In this blog post I'll tell you about the benefits of moving barefoot. I'll also review the best method of doing so, using GoST chainmail shoes.
No shoe can improve upon the superior functionality of your own feet in their natural state. Unless you have a medical condition, the only reason you would need to wear them is if the muscles in your feet have atrophied from years of dependence on the crutch of shoes.
The way to fix that issue is to get our feet out of the restrictive cast of traditional footwear and strengthen those weakened foot structures by using them as nature intended.
Going barefoot is the gold standard for optimal functioning of our feet plus the rest of our musculoskeletal system that hinges on our feet.
In an environment landscaped with golf-course-type grass, we could all feel comfortable standing, walking, and running safely on that natural surface and feel a close connection with the earth.
As it stands, we may run across some small but painful objects on our paths: burrs, thorns, splintered sticks, rusty nails, broken glass, pinecones, jagged rocks, etc.
If you are standing or walking at a leisurely pace, you could notice these little things and easily step over them. While running, the ground flies by underfoot without time to see every potential danger that could cut, scratch, or puncture your foot.
The main reasons to wear protective yet minimal barefoot shoes include:
1. Running on unfamiliar terrain that may have unforeseen objects
2. Protection when you stub your toes
3. Insulation from the temperature of hot or icy terrain
4. Events and businesses where footwear is required
I have owned several different types of minimal footwear to protect my feet from all those unforeseen hazards. I believe barefoot shoes are what's most natural and healthy when we cannot be completely barefoot.
I have been wearing barefoot shoes for several years now. The best barefoot shoes I've ever owned are Paleos®. A small German company called GoSt-Barefoots® makes stainless-steel, fine-mesh chainmail shoes that feel incredibly comfortable and look attractive.
Minimal footwear is not an edgy new trend. In historical terms, modern shoes are the edgy new trend. As trends go, they’re terrible—right up there with chastity belts and Victorian corsets!
Shoes prevent your feet from flexing, feeling, and moving naturally. Thick soles, elevated heels, and arch support are all recent inventions in the scope of human history.
Long-distance running was central to the evolutionary success of human beings. You’ll notice that the human gluteus maximus muscle is significantly larger than an ape’s. Why? To enhance stability when running (1). As Sir Mix-a-Lot famously said, “I like big butts, and I cannot lie.”
“I like a girl with a good head on her shoulders.” That line has been around even longer. Truth be told, I like a girl with a good head on her neck.
Human heads are uniquely mobile because our neck muscles' attachment sits below the skull (2). This feature allows us to look around more easily while our arms are engaged in running. In contrast, apes have a relatively limited range of motion because their bulky neck muscles attach to the top of their heads.
Our uniquely human traits give us a distinct advantage for long-distance running: flatter faces, greater height, shorter forearms, larger vertebrae, connected pelvis and spine, longer legs, larger lower limb joints, prominent heel bones, and shorter toes.
The human body has the best form for running long distances compared to any primates. Our capacity for distance running allowed us to outlast prey in the Savannah, landing dinner when it finally gave out from fatigue (3). Our bodies come equipped for running right out of the gate, no accessories needed!
Do you believe Nike® or Adidas® suddenly improved on the foot-functionality formula in the 1970s? They weren’t even basing their athletic-shoe designs on any scientific studies. They certainly didn’t spend millennia doing live tests in nature. (Hint: our human ancestors did in a manner of speaking.)
The only thing you need from a shoe is for it not to be a hindrance. Your feet have fantastic capabilities in their natural state. Shoes should nearly disappear to retain as many of the benefits of going barefoot as possible—the less obtrusive, the better.
The negative impact of wearing typical shoes affects more than just the wearer who tosses them when they wear out.
Consider what Waste360 Recycling with Sole has to say about the negative impact most shoes have on our environment.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. These shoes end up in landfills, where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Nashville, Tenn.-based Soles4Souls is an international non-profit dedicated to diverting usable shoes from landfills and redistributing them to people in need.
Astonishingly, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the number of children around the world who have never owned a pair of shoes also equals 300 million.
What is it about modern shoes that makes them so terrible? Let's begin with their inflexible soles and the narrow space for our toes that makes them unnaturally cramped.
Ideally, we would engage the muscles in our toes as we walk to help push ourselves off of the ground. An inflexible sole and a constrictive toe-box prevent this. Most shoes do something absurd in a failed attempt to compensate for turning our toes into useless, deformed appendages. They curve the sole at the front of the shoe upwards. This way, we can still propel ourselves forward by rolling!
Imagine how ridiculous and unnatural it would be to wear constrictive oven mitts all the time that prevented us from using our fingers or bending our wrists. To compensate for lost functions, we could attach accessory features to them.
Nothing could ever compensate for the loss of function and feeling we would forfeit, not to mention the resulting, unforeseen health problems. In the same way, shoes are adding features to try to solve the problems that they caused in the first place.
And just like oven mitts, the soles of most shoes are thick enough to cut off our ability to feel ourselves walking on various surfaces. Losing that sensory feedback is miserable to me since I'm so used to always having it.
I tried wearing typical shoes to an event last year. I hadn’t anticipated that driving would feel so awkward in standard shoes with their thick soles. I had to consciously monitor how fast the vehicle was moving to decide to press the pedal more or less. I’ve grown accustomed to easily feeling exactly how far I’m pushing the accelerator.
This loss of sensation from most shoes is the least of our worries. A more pressing concern is that the loss of tactile feedback makes us strike the ground too hard. Studies show they increase your peak vertical ground reaction force at initial contact.
Runners generate significant force through our speed. The impact of our footstrike adds up over countless miles. Depending on our body mechanics, it could be causing excess wear and tear that may jeopardize our competitive edge or even contribute to a disabling diagnosis down the road.
The training disciplines of parkour and hurdles are adding the variable of more height to the force of each landing. The vertical drop magnifies the impact, even when merely walking downhill on the street or going down a stairway.
Minimal footwear can even help those with osteoarthritis. Think about all the people who need to have their knees and hips replaced with mechanical implants after decades of cumulative damage.
We would be wise to care for our irreplaceable spines because it is not possible to have spine-replacement surgery. The back bone's connected to the hip bone. The hip bone's connected to the leg bone. The leg bone's connected to the 26 bones of the foot.
Can you pass the stealthy ninja test? How loud are your footsteps? When we walk barefoot, it is naturally easy to walk with a soft forefoot strike that's silent.
The thicker or more rigid the soles on our shoes, the more we hear that distinct ca-lump, ca-lump noise. Listening to our footsteps is a simple way to evaluate if a shoe is causing us to hit the ground with damaging force.
The problems don't stop there because most footwear elevates the heel higher than the rest of the foot in dress shoes. Makers of activewear shoes add extra thickness to the heel, trying to create a shock absorber of the heel strike's jarring impact.
The elevated heel is yet another case of the shoe trying to solve a problem it caused—with harmful results because it forces us to land on our heel and sends the impact through our joints!
Compared to the heel strike of shod runners, barefoot runners' forefoot strike is well-documented. In fact, barefoot running might reduce the chance of a sprained ankle and the risk of plantar fasciitis.
Try this experiment to see for yourself and feel the difference. Take your shoes off and stand up as straight as you can. Now bounce up and down without stopping, like you’re using a jump rope.
Where does your foot land? It’s either flat or tilted towards the ball of your foot, right?
Now, if you want to experience discomfort, try doing bouncing while landing on your heels or even landing with a flat foot tilted slightly towards the heel.
Do you see how painful it is to land that way without thick shoes to disconnect us from the jarring sensation? Yet that damaging impact is occurring all day long if we’re wearing shoes with an elevated heel.
Some may protest, “I walk on hard, man-made surfaces, so I want shoes with thick cushioning.” That's a reasonable objection.
Shoes are a human invention, and so are hard tile floors and pavement. Maybe these two unnatural conditions cancel each other out. Is this possible?
Perhaps we need unnatural shoes now, just as astronauts need spacesuits.
Do standard shoes protect us from hard, artificial surfaces or natural rocky terrain? Wouldn't squishy gel insoles, heel springs, and memory foam be good for our feet in those situations? Let’s answer this legitimate question with empirical evidence.
Take a look at the effort involved in rickshaw pulling on the hard pavement (0:33 seconds in).
A survey in 1949 documented in the mainstream scientific journal of the National Association of Chiropodists (precursor to the modern, mainstream American Podiatric Medical Association) examined 118 rickshaw pullers (4).
The survey observed, “There is no occupation more strenuous for the feet than trotting a rickshaw on hard pavement for many hours each day, yet these men do it without pain or pathology.”
The survey's conclusion was surprising:
“People who have never worn shoes acquire very few foot defects… The range of their foot motions... [is] remarkably great, allowing for full foot activity. Shoes are not necessary for healthy feet and are the cause of most foot troubles. Children should not be encouraged to walk prematurely and should not wear any footgear until absolutely necessary. Footgear is the greatest enemy of the human foot.”
Of course, most of us can’t get away with going barefoot in our daily lives. Barefoot shoes are the solution as well as an obvious oxymoron. What criteria are we aiming for in selecting our minimal footwear?
It’s worth noting that there are conflicting results in some "minimal footwear" studies. Shoes that were anything but minimal were included, which significantly skewed the study results.
You will be glad to know a meta-analysis report examined the specs of the minimal footwear tested in the studies. It concluded that benefits appeared when the shoe met or exceeded the following criteria:
These numbers give us a cut-off point to see if a product even qualifies as a barefoot shoe. Unexpectedly, having a barefoot running style matters even more than the choice of footwear(5).
It's easy to learn. Just like in our experiment above, keep your posture straight and hop up and down at a tempo that makes it feel effortless.
Now, bounce from one foot to the other while paying attention to how your feet land, and then lean forward to travel in that direction.
That’s it! You’ve just nailed barefoot running.
Evaluate the functionality of any footwear by noticing the relative ease of keeping this pace and foot positioning while wearing that pair. I believe the toe-to-heel incline matters most, followed by the total thickness of the sole, and lastly, the weight of the upper.
It is critical to gradually transition to barefoot shoes by making a conscious effort to have a correct forefoot strike. Those who switch suddenly from the highly padded soles of regular running shoes and continue to strike the ground heel first, as usual, will be at risk of inflammation and even fractures (6). Make it a safe and soft transition to barefoot running by always landing on your forefoot, like a silent ninja.
I own the Paleos®CLASSIC shoes from GoSt-Barefoots®, which are made almost entirely of chainmail with grips on the bottom and an elastic cord to secure the fit. I also have the Paleos®URBAN ATTAGO, which has a classy, black, sports-shoe upper with a combination of a chainmail sole and polyurethane tread.
The Classic shoes are my favorite and are my top recommendation for barefoot shoes. The Attago is a slight compromise on absolute barefoot-shoe purity. It's ideal for those who want a little added cushioning and a barefoot shoe that appears to be right in the norm, at first glance, until it bares its sole.
The chainmail lining the soles on Attago works quite differently from the chainmail of the Classic, but still carries over some of its unique benefits. I mostly wear those at times when I don’t want to attract any attention to my footwear.
#1. They've got rugged durability.
Maximizing sensory feedback and reducing the ground-strike impact requires the most minimal sole. Yet the thinner it is, the faster you’re going to wear through it, and the more susceptible it will be to damage.
There are other brands out there with thin soles made from materials far less durable than chainmail. Feelmax® footwear's sole thickness is 1.0-2.5 mm, and the Vibram® FiveFingers EL-X is 2.7mm.
When I tried both of those, it felt like I was wearing latex gloves on my feet—almost like wearing nothing at all—which is good. Unfortunately, it also felt like I would rip right through them if I so much as skid my feet while walking through a parking lot. That made me nervous about how frequently I would need to buy replacements.
GoSt-Barefoots' Paleos®Classic Pure is nothing but chainmail secured by elastic lacing. Loose chainmail flexes, so those soles range between 1.1 to 1.6mm, averaging 1.4mm. That shoe is ideal for soft natural surfaces such as sand and surf.
I own the Classic with medium-sized grips called "soil paws" on the bottom of the shoe's 4mm-total-thickness sole. These are for added traction on smooth surfaces and similar in appearance to an animal's pawprint. These paws are as durable as a rollerskate wheel.
Upgrading to the largest-sized grips called "cliff paws" adds half a millimeter and gives the incredible durability of tire tread. I preferred leaving off the extra 0.5mm thickness since soil paws are already so durable. Those who want the most minimal tread can go with the smallest and thinnest grips called "water paws" for a 2mm total thickness.
The Classic surpasses the three criteria shown in the study above for the ideal barefoot shoe. The sole is as flexible as anything you’ll ever see. The heel stack height is well below 20mm (it’s about 4mm). The heel-toe differential is well below 7mm (it’s zero).
The study says that the upper should weigh 200g or less, not including the sole's weight. The size 42 weighs 225g in total, so Classic wins by a landslide!
Also, I haven't seen anything under that weight that’s going to last for any reasonable length of time. Hey, if someone has the luxury of replacing the absolute thinnest, lightest barefoot shoes as often as necessary, without any thought to what it costs over the long-haul, they're pretty lucky!
At that rate, they might even have the means to buy a golf-course or private beach where they can safely run completely barefoot. On the other hand, if you're anything like me, we want a thin, light, yet durable barefoot shoe that will save us money in the long run.
#2. They've got rugged good looks.
I’m not here to push fashion, but I do love the appearance of the Classic. Believe it or not, I've had women I've just met come right out and ask if they could touch my feet. Damn, what an ice-breaker!
Suffice it to say, that's not something I can imagine ever happening while wearing my Vibram® FiveFingers. Despite having one of the most successful barefoot shoe brands, the odd look of their shoes with individual toe sections attracts a lot of attention. Popular TV shows like Parks & Rec have jokes about them looking like monkey feet.
From the reactions I've witnessed, those shoes' design seems to deter people from barefoot-shoe running. People may have the false impression that they need to wear shoes with funny-looking toes to get the benefits as if the visible toe slots are somehow the point which isn't the case, as we know from the studies.
All you need is a toe box wide enough to allow your feet to spread out, and you can accomplish this while being discrete. Most of the public would be surprised to know that there are even dress shoes that qualify as barefoot shoes while maintaining a professional image.
I have experience wearing Vibram® FiveFingers out in public. Even though I chose the solid black and brown leather KSO Treks, it was apparent that most people found them odd.
After sizing me up for a moment while standing near each other, they might ask me, "Are those comfortable?" There was usually a skeptical squint in their eyes the whole time I replied. They were anything but eager to find out where they could buy them.
The tone when people ask me about my GoSt-Barefoots Paleos® shoes is noticeably different. It's closer to, "Wow, those look comfortable!" It's distinctly different than the quizzical way they ask about my Vibram® shoes while looking askance at me.
Wearing my head-turning Classic shoes, the people I meet form a genuine interest in learning about barefoot running. On days when I won't have time for those kinds of conversations, I can just slip on my Attago shoes and blend right in. With its chainmail woven into the sole, it is relatively hidden. They still give me many of the barefoot shoe benefits, but with a familiar look that won't draw questions.
#3. They are oh so comfortable.
On the Classic, the chainmail is slack. Each ring has room to slide within the interior of all the others to compress or expand the shoe considerably.
Wearing chainmail (like a knight in shining armor) feels a little unusual the first time, but I've grown to absolutely love how it gently drapes around my foot and hangs a bit loosely.
Understandably, people worry unnecessarily that the chainmail would feel rough or irritating. I am quite sensitive to even subtle tactile sensations. So trust me when I say, Paleos don't rub me the wrong way.
The sensation of wearing the Classic is one of smoothness. The links slide easily across each other while the shoe shrinks or expands, always adapting to accommodate every little movement. It feels more like wearing a sock than anything.
#4. Their repairability makes for a long-term relationship.
Quality over quantity is my motto. I like owning valuable things, but I'm also a minimalist who doesn't want the clutter of a lot of extra stuff kicking around.
I’ll spend more on a Patagonia® jacket for the lifetime warranty. Then I’ll plan to wear only that jacket, sending it in for free repairs over the summer, for as long as possible. I’m done shopping for jackets—for good.
Sure, it costs more per jacket, but the amount I will have spent over time will end up being less, and the ecological footprint will be minimal.
If you ever manage to beat through your Classic's paws, GoSt-Barefoots® will install new ones for $100 and deep clean them. Combined with their tremendous durability, this ability to repair them keeps the lifetime cost low. I’ve owned mine for almost two years now, and I can’t even imagine when I’ll need to do this.
#5. They enable the air to flow while the good times roll.
I was surprised by this, but they’re even more fresh and breezy than sandals, (which only expose the top of your foot.) The Classic lets refreshing air envelop your entire foot. You'll feel the wind at your back and on the bottom of your feet! Nothing else accomplishes that feat!
The only place they can ever get slightly uncomfortable is standing in direct sunlight on the searing pavement for a long time. In which case, get the sole-less saver socks to keep the top of your foot comfortably insulated from the heat.
#6. They’re fast-drying like the futuristic clothes Doc gave Marty after hoverboarding.
Your feet will get wet, sure. They’ll also dry fast!
Some other barefoot shoe brands, absorb water like a paper towel sucking moisture straight up to your feet if you set foot in a shallow puddle.
I don’t own any other kind of rain shoe. If it’s been raining, I throw on my Classics. My feet will get a little wet but not soggy, and they'll dry quickly.
#7. They smell like the sword Excalibur did as King Arthur pulled it from the stone and they keep feet smelling like the rose Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein of Gelderland gave Lady Jocelyn.
Stainless-steel shoes don't absorb odors. They will never put your foot—not even the bottom of it—in a moist, musty environment. If you have ever ruined a pair of regular shoes that never recovered from getting wet, rest assured, that's never going to happen to chainmail.
While outdoors, the Classic allows any part of your foot to benefit from the sun's UV rays, which are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Lesser-known viruses such as hand, foot, and mouth disease as well as common conditions like athlete's foot are less likely when fresh air and sunshine surround your feet.
The 360-degree breeze dries sweat and moisture so quickly. After a day out wearing my Classics, no joke: my feet still smell like roses. As someone who could clear out a room taking my sweaty socks and shoes off back in high school, this fresh feeling is a fantastic bonus in my experience.
#8. They can roll up and hang from a belt loop like Indiana Jones' whip.
I can roll them up to fit in my pocket or let them hang from my belt loop This benefit is a little more niche than the others. It’s nice to be able to take them off so easily. If you’re into traveling minimally, they couldn’t be easier to slide into a slim compartment of a carry-on bag. They take up less space than a sandal.
Click picture to see different Paleo® Shoes at the GoST website
At home, my computer is in front of a standing desk with an anti-fatigue mat. I take my shoes off as soon as I'm home. After wearing my Attago shoes and then standing barefoot on the anti-fatigue mat by my standing desk, I can barely tell the difference between the feeling of wearing them and standing barefoot on the mat.
That's how comfortable my Attago shoes are. It's like carrying around a piece of my anti-fatigue mat everywhere, with a strap to keep it loosely attached to my foot that makes it look like a regular shoe. My feet barely even touch the top and sides of the interior. The lip that folds around your ankle keeps them very secure on your feet, and that's what allows for the extremely roomy interior.
When I first put on a brand new pair of Attago, the lip was pretty uncomfortable. I thought I might have to give negative feedback about the discomfort. I noted that the instructions said to allow several hours to break in the lip. Within a mere two hours, it had already molded to the shape of my leg. From then on, it's been the most comfortable shoe I've ever worn.
The chainmail woven into the Attago helps your foot breathe, maintain a comfortable temperature, and not build up any smell. It lets water soak out of the shoe quickly, helping you dry off and not get a soggy foot even if you get wet. However, it doesn't work quite like full-chainmail shoes.
Rarely, are Classic's links expanded to their full potential, so not much gets through to your feet. Attago's chainmail is stretched wide open and woven into the polyurethane frame.
As a result, you don't get the sensation of the chainmail gliding across itself while wearing Attago. It also means things do slip through the links to touch your skin. If I step on long grass, it's more likely to tickle my feet.
The top and sides of the Attago feel like a regular shoe. You don't feel the air moving over your whole foot. Surprisingly, you do feel the grass, and sometimes the breeze, on your soles.
It has, occasionally, made me look down to check whether I'm wearing shoes or not. Less tactile feedback from the top and more from the bottom makes for a juxtaposition that feels even trippier than the Classic.
If you try Attago as a test run before donning full-fledged chainmail, they really won't give you any idea of what to expect. Nothing can prepare you for the sensation of wearing Classic—not even the other shoes in GoSt-Barefoots' lineup.
GoSt-Barefoots® has all of my needs covered, with one exception. I love my Paleos® so much that I'm not willing to put them through any kind of abuse. For example, if I'm sprinting 15mph+ on a treadmill at the gym, I'll wear some of my older barefoot shoes that I'm not concerned about damaging for those occasions.
It takes a lot of abuse for them to need repairs. If it is ever necessary, it still costs less than the price of replacing most shoes. GoSt-Barefoots® has excellent customer service and stands behind their craftsmanship. I hope this review will inspire you to donate all your non-minimal footwear and replace it with a healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative.
If you ever need to send your shoes off to be repaired, I'd advise insuring the package against loss or theft to protect these highly-sought-after shoes from walking off. After investing in a premium, tailor-made product, you'll want to protect that investment and enjoy them for the long haul.
My search for the perfect barefoot shoes ends here with GoSt-Barefoots®. Both unique styles of Paleos have enhanced my quality of life. Their Paleos®CLASSIC (with soil paws) is my #1 recommendation out of all the barefoot shoes I've experienced. The combination of thinness and durability is one I haven't found anywhere else. Nothing beats it for hot or wet weather, being lightweight and compact, smelling clean, and the sheer enjoyment of barefoot running.
Click picture to see different Paleo® Shoes at the GoST website
This blog post was written by Aedhán Castiel. Aedhán is a contributing writer for Alexfergus.com and is passionate about researching and testing innovative resources and sharing what he discovers to give you an edge in your pursuit of optimal functioning.
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