3

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Barefooting and modern sharp debris

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created August 31, 2011 at 4:16 PM

I've been getting increasingly daring about going barefoot on trails and streets. Yesterday I took a long barefoot walk on some dirt trails in a city park, and though I saw some small glass shards here and there decided to keep going sans sandals. Should I trust that my sense of touch and reflexes can help me avoid these things most of the time? Or, should I maintain a healthy fear of sharp objects like glass and nails, and still opt for the Vibrams when the purity of the terrain is in question?

A3c56c85290f748410a6f340ddd552b3

(321)

on February 11, 2013
at 04:51 PM

David, YES! I've had goatheads go right through the sole of my Vibram Five Fingers. Yowch.

A64ed062eb5e2c3407122fcf16c5de6b

(715)

on September 03, 2011
at 07:32 AM

@rockgrrl sorry I fixed the link

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 09:30 PM

Great to hear from someone with direct experience.

351cbf133b44fb7a1b90781e148d28d7

(597)

on September 01, 2011
at 05:07 PM

Heavy metals can be absorbed through the skin; I'm saying this as a photography student who spent hours and hours in the darkroom, elbow deep in developing chemicals without gloves, even though I knew better. You may not get the levels of exposure that I did while working in the lab, but the possibility is there.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 04:12 PM

True, though in my region I think there is mostly more risk from glass than fallen thorns.

65125edd5aafad39b3d5b3a8b4a36bb7

(6082)

on September 01, 2011
at 03:40 PM

Many people forget that there are tons of "natural" sharp objects out there in grass fields and the woods. Broken glass is not nearly as prevalent as everybody thinks, but thorns and burrs are freakin' everywhere.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:08 PM

@Rockgrrl, your skin is your body's largest organ... it is designed to keep contaminants out, but I don't see any reason to push it.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:07 PM

@JCB: yes... for the same reasons. We have a pile of shoes by the front door. I am not a big germ-o-phobe but when you think about all of the places the bottom of your feet go during the day, you don't want that in your house.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:03 PM

wmertens, that link didn't work for me...

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:01 PM

I feel you on this... but wonder if anyone knows how much of the toxic crap can actually pass through the skin? If we're worried about heavy metals, for instance, are they blocked by skin, or is it possible for them to be absorbed? Other specific known toxins we should worry about? But anyway, maybe all that black airborne toxic dust landing on your tender lungs and nasal passages is more worrisome than the thick skin of the feet hitting the grime for a bit!

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 01:48 PM

Diligently wearing VFFs really made the difference for my bf recovering from a meniscus tear. Cool stuff!

E7a462d6e99fec7e8f0ddda11b34a770

(1638)

on September 01, 2011
at 12:55 PM

UncleLongHair - just curious, do you always take your shoes off as soon as you come into your house? For those that do, your advice is consistent. But I run into a lot of people who mention this but then walk all over their house w/street shoes on and therefore get all that stuff in there anyway. (And yes, I immediately go wash my feet as soon as I get home ;) )

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on September 01, 2011
at 09:52 AM

I've been contemplating this lately. Even if I were brave enough to go barefoot in the city, I would think it would up my toxic load dramatically with all the heavy metals from the break dust and exhaust that ends up on the sidewalk. It's been a while since I lived downtown, but I was always wiping black grime off of my windowsills, and that was 4 stories up.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on August 31, 2011
at 07:53 PM

I made a pair of invisible shoe huaraches (you can see the video here...http://www.fitnessinanevolutionarydirection.com/2010/11/huaraches-new-age-footwear-with-vintage.html) but prefer running in vibrams hands, er foot, down.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 31, 2011
at 04:49 PM

that should be http://www.flickr.com/photos/larsonfamily/5753231004/

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10 Answers

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2
Fe783e04644862c30823614f31b9a996

on September 01, 2011
at 04:23 PM

Go for it--city or country. It took me nearly a year to gather the courage to go barefoot in NYC, and what helped put me over was a talk by Barefoot Ken Bob, then meeting Petur at MovNat, who goes everywhere barefoot in Iceland, as well as when he is in NYC.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a real dearth of used syringes lying on NYC streets. There is plenty of broken glass, but unless you've got a really bad running gait (difficult when barefoot!), you will land on it without any "sliding" action, then be on your merry way. With really tiny bits of glass, I think I've gotten 1-2 of these in dozens of miles walked/run, but I pulled them out with no bleeding and kept on keeping on.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 09:30 PM

Great to hear from someone with direct experience.

9
F1b39d4f620876330312f4925bd51900

(4090)

on August 31, 2011
at 04:42 PM

I would save the pure barefoot for more wild areas. There are worse things than glass in a city or near a city, like used syringes for example.

7
9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

on September 01, 2011
at 09:15 AM

My $0.02, I would never go barefoot in an urban area, not just for the glass and sharp objects, but the industrial grime and pollution. The idea of pounding the waste from thousands of cars, millions of people, pets, cigarettes, buildings, etc. into the bottom of my feet is pretty gross. Then the idea of getting a cut on my foot with all of that junk on there thus admitting it to my bloodstream is somewhat terrifying,

I totally get the barefoot thing and when in safer areas I always try to go sans shoes, and enjoy toughening up my feet and going au naturale. However, human feet weren't designed to handle the worst of New York City's streets.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:07 PM

@JCB: yes... for the same reasons. We have a pile of shoes by the front door. I am not a big germ-o-phobe but when you think about all of the places the bottom of your feet go during the day, you don't want that in your house.

6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on September 01, 2011
at 09:52 AM

I've been contemplating this lately. Even if I were brave enough to go barefoot in the city, I would think it would up my toxic load dramatically with all the heavy metals from the break dust and exhaust that ends up on the sidewalk. It's been a while since I lived downtown, but I was always wiping black grime off of my windowsills, and that was 4 stories up.

9a5e2da94ad63ea3186dfa494e16a8d1

(15833)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:08 PM

@Rockgrrl, your skin is your body's largest organ... it is designed to keep contaminants out, but I don't see any reason to push it.

351cbf133b44fb7a1b90781e148d28d7

(597)

on September 01, 2011
at 05:07 PM

Heavy metals can be absorbed through the skin; I'm saying this as a photography student who spent hours and hours in the darkroom, elbow deep in developing chemicals without gloves, even though I knew better. You may not get the levels of exposure that I did while working in the lab, but the possibility is there.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:01 PM

I feel you on this... but wonder if anyone knows how much of the toxic crap can actually pass through the skin? If we're worried about heavy metals, for instance, are they blocked by skin, or is it possible for them to be absorbed? Other specific known toxins we should worry about? But anyway, maybe all that black airborne toxic dust landing on your tender lungs and nasal passages is more worrisome than the thick skin of the feet hitting the grime for a bit!

E7a462d6e99fec7e8f0ddda11b34a770

(1638)

on September 01, 2011
at 12:55 PM

UncleLongHair - just curious, do you always take your shoes off as soon as you come into your house? For those that do, your advice is consistent. But I run into a lot of people who mention this but then walk all over their house w/street shoes on and therefore get all that stuff in there anyway. (And yes, I immediately go wash my feet as soon as I get home ;) )

7
8c5533ffe71bd4262fedc7e898ead1ba

on September 01, 2011
at 08:55 AM

If you really want advice about going barefoot, you might want to ask people who actually do it. Barefoot Runner's Society. Barefoot Ken Bob. Barefoot Ted's huarache Google Group.

The fear of glass, etc. is way, way overblown. There are people who regularly run barefoot in New York City, among other major metropolitan areas. There are people who run ultramarathons barefoot.

Yes, you do need to look at the ground and pay attention to where you are going. After your feet become leathery, you don't particularly even feel grass. I have one friend who just stepped on a piece of barbed wire and it didn't even puncture his skin. (This takes time, mind you, if you've worn shoes all your life.)

If you want to be barefoot, the risks are certainly no greater than being shod and may be far fewer.

4
Medium avatar

(19479)

on August 31, 2011
at 05:52 PM

While you are more likely to avoid sharp/dangerous objects by virtue of the fact that you have more sensation barefoot (think of how quickly most of us react if we step on something sharp or even unusual) it isn't really worth in artificial settings where broken glass, nails, and other unnatural and dangerous objects are common place.

An infected foot doesn't seem worth it in my opinion, and I would recommend a pair of vibrams or some other barefoot-style footwear for city walking, running, etc.

Of course, if you find some nice natural areas (parks, trails, creeks, etc.) and want to go barefoot, I say go for it. If we look at things from an evolutionary perspective, we should be more than capable of avoiding injury from roots, rocks, pinecones, and other natural objects, especially with practice, adaptation (i.e. callouses), and awareness.

3
E7a462d6e99fec7e8f0ddda11b34a770

(1638)

on August 31, 2011
at 07:13 PM

I would say it makes a major difference whether you are walking or running. Walking you can usually see soon enough what is in front of you in order to avoid stepping on it but in running it's a little tougher to adjust in time. That said, if you are walking (and not being totally preoccupied by something or someone), then I don't see why it should be a problem. You can just as easily puncture your skin on a sharp branch, root or piece of gravel as on a nail or glass and the result is the same.

I walk barefoot now whenever possible on all types of terrain and I have never had a problem (except on some blacktop/concrete - this IS Florida in the summer after all). Last night I saw a broken bottle on the sidewalk and just stopped to pick up the pieces before some kid or dog could step on it. I mean, realistically, do you really think you are going to step directly on a syringe on the ground?

I think some of this is still a reaction to old conditioning that says, "nature good, nature clean - city bad, city dirty". Frankly, I might worry a little more about hookworms, etc., in the soil along that trail than glass on the sidewalk. (And in my case, I have to watch out for dog AND goose poo where I walk most. LOL)

(EDIT) And just as a side note, going barefoot as much as possible (probably 90%) over the last month has made a HUGE difference in the pain from my severe knee osteoarthritis. That right there has made me a believer. VFFs don't fit me right, that "rocker" ridge behind the toes on the Merrells drove me nuts AND they didn't allow my toes to spread properly. I do wear Invisible Shoe huaraches when I am required to wear something because they are the least confining thing I can find that satisfies the occasional need.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 01:48 PM

Diligently wearing VFFs really made the difference for my bf recovering from a meniscus tear. Cool stuff!

1
3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 07, 2011
at 05:06 PM

Follow-up story: I was out a couple of days ago in the woods playing a game where we try to hop from boulder to boulder without touching the ground. We were a few feet from a trail that led to a tourist site frequented by a lot of random folks. I leaped onto a rock and my foot came down HARD directly on a broken bottle base, sharp edges up, that had been hidden by a low leafy branch. Yikes! fortunately I was wearing VFFs which were uncompromised, unpoked, unperturbed. Don't think I would have been up for these antics in bare feet yet anyway (it was a very slippery day) but was very glad to be wearing foot protection at that moment.

Moral to the story is I guess to wear the VFFs if you're too dumb to look where you leap... :)

1
7050bbce676dfad74a40ec18387894f4

(601)

on August 31, 2011
at 04:19 PM

I do not trust modern man! I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Merrell Trail Gloves. They are like the five fingers, only without the funny toes.

I loved them so much I bought a pair of Merrell Tough Gloves. They have a casual shoe appearance that lets me go "barefoot" no matter what I am wearing.

0
A64ed062eb5e2c3407122fcf16c5de6b

on August 31, 2011
at 06:49 PM

Supposedly huaraches are even more barefoot-feeling! http://invisibleshoe.com explains how to make them or buy them.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on August 31, 2011
at 07:53 PM

I made a pair of invisible shoe huaraches (you can see the video here...http://www.fitnessinanevolutionarydirection.com/2010/11/huaraches-new-age-footwear-with-vintage.html) but prefer running in vibrams hands, er foot, down.

3f11b5fda91063846bba45daac3541bd

(1186)

on September 01, 2011
at 02:03 PM

wmertens, that link didn't work for me...

A64ed062eb5e2c3407122fcf16c5de6b

(715)

on September 03, 2011
at 07:32 AM

@rockgrrl sorry I fixed the link

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 31, 2011
at 04:48 PM

I second the [Merrel Trail Gloves][1]! LOVE THEM!

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on August 31, 2011
at 04:49 PM

that should be http://www.flickr.com/photos/larsonfamily/5753231004/

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