|Vibram FiveFingers, well used.|
Ugly to look at, but so beautiful to feel - like bare feet, but with no risk of bee stings or a stone in the foot. In winter I wear socks and leather boots with a vivobarefoot sole, which is definitely second best in terms of sensitivity, but warm and dry. The vibrams aren't at all waterproof, which is a pity. I also dislike the colours - I'm not a neon kind of person.
This was one of my most memorable recent walks, up Mount Maunganui:
More on that in my next post, because walking in a beautiful place is as important as what's on your feet!
|A local track.|
After three years of removing propped-up-at-the heel, stiff and separate-from-the-earth conventional shoes, what have I noticed?
What I've learnt in three years of (nearly) barefoot walking
1. 'Normal' shoes feel like barges under my feet. I hate the feeling and never wear them.
|I use the boot as a doorstop. Literally.|
2. Barefoot shoes are much safer. When scrambling up or down a bank, conventional shoes feel like skis in comparison. The barefooters allow instant, sensitive, subconscious feedback of what's underfoot. Which would be safer, climbing a slippery bank with bare hands or in hands with thick leather gloves?
|A barefoot shoe line up: vibram FiveFingers flanked by vivobarefoot shoes.|
3. The feet change when unconstrained, as do their messages to the brain, and the brain's ability to 'hear' them. When scrambling up or down that bank, the strong, flexible feet that develop over months and years make instant adjustments to compensate for what's underfoot. They can mold, flex and grip to the surface. No thinking required.
3. The interplay of nerves between the brain and the feet takes months or years to re-develop. I'm not sure if I've got full feedback yet, but I think it took at least two years to really sense little undulations, textures and hardness of the ground. I thought it happened very fast, but only after more than two years did I realise how much had continued to change. The big realisation came when I found I could walk on completely flat paved surfaces quite happily in my vibrams (although I still prefer softer, undulating surfaces). My feet naturally take on a lightness of step to compensate for the flat, hard ground. To be honest, I don't really know what compensations they're making - my feet and the pertinent part of my brain team up to do it without any conscious oversight from me. I can merely peer at the adjustments from the outside.
4. Something I've learned from watching others walk in built-up shoes: If the feet and ankles can't mold and flex to encompass undulations, the legs and body wobble instead. It looks like teetering. What does that do to knee joints?
5. Who decided that it was 'better' to improve on hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and prop our heels up above the toes? This is a fundamental change to how our feet have evolved to stand and walk, and requires compensation by other parts of the body. Even running shoes have elevated heels.
|My husband's newish shoes. How many blokes have toes|
arranged in this shape? His toes are distorted inwards
in these. It's a very mild version of Chinese foot binding.
7. Modern technology is fantastic. Now it can allow that sensitive interaction while still providing some protection. And yet I am almost always the only person around with weird shoes. Most people haven't got there yet. Give it 10 years.
|I love these, but they only made them big enough for my daughter, not me!|
8. Barefoot shoes don't last as long - only about two years. But they are much cheaper than the orthotics I used to have to wear to avoid pain, or the physiotherapist/osteopath/surgeon fees. Of course this early expiry date is an bad thing environmentally.
|Split vivobarefoot boots after two winters of solid wear.|
|Split vibram five-fingers after a year - but I did buy them second-hand.|
9. It goes like this: once we didn't realise the importance of eating food that's as close to 'natural' as possible. Now there is overwhelming evidence to support that, and everybody's doin' it (or not, sadly, which is expensive for the health system). It's increasingly becoming apparent that there's not a lot you can interfere with in nature without some unpleasant side effects. My feet are revelling in that realisation, and triumphantly and comfortably shouting that footwear is one of those things.