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. Jennifer Summers Avatar
    Jennifer Summers

    I’d love to go barefoot outdoors, but I’m always concerned about pesticides everywhere. I don’t want to walk around in areas that are covered with insecticides and pesticides, so I’ve avoided earthing/grounding. Any advice/thoughts on the subject? Thanks!!

      1. Jackie Avatar

        Katie, I have nothing against going barefoot, but those who are diabetic should exercise extreme caution! I have seen people who are brittle diabetics (sugar levels are hard to control, lots of ups and downs) and older diabetics end up losing a leg because of a minor foot injury. Anybody with vascular insufficiency in the legs should or any kind of immune problems should also be very careful. The problem in these people is a combination of decreased sensitivity so that a small injury isn’t noticed at first and a greater likelihood of infection when there is an injury. Even with aggressive treatment, a toe can become necrotic (dead) and at that point, amputation is the only option. Unfortunately, since these people aren’t great healers, the surgical area often has the same problem as the initial injury. This can lead to more and more surgery and eventual loss of the limb. Diabetics are often told not to cut their own toenails because of this.

        I personally go barefoot most of the time when at home but if I were to develop either peripheral artery or venous disease, or diabetes, I would not go barefoot outside anymore. The risk would outweigh the benefits. Many people (including me at one point) tend to dismiss the chance of this happening, but it does. It is not rare or uncommon in this population.

  2. Teneko Avatar

    I have wide feet and high arches. Women’s shoes are not made to fit high arched duck feet like mine! After many decades of cramming them into whatever I could find that fit and insisting that I “need” that extra arch support, I made the switch to a pair of Soft Star mary janes. This is the closest I will probably get to barefoot or minimalist shoes. They look cute, cover my feet, and I honestly feel like I am walking around in slippers. It feels kinda naughty. 😉 They are so lightweight. As a bonus, you can get them customized in any colour combination you want. I LOVE these shoes so much.
    Now, the high arch thing, I had to look into. I was worried about it and how I felt like I “needed” the arch support. After researching it, it made no more sense than deciding that my arm “needs” a sling to support it or that my breasts “need” a bra. Why do we think we have to “support” so many of our body parts? Isn’t that what the muscles and ligaments are for?

  3. Marni Johnstone Avatar
    Marni Johnstone

    I’ve been barefoot and also worn Vibram for years! Only time this doesn’t work is winter, here in Canada. Never had any foot, knee or hip problems. Being a massage therapist I’ve seen many problems due to improper footwear. Less is more has always been my motto!

  4. carol Avatar

    I’ve been “barefoot” for many years now, with great results, but do caution that to switch you have to be very conscious of your body. Anyway, for children I wanted to recommend Soft Star Shoes. All natural materials, soft, wide enough toe box. Perfect for new walkers!

  5. Cindy Avatar

    I will be 70 soon. I have loved being barefoot for as long as I can remember. I live in a city and do not recommend going barefoot on city streets and sidewalks though I did so for years. Beaches, parks, lawns are wonderful barefoot experiences. Gravel? Not so much for the shoe accustomed. The closest to barefoot “shoes,” made in the USA, that I have found, are Sass. One of my friends did not like them, but I recommend “try before you buy.” There are other brands. I will be checking out Mamas recommendation. (Yes, I am barefoot right now. Shoes come off as soon as I get home.). Thanks Wellness Mama and everyone. Great read!

  6. MJ Avatar

    I’m still a teenager, so I can’t really complain about any of these health issues yet, but I have always gone barefoot (and my mother always yells at me, lol) and I can definitely tell the difference between shoes vs. no shoes. Whenever I walk barefoot, I feel so much more comfortable. With shoes, it’s unnatural for me, not to mention the pain and muscles I always pull when I go shod.

  7. Sierrah S. Avatar
    Sierrah S.

    I have Vibram barefoot shoes. They make you feel civilized, yet you are still reaping the benefits of the earthing of your foot. They have various styles, and Vibram even came out with a more feminine version. I LOVE them! Thanks Katie for the info!

    1. Donna Reardon Avatar
      Donna Reardon

      thanks for the info will try to find them now that they a more femimine version

    2. Mike Avatar

      I find I actually seem to get more curious looks and comments when I wear my Vibrams than being barefoot. But I’ve noticed those shoes draw my attention when other people wear them too. A lot of it has to do with the bright colours they tend to come in.

  8. Cliff Avatar

    Going barefoot is one of life’s simple pleasures. I have found that I get almost nothing but positive responses to being barefoot, as opposed to the fearfully expected chastisment and nasty comments. There is no reason to not give it a try! I’ve never found a pair of shoes that feel as good as no shoes at all!

    1. John J Avatar

      Yeah, people are concerned of the reactions they’ll get, but IF I get a comment it will be either curious or positive.

    2. Mike Avatar

      I love the positive comments, sometimes very unexpected. I often go the bank or to use their ATM barefoot (the cool floor tiles are a nice break from asphalt). I had stopped to use the ATM one morning( I had scheduled a meeting with the branch manager later in the day) As I was coming in the manager was walking some other folks out and out of curiosity asked me what happened to my shoes. I told her I decided not to wear any. “Keeps me on my toes” I said. So we got to talking for a bit when I mentioned I had a meeting with her later that afternoon. She said she was free right now If I wanted…ok…feeling a bit awkward now…I asked if she minded that I was coming into her office sans footwear. She said “Not at all…I find it neat that you can walk around like that!” Felt a bit weird, but we had a great meeting. In the end, would a pair of flip flops had really made a difference when I was only in shorts and T shirt anyway? Not really. Great fun!

  9. kimberly Evans Avatar
    kimberly Evans

    I have been practacing earting for several months now, and noticed a change in my posture, not to mention it helps to keep plantar warts away, which i used to get frequently before going bare

  10. Abby Abraham Avatar
    Abby Abraham

    For the last three years I am practicing bare- foot therapy.At least one hour morning and evening walk. No substitute for bare-foot walk.

  11. suz drifter Avatar
    suz drifter

    Have gone barefoot all my life. Now at 56 foot problems. Any thoughts on plantar fasciitis?

    1. Mike Avatar

      I developed plantar fasciitis a few years back (back in the days when I wore shoes way more than I do now)Nothing seemed to work until I remembered how nice it felt to have someone ram their knuckle into the bottom of my foot. After experimenting a bit I came up with a great treatment. Since the whole idea is to re-stretch the plantar muscle , buy a brand new pair of those Adidas Adissage slide (the ones with the nasty looking spikes all over the bottom) and wear these with bare feet on one long walk a day (if its raining you can use a treadmill or even jog on the spot). Walk around in them until its feels like you are standing on red hot nails (that’s why it has to be a new stiff pair-you need them to push into your feet). Twice a day I then braced myself with a sturdy chair and stood on a golf ball, one foot at a time. Slowly roll the ball just a head of your heel and then put all your weight on it (do this on a towel or carpet, not on a hard floor, the ball could shoot out and or damage the floor finish).. Gently roll the ball forward with your weight on it. You’ll find the counter pressure enjoyable (even though you’ll want to scream in pain) After a month of doing this my plantar muscle stretched back out and the pain disappeared and hasn’t been back since.

  12. kelly Avatar

    I’m been making an effort to go barefoot since reading Earthing a couple years ago. I love it! Especially going barefoot in water (like a creek). My head always feels clearer and I can sense my heartbeat more strongly.

  13. Ronda Avatar

    I am new to this sight, but have a serious question.
    I am a dental assistant. Feet are killing me.
    Never thought of running barefoot. Exercise yes I love to exercise barefoot.
    Any suggestions for shoes to work in..
    So many out there.
    Tired of spending a lot of hard earned money on shoes?

    1. Rebekah Avatar

      Not sure what you are allowed to work in, but Merell’s barefoot line is really the best on the market. Vibram fivefingers are great as well, but garner weird looks (ask me how I know…)

  14. rita Avatar

    This is hilarious! I’ve been running barefoot everyday for going on 3 years. My mom (I’m 16) is always telling me its not good for my feet! lol But I personally find it much more comfortable then running with shoes. I do run in the grass. The main reason I started running barefoot was i was to lazy to put on shoes. I go barefoot 99% of the time so it was pain to actually put shoes on!

  15. Sharron Avatar

    I was barefoot all the time as a kid, even in 110 degree weather. I loved it! When I am in the back yard I go barefoot and I go to the beach a lot just to walk around barefoot. It feels wonderful to connect to the earth.

    1. Mike Avatar

      110 degree weather is how I “discovered” how fun it is to go barefoot. I have always loved wearing flip flops, but one day one of mine broke on one of the hottest days in the summer. Since I was out at a carnival and didn’t want to leave I just tossed the flip flops in the trash and figured it might be fun to walk around barefoot. It would have been great if the fairgrounds were grass but 90% of it was black asphalt, which of course gets a lot hotter than 110 degrees on a hot sunny day. Having enjoyed walking barefoot whenever I can I have gotten used to hot pavement and really enjoy it…but that first time it was extreme (more like walking on hot coals!) The secret of course is to keep your feet moving and too find a shady spot once it gets to be too much. I also found out to be careful of those shiny silver ramps that go onto the rides. In the sun they reach dangerously hot temperatures. Way hotter than bare feet can stand. As the pavement cooled off a bit later in the day my feet felt great (just a little toasty on the soles, that felt better by the next day)and it was super awesome how many conversations got started.

  16. John Avatar

    I’m not a runner do to fibromyalgia but i love walking barefoot just got in from one mile with my dog Jr.

  17. Christopher Collins Avatar
    Christopher Collins

    great article. I have been running barefoot for about 2 years now. Its the best thing in the world. I now enjoy running and I never get injured. I remember when I was in high school I would get injured all the time, and I gave up because of that. But now I have toe shoes to run in or just my bare feet. I really encourage everyone to try barefooting.

  18. Bernard Avatar

    I love being barefoot. I hate shoes and so do my girls. I actually only own five pairs of shoes lol. Boots, two pair flip flops and two pair tennis shoes. I love the idea of this race and the fact that they get kids involved!! I will be chicking it out and seeing if there are any races near me. Would love to do 1k with my daughters!!

  19. Michal Avatar

    I started wearing vibrams 5 fingers in February when I started doing crossfit.  I LOVE them!  The pain I had in my knees disappeared almost overnight.  I would love to try a barefoot race!  How fun!

  20. Amanda Barnard Avatar
    Amanda Barnard

    I have run barefoot on beaches before, and recently ran barefoot after needing to walk a long long way and only have flip flops, decided that barefoot would be the better route. But have not ran very long for long distances barefoot.

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