My favourite barefoot activity is hiking. It feels amazing and is also much easier than people usually imagine. I have to laugh when I see Sunday afternoon hikers all geared-up with brand new expensive gadgets that seem to come straight out of an outdoors magazine. I used to say that the only item you really need is a good pair of hiking boots. Now I keep them safe at home for the winter months.
There is no need for Nordic walking equipment; if you want to give your body a full workout, simply take your shoes off as you scramble up a slope. Your toes will grasp tree roots, dig in the mud and find balance on rocks. When you are barefoot on a forest path, you really merge with your environment. You become more aware than before. You have to negotiate uneven terrain and need your senses to be tuned in. You’ll be so busy enjoying yourself that you may not realize how much more supple and strong your entire body is becoming. A barefoot walker also tends to be swift and silent, which means that animals won’t flee as quickly when you approach. They will manifest more curiosity and, attuned to your surroundings, you will be more likely to see them.
If you find this interesting and want to learn more about barefoot hiking, I encourage you to read Richard Frazine’s The Barefoot Hiker, which is available online. It contains great tips for barefoot walking in general, as well as specific instructions for hiking.
I had a funny experience two years ago. My partner and I wanted to hike up a mount in early spring and it turned out that snow hadn’t entirely melted yet. At first there were snow patches with icy rivulets of water rolling down the path, but soon we were walking through a thick, heavy layer of snow. I made it for perhaps ten minutes and then had to sit on a tree stump to warm my feet. The sun was out and the air was quite warm, so there was no serious risk of frostbite, but since we weren’t even half-way up the slope we decided to turn back and find a valley path to hike instead. I had lots of fun leaving footprints in snow and mud on the way down. At the bottom of the mount, we stopped to drink some water and decide where to go next. We could hear a chatty group of hikers approaching from the path we’d just left. Soon a man arrived, said hello, and looked at my feet. “So you’re the yeti?” he asked. He turned to his friends “Hey! Come here! I’ve found the yeti!” he shouted. They all came to have a look and a quick chat and they seemed pretty impressed. They’d followed my barefoot trail through snow and mud down the slope and hadn’t known what to think. The group was much better prepared to face winter conditions on their hike – they all wore good boots, appropriate clothes, and hiking sticks – yet they had also decided to turn back because of the snow. So go prepared, but go barefoot!