How Shoes Are Ruining the Human Foot
April 22, 2008 8:50 PM   Subscribe

You Walk Wrong. "It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we’re wrecking it with every step we take." [Via]
posted by homunculus (101 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

Fascinating. Thanks.
posted by pjern at 8:58 PM on April 22, 2008

Cute tags.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:59 PM on April 22, 2008

Every step we take? Every move we make?
posted by orthogonality at 8:59 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Very interesting article. Thank you for that. I've always felt much more comfortable without shoes than with. Due to my flat, weirdly-shaped feet and my right foot being slightly longer than my left, I've never found a pair of shoes that didn't hurt me in some way. Either they pinched at my heel or made walking torture or I toppled over on them regularly or I got my right toe stubbed or my left foot was swimming in the shoe.
posted by peacheater at 9:05 PM on April 22, 2008

Oh, pffft to that, if God had meant for us to walk around barefoot all the time we would've been born with no shoes on our - uh ...

That is to say, we'd all be born baref-

... well ...

posted by zeph at 9:10 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thank you for posting this, as it confirms some long-held suspicions. I hate shoes (socks, too)...but they are a necessary evil these days. And, to be fair, walking around Toronto in the winter in bare feet would be a little uncomfortable.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:11 PM on April 22, 2008

i guess that explains why i like to be barefoot in my apartment - unfortunately, at my job, i'm required to wear steel-toed shoes which i can assure you are very unnatural, as people weren't designed to walk around with metal on the tips of their feet

that and i defy anyone to get through a michigan winter in bare feet
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 PM on April 22, 2008

peacheater: I feel you man. :( I have the same problems.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who's actually worn a pair of those Vivo Barefoots. I could really go for some of those but I don't know... For $150 they'd better be worth it and then some.
posted by aheckler at 9:12 PM on April 22, 2008

Bah, shoes are nothing. When you spend 80+ days a year in ski boots, your feet really start to take a beating. I spent $500 this year getting custom molded footbeds and liners in my boots, and this might be the first year in the past five that I don't lose both of my big toenails. Money well spent, as far as I am concerned.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:14 PM on April 22, 2008

A longer article on "fox-walking", the allegedly superior method of barefoot walking.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:15 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Back in the days before shoes became fashionable people were probably judged on ability.
posted by clearly at 9:15 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ooh, let me think. I could save my poor feet from my cruel cruel shoes, but I suspect the needlestick injuries I'd get may even things up.
posted by pompomtom at 9:15 PM on April 22, 2008

Now, I admit that I just skimmed the article, but I was always led to believe that the primary importance of shoes, beyond simply shielding our feet from the blunt-force trauma of everyday life, was to act as a prophylactic barrier against parasites, especially hookworm. [NSFLunch]

So, no, shoes don't make our feet healthier, but they do make our lives better.

So now that we're all nicely urbanized and no longer tromp through the mud we're largely safe, but that's a recent thing in the human experience.
posted by lekvar at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

one time my momma told me that you can get worms from walking around barefoot.

but then she also told me you can get hemmorhoids by sitting on concrete.

still. internal parasites? no thanks.

despite all this, i still walk barefoot as much as possible. in fact, one of my favorite springtime rituals is when i start 'training my callouses' -- walking on gravel and other rough surfaces to get my feet accustomed to barefoot life again, after a winter of boots

thanks, homunculus.
posted by CitizenD at 9:21 PM on April 22, 2008

Perhaps the odd little foot ache is worth not stepping in glass|shit|parasites|hot asphalt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 PM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]

Can someone come up with a competitor to those Vivo Barefoots, please? So expensive! Wouldn't traditional soft-soled moccasins work the same way? You could even make your own quite easily. I'm toying with the idea of removing the thick soles of a pair of well-worn shoes and replacing them with some soft, top-grain leather. Would this be supple enough to feel like barefoot walking, yet prevent sharp objects from cutting my feet?
posted by PigAlien at 9:32 PM on April 22, 2008

I wear Vivos when I can't wear boots. Which is about as contradictory as you can get footwear-wise.

His description of the feeling of being barefoot, feeling the texture of the ground underfoot (free foot massage on every subway platform!) and feeling your feed punish you for walking too fast or too hard is spot on. It is very difficult to get past the feeling of "I'm doing this wrong, maybe if I land like this...or if I roll like that" and let your reflexes do what they want to do instead. Usually the problem is that your inner New Yorker is shining through and you've started powerwalking again. Once you slow down it all just falls into place.

Ahem. I almost forgot my fiancée's objection: the ones I have at least are, and I quote "I don't know, they're not hideous..."

On Preview: Yeah, I walked around barefoot a lot as a child. Still do.
posted by Skorgu at 9:33 PM on April 22, 2008

Some of the shit (literally on some days) I see walking to work in downtown San Francisco, I'd rather have fucked up feet than walk on someones vomit/feces/used needles than "walk correctly".

So, thank you lekvar for putting it in better words than I could, I enjoy my feet/health/lack of random IV diseases.

okay maybe getting IV disease is a bit too far; but TL;DR, really
posted by sir_rubixalot at 9:36 PM on April 22, 2008

CitizenD, it's my understanding that you can get hemorrhoids from sitting on cold concrete. But then again, I don't really know what hemorrhoids are.
posted by Dr. Send at 9:36 PM on April 22, 2008

posted by dhammond at 9:36 PM on April 22, 2008

Right next to the article, I'm seeing some lovely ads for Louboutin stiletto heels.
posted by casarkos at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2008

The New Yorker had a similar story a few years back, except instead of Vivo Barefoot shoes, it talked about the leather and straw contraptions worn by Otzi the Ice Man, and instead of a British shoe tycoon, it had a Czech shoe tycoon who became enamored with the idea of non-shoes.

That story convinced me to stop wearing lace-up shoes so much and since then I've relied heavily on a pair of Ecco slip-ons, which I love, but which have sadly been discontinued. I might have to spring for the Vivos next. If nothing else my feet feel happier without being laced up.

The NYer site has a summary of their 2005 shoe article here, and your library probably has the full version.
posted by dylan20 at 9:50 PM on April 22, 2008

I remember a girl in my first grade class who took her shoes off a lot, even though she would get in trouble for doing so. One day we drew pictures of ourselves and hers had rays coming out of her fingers and toes.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:51 PM on April 22, 2008 [24 favorites]

Oh sure. Next they'll be telling us that neckties are unnecessary. Puh-lease.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:51 PM on April 22, 2008

But then again, I don't really know what hemorrhoids are.

You haven't lived until you've had your ass operated on.
posted by maxwelton at 9:59 PM on April 22, 2008

This rings true to me. One of the reasons I love doing martial arts is that my exercise time is all barefoot. I'm always barefoot at home. In the summer I often wear flip flops, though my feet can get pretty dirty that way. I've tried various simple shoes for the cooler parts of the year.

One thing I've long been trying to do for a while is find a shoe that doesn't bend your big toes inward - I remember reading a book years ago that had a picture of the feet of an ancient greek or roman statue on the cover, showing how his toes were completely parallel to one another. It claimed that it's only our "foot-binding", through wearing constrictive shoes, that makes us have any angle in, and that it's terrible for your feet. A few years back there was a trend toward wide-toed shoes, so things worked for a while, but then especially women's shoes went ultra narrow...
posted by mdn at 10:13 PM on April 22, 2008

In addition to the prospect of stepping on something icky or sharp, there's the ankle-twisting issue. While I ordinarily go barefoot or wear socks in my house, I haven't voluntarily worn short shoes as daily wear in years. I much prefer boots. Cowboy boots ideally, as they don't have laces, but I'll settle for army boots/Doc Martens whenever I can't find cheap enough cowboy boots for a few years. To some extent it's a fashion quirk, but the underlying reason is, my ankles are weak, and don't resist sideslip well.

No doubt bracing them has made my ankles weaker, and more prone to being twisted. The heel of the boot probably exacerbates this as well. But, as happens once or twice a year, when I step on something that slips beneath me, or in a hole in the grass I didn't see, or miss a step, I feel my ankle give way, my foot slide and meet the stiff boot, and once again, boots have saved me from days of pain. The main downside is they tend to make a loud clacking noise on hard surfaces, unless re-soled with a thin layer of rubber.

Speaking of a thin layer of rubber, what about tabi (ninja boots)? Basically tabi are nothing more than socks, with a separate big toe, shod with a thin layer of rubber to keep icky stuff and blunt rocks out. Since they offer better grip than the natural foot, and a lot better protection, but are equally flexible, it seems to me that those who would like to go barefoot but fear what they might step in, might be well advised to get some tabi. Looking all ninja-like and walking in total silence are bonuses.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:17 PM on April 22, 2008

As someone who finds it nearly impossible to find comfortable shoes, it's nice to know that it's not just my feet, it's the shoes.

Of course, having permanently splayed toes that haven't moved since I broke my leg 8 years ago, no arches whatsoever (which start hurting if a shoe has too much "support" for them when they never existed in the first place,) and size 13-EEEEE feet can't help much either.
posted by djlynch at 10:22 PM on April 22, 2008

The day I got orthotics is the day I started enjoying any exercise at all. You can have them when you pry them from my cold, dead Pumas.

Also, aren't shoes what allowed the Romans to conquer Europe? They might have been walking incorrectly, but they were walking without getting their soles jabbed by spiky things.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 PM on April 22, 2008

aeschenharnos, go get checked out for orthotics. I had the same ankle twisting problem.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:45 PM on April 22, 2008

All the weird theories people dream up about basic things never fail to entertain me. I have a personal rule that when I read the first couple of sentences of an article, and they're patently BS, any time I spend reading the rest of it is coming out of TV time. Had to invoke that after this gem:
"Walking is easy. It’s so easy that no one ever has to teach you how to do it. ..."
Clearly, written by someone who has never raised a kid. It takes a human infant about 3 years to learn to walk with any alacrity, with plenty of help and encouragement from Mom and Dad. And it's another 2 years before they walk 15 minutes at a time without stumbling or falling down, whether shod or not.

Contrast that with the horse, whose foal very nearly hits the ground running. More than 95% of foals are running by their 2nd day on Earth, if a bit unsteadily. That's being naturally gaited. And yes, we still shoe horses, to correct their anatomical problems, and improve their gait, for the "unnatural" uses to which we put them, such as walking around on pavement..

But people? Nothing "natural" about walking, from the get go. Kinda puts the whole "natural" method focus this writer grabs from thin air, and an article in a "podiatry journal," in a well, doesn't it?

I'm a little chapped that I gave up Becker re-runs for this, but hey...
posted by paulsc at 10:49 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Barefoot running previously.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:51 PM on April 22, 2008

Depending on the environment and other factors, walking barefoot may result in your feet looking like this.
posted by Tube at 10:52 PM on April 22, 2008

As a kid, I never wore shoes during the warmer months (except at school). The bottom of my feet became so tough I could walk on anything. I remember showing off to my cousins by walking across glass shards from a car window. My soles were tough, leathery and thick.

I think it's the slimey things of modern urban living that dissuade me from trying to get those feet back, not the sharp and pokey things.
posted by Any Moose In a Storm at 10:53 PM on April 22, 2008

Should horses go barefoot?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:53 PM on April 22, 2008

Years ago I had a pair of moccasans that were as close to barefoot as I would want to get. Thick leather, low on the ankle and yes I could feel a pebble if I stepped on one. I hauled the worn out shoes with me for years with the dreaam I would try to duplicate them. Vivos are definitely on my list.
posted by pointilist at 10:54 PM on April 22, 2008

I used to almost never twist my ankle, and when I did I recovered quickly. Then I started wearing high ankle boots, and now my ankles are so weak that I have trouble trail hiking without support. I'm retraining my muscles and stride to cope with it. Also, my heel strike in a cushioned shoe is freakishly hard, but a few minutes in hard soles and my stride changes effortlessly to a softer heel strike.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:58 PM on April 22, 2008

The Vivo's look interesting. For the last few years I've really preferred flat sole shoes because I drag my feet when I walk. Converse work great, but the sole is a little flat and doesn't conform properly to the non-flat foot. LL Bean also makes some boat shoes (bluchers?) that I like as well. At the risk of feeding stereotypes, what I really like are the FeiYus that a lot of the wushu and CMA people wear. They unfortunately have soft rubber soles and would wear out too fast in daily wear. Love them as workout shoes though.

Regular wedge soled athletic shoes (ASICS, Nike, whatever) disturb my balance too much. It's hard to find your natural balance when you're standing on top of some weirdly angled and treaded plastic.
posted by wuwei at 10:59 PM on April 22, 2008

I've always remembered a passage from Roots where the child Kunta Kinte goes to another village with his father. Of course, they walked. Kunta tired very quickly until his father taught him a technique that Alex Haley calls "loose striding". I tried to replicate this as a teenager, not very successfully, but it may be very similar to fox-walking.

I will say that one caption in the NYMag article really clarified the whole thing for me. An inflexible shoe prevents your toes from fully pushing off -- so your legs have to work to lift your feet up and down. Ahhhh. So the muscles for walking move up the leg and walking becomes lifting as much as pushing.
posted by dhartung at 10:59 PM on April 22, 2008

posted by wuwei at 11:00 PM on April 22, 2008

"Walking is easy. It’s so easy that no one ever has to teach you how to do it. ..."

Yeah, you're right about that part. When I read that, I thought, WTF are you talking about? It took my parents years to convince me to walk instead of crawl, which seemed much more effecient at the time. But then I kept reading and the rest of the article was pretty good. Even better than TV time, I think (though I did finish it well before Boston Legal).
posted by homunculus at 11:04 PM on April 22, 2008

When I was a kid and lived in the country I went barefoot or moccasined anytime it was warm enough- so late spring to early fall. I never got the tough feet my friends did, though. They could walk on rocks so hot you could very quickly (and literally) fry an egg on them.

I did "fox walk," though no one called it anything. It was just out of necessitym to save your feet. It was slower going but you didn't injure yourself and you didn't sound like a herd of deer crashing through the woods. We never managed to be silent either, no matter how much we wanted to be like the Indians in the books.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:05 PM on April 22, 2008

Also, being damned near the only bipedal species may tell you something about an inherent problem with having just two feet. Forget the shoes.
posted by clearly at 11:14 PM on April 22, 2008

my dad worked at a pharmacy in the 60s. He told me that they used to sell some kind of cream that promoted calluses. Not sure if it's still around. He could never remember what it was made of...
posted by wuwei at 11:16 PM on April 22, 2008

PigAlien, I started reading the article midway over the shoulder of my girlfriend. I immediately thought "moccasin!" and she replied, "they mentioned it on the previous page." As a frequent childhood barefoot walker, I've wondered what kind of shoes might allow one to feel stuff better and get a good sense of the ground. I never liked the way shoes messed up my sense of balance. I wonder if something like the medieval turnshoe would offer the same sort of benefit a Vivo does. The sole is just a layer of leather. No heels or anything. Hmmm... time to do some experimenting.
posted by Mister Cheese at 11:17 PM on April 22, 2008

However, we haven't spent four million years evolving to walk on concrete and tarmac.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:32 PM on April 22, 2008

This sounds like something the dipshit chiropractor I used to work for would try to sell people.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:37 PM on April 22, 2008

I never leave the house without shoes on, and think people who walk around barefoot are loony. Around the house I prefer stocking feet, and if I could find a pair of slippers that didn't look stupid I'd wear them. Why are barefoot people loony? I'll give you a few reasons.

* broken glass
* sharp rocks
* hot tar on a sunny day
* random dog poo hiding in lawn grass
* bugs and worms and snails
* dirt and mud
* pain (see also 'stubbing of the toe' )
* blood loss
* minimal traction in bare feet - especially when wet.
* try running real fast barefoot and then stopping on a dime. on pavement. Then go get a first aid kit.
* the fact there's something Man invented called shoes which you can wear instead of going barefoot. Imagine that.
* feet inside shoes stink when you take them out of the shoes, whereas bare feet stink pretty much all the time.

It's not that we are ruining our feet with shoes. Shoes protect our feet. The feet we have now were already an Evolutionary Bad Move on the part of our genetics, and some smart person came along and invented shoes as a measure to counteract the weaknesses inherent in the dominant traits of human feet.

I would not be surprised if we learned that tens of thousands of years ago there were human beings born with hooves, but some bozos went around claiming that was a sign of evil and had those humans with a predisposition to not need shoes 'ethnically cleansed' from the gene pool. I'm sure they thought hooves would ruin humanity.

Less than a few centuries ago, attempts were made to remove southpaws from the gene pool. When I was a child, 'lefty scissors' were a new novelty. Just before I was born they were still conditioning people to be right-handed even if they were naturally left-handed, because left was considered wrong. If you go further back in history, it gets more disturbing. Language still shows evidence of prejudicial browbeating of the left-handed. The positive word dexterous comes from the latin root for right-handed, whereas the word sinister comes from the latin root for left-handed. This goes back to long before Christianity.

Had morally stunted aspects of humanity not tried to force everyone to be right-handed, we'd probably have half the people in the world today left-handed and half right-handed. Last I checked the vast majority of mankind (around 90%) is currently right-handed. That's a decimation of a kind of mankind. Practically genocide. So it might be absurd to us now to imagine that somewhere in the human genetic code there's a switch that determines whether you get hooves or feet that have more bones in them than most of the rest of the body. That's just cuz IF there were any at one time, they're all DEAD. By the same kindsa stupid people who hated left-handed people. Or want me to go around barefoot.

Why can't we factor stupidity out of the gene pool?
posted by ZachsMind at 11:52 PM on April 22, 2008

I'll give you my blahniks when you take them from my cold, dead feet.
posted by cytherea at 11:58 PM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why can't we factor stupidity out of the gene pool?

The couldn't find enough left-handed shoes?
posted by cytherea at 12:05 AM on April 23, 2008

I'm interested in the Vivo Barefoot shoes now. I've never had shoes that were comfortable so I walk strangely. My feet also blister no matter how long I've been accustomed to a pair of shoes; I get blisters wearing shoes that I've owned for six years if I walk very long. I would just stop wearing them if I found anything better, but everything else I've tried has been worse. Usually when I get a blister I have to switch to walking on a different part of my foot for a while... until I start getting blisters on that part of my foot and have to switch again. I don't have any "natural" way of walking now at all, and it's frustrating and painful. I "clomp" around a lot because I tend either to land on the front of my feet or just flat down, usually not on my heel. My shoes don't even have very thick soles or anything.

I don't wear shoes if I'm indoors, but the whole thing has limited my exercise options a lot. I like hiking but my feet hurt terribly if I do it for more than fifteen minutes or so. This has been bothering me more lately than in the past. I'm not sure it would be any different with the Vivos but I'd like to try and see.

It looks like that might not be so simple, though. Are there actually any retail stores that have them so someone could try them on in person before buying them? I wouldn't know what shoe size to say I wear even if were inclined to buy from a website and go through the hassle of returning them if I needed to; shoe size seems arbitrary and just depends on the brand in women's sizes, it seems.
posted by Nattie at 12:06 AM on April 23, 2008

I've got a pair of nike free 5's. They're extremely comfortable, and you definitely feel closer to the ground with them. Putting on normal shoes afterwards feels like wearing boots; wearing boots feels like wearing clown shoes. I'm not sure I've altered my gait that much though, even though I took out the padded insoles to get closer to the thin leather approach. The soles are thicker than the vivo's, but they're segmented up so bend flexibly with you feet. They look just like normal trainers, but are such a different experience. I can definitely recommend them. I just wish I could get a more formal shoe, even a loafer, with a similar sole.

But then I already take my shoes off the minute I get home, and go barefoot for the rest of the evening. I can spend entire weekends barefoot. My toes aren't perfect by any stretch, but when I see what's happened to the toes of other people who wear shoes all day, even indoors, I cringe. They're not supposed to bend inwards and be cramped all together.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:22 AM on April 23, 2008

* feet inside shoes stink when you take them out of the shoes, whereas bare feet stink pretty much all the time.

Bare feet don't stink. Not unless you've stepped in something or have something unusual wrong with you. Feet sweat the same way hands do.
posted by darksasami at 12:37 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wonder where one can buy those Vivos (Perhaps Australia is behind the shoeless crowd, but I don't recall seeing any on my recent shoe hunting trips), how much are they, and are the pleasing to the eye?
posted by oxford blue at 12:47 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If I'm wearing shoes, I'm clomping around in big heavy boots. I wear these shit-kickers because they keep things like water and fuel and ebola and rusted screws from getting near my feet. No matter what kind of shoes I wear, I'm worlds more clumsy than when I am barefoot. Not quite at the level of Agador Spartacus, but pretty bad.

If I'm not outdoors I am happily barefoot, and when I am barefoot I'm less of a crashing mess. My wonky depth perception probably has a lot to do with this - I need to feel where and how I place my feet, and I can't feel if I have shoes on.

I'm intrigued by the Five-Fingers shoes Vibram makes. Maybe that's the happy medium where I can prevent my toes from getting stabbed and at the same time not crash into things. It would be nice to climb trees again - haven't been able to do that since I was a kid.
posted by cmyk at 12:54 AM on April 23, 2008

After reading this, I'm getting martial arts shoes. The FeiYues are $20 with shipping, and supposedly very popular with ShaoLin monks.

Also worth noting, ASICS has come out with a bunch of rereleases of their original Onitsuka Tiger designs. A lot of these have very low, flat soles. The Tai Chi model looks particularly ideal.

I'm also going to pick up a pair of $5 cotton shoes in Chinatown. I used to wear those all the time, but stopped, due to paranoia that I need "arch support" (the things our mothers tell us. . .).

I'll report back with any interesting findings. . .

(BTW, I definitely recommend barefoot hiking. The last time my family went hiking in the boundary waters, I went a whole day without shoes, through woods, up and down hills. Felt great. My fam, as usual, thought I was being eccentric, but now I'm vindicated. Thanks, science!)
posted by flotson at 1:00 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Vivo Barefoot men's shoes here. Women's here.

AskMe thread on Vivo Barefoot (summary: Vivos good, also Vibram FiveFingers highly recommended--unless your 2nd toe is longer than your big toe).

I'm definitely interested in this pair. The less on my feet, the better I feel, and one of the things I do immediately upon getting home is taking off my shoes and socks (or kicking off my sandals). Aaahhhhh.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:28 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nattie, sometimes when it comes to blistering the socks are way more important than the shoes. Particularly if your feet sweat a lot. Some kind of double layer wicking fabric sock will do a lot better than cotton. I suspect you've already explored those options, but I thought I'd mention it just in case.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:50 AM on April 23, 2008

When I was growing up, my favorite part of summer was going to our summer place away from the city and being shoe-free for a week or two. The worst that ever happened was getting bitten by an insect.

I still like taking my shoes off outside every now and again. It feels good.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:15 AM on April 23, 2008

From the second link, above:

Or perhaps early humans used their endurance simply to chase prey to exhaustion.

This made me think of a BBC nature programme I saw about running antelope to death. Kalahari bushmen literally chased down a bull kudu in the hottest part of the day, causing it to collapse from heat exhaustion. Searching around for links got me to the page on persistence hunting at wp, which refers to an episode of The Life of Mammals. There are links to some low quality trailer footage of a similar film on the sidebar of this promo page
posted by Jakey at 4:21 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

For whatever reason (I'd blame the US economy, but ours isn't much better) I can buy Barefoots for less than any other pair of shoes I've bought in the last 5 years (mostly Ecco, Timberland or JCBs).

I've always preferred driving barefoot, and never wear shoes if I can help it, so these may just have to be bought...
posted by twine42 at 4:34 AM on April 23, 2008

See, us shoeless hillbillies were actually on to something!
posted by Pollomacho at 4:37 AM on April 23, 2008



Good night.
posted by Eideteker at 4:40 AM on April 23, 2008

I'm intrigued by the Five-Fingers shoes Vibram makes

Me too, and I desperately wanted a pair. I tried them on in Boston last year and wasn't that thrilled, in the end. The seam between sole and meshy-top didn't seem very strong, and the toe part was madly uncomfortable. I think the toes are made for people who have perfectly straight toes, and only those people will be able to actually get their toes into the ends.

I'm headed back to the states soon, and this post made me look up where I can try them on again in hope that this year's designs are advanced enough to justify the price.

The Vivo's were also interesting, but damn, they need some sort of store location. I can't fathom buying regular shoes from the internet, let alone something out of the ordinary...
posted by whatzit at 4:55 AM on April 23, 2008

Also, anyone interested in this topic at a level that this article doesn't reach should find a copy of Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology. This is a thoroughly readable topic that covers shoes (especially flip-flops) among other body-related technologies, and how they change the way we use our bodies and how sometimes they change the body itself. Awesome book!!
posted by whatzit at 5:00 AM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why can't we factor stupidity out of the gene pool?

Because we like having you around.

Eugenics doesn't work. Left handed people can pretend to be right handed and reproduce.

A chiropracter once told me that everybody gets collapsed arches later in life as the foot is not designed to last. I think he may have been operating from within his own paradigm as my extensive research (looking at some people's feet) has shown that old barefooted people do not all have collapsed arches. In fact, in places where footwear is not common nobody seems to have collapsed arches, which would agree with the tenet of the article.

Is it true that walking on sand is good for the feet?
posted by asok at 5:11 AM on April 23, 2008

I knew the Wu Tang Clan's obsession with Wallabies would lead to goodness some day.

Now if only Ol Dirty's obsession with not paying child support would lead to a revolution on birth control or something similar...
posted by Kiablokirk at 5:31 AM on April 23, 2008

This is an interesting article; I've been starting to wonder if my cheap work shoes would make better running shoes than my Nikes, and next time I went a-runnin I was thinking about trying it out.

Now I definitely will!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:46 AM on April 23, 2008

I wore pointe shoes as a teenager, so pretty much all shoes are gloriously comfortable in comparison.
posted by JanetLand at 5:52 AM on April 23, 2008

"If you can imagine a really big, insulated shoe on your foot, when you walk, you kind of stomp on your foot,"...In effect, we instinctively plant our feet harder to cancel out the shock absorption of the padding. (The study found the same thing holds true when gymnasts land on soft mats—they actually land harder.) We do this, apparently, because we need to feel the ground in order to feel balanced.

I've always been a bit bemused by all the stompwalkers around before. Some people, regardless of weight, sound like a herd of elephants walking down the hall. I think I'm a little less bemused now.

Neat article in all. I'm another one of the "shoes off the instant I'm inside" tribe, though, so I'm biased to accepting any paean to the superiority of our mighty feet over the Shod People.
posted by Drastic at 6:18 AM on April 23, 2008

And at a mere £65 pounds for online shoes (buying clothes and the like online seems rather problem fraught, especially this sort of shoe), plus a small fortune for shipping. I'll take ten!
posted by oxford blue at 6:18 AM on April 23, 2008

I'm going to do some barefoot running and see if I can get my vertical back up. The toe part has me intrigued.
posted by cashman at 6:22 AM on April 23, 2008

The barefoot marathon winners make much more sense now--they walk (and run) properly.
posted by tzikeh at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2008

Of course, having permanently splayed toes that haven't moved since I broke my leg 8 years ago, no arches whatsoever (which start hurting if a shoe has too much "support" for them when they never existed in the first place,) and size 13-EEEEE feet can't help much either.

You're a duck?
posted by kjs3 at 7:37 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love going barefoot around the house, even in the dead of winter. I have been known to drive barefoot before, in the summer. Its an interesting feeling. After reading that article, I now feel compelled to build up my callouses again and walk outside barefoot as much as possible. Bare feet in grass is heaven.

Alas, I must wear shoes at work. They frown on bare feet. Also, some non-work situations do seem to require shoes, cold & snow being one of the biggest. And shopping.
posted by sandraregina at 7:45 AM on April 23, 2008

Oh, and as for stinky feet; my feet always stink worse after being confined to socks & shoes. Winter feet are my stinky feet. Summer feet hardly smell at all.
posted by sandraregina at 7:47 AM on April 23, 2008

I went barefoot at every occasion as a kid and even as a hippie art student in downtown Baltimore. I spent a whole summer walking all the way from Charles and Saratoga to the Mt. Royal Tavern barefoot just about every day and I managed to not catch anything, cut myself or have any other harm come to me - and my feet were happy. Lots happier than they are now, 20 years later, when I can't imagine doing any such thing and my left foot has been hurting so badly for so long that I'm almost considering an askme question.

My daughter was born with one ankle turned inward and the pediatrician prescribed these horrible corrective shoes with iron braces that she was supposed to wear even in her sleep. I too had to wear corrective shoes as a child and I remember how much I hated them: they were horribly ugly and the other kids teased me unmercifully. And I still walk like a duck. Thus I was not predisposed to follow through on the corrective shoes, particularly when my daughter cried at night and said she couldn't sleep because they hurt. So we threw them away and I took her to the beach at least three or four times a week to walk barefoot in the sand for six months. At the end of those six months her feet and her leg were fine and have been ever since.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:50 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a boyfriend who never wore shoes. It really limited our activities, but I didn't mind so much, since mostly all we wanted to do was stay in and drink and have sex. Anyhoo, he finally got a job driving trucks, and he was required to wear shoes. The very first day on the job, he stepped on a nail that went all the way through the sole of his shoe and into his foot.

I'm very prone to foot injuries. My podiatrist told me I just have "bad foot mechanics". When I trained at the gym, even low impact and balance exercises caused constant pain and eventually, a stress fracture. I kept trying different shoes, but nothing helped. Finally, I decided to train barefoot, and voila! No more pain.
posted by Evangeline at 7:51 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

My misshapen, prehensile feet -- let me show you them.
posted by LordSludge at 8:07 AM on April 23, 2008

Since someone asked via memail I thought I'd share with everyone. I tried my vivos on at a store in NYC. My memory says it was MooShoes but they don't seem to stock Vivos so that must be a mistake. I wear between a 9 and a 10 in every other shoe, but my Vivos are an 8 and they fit fine.
posted by Skorgu at 8:37 AM on April 23, 2008

All kiding aside, I grew up in the rural south where barefootedness was par for the course (literally as several of my friends actually even golf barefoot, sobriety is another story with them) even in the frigid 40 degree winters and the 140 degree summers on blacktop roads. I am finding this thread quite amusing as various people talk about their barefoot discoveries and confessing to driving barefoot (its legal in all 50 US states by the way contrary to what your mom said).
posted by Pollomacho at 8:49 AM on April 23, 2008

I used to spend every day barefoot as a kid. When we lived in Mississippi, I walked down a gravel road in my bare feet every day all summer. Now I have tender citydweller feet. When I happen to go barefoot outside, I feel every little rock. I miss my leathery hobbity soles.
posted by Tehanu at 8:53 AM on April 23, 2008

Wearing Chuck Taylor hitops is as close to barefoot as I wanna get. But when it snows in New York, you can bet I'm wearing my Doc Martin's lace-up boots.
posted by monospace at 9:38 AM on April 23, 2008

I have a pair of Adidas indoor soccer shoes. I lost track of them for over a year, dug them up recently. The support in them in minimal, not quite as little as chuck taylors or pumas, but less than the regular sneakers I'm wearing now. I loved those shoes. This thread is reminding me why.

During the winter I go completely in the opposite direction, heavy duty, waterproof insulated Danner rainforest boots. (Designed for logging in the temperate rainforests of WA and OR.) I love those boots, but it always feels weird when I put them away for the summer.
posted by Hactar at 9:54 AM on April 23, 2008

Given that a huge percentage of Americans are simply overweight, I wonder how much of the "it hurts to walk" complaints are related to that, and not shoes. But no. Money, it's gotta be the shoes!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:56 AM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Galahad Clark never intended to get into the shoe business, let alone the anti-shoe business. And he likely never would have, if it weren’t for the Wu-Tang Clan.

What a wonderful pair of sentences.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:29 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

tube: re sherpa foot; wow. Right now one of my heels looks like that, because I've been lazy with the pumice stone. However, with another 2 weeks of regular sanding, I'll have a managable and non-cracked callous. Wow, I can't imagine how itchy they must feel when

However, for anyone who's regularly walking barefoot over asphalt/city streets, after a few months with at least a mile a day, glass certainly isn't a concern. Anything too big, and you can visually avoid it. Any small slivers will either not be capable of penetrating your feet, or you'll have developed your sensitivty and foot muscles to the point that you can shift the weight away from the point. And yes, despite my calouses and thickened soles, one's feet become much more touch/texture sensitive when they're actually experiencing the world rather than wrapped up in socks/shoes. Bad news for the ticklish; loud bass sounds will tickle your feet :/

As for feces, vomit, syringes; are you people serious that it's such a common problem? My memory of L.A. was glass bottles were the most likely problem, and I'd come across dog shit on sidewalks once a month maybe. Whether I'm barefoot, in flip flops, or combat boots, I'm walking *around* dog shit rather than stepping in it.

Granted, if I wear shoes regularly I get horrible ingrown toenails. Flip flops or barefootedness are the only work around; I wish I'd learned that before junior year of highschool.
posted by nobeagle at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2008

Flairs? Damn, that's a long lace!

I wish I could find a clip
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

my dad worked at a pharmacy in the 60s. He told me that they used to sell some kind of cream that promoted calluses. Not sure if it's still around. He could never remember what it was made of...

I've heard of tincture of benzoin being used to toughen feet up.

I used to be a barefoot-all-the-time girl. After taking up running (even in good, expensive, properly fitted shoes) for only maybe 6-8 miles per week, my feet grew a full size and have a dull ache all the time now, even in the cushiest shoes I can find. Walking barefoot or in stocking feet on my hardwood floors for more than a couple minutes leads to days-long foot pain. I am so sick of slippers and sandals at home. Maybe I'll try walking barefoot on sand for a while to see if that helps, but I'm sadly skeptical that I'll ever go barefoot and carefree on modern, hard surfaces again.
posted by vytae at 1:56 PM on April 23, 2008

My daughter was born with one ankle turned inward and the pediatrician prescribed these horrible corrective shoes with iron braces that she was supposed to wear even in her sleep. I too had to wear corrective shoes as a child and I remember how much I hated them: they were horribly ugly and the other kids teased me unmercifully. And I still walk like a duck.

I had the same thing.

Apparently, if you don't correct that sort of problem, you wind up pigeon-toed. In theory, the right amount of correction will make your feet straight. But I wound up walking like a duck too — which, I'm told, is what happens when the doctor gets overzealous and leaves you in the funny shoes for too long.

Who knows? It seems like any kind of blanket statement (Shoes Are Bad; Shoes Are Good) is gonna be an oversimplification here. Me, my back always feels better when I walk around barefoot, and I'd be inclined to try those Vibrams if my feet didn't sweat too much to go without socks. But I can't imagine that any one style of footwear would be perfect for all people, all climates, all tasks and all tastes. Dickering over the One True Shoe seems pretty pointless.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:57 PM on April 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had a pair of Nike Free's for a couple of years (they were a gift) and I love them. Very cool on hot days, too, without looking nearly as casual as sandals.
posted by msalt at 3:24 PM on April 23, 2008

In the house I'm barefoot. I walk on the balls of my feet, which I've done my entire life. I've never heard it called "fox walking" though.

Outside the house, I wear combat boots.

I generally hold to the idea that if you find yourself doing it differently than this, you are probably doing it wrong.
posted by quin at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2008

I'm wearing socks or barefoot as much as I can. Just feels better, more free. At work people know I'm leaving the office when I'm shod (shoe'd?). The idea of walking in a city without shoes seems pretty dangerous to me, though. Glass, concrete, bugs,piss etc- I want something besides cotton between me and them, regardless of what early man did.
Someone else mentioned it, but I wish the article had talked about simple shoes that don't cost a ton, provide the basic level of feet security, but have the minimum needed level of structure. How do flipflops, birkenstocks and chuck-t converse fit these needs? Chuck-t's seem to allow your foot to react naturally. The flipflops and birks seem like they might mess with you somewhat because of the bigtoe-littletoes separator, but I'd like to see an analysis. Barefoot in the city ain't happening. $$$$ for some of the suggested shoes is only slightly less likely. Seems like a more widely acceptable answer then some of the "shoes" they suggested.
posted by superchris at 5:56 PM on April 23, 2008

I go barefoot a lot, and the worst thing I ever stepped on was a slug, at night when I couldn't see it on the driveway. Yeccchhhhh!
posted by theora55 at 6:27 PM on April 23, 2008

I've never heard it called "fox walking" though.

Me, either. I always just called that plain walking, while the kind of walking where you let gravity take control of your leg when your foot is at apogee with the ground elephant walking, also known as I'm going to kill my fucking upstairs neighbor if he doesn't take his motherfucking shoes off goddammit -walking.

I generally hold to the idea that if you find yourself doing it differently than this, you are probably doing it wrong.

Agreed on principal if not practice. Myself, I'm more fond of the more urban tennis-shoe style, preferably in black, almost always rubber-soled, usually with at least some meat in the tread. Not the day-glo, garish, Air-whatevers with built-in pump, mind you. To mix in with the other adults I often find myself in leather/rubber hybrids that look business-casual but I secretly only wear because I can slip them off more easily than normal tennis-shoes. I fucking hate wearing shoes.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:14 PM on April 23, 2008

Every step we take? Every move we make?
I'll be watching shoe!

I'll keep my shoes, thanks. If I walked for 6+ hours (what I consider a nice weekend leisure walk) I would probably grind my feet to ragged and bloody stumps.

We didn't evolve with shoes, but we didn't evolve with asphalt, concrete, broken glass, scrap metal and other perils either.

I do like being barefoot though, and I really like to drive barefoot. I feel like I'm more in control of my car when I can hook my toes around the pedals.

The `Learning to walk' article has the tone of a religious convert to it, and has a newage sort of feel that puts me off. Still, I do tend to walk more on the front of my feet when barefoot, I'm a heavy guy and without the support of a shoe it's pretty tough on my heels.

However, when I'm travelling on foot, `fox walking' seems very inefficient to me.

When I'm in my stride, travelling around 6-7kph, I put my heels down quite lightly.
posted by tomble at 9:57 PM on April 23, 2008

Blazecock Pileon - I'm late to this party, but damn, that's an expensive shoe.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2008

I recently tried to order some Vivo Barefoots.

 	Order Status
22/04/2008 	Pending 	 
23/04/2008 	Out of stock 	
posted by Project F at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2008

Based on this post I ended up getting the Vibram Five Fingers. I couldn't be happier. Even though I had to take the first pair back because they were too small (I punished myself for a full day in them on carpet at the house). When I went back and got the next size up it was absofreakinloutely amazing how comfortable they seemed. Weird yes, but really as close to barefoot as you can be with shoes on. When you buy them remember where because every time you go out in them someone will ask where you got them after asking WTF they are. I'm hoping they can come out with a pseudo-camo-dress model that I can somehow slip by the business casual dress code at work because they seem to help my low back problem. I'm in good shape, but the workout my feet get in these shoes is really toning much of my lower body as well.

Don't recommend for all day on concrete or tile, but for the park, hiking , watersports, and general around-the-house wear they seem to be holding up well.
posted by HyperBlue at 7:11 PM on May 22, 2008

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