Are Barefoot Shoes actually Barefoot?
Ahh minimalist shoes… the comfort, the protection, that feeling of running barefoot. Don’t you just love the freedom that you gain? That same feeling your ancestors had when running barefoot across the African Savannah. What’s wrong with running shoes you might ask, well a lot, but that’s a different discussion. Today we’re here to discuss the different between barefoot running shoes and actually running barefoot.
It’s become quite popular these days to talk about barefoot freedom or running barefoot all while still wearing shoes. The term “barefoot running” has started to become hazy as minimalist running shoes have entered the pictures with various levels of quality and reliability. If that’s the case, we need to distinguish the differences between using minimalist shoes for running and actually running without shoes on.
We often mention the benefits of minimalist shoes being greater tactile sensation and more balance. Your stride tends to get better and you stop heel striking and begin landing on the forefoot, eliminating some of the excessive strain on your legs. We don’t usually mention that minimalist shoes are still shielding your feet from many of their natural capabilities, even if you’re not using traditional running shoes.
An example we like to use is wearing gloves while typing. If you’re trying to type wearing a pair of gloves the job becomes exponentially harder the thicker and less flexible the gloves become. There is of course a spectrum, a pair of conventional running shoes might be equivalent to a pair of Arctic grade mittens where a pair of good minimalist shoes could be the same as a pair of doctor’s latex gloves. The footwear (or handwear?) is different but in both cases you’re losing something.
The key ingredient that’s missing here is tactile sensation. The feeling of mud squirting between your toes, of sand giving way beneath your feet, of your toes gripping something to push off of is muffled by wearing shoes whether they’re minimalist or not. Those who are experienced barefoot shoe users will likely find that the experience of truly running barefoot is still quite different from minimalist footwear.
This however is not the be all and end all. By accepting this point we can recognize both the advantages of going barefoot and using barefoot shoes. Going 100% barefoot might be appropriate on the beach, in your backyard and in a few select locations, for everything else a good set of minimalist running shoes can serve you well.
While it can be easy to nitpick about how much barefoot shoes actually mimic the barefoot feeling they are undoubtedly better than traditional shoes. Foot technology has drastically advanced in recent decades. If you’re aiming to find a pair of shoes that gets the closest possible to truly barefoot, learning about what factors make the best minimalist shoe is important. Offset and sole width are two of the most important.
It’s important to remember that the word “barefoot” when it comes to minimalist shoes is an advertising word or a brand name, you’re only barefoot if you have no shoes on. That being said, innovation in foot technology is bringing us closer to that true barefoot feeling. While we might not be at the point of 100% foot freedom, minimalist footwear is heading in the right direction.