Benefits of Going Barefoot (and the Best Barefoot Shoes)

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Now that warm weather is here, our family is spending a lot of time outside in the sun… and barefoot.

The benefits of getting outside are well-documented, but the barefoot part is often met with more skepticism. In a world where people are being diagnosed with “text neck syndrome” for spending too much time looking at a phone, it is funny to realize that many of us think that going *without* shoes is unnatural.

Benefits of Going Barefoot

Walking barefoot benefits the body in various ways. Think about it logically- feet weren’t designed to be in shoes, especially not the stiff and highly-restraining shoes we have today. Walking around barefoot (or as close as possible) may have quite a few impressive benefits:

Support the Body’s Natural Feedback Systems

Biomechanist Katy Bowman (and upcoming Wellness Mama Podcast guest) from Nutritious Movement claims that our modern shoes are contributing to a lot of problems including osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, knee-hip-back pain, and bunions. This is partially because most shoes block full motion of the foot joints and nerve feedback from the feet.

She explains:

There are nerves that interpret the shape of the ground by how the bones in the feet bend at 33 different points (joints). This creates a mental image in the brain (similar to how a dolphin uses sonar to avoid obstacles). Wearing shoes prevents any motion in these joints (except the ankle) and leaves the shoe-wearer “blind” to the environment. This is what makes stiff shoes the worst when it comes to natural development.

This is a large part of the reason that some neurologists recommend flat shoes, like swim shoes, for children with certain neurological delays. Wearing shoes with less padding improves the feedback from the feet and helps improve walking in these children.

Strengthen Feet & Legs to Avoid Injury

Most of us wear cushioned, supportive shoes with a positive heel. A positive heel means that the heel of the shoe is higher than the toe. Typically, the dressier the shoe, the more noticeable the positive heel (especially for women) and the more “athletic” the shoe, the more cushioned.

Heels and supportive running shoes are the norm, but some experts speculate that they may cause more harm that good!

Cushioned running shoes, which date back only to the 1970s, may seem comfortable but may actually contribute to foot injuries, say Daniel Lieberman, PhD, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and colleagues.

Supportive and cushioned shoes encourage the wearer to land on the heel of the foot when walking or running, as the shoe absorbs the impact. This alters the natural step and posture and creates a different walking pattern. Watch babies who have just learned how to walk to see the difference!

It also limits our natural movement patterns and causes our muscles and range of motion to atrophy over time. Watch a baby or small child squat down and try to imitate it. Children can squat with butt to heels while maintaining a neutral spine. Most adults can’t.

Many factors contribute to this (sitting too much, not moving enough, etc.), but shoes play a big role.

Learn to Run Naturally Again

The book Born to Run popularized the idea of barefoot running as the author, Christopher McDougall, chronicles his search for pain free running and how he found a primitive tribe that ran great distances barefoot or in minimalist sandals.

As The Art of Manliness explains:

The publication of the book coincided with a Harvard study by Prof. Dan Lieberman, which showed that people who grow up running without shoes run differently than those of us who run shod. Though the study did not speculate as to whether barefoot running was better or worse than running in shoes, it did demonstrate that making the switch resulted in softer landings and reduced impact force.

In other words, running/walking barefoot or in barefoot-type shoes may be an easy way to improve walking posture. It may even help avoid joint problems.

It is important to note that barefoot and barefoot shoes showed different results when studied. The feet don’t get the same feedback while wearing any shoes. This is why experts don’t recommend running on hard pavement with barefoot style shoes.

Benefit the Brain?

Katy Bowman also explains that nerves in the feet are designed to sense temperature and terrain. This feedback helps us develop a proper gait and stabilization. When all our feet get to sense is the inside of these shoes, this process is put on auto-pilot.

Bowman explains that the body then moves this information to a part of the nervous system called the inter-neuron. Here’s how she explains it:

More about the inter-neuron: You know how when you walk into a room with a fresh baked pie, it smells delicious, but after a few minutes you don’t smell it anymore? Your brain moves information that is constant into a different part of your brain to free it up for other things, so the more similar your environment, the less your nerves work to perceive. And the less they work, the less healthy they are.

Isn’t Being Barefoot Dangerous?

There are two main concerns with going barefoot:

  1. Lack of arch support
  2. Potential for parasites

I don’t worry about these personally, because:

Lack of Arch Support

This is a touchy subject, especially as rates of foot pain increase. Many people now wear orthotics and extra support for the feet. Movement specialists like Bowman feel that this could be making the problem worse.

The reasoning is that the feet weren’t designed to have as much support as modern shoes provide. Our feet are so supported in most shoes that we don’t have to use the muscles of the feet in the same way. Over time, the muscles weaken which may cause the problem.

As with any muscle, we have to actually use it to strengthen it. Foot pain without arch support may just be a sign of weak foot muscles that need to get stronger. Incorporating more barefoot movement (or wearing barefoot style shoes) may help strengthen the feet over time.

A podiatrist friend cautioned that they often see injuries when a person makes too fast of a switch from highly supportive shoes to barefoot or barefoot shoes. Like any type of exercise, we should start slowly and work up. Running in mini-mattresses of shoes one day and in zero-drop shoes the next is a recipe for disaster.

Potential for Parasites

When I mention that my kids don’t wear shoes in our yard, I typically get at least a few responses along the lines of: “I’d prefer not to let my kids get parasites from being barefoot, thank you very much.”

A quick search for the risks of parasites from going barefoot will have you convinced that we will all die from horrible parasites and diseases if any of us go barefoot. Except that the data doesn’t back this up.

If you are reading this, you likely live in a first-world country. You likely have indoor plumbing and bathe once in a while. Hookworms and other parasites were common when the majority of us didn’t have indoor plumbing. Human feces were often disposed of in yards, gardens, etc. Since hookworms can be easily transmitted through human excrement, they were much more common.

Improved hygiene and laws/codes prohibiting the open disposal of human feces has greatly reduced this problem. Even Dr. Lauren Ploch, a dermatologist who is very anti-barefoot admits that she has never treated a case of hookworm in the US.

Then again, some researchers are looking at purposefully ingesting hookworms to help reduce allergies and asthma. Interested to see where the research ends up on this one!

Viruses and Bacteria

Walking barefoot also exposes feet to potential viruses and bacteria. I don’t worry about the potential small risks for these minor and treatable problems. But then, I also think regular dirt exposure is important! Our family has never experienced any problems from spending time barefoot in our yard and other safe areas.

I consider the potential problems from wearing over-supportive shoes much more worrisome. Of course, with anything, do your own research and make sure you feel comfortable with whatever option you choose!

For those who aren’t comfortable with being completely barefoot, new minimalist and barefoot shoes are the best of both worlds. These are also great for everyday use in places where shoes are needed.

Barefoot Shoes: a Healthy Compromise?

In my opinion, being barefoot is the best when possible. When that isn’t an option, there are some great barefoot shoes that provide almost the same benefits. In general, shoes can be considered “barefoot shoes” if they:

  1. Do not have a raised heel. The shoe should be flat and all the same thickness from heel to toe.
  2. Allow free movement of the toes. Many shoes have thin or even pointy toe beds and constrain the toes. A barefoot shoe should be open or allow free toe movement.

In other words, barefoot shoes provide a basic protective barrier between the foot and the ground and not much else. Barefoot shoes also qualify as minimalist shoes, though not all minimalist shoes are technically barefoot shoes.

My Favorite Barefoot Shoes

There aren’t many shoes that qualify as true barefoot shoes. Minimalist shoes are another great alternative in cooler weather or for occasions that require them. Here are the barefoot shoes that our family uses:

Vivo Barefoot

One of my favorite brands. They also make a lot of great minimalist shoe options including sneakers, water shoes, and dress shoes. For a true barefoot shoe, their Eclipse model is great. I’ve found them on Amazon here, but they are usually cheaper on the Vivo Barefoot website.


This company also makes minimalist footwear that meets the criteria above. I really only like their Teva-style sandals, but they have some sneakers as well. You can order direct from their website or I like to order styles with free returns from Amazon so I can try them on. They also plan to release a kids’ line soon.

Earth Runners

Most shoe stores don’t carry barefoot style shoes so often we have to buy without knowing if the size is right. Earth Runners has a great sizing system and also a custom option that is great for wide or narrow feet or to make sure sizing is perfect.

Anya’s Shop

I had the opportunity to chat with Anya on my podcast a couple of years ago and really enjoy the information she shares about minimalist shoes as well as her story. You can check out her selection of barefoot shoes here.

Five Fingers

Five fingers are the most protective of the barefoot shoes we use. These fit the foot like a glove and often get some interesting looks in public. These are the go-to barefoot shoes of fitness experts like Mark Sisson. I often travel in these because they are comfortable but protect the feet from truly gross places… like airports!


None of the above options are great for babies and toddlers. I’m especially careful to let little ones walk barefoot whenever possible so they can develop good walking patterns. Thankfully, walking barefoot is a little more socially acceptable before age 2 or so! When going barefoot isn’t allowed, I put babies in Robeez (or similar) shoes as long as possible.

Important Notes on Barefoot Running

Being barefoot is great. Running barefoot on pavement may not be, at least without proper training!

Before I tried barefoot running, I consulted a friend who is a physical therapist about the safety of it and any possible problems.

He explained that when barefoot running is done correctly and worked up to slowly, it can be safe, but that many people jump in and begin running the same way they’ve always run, just without shoes, and that this causes problems.

Foot Strike Matters

From what he explained, the foot strikes the ground differently when shoes are worn. With shoes, a person is more likely to heel strike, or let the heel touch the ground first (unless the person has specifically trained not to run this way). Without shoes, landing in a heel strike can be damaging to the foot, especially over time, and it is much better to land on the mid-foot or top of the foot.

If a person tries to run with a heel strike in minimalist shoes or barefoot, this is likely to cause discomfort or even injury as the full impact of the strike is absorbed in the heel and transferred up the leg. Landing in a mid-foot strike allows for a more gentle impact and reduces this risk.

Work up Slowly

Even if a person begins running with a mid-foot strike when switching to minimalist shoes or barefoot options, the process uses the muscles of the foot and leg differently, and should be worked up to slowly. I speak from experience on this one, as my first day running in five-fingers, I pushed too hard and ended up with really sore calves for about a week.

The benefits of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is that it naturally leads to a shorter stride, which means a lower impact on the feet and legs, and that it leads to landing with a slightly flatter foot, which may also help reduce injury.

Learn to Run Correctly First

The podiatrist’s suggestion? Learn to run the right way before trying to run barefoot. Even if you don’t plan to run barefoot, there may be benefits to learning to run like you are. A mid-foot strike is gentler on the feet and legs and may reduce the chance of injury.

If you heel strike like I did, I found it helpful to practice on nice soft grass or sand and focusing on landing mid-foot. This brought back memories of running around the backyard barefoot as a kid. When running this way, the heel still hits the ground, just not before the ball of your foot does (many people make this mistake, never let their heels touch, get really sore calves, possible achilles tendon issues, and swear off barefoot/minimalist running for life).

Smaller Steps

Another thing to focus on is increasing turnover. This means taking smaller steps but moving the legs more quickly. Instead of extending the foot in front of the body to propel forward, I focused on just leaning my body slightly forward to propel myself and “catching” myself during a controlled forward fall.

For running, I also found some type of barefoot shoe helpful. As much as I love walking around barefoot in the grass, this wasn’t doable on concrete or harder surfaces, and minimalist shoes like five-fingers protect my feet but allow me to work on my running technique.

Do you spend any time barefoot? Ever tried barefoot shoes? Share below!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


182 responses to “Benefits of Going Barefoot (and the Best Barefoot Shoes)”

  1. Lab Avatar

    What I don’t get is that our feet did not evolve under conditions of cement, tar, or saltillo tile floors so what is the argument that barefoot is best for walking on such unnatural ultra hard surfaces? Plus once you put anything on the foot, you need leverage to lift it off the ground and that becomes alot more difficult with zero drop from heel to toe. But that being said, I’ve had to go more in the minimal direction because the last pair of conventional sneakers i can wear was made 10 years ago by sketchers (livewire revive) and they don’t make anything similar . I still have a pair that has holes in the outersole and everywhere else. I’ve tried dozens of sneaker brands and models – theyre too weighty in the heel or too inflexible etc etc. . So now i’ve mostly gravitated to Allbirds, and only one of their models (tree skippers) will work for me and have to remove their dreadful insoles; i often will have to break in the sole putting a slight heel rise then taking it off when more flexible. Not ideal for a high volume foot since theyre so low rise with only 2 eyeltes. But They are 5 ounces per shoe and have a foamy flexible outersole. Softstar was close using their Lite material where possible, but the rubber soles too stiff and their mocassins w/o the rubber too floppy in mid and hind foot. There’s also alot of gluing rather than stitching which changes things. I wish i could design my own footwear, with pieces from different shoes that work well.. Very lightweight (5 ounces a shoe), weighted evenly- not to the bottom, and not to front or back, 0-4mm drop, suede outersole (or perhaps very spongy completely exposed foam but has to be super flexible; believe it or not nike free sole seems super flexiblie and soft but the rest is like a torture device and likely damages lots of feet) , traditional lace up wit several eyelets for custom fit, non stretchy uppers for secure fit, wide in ball of foot but with narrow heel, largely mesh uppers, room for a high instep (Once upon a time, i lived in teva sandals but caught a strap in a door which pulled my tendon and never recovered enough to wear open backs ever again. sad…)

    Thanks for posting on this topic. like another poster, i wish there was an arttilce specifically on walking, not running. Plus differences between walking on grass and dirt vs sidewalks and crosswalks.

    p.s. I just followed the link here to Earth shoes. Seriously? virbam rubber? flip flops? And here I thought i was in the company of like minded people and was happy; now its back to being isolated again. I can’t wear vibram rubber outsoles and I don’t understand anyone who feels these are like barefoot. they are very stiff and hard fo rsmall fett to bend. flip flops are very far away from going barefoot, so now i’m confused…

  2. Kelly Avatar

    I run, walk, and hike barefoot all the time, and have for several years. Before I had no arch, now I do! No foot or back or knee pain even standing or walking for hours. If you’re new, start just 15 minutes a day and add time until you can go all day. I have many barefoot shoes, including Vibram, but my favorite are Xero shoes from Boulder Colorado. Often walk to work barefoot then put on my Xero shoes that I leave in my office. Their sandals are nice and incredibly light. I use a carabiner to clip them to my belt loop so I can walk to the grocery store barefoot and then have shoes to wear inside.

  3. Nina Avatar

    Going barefoot is the gentlest way of walking and can symbolise a way of living — being authentic, vulnerable, sensitive to our surroundings. It’s the feeling of enjoying warm sand beneath our toes, or carefully making our way over sharp rocks in the darkness. It’s a way of living that has the lightest impact, removing the barrier between us and nature.!!!

  4. Darren Avatar

    Great blog post! Walking barefoot in nature is one of the best “simple pleasures” in life. As for shoes, I prefer Converse All-Stars (low cut, not high tops) when footwear is necessary. But barefoot is best! If you are interested in additional links about going barefoot and other holistic health items, follow @barefootpeace on Twitter.

  5. Chris Avatar

    I have been barefoot my whole life, except when it’s absolutely necessary to wear shoes. I am always barefoot indoors, in the yard, in the bush, at the beach, at parks, even in the street, basically anywhere that society doesn’t expect some sort of dress standards. I hate shoes, I feel like they’re suffocating me & I have never found any that I’m actually happy to wear!

    1. Chris Avatar

      And BTW I have never in my life had any foot problems at all. Other than the occasional thorn or something like that, I have never had any bunions, infections, ingrown toenails…nothing!!

  6. Jen Avatar

    I find this article very interesting!! I am a barefoot person! My feet need to breathe. So I typically am barefoot or wear flip flops and get a lot of flack for it. But when I wear really shoes, supportive shoes; my feet ache and hurt. Not to mention that my body over heats. But I have developed a problem with my feet- not from going barefoot, but from a job standing on cement floors. And when I wear supportive shoes, my feet hurt. When I wear flat shoes like ballet flats my feet hurt and I have developed plantar fascia and possibly a heel spur. Will bare foot shoes help with this?

  7. Theresa Avatar

    Our chiropractor said that having the “strap” between the toes was a bad thing. I see the Earth Runners have that. Do you know anything about that?


  8. Berenice Hyatt Avatar
    Berenice Hyatt

    I am just back to civilization from spending the summer as a counselor at a Maine summer camp. Our camp has been around a long time, and we’ve always allowed our campers to go barefoot. “Allowed” really means every kid is expected to ditch their shoes for the entire session. I am barefoot pretty much all summer, and there is no way I am chasing through the woods after some kid in shoes. Unfortunately, every camp has to have insurance, and our new camp director decided to take seriously our insurance company’s requirement that campers need to wear shoes all the time — unless parents sign a release. I think he also was just looking for an excuse to get the campers into shoes. I am a paralegal at a legal aid clinic during the rest of the year, so the director let me write up the release. I decided to have a little fun. Here’s how I worded it. “Our insurance company requires all campers to be ‘properly shod,’ which means your child must wear closed-toe lace up shoes at all times, even when inside the cabins. Most children are accustomed to a more relaxed approach to shoes at home. If you sign below, your child will be excluded from the Camp’s footwear rule, and we will make sure that all the Camp counselors know that your child may not wear shoes while attending Camp. You release us from any liability for any injury resulting from your instruction that your child not wear shoes, and we will treat this release and your instruction as including the entire time your child is in our care.” On drop-off day for the first session, every single parent signed the release without even really reading it closely, and I had a lot of fun pointing out to our camp director that every parent had signed a form that required their kids to go barefoot the entire camp session. He tried to change the form before the next session, but a bunch of us counselors rebelled and threatened to quit if he did, so my release is what we used the rest of the summer.

  9. Melissa Avatar

    I am a camp counselor and tour guide at a living history farm, and we have day camps for younger kids and junior counselor positions for older kids. Everybody dresses up in period clothes. We try to be pretty authentic in our costumes for both counselors and campers, and of course that means bare feet for all the kids and the farm wives too (ever visit an Amish farm?). It is a lot easier to clean up the kids, too, at the end of the day. Cow flop washes right off feet but ruins tennis shoes. A lot of the kids show up at camp barefoot, but every session we get some kids who don’t have much experience being barefoot and aren’t too keen on the idea. For the little kids I usually find some fresh cow flop and step in it and wiggle my toes and invite them to join. That is really hard them to resist for long. For some of the older kids, we have to grab them and plop their feet down in the middle of the pig pen (pigs put away of course). The kids who have been here before know what is coming and oink and squeal and think it is a lot of fun to watch the kid kick and squirm until we warn him he might go in face first if he keeps it up. With a thick coating of mud and manure halfway to their knees, the kids are okay from that point stepping in pretty much anything. And there is nothing like pig poop to get a kid used to barnyard smells. We usually all have to rinse off right afterwards to get rid of the smell.

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