A non-diet question here, since a lot of us are interested in other aspects of paleo physiology: I went hiking recently and wore hiking boots while my two buddies had Vibrams. Their feet were pretty beat up afterward, and I read recently about a woman whose brother has broken a toe twice while trail hiking.
At first blush, it's seems that our toes are not well adapted to walking/running outdoors without shoes. There are a lot of sharp rocks, roots, etc. in the wild, and even if you toughened the soles of your feet, I don't see how you could strengthen the small bones in your toes all that much. If we are "meant" to walk barefoot, why it is so easy to stub/fracture/break our toes?
I don't have any experience with Vibrams, but you'd be surprised what your feet are capable of adapting to. In ballet, for instance, when you start training for pointe shoes you can't manage more than a few seconds en pointe and after a few months of conditioning your feet look and feel pretty mangled and you can only manage a few more seconds. After years, however, your toes strengthen, as do your ankles and calves; you hold yourself differently, you move differently, and walking around on your toes feels as natural and is as painless as anything.
Humans are incredibly adaptive, I wouldn't count your feet out on this one. It's not just about putting a different pair of shoes on, you can't expect instantaneous results. Considering how different it is to walk in Vibrams, I would imagine it takes at least a few months of conditioning to relearn walking. It's not unlike pointe shoes actually, you would probably have to recondition your feet and ankles to make up for the lack of "support" in modern trainers, what with all the lifts and cushioning and such.
You're probably meant to walk slower, spend a lifetime practicing, and not walk on trails which are created and maintained by the local park service/eroded by vehicles.
I think the major factor there is the lifetime of practice, both in terms of conditioning and learning how to walk in harsh terrain. If you don't stub your toe, you won't break it. But if you go deep-end paleo at age 25 or 30 or whatever, and start wandering the woods barefoot or in VFF, you've got to learn how to walk all over again.
Also, one presumes that shoes evolved for a reason, probably to extend one's range and durability when traveling on foot. So in that sense I don't think the dilemma posed is really much of a dilemma - yeah, human feet can get hurt pretty easily, so we invented foot coverings along with fire, spears and the internet.
I agree with the other posters but would also add that this is a particular problem with Vibram Five Fingers. I have two pair and love them, but there are drawbacks. The biggest drawbacks is that the shoes actually separate your toes to some degree, much more so than going barefoot. This can be a real problem with "snagging" the pinkie toe.
I wear mine to Crossfit and when jumping rope, I inevitably get the rope caught between my pinkie toe and the next toe when I get tired. When I'm barefoot, I just end up slapping my foot, but not getting the rope between my toes. Both hurt like crazy with a heavy rope, but I don't worry about my pinkie toe when I'm barefoot...
You can always go barefoot when hiking, but if you are going to wear minimalist shoes, I would find something with a wide toebox that allows the foot to splay, but doesn't allow your toes to get snagged. There are more and more minimalist shoes out there.
Finally, when barefoot or minimalist, you quickly learn to pay more attention to where you place your feet and it quickly becomes second nature.
I love going barefoot and wearing minimalist shoes, I just have learned to be a little more "aware" of where I place my feet when running or walking.
I think that walking barefoot is a skill that I've lost as I became accustomed to wearing shoes. As a barefoot kid I didn't kick stones - it hurt! When I started wearing shoes I had no problem scuffing through gravel and kicking rocks along the road in front of me.
I'm certain that barefoot people in all times suffered foot injuries. I think, also, that those who grow up without shoes suffer fewer foot injuries than people who grew up with shoes when they're not wearing them. (That's a convoluted sentence but I'm not sure how to simplify it.)
Nothing really new to add here, but our toes are quite adapted to barefoot running, they're just not adapted for hitting them against a rock.
The word awareness has been mentioned. Mick Dodge (the barefoot sensei) talks about this quite a lot. From a text (pdf here)
“But my feet are too sensitive to walk barefoot!” Mick’s students sometimes say. “No,” he growls gently, “they’re not sensitive enough yet!” “But I can’t possibly start hiking around the wood in just my bare feet,” another student complains. “Why, I’d have to pay attention to every single step I take to do that!” Exactly, Mick tells her. That’s it exactly. Kick off your shoes. Take a walk on the wild side.
Be aware of every step you take.
You know that in every meditation/relaxation technique, you have to focus on 'the now', and forget about the past and future.
Try real barefoot walking instead. There's no time to think about the past and future. Think about your walk.
Even better: try walking and spotting some birds or game (even if you're not a hunter). There is only 'the now' if you do this.
Really, try it... even if you're not into meditation/relaxation (I'm not too)
kind of more of the same here...
I have owned and worne VFF KSO's for about seven months exclusively, I also bowhunt completely barefoot, as well as run, hike, trek, crossfit, etc. basically VFF are my "I am not allowed to go barefoot here due to stupid laws, so I wear these things". The main problem with the majority of humans is that they are club footed bumbling idiots. Ever watch a fox or coyote trot through the forest? They don't stub their toes very often!! They have as small or smaller bones in their feet and they do fine. I don't actually stub my toes any more now that I have "uncast" my feet. You develop a second nature awareness of where your feet are and what obstacles are in your way.
Also, someone above mentioned things like we as humans have learned to tame fire and use tools, thus we learned how to protect our feet and increase our overland trekking distance....B.S.! Have you ever been privileged enough to hunt with remaining tribes of Native Americans? I did, and let me tell you, they will outdistance anyone with hiking boots in not time! they don't need to stop and rest their feet, they don't need to dry the useless leather globs on their feet out after crossing a river, they don't worry about sweat accumulating and causing athelete's foot. The only time they wear moccasins is when they need to cross sharp lava rocks or burning hot dirt or something. Any type of footwear should only be worn when there is an immediate danger to the feet, and then taken off as soon as the danger is gone!
I remember LIFE magazine pics of the huge feet of Sherpas with thick callus that let them walk all over anything including snow, ice, rocks, etc.
Basically, unless you were born into a Sherpa home, your feet were too overprotected and are not quite as useless as the hoof-like bound feet of old China. I try to go barefoot as much as I can but even then my lower paws are too tenderfooted for much of anything.
my mother's uncle will was poor and hunted squirrels to supplement his family' s diet. they lived in southern illinois. he used to hunt barefoot to sneak up on the squirrels. even in the snow. but the woods in that area is very rocky ground. he did this even in the winter with snow on the ground. all in what you're used to, i guess. aunt bettie fisher
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