The Barefoot FAQ

This FAQ answers those questions that both non-barefooters and new barefooters ask of barefooters all the time, from the basic (obvious) questions to those on foot health, care, and treatment, as well as those on how to deal with a mostly shod world.

Written by Paul J. Lucas with contributions from fellow barefooters
  1. Why walk barefoot?

  2. Doesn't it hurt?
  3. What about broken glass?
  4. What about hot surfaces such as asphalt?
  5. Isn't is gross with all the dirt?
  6. Don't you have to stare at the ground all the time?
  7. Don't toughened soles lose feeling?

  8. Is it actually healthy to go barefoot?
  9. Can I go barefoot even if I have flat feet?
  10. How can I get my feet in shape?
  11. What should I do if I get a blister?
  12. What should I do if I get something stuck in my foot?
  13. What about catching diseases?
  14. What about public restrooms, i.e., urine?
  15. Should I walk differently when barefoot?
  16. What can I do if I develop "cracks" in my soles?

  17. What can I say to passers-by if they make a comment?
  18. Is it legal to drive barefoot?
  19. Why don't some stores permit bare feet?
  20. Is there such a thing as soleless footwear?

1. 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 human.

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

Additionally, there's something to be said for the "barefoot aesthetic": bare feet on a person just plain look nice!

2. 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 mindset 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 them.

3. 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 or 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 going!

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

4. What about hot surfaces such as 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 do.

[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.

5. 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.

6. Don't you have to stare at the ground all the time?

Once you get used to walking barefoot, no. It's very much like learning to drive a car. At first, you're very nervous about driving in traffic and worrying about getting into an accident. You keenly watch everything and proceed with extreme caution. You grip the steering wheel tightly with both hands.

But, over time, you relax and realize driving isn't such a big deal. Eventually you can tune the radio, talk to your friend, and read a map all at the same time while steering the car with only a couple of fingers on one hand. Similarly, you learn to relax when walking barefoot and don't need to stare at the ground all the time to avoid injury. You will develop a "sixth sense" about placing your feet since your soles are a wonderful sensory organ.

7. Don't toughened soles lose feeling?

[The following was 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!

8. Is it 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

The detailed answer to this question has largely been superceded by the A Case for Bare Feet paper, specifically section 3: Health. The paper is available on-line here.

To see the excerpts from published papers in medical journals (referenced in the A Case for Bare Feet paper) that support the claims that going barefoot is healthy and that footwear is entirely unnecessary and, in many cases, detrimental to foot health, click here

9. 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 "normal" 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 Is it actually healthy to go barefoot?).

Additionally, forcing feet into shoes with arch supports against their natural shape can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

In contrast, going barefoot strengthens the 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" levels.

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 merely 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.)

In it, a vertical line is drawn from the inside edge of a foorprint next to the big toe to the inside edge of the heel. A horzontal line is then drawn across a the footprint. Point (A) is where the two lines intersect; point (B) is where the horizontal line intersects the inside edge of the instep; point (C) is where the horizontal line intersects the outside edge of the footprint.Given the above, if you still care whether you really have flat feet or not, you can use the following figure to make the determination. It is adapted from "The Influence of Footwear on the Prevalence of Flat Foot," The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 74B(4), 1992, pp. 525-527.

If the width of the instep (AB) at its widest part is less than 1cm, the foot is considered as flat (right). If the width of the footprint at its narrowest part (BC) is less than 1cm, the arch is considered high (center). All other footprints are considered "normal" (left).

10. How can 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 - baring a medical condition, 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 with little discomfort.)

11. 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" develops.

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

[Note: The following does not constitute medical advice. It is only the personal experience of some barefooters and no claims are made that these techiniques will work for anybody else. Use them at your own risk.]

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.

12. What should I do if I get something stuck in my foot?

[Note: The following does not constitute medical advice. It is only the personal experience of some barefooters and no claims are made that these techiniques will work for anybody else. Use them at your own risk.]

Get yourself a really good pair of finely tipped, needle-nosed tweezers. Sterilize them and the area of the foot where the object is embedded. Under really good light, try to locate and grab hold of the object. Pull it out.

[The following was contributed by Louis van Rooyen.]

An old South African remedy is to warm an empty bottle by filling it with hot water and then pressing the opening tightly over the skin where the object is. As the bottle cools, the air contracts creating a vacuum and, if you're lucky, the object will be sucked out.

13. 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.
    [Full text]

    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.

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 misnomer):

    The same text about Athlete's Foot applies for ringworm. (Additionally, one can get it anywhere on one's body.)

14. What about public restrooms, i.e., urine?

[The following was contributed by Mike Berrow.]

I avoid urine too, but that's due to the "yuck" factor that we were all brought up with and NOT due to any science.

Urine is sterile and harmless. I pulled the following quotes from the web:

... Well, urine is NOT a toxic waste product and this has been scientifically proven. 95% of urine is water, 2.5% consists of urea and the remaining 2.5% is a mixture of minerals, salt, hormones and enzymes. Toxic substances are being removed from the body through the liver and intestines, through the skin and through the outbreath. The main function of the kidneys is to keep the composition of the blood in optimal balance. When there is to much water, the kidneys will remove it. But that doesn't make water into a toxic waste product ...

You can find urea in many skin products as one of the main components. Furthermore, urine is entirely sterile after secretion and has an antiseptic effect.

Many medical researchers, unlike most of us, know that far from being a dirty body-waste, fresh, normal urine is actually sterile and is an extraordinary combination of some of the most vital and medically important substances known to man. Now this fact may be unknown to the vast majority of the public today, it is nothing new to modern medicine.

If anything, the urea is probably good for your skin.

15. 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.

16. 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 a greasy substance (e.g. olive oil) 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!

17. What can I say to passers-by if they make a comment?

If it's just a comment, ignoring them is always an option. If they ask a question, ignoring them is still an option.

However, being polite usually helps and some barefooters have gotten into some interesting conversations. Maybe you can even make a few converts!

The responses get nastier or weirder the farther down the list they are. It depends on your mood at the time. (Some of the responses can be used in response to more than one comment.)

  • You're barefoot!
    • You're not!
    • You're observant!
    • You're right!
    • Thanks for the tip.
    • No shit, Sherlock.

  • Why aren't you wearing shoes?
    • Don't like 'em.
    • They make my feet sweat/stink.
    • My feet like the fresh air.
    • My feet were hot.
    • One less thing to do in the morning.
    • Why aren't you wearing gloves [hat]?
    • To annoy people like you.
    • Why do you care?
    • I'm allergic to them.
    • I'm not wearing a tie either.
    • I'm off-duty.
    • I'm opposed to wasting petrochemicals/leather.
    • I'm performing a scientific foot-toughening experiment.
    • If I don't keep in contact with the ground, I build up a static charge.
    • My feet were jealous of my hands.
    • I'll give you three-thousand guesses.
    • They are a conspiracy by multi-national plastic and leather merchants.
    • I knew I had forgotten something!

  • Why are you barefoot?
    • I like the way it feels.
    • It's much more comfortable.
    • I think it looks cool.
    • I want to toughen my feet.
    • It's good for my feet.
    • Because feet are beautiful.
    • It gives me this wonderful feeling of freedom.
    • I want keep in touch with the earth.
    • Because I'm not wearing shoes [duh!].
    • Try and work it out.
    • Because I m not concerned with your contempt.
    • Dunno.
    • Because you don't pay my salary.
    • I'm in a time-warp from the '60s.

  • Where are your shoes?
    • At home [where they belong].
    • I don't know. [Have you seen them?]
    • Somewhere else.
    • What do you mean? These are God's Reeboks.
    • On vacation.
    • Don't have any.
    • My what?
    • What are shoes?
    • Up there. [Said while pointing up.]
    • Aliens took them.

  • Aren't your feet cold?
    • Not unduly.
    • No...My feet are COOL!
    • Obviously not.
    • Aren't your feet hot?

  • Nice shoes.
    • Thanks.
    • Very comfortable too.
    • Do you like them? My parents made them for me.

18. Is it legal to drive barefoot?

YES!!! (At least in the United States, Canada, and England; I don't know about other countries.) The statement to the contrary is urban folklore and believed by so many people, even some police officers. However, if you call either your local or state police and ask them, they will say it's legal. If the cop on the phone says otherwise, ask him/her to give you the statute number. S/he won't be able to and then will admit their mistake.

One guy actually did write to all 50 states asking the question. All the letters he received back are available here

Additionally, the American Automobile Association (AAA) publishes a "Digest of Motor Laws" handbook that is a:

Summary of laws and regulations governing regulation and operation of passenger cars in the United States, its Territories, and the Provinces of Canada.

It has a "Barefoot Driving" entry for all states and territories; and for each it says: "Operation of a motor vehicle by a driver with bare feet is permitted."

The 62nd edition has ISBN 0-916748-70-7. You can obtain a copy of the digest through your local AAA club. When I called my local AAA club, they were clueless about the fact thay they sell it. Be persistent. If all else fails, you can contact:

American Automobile Association
Traffic Safety and Engineering Department
1000 AAA Drive
Heathrow, FL 32746-5063

19. Why don't some stores permit bare feet?

The reasons why some store owners don't permit bare feet can be summarized as:
  • Lack of understanding.
  • Belief that there is a health department regulation.
  • Belief that they open themselves up to liability in case of injury.
  • Belief that bare feet are "offensive to other customers."

The detailed answer to this question has been superceded by the A Case for Bare Feet paper, specifically section 2: Discrimination. The paper is available on-line here

20. Is there such a thing as soleless footwear?

Bare Bottoms or soleless sandalsBare Bottoms or soleless sandals. They are really just a strap worn to make it appear to a casual observer that you're wearing sandals even though your soles and toes remain naturally and comfortably bare.

Experience with them indicates that they do in fact fool people, the "No Bare Feet" crowd being the chief target. The theory is that an observer's brain doesn't notice anything unusual in peripheral vision, not enough to glance down. People who do glance down may feel too stupid asking a question even though they may realize that "something's wrong with this picture."

The description: A pair of 1/2" x 33" leather straps with a buckle on one end and a couple of small slits with brass studs along the way. The idea was to thread the strap around your big toe and arch passing through the slits on the way. Viola! Something that looked like a sandal but wasn't. Perfect to get into a "No shoes, No service" spot. Made in 1967 for the anti-establishment soleless folks.

Copyright 1994-1999 by 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 notices are retained verbatim and are displayed conspicuously. If anyone needs other permissions that aren't covered by the above, please contact the author. THIS WORK IS PROVIDED ON AN "AS IS" BASIS. THE AUTHOR PROVIDES NO WARRANTY WHATSOEVER, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, REGARDING THE WORK, INCLUDING WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO ITS MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR PURPOSE.


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