I arrived early for my colonoscopy so I looked around the waiting area for something interesting to read and spotted the February 1, 2010 issue of Time magazine. I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at a magazine that has a website that was featured in Steve Jobs’ Apple iPad keynote presentation. What caught my attention while browsing this magazine was the image of what the author, Bryan Walsh, called foot gloves.1 Bryan’s article on page 45, “Toe Huggers”, tells how going barefoot (or close to it) might be better for your body.
I have enjoyed going barefoot in the Airstream (and in the house for many years) and was fascinated to learn of the benefits of going barefoot. The human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, ligaments, and sensory receptors.
According to Vibram (maker of FiveFingers), to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised. Stimulating the muscles in our feet and lower legs makes us stronger and healthier, while improving our balance, agility and proprioception. The wearing of shoes can impede proper alignment and movement within the ankle and foot. “Shoes are bad”, says Adam Sternbergh in his article, “You Walk Wrong”, in the New York magazine. He discusses the benefits of barefoot walking and presents a three-part guide on how to walk better. He mentions that there are groups, such as the Society for Barefoot Living, which help people learn about barefoot walking and the “barefoot lifestyle.”
See the You Tube video, “The Barefoot Professor: by Nature Video“.* Harvard professor and runner, Daniel Lieberman, shows that barefoot runners tend to land on their fore-foot and generate less impact shock than runners in sports shoes who land heel first. Barefoot running can be more comfortable and could minimize running-related injuries. Interest in barefoot running jumped recently with Christopher McDougall’s 2009 best seller, Born to Run, which follows Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, who run long distances wearing thin rubber sandals or no shoes at all. See Tarahumara: Pillars of the World.*
But running and walking barefoot outside can lead to infections and injuries. We routinely check every campsite for glass, nails, screws, and anything else that could puncture a tire before we back in the trailer. So I became very interested in Vibram’s FiveFingers. See Bryan Walsh demonstrate wearing and running in FiveFingers in the Time video, “Is Running Barefoot Better for You?“. All of this made sense to me so I found Vibram FiveFingers KSO in my size locally.2 They can be ordered online, but, if this is your first time trying these, it is better to try them on in the store to insure a proper fit.
See Wired Science article, “To Run Better…” by Dylan Tweeney, which includes sidebar tips on “How to Run Barefoot”.
NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz tried on and reported on FiveFingers in NPR’s story, “A Shoe for Barefoot Runners“.
Even poet, author, and artist Marshal South preferred to go barefoot at Yaquitepec during his experiment in primitive living from 1930 to 1947. He wrote in is article, “Desert Diary 11”, “Ordinarily, bare feet are the rule at Yaquitepec. Wood gathering however calls often for the navigation of savage sections of rock and thorn where barefoot caution would consume too much time. So we dig out our Yaqui sandals for the job. Probably the oldest and simplest human device for foot protection, the sandal is still the most comfortable and healthiest thing man has ever fashioned in the way of footwear… Generations of abuse in ‘thoroughly scientific’ shoes have spoiled civilized feet to such an extent that they have to be entirely re-educated. But once the sandal technique is learned the foot enters upon a new and better life of freedom.”3
However, there are times when going barefoot or in foot gloves or sandals just won’t do. So I recently bought what may be the most comfortable shoes that I have ever worn: Merrell’s Encore Groove. Merrell began in the Green Hills in Vermont* and has been providing outdoor enthusiasts with quality performance footwear for over 26 years.4
I am now looking forward to taking my FiveFingers and ten toes out on our next camping trip and enjoying what should be a spectacular wildflower blooming season due to our recent rains.5 In the meantime, Larry and I have begun taking our FiveFingers (and two corgis) on walk/runs around our local Chollas Lake three times a week and are already experiencing the fun and health benefits. See Ultra Marathon Running Movie – Indulgence* and Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon in Born to Run.*
Footnotes to Footnotes:
1. Also known as shoe gloves, foot socks and barefoot shoes.
2. REI in San Diego was temporarily out of stock in this model, so I found mine at Adventure 16. Model KSO, “Keep Stuff Out”.
3. All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.
4. “History of Merrell”, on their website
5. See DesrtUSA’s Desert Wildflower Reports 2010 – Southern California
*This is a link to a YouTube video.