I'm a sucker for shoes. There’s a shoe for everything, I believe. Even if it’s the anti-shoe. Enter barefoot sneakers: lightly padded sheaths offering next to no support. I recently tried a pair, and I love them. L-O-V-E. I wouldn’t wear them everywhere. But for the right place, the right activity? I’m 100 percent on board.
Barefoot style’s ardent believers think it’s better for you to hoof it au naturel. If you’re a runner, it helps you land on your forefoot rather than on yourheel, reducing impact and musculoskeletal stress injuries (though you may want to consult a barefoot-running coach before you begin, to learn proper posture). If you’re a walker, it shortens your stride, which also lessens the impact, says Stephen Bloor, a podiatrist and avid barefoot walker based in Helston, England. “And the foot is strengthened by walking on variable surfaces. This helps protect against heel pain, bunions and many more problems.” Just go slow: Ease into it to avoid injury. Others, like Vancouver podiatrist Sue Turner, say traditional shoes are better for most walkers, especially those exercising on concrete and asphalt. “Shoes with thick soles and solid, raised heels help feet absorb shock and function with optimal biomechanics,” she explains.
There’s no argument, however, that barefoot shoes are popular. “Tons of people wear them now, from kids to seniors,” says Placido Circe, a shoe specialist at Toronto’s Mountain Equipment Co-op, where they’ve been selling out of these It shoes. My pair have become my trail-walking BFFs (although I’ll cede Turner’s point on pavement — the unyielding sidewalk made walking unpleasant). I’ve had zero blisters, and no muscle or joint pain. And, unlike my trail runners, they let me feel leaves rustling underfoot, the satisfying crunch of gravel and the refreshing cool emanating from dirt trails. It’s like being barefoot. Only better.