What, no shoes?
You're heading out to lead a local hike one morning. The weather's nice, perhaps a bit of chill in the air, but with a milder forecast ahead it's clearly going to be a fine day for an outing. You pull in at the trailhead and find a couple of people who got there early, and as you're chatting with them a few more cars arrive. As people continue to gather and add their names to the signup form, you're perhaps subtly eyeballing their gear and visible condition to reassure yourself that they can likely handle the trip. Then, another person walks up, or maybe even more than one, asking "Is this the AMC hike?" They're carrying the typical day-hike stuff -- packs with lunch, water, maybe some poles -- and then you notice that there is nothing at all on their feet. What?? Many folks would be terrified at the idea of venturing into the woods without their favorite sturdy boots on, so what on earth are these people up to? Well, they're not crazy. They are most likely barefooters, and if they're well-conditioned and accustomed to it then they are every bit as ready to hit the trail as anyone else in the group. Barefoot hiking, while still not that common, has been "a thing" for quite a few years. In the larger sense, indeed, it was for thousands of years before shoes were invented -- and we humans managed to survive! But in the present day, interest in letting one's feet freely explore the outdoors has been slowly ramping up since the early nineties, and those who engage in it generally find it quite enjoyable and quite safe. In fact, a seasoned barefooter may be more stable and less injury-prone than a shod hiker over many types of terrain, and almost certainly more comfortable and engaged with their environment. They are quite happy with a brisk pace, and will often overtake other typical trail users and blast ahead. Hiking unshod does take a little conditioning to get used to it, and the advice to newbies among the barefooter community is "start slow and work up to the rough stuff". One does not try to go barreling along a gravelly fire road on the first day out! That only leads to pain. But after a few months of practice and toughening-up, most experienced barefooters can easily handle gravel, sharp rocks, bits of glass, mud, sticks, and whatever else a trail might throw at them. Even some snow and ice, for some of the more hardcore enthusiasts. And frankly, the grip of a bare sole on our typical New England granite is phenomenal. There is a lot of information about the topic on the internet. One only has to search for the two words "barefoot" and "hiking", and the numerous results will likely include some of these.<!-- xxx: this bit will need some cleanup, format however you like,
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Some long-standing references: http://www.barefooters.org/barefoot-hiking/ http://www.bhthom.org/hikertxt.htm [an entire book online] http://www.earthshod.com/barefoothiking.html https://thetrek.co/5-questions-i-get-asked-about-barefoot-hiking/ Our Boston-local hiking group: http://outbarefoot.org/embfh/ And of course, the two sisters who yo-yoed the entire AT mostly barefoot: https://thelongbrownpath.com/2016/12/24/the-barefoot-sisters/
Plenty of reading to be done on the subject! Chris McDougall's book "Born to Run" also bumped up general interest in barefoot running and hiking back around 2010, so awareness has been growing, albeit still slowly, since then. You may see a theme here -- human feet are far more robust than we tend to give them credit for these days, especially when set free from the bonds of social convention. It's really one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, and it's unfortunate that prejudicial stigma from the sixties is still so pervasive today. Recall that every participant is fundamentally responsible for themselves on AMC outings, even if by leading you are to some extent tasked with looking out for their general welfare and not getting them lost. So should your new sole-stompin' acquaintances go along on the trip? If you're not sure, what you might ask them is where they are in their own barefoot journey -- how long they've been hiking that way, and/or if they're confident about their ability versus the expected trail conditions and pace. If the answer is an unequivocal "yes", then you all should be good to go. If they don't seem entirely sure of themselves, or hint that they're just starting to get into it, at the very least they should *bring* their normal shoes along as a backup, and be cautioned against slowing the group down. Chances are that you'll all have a great time either way, and the whole group might learn some new things about what is humanly possible. _______________ _H* 190403