Update 7/28/19: I just noticed that scads of people are still reading my pre-Achilles-injury posts from years ago. I’m no longer in minimal shoes. In my opinion the whole minimal shoe thing is hocus-pocus. Shoes were developed and universally adopted because they work better than bare feet. Do what you want but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Original post from 6/7/2013
Around town I used to wear boots. For working out I wore conventional New Balance cross-trainers. My kids used to cringe whenever at my oft-spoken admonition: “You should be wearing more functional footwear!” But not more. I have gone to thinner soles with zero heel-to-toe drop. I’ll tell you why in a minute. First the low-down on what I’m wearing.
These days I’m sporting Chuck Taylors pretty much everywhere. I keep a clean pair for office casual, as well as a pair of brown leather Vivobarefoot shoes. I also have a pair of Sofstars on order (I’ll put up a review when they get here). Sofstar looks like a fantastic small shop run by really cool folks. Who can resist buying a pair of shoes handmade in the USA by elves?
Now for the why.
First, the Science
Raised heels (lifts of 8mm are not uncommon in most shoes and sneakers) shorten the Achilles tendon. Arch supports weaken the muscles of the feet. Thick soles destroy ground feel. Less arch support and increased ground feel allow feet to spread and do the job they were designed to do. For years I wore a size 8 or 8.5. I now wear size 9. Trust me, you want your foot performing maximally. Feet are marvels of engineering. Let them do what they do and they’ll make you happy. There’s a plethora of info available on the science of the barefoot shoe revolution out there, and there are some naysayers. Here’s a nice overview on the subject if you want to read more.
Runners Beware: There are plenty of studies claiming that running barefoot is a bad idea. I think some of those studies are pretty well flawed. Others seem sound. But since I’m not a runner (short sprints only for me!) none of those bug me much. If you’re a hard-core runner, think long and hard before making the switch.
And now the Mysticism
When you liberate your feet from rigid coffins of thick rubber and plastic and put them into slippers of canvas or leather you feel a kind of release. You walk and run differently, with a bounce in your step that changes your outlook from the ground up. When you’re outside strolling along the street or trail you’re more in touch with the world around you. You feel and react to the ground instead of cruising along in a devil-may-care sort of way.
Some folks even believe in “Earthing” — that you shouldn’t have rubber between you and the Earth when walking — natural materials like leather or hemp only. There may be something to it, but I can’t attest because all my shoes have rubber soles.
For centuries being barefoot was a sign of slavery. Slave codes mandated that slaves go barefoot. But that’s the “shoe-centric” view. In actuality, barefoot = freedom. Going completely barefoot can literally be a religious experience. If you wear minimal shoes in public, you can go barefoot in private — completely — without fear of developing Plantar fasciitis . Been there, done that. PF sucks. Trust me, you don’t want it. That’s why you should…
MAKE THE TRANSITION VERY SLOWLY OR YOU WILL HURT YOURSELF.
I’m not kidding. I took over a year to make the move and still had a few rough spots (probably due to my stiff old 50+ body). Start by replacing the arches in your existing shoes with lower ones every few months until you have no arch support in your shoes. Every now and then rip some of the crap out of the inside of your shoes until you’re down to the actual sole. Then move to lower and lower heels.
I found that doing this with all my shoes at the same time was the key. Where I experienced problems was when I was trying to go zero-drop in my workout shoes while wearing traditional dress shoes with heels to the office. All day long my Achilles was shortening. Then, when I went to exercise I was over-stressing my Achilles tendon. It’s the same problem folks have who wear high heels every day. I strained my Achilles and it took me 6 months to rehab it. I’ll say it again: go slowly and make the switch with all your shoes at the same time.
And a final note. Don’t be stupid. If you’re working in the yard, carrying heavy objects, operating power equipment or tools, banging around a warehouse or machine shop, etc. protect your feet with a substantial shoe. I still have my boots, I just had them re-soled to about a 2mm drop. That worked because they were only 4mm to start with. That won’t work with a pair of boots with a huge heel on them, it’ll just wreck the shoe. OTZShoes makes a zero drop boot, but it’s kind of pricey.