Have you ever felt like a part of you was missing?
Well, it is.
Imagine a life where, since childhood, you had been taught to wear mittens all day long, whatever you’re doing - except perhaps when you go to sleep…
How would it be like to play the piano? Wash the dishes? Draw!
Crazy idea, right?
But this - forgive me the harsh metaphor - ‘amputation' is exactly what the majority of us inflicts to their own feet.
Be it high heels, leather boots, clogs, platform soles or… yes, there you have it, trainers!
Even when our intention is to facilitate our feet’s job, we’re actually causing bad habits, making it weaker.

Because there’s little to argue and nothing to do: your super beautiful feet evolved to their current shape 200.000 years ago, when your hunter-gatherer ancestors were running after mammoths with spears, climbed mountains and endured ice-ages….. barefoot.
No-one wants to go stupidly Taliban here. There are obviously a number of good reasons to wear shoes in our daily routine. First of all, cities are full of toxic dirt (not nature-like dirty, as in mud, which is mostly nourishment). Secondly there are a number of moving objects that may cut, burn, bruise or smash your precious appendices.
That said, here’s seven golden reasons why you’d better take off your Nikes and Timbaland’s as soon as you have the chance to, especially when approaching rough, irregular soil…


A well-made house is built on solid foundations. The taller and heavier the building, the sturdier the base should be. Feet are the foundation of our body, and a surprisingly small one compared to our average height and weight. One more reason they should be tough and effectively anchored to the ground.
Unfortunately, the habit of wearing shoes never allows for a full development of plantar muscles, which would require the regular flexion of toes and heel-to-toe alignment. This weakness implies instability, which brings to automatic postural adjustments, which in time provoke back muscles contraction and skeletal misalignment. If you travel to rural areas of India or Africa, where people mostly walk barefoot, you’ll notice the majority of them have surprisingly straight backs, despite of poorer nutrition.
But even for those of us who were raised wearing shoes, there is a going back. Regular barefoot activity will tone up your plantar muscles faster than you’ll think, providing the appropriate correction to bad postural habits.


As we’re dealing with hiking along mountain trails and all sorts of natural settings here, which are irregular by definition, ridden with obstacles like stones, jutting roots, ponds and cracks, stability is a crucial issue. All regular hikers have experienced injuries of different kinds, from ankle distortion to sheer stumbling to the ground. These accidents are taken as part of the game, and rarely attributed to the use of shoes. Instead we try to solve the problem by getting even stiffer boots that lock the ankle in place. It is so surprising to realize, once you have taken up barefoot walking as a consistent routine, that the above mishaps are much less likely to happen. The foot’s 33 joints and structural softness adapts to the changing floor shape and texture like no shoe-sole could ever do. They absorb rotation preventing ankle and knee stress, making you feel grounded and safe as you advance in your hike.


If we are equipped with toes, it’s because in an even more remote past, before our ancestors took the habit of walking, we spent millions of years as proto-monkeys, living on trees. Like modern arboreal monkeys - which are in fact called quadrumanous - we used both hands and feet to climb branches and hang on them. To this day, toes have an amazing gripping capacity, allowing armless people to paint and play music. When it comes to hiking, the toes’ ability to grasp the floor gets crucial. Not just for stability as said before, but to dramatically reduce fatigue. This is completely obvious, if you think about it. Imagine, again, climbing a rocky wall wearing mittens. How much more effort would your arm and back muscles be subject to? The very same thing happens when you walk uphill with your shoes on. Trust me, you’ll be staggered as you conquer steep hills with virtually no short breath.


I have a confession to make: after 20+ years of yoga practice (and teaching), I still used to struggle with balancing postures like Vrkshasana (tree pose) or Nararajasana (dancing Shiva). Not anymore. After taking up barefoot walking for a while now, I actually like standing on one foot for extensive times. Again this is due to regained strength of plantar muscles and a whole new level of control of heel-to-toe ground pressure.


Up to now, we’ve been only talking about mechanical benefits. But here comes the cream and cherry topping, my favorite part by far. Walking barefoot on pebbles and stones, thin, large, sharp, rounded, stingy, soothing, hot, cold, wet and muddy is not mere muscle exercise: it’s neural exercise. As wholistic reflexology teaches us, all parts of the body are connected to nerve endings in the feet. Ok, you don’t believe in new age pseudo-science. Forget it. Just feel it. You know when you’ve just had breakfast and coffee after a good night sleep? That radiancy in your brain, luminous, alert, calm and powerful. That’s how you’ll feel after a half hour barefoot hike.


I have no significant reference here. Not sure if specific studies are available: my impression is that walking barefoot helps regulate the overall body temperature or at least the perception of it. It would make sense. There are proven feedback loops from periphery to center of the body where metabolism is adjusted. Being in touch with the ground, the sole provides reliable information to the CNS about what’s actually going on out there. The outcomes is that you warm up in the winter, and heat becomes less oppressive in the summer. Or that’s how it feel to me, anyway.


Last but not least, hiking barefoot allows for a whole new level of connection with nature. Let’s state the obvious, once again: animals don’t wear shoes. We know well enough that being in nature feels good to us, but there’s always a resistance, a separation. We can either enter nature as humans or as animals, ‘cos that’s what we are eventually. We just forgot about it, and it scares us. Understandably so, nature’s harsh, but also generous. And feeling it as animals is so much more fulfilling, meaningful than doing it as humans. You only need to be brave and foolish enough to remove the separation. That thin, moulded curtain of rubber sparing you from the truth.


Wrapping it up, it would be unfair to claim that approaching barefoot walking and hiking is easy.

Most of our resistance to the idea is psychological. But even I, who was in the mentality, had to overcome a certain distress when I actually started doing it. Fear of getting hurt, of what may hide beneath the rotting leaves, but most of all, physical discomfort. The little pebbles were the worse, gravel, pine needles... auch! I remember coming home from every hike with my soles lava-red, burning hot and sore.
Now, after three years, I actively look for those angled, stingy surfaces I used to avoid. It feels like a pleasant massage. Even thorns are not a real problem. Almost magically, the skin changes. It doesn’t necessarily become harder at touch (look at those hindu women, and their sensual, velvet feet…) but somewhat less vulnerable. Nerve sensitivity adjusts, as muscles around them build strength and tone.

Still, for those who don’t like the idea of enduring months of adaptation, an alternative is possible: five finger shoes. They are fantastic. When we talk about ‘barefoot walking’ in our group hikes, we allow both for skin or five fingers. They grand most of the advantages of walking barefoot with nearly no downside.

There is only one, big problem with them…..