Isn’t It Dangerous Being Barefoot?
This is normally the opening statement that I am presented with whenever anyone approaches me to talk about why I have no shoes on. Because this does seem to be the main concern that stops people going barefoot I thought that this would be a good place to start when talking about barefooting.
Both the city and the country have a number of different challenges when being barefoot but at the end of the day if you apply a little common sense then you’ll be fine. Here are some of the concerns that have been raised to me, and my usual replies.
It’s true you don’t know what germs and bacteria are lurking around on the pavement or the floor of the wood. However the skin on your feet WILL protect you from these nasties. That’s provided you don’t have any open cuts or sores – use common sense, if you have a cut or a sore then it’ll probably be best to put something on your feet.
This is more of a city issue than a country issue, in the country the main problem is animal faeces, especially those left by inconsiderate dog owners (a pet peeve of mine). Leaf mould and grass are both astringents and both mildly antiseptic, and there are a host of other plants that you can use to clean your feet off should you wish.
Generally speaking I’ll wash my feet off when I return home, and if I do happen to step in something unsavoury then there is nearly always some water somewhere (or plants, leaves and grass) that can be used to clean your feet.
Obviously going barefoot and chewing you toe nails is NOT a good combination
Disease and Parasites
I have had people ask about parasites, from what I have found it would seem that Hook Worm is the main culprit here. In countries with good sanitation Hook Worm is NOT be a problem (I am referring to human Hook Worm).
Hook Worm does invade the host by burrowing through the skin on the feet to enter the blood stream and believe that you can feel this happening. For those who are constantly barefoot the skin on the sole of your feet would be too thick and tough for the larva to penetrate, they can however burrow in through the skin between your toes.
In order for the Hook Worm larva to reach the point where they start needing a new host they require very specific conditions to grow, mainly warm moist environments (the cold, heat and dry or very wet will kill the larva) and they take around 5 days to mature from being past out of the host. They also ONLY come from human faeces!
So, unless you’re standing still on a spot where an infected person defecated within the last 5 days, you’re safe. Modern sanitary conditions have all but eliminated human Hook Worm; it is no longer considered an issue in the majority of the world.
As regards diseases, most diseases of the foot are as a result of wearing either poorly fitting or inappropriate shoes! And most, like Athletes Foot, only thrive in the warm damp conditions provided by socks and shoes.
I would say if you are a regular barefooter (or even if you’re not) then it’s not a bad idea to keep your Tetanus shots up to date.
Sharp Stones and Glass
Sharp stones are more of an issue in the country and broken glass more of an issue in the city, but both can have the same affect!
Personally I have found neither to be too much of a problem. One of the things that you develop as a regular barefooter is a more tuned in awareness. An awareness of where you’re going and what is on the floor in front of you. I have often found myself unconsciously wandering around a patch of broken glass or exposed sharp stones.
Also the more you walk barefoot the harder or more durable the soles of your feet become, offering some protection against glass and sharp stones. I wouldn’t purposefully walk over broken glass, but I have accidentally walked through a patch of broken glass with no adverse effects, but it’s not something that I would consciously try again!
I have only had two shards of glass stick into my feet; the first time was in the first month of going barefoot when my soles were still soft. This didn’t hurt and was easily pulled out with my finger nails, no bleeding and no pain. The second time was more recently and the only thing that alerted me to the fact that I had something stuck in the bottom of my foot was that feeling of walking with a small stone in your shoe. This was a little trickier to remove, but again it was pulled out with my finger nails and no bleeding and no pain. Interestingly both times I have had a glass encounter it has been in the arch of my foot where the skin is thinner and not so tough.
Cuts and Bruises
Cuts and bruises generally come from being careless or not considering your feet.
Bruising is normally an issue in the early days of barefooting or after a very long walk on a hard surface. The bruising is caused by continual heavy foot falls, as your feet harden off bruising becomes less of a problem, the muscles and flesh of your feet and lower legs become used to the impact from being barefoot. Remember that your shoes cushion the bottom of your feet, so when starting out take it easy and build up slowly.
Also trying to walk toe to heel instead of heel to toe, it takes some getting used to, but it does lessen the impact of being barefoot on both your feet and legs and will help reduce bruising.
Chilblains or Frost-bite
I do love to be barefoot, and do try to be barefoot as much as possible. BUT when I can’t feel my toes I know that’s time to put on my Vibrams. It’s just common sense!
Is It Against The Law?
There are no laws prohibiting being barefoot in public in the USA or UK, and this includes driving. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the work place; there are certain work places that require employees to wear shoes or boots of one sort or another.
There are also no general laws that prohibit barefooters from going into restaurants or other shops and stores, however each individual premises or company is entitled to refuse admission based on the their own dress code or barefoot policy, this does give them the right to stop you going in but it doesn’t make being barefoot illegal.
The Barefoot Lifestyle
The barefoot life style is no more dangerous than any other life style so long as you apply common sense. If you walk around with a gapping cut on the bottom of your foot it will most likely get infected. If you run head long through a bramble patch you will most likely get thorns in your feet. If you walk around for hours in sub-zero temperature you most likely will get frost-bite.
I tend to carry my Vibrams around with me if I’m going on a long walk or a major excursion into the city, only just in case… you never really know what you’ll encounter… but that’s part of the fun!
If you have anything to add please feel free to use the comments below, or if you feel that I’ve missed something out, or just to let me know how you’ve got on being barefoot.