A huge controversy still rages regarding the benefits and potential injuries associated with barefoot running/hiking. According to recent research at Harvard, it seems more and more likely that barefoot is the way to travel.
Not only does barefoot running allow you to feel more connected to the Earth and trail you are embarking on, it also reduces a wide range of injuries including knee, shin, and hip ailments. It even helps to build a network of arch support muscles for those of us that have flat feet.
According to the research, runners and hikers need to ensure they also strike with the front of their foot instead of the rear. This reduces stress and force of impact.
The best way to break into the barefoot running scene is to start breaking in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. There are many models to choose from, but as an avid hiker I recommend the KSO Treksports. If the smell of the shoes ever gets too funky go ahead and throw them in the wash with the rest of your clothes. Easy peasy.
If you don’t want to look like a goofy primate all the time, you can always look into a model like the trailglove from Merrell. It is still worn barefoot, and has all the benefits of the Vibrams, without the strange stares people will be offering graciously.
Here’s a quick quote from a friend of mine involved in forestry and wildlife conservation regarding the Vibrams he wore while hiking through Yellowstone National Park:
GET THESE. They are amazing for my flat footedness. They are the exact opposite of babying your foot like custom orthotics but I’ve hiked over 15 miles a day in these with no problem. Actually just got back from a trip with them. I don’t wear any socks and the level of moisture is way better than any shoes. I crossed countless creeks/rivers in Yellowstone with [them] on and could just keep going when I got out as they eventually dry out. Also they make hiking more dynamic. No more trudging because you will hurt your feet that way. I’ve stubbed a toe once or twice and you know it! I’m 100% bare foot! -Dan Tekiela