What can I do if I develop "cracks" in my soles?

   Sometimes, parts of your soles can become too thick and the callus can
   crack which is often painful. This generally happens around the edges
   of your heels.

   To prevent the cracks in the first place, file some of the callus with
   pumice from the edges _only_ and use skin lotion or Bag Balm* to keep
   the _edges_ supple. Do it just after you trim your toenails; this is a
   good frequency. That's all the maintenance bare feet need!


   * Bag Balm is a lotion/paste product that contains a mild antiseptic
   (0.3% 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate in a petroleum, lanolin base). It's
   made by the Dairy Association Company of Lyndonville, VT, 05851, and
   comes in a 10 oz., 2.5" square green tin with the red letters "Bag
   Balm" and a picture of a cow and flowers on it. Its intended purpose
   is to treat cow's udders to keep them supple and to ward off
   infection. As such, it's strictly a veterinary product, but it appears
   people have been using it for years with success; so much so that it's
   available at Walgreens and other drug stores. (I don't think too many
   Walgreens' customers have cows.)


                                 END OF PART 1

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