It's that time of year again... Hiking season! For me it's 120 kilometres from Mt. Hermon to the sea of Galilee next week. However, If you are a barefoot advocate, you're probably having the same dilemma... What do I hike in? My barefeet? Sandals? Do I need "ankle support"?
So first we must come to understand that any barefoot shoe is marketing - really, really good marketing... The goal of a quality barefoot shoe is to give minimal protection and to allow the foot to function as it supposed to. Sometimes add-ons like lugs can add better traction, thermal insoles can assist with providing more warmth ect. I'll be breaking down 4 pairs of shoes I hike/have hiked in, listing their pros and cons.
(Pictured left to right: Vivobarefoot Tracker, Freet Mudee, Xero Trail Sandals, Earth Runners Elemental, and Charlie)
1. Vivobarefoot Tracker
It's a beautiful color, you'll blend nicely into the forest with it
It's a lot of shoe for those who are used to more minimalist shoes
Tread is good and grippy
Ankle support feels weird for the minimalists
It's super lightweight and pretty comfortable
Comes with a thermal insole
Toe box is a little bit on the narrow side for wider feet
Completely water proof - snow, rain, puddles...
I personally did not enjoy hiking in these as much as they feel too clunky for the barefoot feel. The high heel counter can restrict ankle mobility a bit, and while most hiking boots intentionally have this, I actually find it annoying and restrictive. I feel at the end of the day, the goal should be functional/mobile feet.
2. Freet Mudee
The fit is great and feels a lot more like an extension of the feet
The thin insole it comes with does add a little thickness to make it more comforting, as without the insole you do feel everything
It claims only water resistant but is actually quite waterproof, and I've survived a huge blizzard hiking in them
They are not super warm though
Uber, uber wide and feels like a slipper
These are my go to hiking shoes if I'm not barefoot or wearing a sandal. I got these after not being happy with the Vivo Trackers. I Was in Colorado and needed a warmer shoe than a sandal.
3. Xero Trail Sandals
They have a classic sandal look, however they're zero drop and more minimal
Great for extended mileage, as they have enough padding to keep you comfortable without a heel or any negative aspects you get from shoes
The Z-strap can sometimes cut and chafe into your feet, which is not fun but nothing a band aid can't help with
You tend to slip and slide in these, especially if they get wet
The top strap can constrict your toes a bit and affect gait
I have personally had numerous hikes in these and always bring them as back up
4. Earth Runners Elemental
The most minimal shoe I own, which also impacts your gait the least
The earthing strap and copper plug is a uber benefit as you can get some of the barefoot benefits without being barefoot
The thong strap does take some time getting used to, as it can chaff between the big toe and the second toe
If your toe splay and big toe alignment is not close to perfect yet, it may actually be very difficult to endure in these for long distance
These would be the ideal minimalist shoe but may be a process to fully transition and be capable of wearing them for long periods of time
To be brutally honest... It's a piece of rubber with a nice looking strap, however I absolutely love these, and spend my day to day in them when I'm not barefoot - using them for shorter hikes and runs with them. I want to hike in these the entire 120km, however I'll be listening to my body, and if it starts getting difficult I will switch.
With my hike coming to an end, the clear winner was clearly the Freet Mudee.
It had enough warmth for the colder mornings and the evenings. Enough thickness with the insole to keep my feet and toesies going, and just enough shoe but not too much. I brought my Xero and Earth Runners as a backup, and switched to them mid day.
Maximise realism and comfort over "must be barefoot whole hike argh" and your body will thank you.
Spend the extra time every night splaying your toes and some lacrosee balling to your soles and calves.
Eat well, drink well, sleep well and your body will be a efficient barefoot machine!