Barefoot

Recently, the satirical Facebook page Contrived Platitudes posted this image macro:

Contrived Platitudes: Grounding

Courtesy: Contrived Platitudes

While hilarious, it reminded me of the undue attention I sometimes garner by walking around barefoot. Unlike those being satirized here, I ascribe no woo to this practice. It is neither delusion nor affectation. In attending events, however, I have found I easily receive more questions about my choice in footwear than about anything I actually have to offer.

There are plenty of topics about which I would love to write but that nobody seems inclined to read. Why not, then, satisfy the curiosity of those who have asked and knock this on the head once and for all.

Convenient

I spend a good amount of time outdoors, but rarely in long stretches. Most days I am constantly alternating in and out of the house. Boots, even unlaced, are a pain to deal with.

I went through a period where I wore some crocs to go outside but even this was less than ideal. I had to remember where I last kicked them off, they didn’t always provide the best traction and I couldn’t wear them inside all the time because they still picked up and held onto mud. I still keep them around, but I rarely use them now.

Far better to just stick to bare feet. They get dirty, of course, but a quick swish in the pond or blast with the hose will take care of the worst of it, though most of the time a quick brush on the grass is sufficient. Generally speaking, traction is fantastic. I can always find them.

Comfortable

It turns out that going barefoot is also extremely comfortable. It is by far the coolest option in the hotter months, which has become more important as I’ve become less heat tolerant. As an added bonus, going barefoot means your feet don’t get sweaty and, without socks, there are less places for ticks to hide.

While it is my understanding that some people have foot geometry that benefits from additional support, I have found that in my case I do not develop the various problems I did when wearing boots on a daily basis.

One question I am often asked is whether my feet get cold whenever it is anything less than a warm and sunny day. The answer is that yes, at times. I do wear footwear in the winter. Otherwise, once you get used to your feet sometimes being cold, it really isn’t something you notice.

Quiet

Where I have truly come to appreciate walking barefoot is hunting. I feel much quieter walking barefoot through the woods and my results tend to back up that perception.

Walking Barefoot

Waterproof, easy to clean, flexible, and quiet. Who needs shoes?

At first I ascribed this quietness to the smaller footprint and softness of feet vs. boots. There is also a benefit of having more flexibility and sensation of the ground. When walking through leaves, for example, you can feel if you have stepped on a hidden branch and can either pull back or flex your foot in such a way as to avoid snapping it.

That being said, I have come to realize that for me the largest factor is one of focus and attention. The lessons learned in walking barefoot have carried over to hunts where I have worn boots and I have been able to navigate more quietly provided I focus on my foot placement. Left to my own devices, though, I will find my mind wandering — either to focus exclusively on a far-off feature I feel may conceal an animal or, worse still, to some unrelated matter. My memories will barge in or I will find myself dissecting and refining an argument and before I know it I will hear some large snap or I will stumble or otherwise reveal my location.

Walking barefoot, being brought back to attention often comes not in the form of an unintended noise but in the form of an unwelcome sensation. The afformentioned hidden branch will poke into the arch of my foot and immediately bring me back into focus without requiring that I botch my stalk.

The need to navigate around thorns, sharp rocks and even broken glass also keeps my eyes constantly on the move. I am forced to pay attention not only to my immediate surroundings but also to what is along my intended path as I can’t just barge through brambles and need to be much more contemplative about my navigation.

This type of constantly shifting focus is exactly what you want when hunting and is of general benefit in the rest of life as well.

The Cost

Not that there isn’t a cost to all of this. Over the course of a season my feet will get pretty cut up with small incisions and I end up pulling a lot of thorns and slivers out. Walking through farm fields is the worst, as the left-over stuble of long-harvested soy crops constantly cut into my feet.

There is also the concern of larger injuries. Working with tools or carrying heavy objects, I rely on the extra focus provided by my understanding that there is no steel cap to protect me from a misstep. I do still wear boots when mowing the lawn, though, as the nature of the task makes it just too easy for me to accidentally slip up. This strategy will obviously work well right up to the point where it doesn’t.

The last issue is one of infection and parasitism. Fortunately our climate isn’t constantly wet and so not every little scrape or cut gets infected. The annual freeze helps to keep things like nematodes in check. In the end, though, I live in a rich Western environment and advanced medical care is available if I pick up anything truly dangerous. Beyond that, I suspect that actuarians would probably fret over lack of dental coverage, mental health issues or a strong hereditary disposition towards cancer before they worried about the risk of going barefoot.

Financially, the cost in currency is zero. That footwear that I do own lasts much longer than it would if I were constantly treading around in it.

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