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Connecticut Forest & Park Association is teaming up with the Barefoot Hikers of Connecticut!

“There is nothing more natural than hiking through nature barefoot. Your feet and toes are wonderful sensory organs and the feelings of the earth, grass, moss, pine-needles, and mud are wonderful.” – Barefoot Hikers of Connecticut.

David Ellis, founding member of the Barefoot Hikers of Connecticut and CFPA Ramble Guide, is leading barefoot adventures as a part of the CFPA Ramble program. While shoes are optional on these adventures, we suggest kicking those boots off and feeling the land beneath your feet. Going barefoot in nature gives you a different connection. The sensations of varying textures and temperatures you experience while hiking barefoot will expose you to new ways to experience the trail. Barefoot hiking will strengthen your feet and lead to a deeper connection to nature.

There are a number of common misconceptions when talking about being barefoot.

  1. Bare feet need lots of conditioning before hiking – Our feet are no different than our ancestors who lived in pre-shoe societies. Being barefooted in your yard and on gentle trails, like the one used for the upcoming barefoot CFPA Ramble, will be enough to prepare you. The sole of the foot will thicken quickly while it is stimulated by highly textured surfaces.

  2. Bare feet become calloused, bruised, torn, and stained – This is the most common misconception people have of walking and hiking bare foot. Calloused feet typically come from wearing hard or poorly fitted shoes and not from being barefooted. It is quite the opposite, being barefoot helps to clean the dead and dry skin from the surface of the foot. Cuts, bruising, and torn feet are a sign of careless walking habits and not an expected outcome from barefoot hiking. The surfaces your feet come into contact with during barefoot hiking will not stain your feet. There may be dirt found on your feet but the natural surfaces of the forest do not leave discoloration on the feet after a good washing.

  3. Long-term bare feet become insensitive to everything – Once your feet slightly thicken from being barefooted, they will not continue to become thicker and less sensitive. The soles of our feet may be thought of as a specialized organ of our sense of touch. They will develop a greater sensitivity which makes them capable of feeling the richness of the earth beneath them.

  4. In order to keep bare feet conditioned, one must be barefoot constantly/wearing shoes after barefoot conditioning will become very uncomfortable – A regular schedule of hiking is recommended to maintain a general level of health but is not necessary to maintain the condition of bare feet. Once your feet become accustomed to hiking unshod, this conditioning doesn’t fade quickly. On the other side of the same coin, conditioning your feet for barefoot hiking will not make wearing sensible, well-fitting shoes difficult to wear. You may become more aware of shoes that are ill-fitted.

  5. Barefoot hiking is dangerous because of biological hazards – Hiking in general will expose you to poisonous, parasitic, or otherwise harmful plants and animals. All hikers need to be aware of these dangers; such as poison ivy, ticks, and other insects. The greatest common of these in Connecticut is poison ivy. With proper knowledge of the plant and awareness of your surroundings, you can easily avoid it along the trail. Ticks are a legitimate concern in Connecticut and a full tick inspection is important any time you have been outside; even in your own yard and regardless of your footwear choice.

To ensure a safe and enjoyable barefoot adventure, you need to follow four basic rule of barefoot hiking.

  1. Always step straight down – Never allow your bare foot to shuffle, drag, or kick the ground. The risk of cutting from any sharp objects is increase with lateral movement.

  2. Always watch the path ahead – While this is the case with any hiking experience, it is especially important when unshod on the trail. During this adventure you are learning to coordinate two of your senses; the sight of your eyes and the newly discovered tactile sensitivity of your bare soles.

  3. Keep your weight to the balls of your feel and NOT on your heels – The ball of the foot is supple and yielding while remaining tough and resilient. The bones here move independently and can mold to the contour of the earth making the ball of the foot a great shock absorber.

  4. Develop habits of awareness – Being barefoot brings a heightened level of awareness to your actions. Embracing this awareness and being conscious of each step is imperative to having a safe and enjoyable barefooted hike.

By understanding the misconceptions and by following these simple rules, barefoot hiking will come as easily and naturally to you as it did our ancestors. To give barefoot hiking a try, join us on August 29th as we hike the Zoar Trail along the beautiful Lake Zoar. Wear your bathing suit and pack a lunch as there will be an opportunity for a swim and picnic. For more information including directions, please visit http://www.ctwoodlands.org/CFPA-events/cfpa-ramble-barefoot-hike-the-zoar-trail.