Yay barefoot. We all love it. Unless you’re my dad and always cold. I grew up running around barefoot and also spent quality time in flimsy footwear in college. I never had foot problems until I started my first job after graduation: direct marketing.
If you don’t know what direct marketing is, it is the fiery forge out of which is born either a stellar communicator or a broken shell of a human being. I left being a bit of both. But pounding the pavement had left my feet with very bad plantar fasciitis, which worsened during my subsequent time with Habitat for Humanity.
I tried everything. Insoles, special socks, foot stretches, etc. Nothing helped and eventually I quit for a desk job. My feet took about a year to heal. And recently I started wondering about my foot health and if my feet were truly rehabilitated.
I have been trying to go “natural” in many areas of my life. Kombucha, natural deodorant, yoga, skincare, you name it. And I figured I should try to do the same with my feet. But when I started researching it, I found that no one could agree on anything related to barefoot/minimalist footwear. So, here’s my two cents about the matter; I hope it provides some clarification.
When I started barefooting, I bought Vibram FiveFingers, which are great shoes. However, I found that they did not fit my overall purpose for everyday, work friendly footwear. Although I am blessed to work in a place where my bosses were more interested in feeling the VFF tread than whether they were dress-code, I quickly found that my stride did not feel natural while wearing them, especially all day. I am keeping them for messier adventures, because they are fully machine washable and….I mean they do have nice tread. After that, I went back to the drawing board and found that two names had been written there by my brain gremlins: VivoBarefoot and Itasca Leathergoods. VivoBarefoot is one of the oldest name-brands in the barefoot movement, and their products hold up to that reputation. I purchased two of their Ababa style flat shoes, one in leather and one in heavy canvas. They are by far my favorite shoes currently. These shoes are so thin and flexible that you can roll them up like a burrito. The soles are lightweight rubber, which means water and rocks stay out of your foot-zone, but thin enough that you can really feel the terrain you’re on. They are also designed to fit your heel but then spread to give your toes free reign. Once my toes were free to spread, my foot began operating in proper barefoot fashion. Think about it, when you are barefoot, you walk differently. Your stride is different, you land differently, etc. This is where the difference between minimalist shoes and barefoot shoes comes into play (more on this in the next paragraph). Itasca Leathergoods is the best kept secret of Minnesota. They are a small-scale, family owned business with great attention to detail, customer service, and quality. They have many different styles and leathers, but what I love most about them is that they do not charge for custom orders. Basically, you trace your feet on two pieces of paper, order a style in “custom,” and tell them the tracings are in the mail. You can also detail whether you want them snug or looser (if you want to wear socks). I simply adore the moccasins they sent me. Within a week of wear they had fully formed to my feet and were by far my most comfortable pair of booties. Itasca moccasins are softsoled, meaning there is no rubber involved, just more leather. They sell styles with double buffalo soles which will probably last a lifetime. They are also very accommodating when it comes to repairs. Please buy from them. You will be happy.
VFFs, Lems, and other thicker soled shoes are minimalist. They do not have arch support or any lift in the heel (i.e zero drop), and have a wide toe box. So, they hit about 3/5 of the barefoot reqs (no arch support, zero drop, wide toe box, thin and communicative sole, very flexible). Minimalist shoes are almost not helpful when one is learning how to walk properly. When you still have a thick sole but no arch support, your feet are going to think they are still in your normal shoes, and they are going to (usually) pronate. I find my feet are usually a little more sore when I have worn minimalist shoes as opposed to their barefoot cousins. The real difference in my foot strength and fatigue came when I started wearing the Vivos and Itascas. I found that when my feet send signals to my brain that they are, for all intents and purposes, naked, I land differently. First, I completely stopped heel striking. Most of us have strides that are technically too long for us. We are kicking our feet out in front of us, landing on the heel, and then propelling our whole body forward as we lift up the other foot and place all our weight on this one foot. Our feet should be landing more underneath us, with no over-extension of our calf or foot. This leads to mid or forefoot striking. I have found for myself that I land on the mid-lateral part of my foot before rolling slightly inward to spread my toes and activate my arch fascia. Obviously, knowing how you are landing will take a lot of body awareness and patience, but for me it was worth it. My foot fatigue is gone, I have better balance, and I think it may be improving the pressure I was putting on my joints. Because the arch is kind of a shock absorber for when you strike, barefooting teaches you to land softer. Many describe this idea as the stride coming from your hip as opposed to your knee. Instead of kicking your feet out in front of you, you are rotating your leg up at the hip to come down and then go up. This is more of a vertical instead of horizontal oriented motion, allowing you to land underneath yourself instead of ahead of your body. As an extension of this, you also stop rolling off the ball of your foot for momentum. After two months of barefoot shoes, I tried minimalist shoes. At first it was a nightmare, because with the extra padding my feet once again believed it was okay to heel strike, which put more stress on my arch, which I had no padding for. I had to be very conscious of how I was walking and teach my feet not to heel-strike even though they had more cush. The pros of minimalist footwear is that it is usually more weatherproof (or able to be weather proofed), more socially acceptable for fancy events or work, and have a bit more cush if you are going to spend a chunk of time on hard floors.
I just threw a lot of information at you.
Now you don’t have to go to 20 different websites to gather it all for yourself.
Lems: lemsshoes.com (good source of dress shoes)
Itasca Leathergoods: itascamoccasin.com
Vibram FIveFingers: us.vibram.com