Christian Science Monitor
June 9th, 1997 Edition

Hiking Shoes Are Getting the Boot

Who ever heard of going barefoot on the trail?
To some enthusiasts nothing could be more natural

By David Holmstrom, Staff writer;   BOSTON   1997/06/09

When hikers approached Mike Berrow on the trail, he often stood in tall
grass or hid behind a tree. By choice Mr. Berrow's feet were shoeless. He
was a shy, inhibited barefoot hiker, "sensitive to comments," he says.

No more.

Mr. Berrow, who is part owner of a computer consulting firm in Oakland,
Calif., has joined some 150 other unshod hikers around the world as
outspoken but soft-walking members of Barefoot Hikers, an organization
that promotes and enjoys the pleasures of barefoot hiking.

Unshod chapters are now in Canada, Sweden, Kansas, Connecticut, Oregon,
North Carolina, and three in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"I started going barefoot almost all the time about five years ago,"
Berrow says. "On trails my boots always caused me trouble."

Then came that memorable moment on a hike, when he decided to free himself
from shoes.

"I took my shoes off and felt great," he says. "I thought, 'Why am I
denying myself this pleasure?' " Gradually his hiking boots were stowed in
his back- pack when he hiked. Now he only carries moccasins on hikes, and
has put them on only once in five years.

To all shoe wearers who perhaps cringe at the thought of hiking barefoot
across pebbles, twigs, stones, or fragmented pine cones, consider the bare
logic behind shoeless hiking offered by those sans shoes.

Going barefoot is natural, they say, politically correct in many cultures
since time and walking began. Feet are not fragile, and can easily be
conditioned to be tougher.

On the trail, bare feet keep you in touch with the earth because of their
flexibility. "You can really feel the texture of the ground," says Richard
Frazine, author of "The Barefoot Hiker" (Ten Speed Press, l993).

"My feet are in really good condition," says Berrow, who hikes at least
once a week.

David Francis, who lives in a rural area of Ontario, Canada, and hikes
barefoot as well as being shoeless at home, says, "I enjoy the different
textures to walk over, grass, mud, moss, puddles, and pine needles. You
can develop a technique of sort of rolling your foot if you happen to
tread on something sharp, and sort of roll off to the side."

Many ardent barefooters don't just hike without shoes, and tie them on at
other times. For them being shoeless is an alternative lifestyle. Shoes
simply are not as necessary as society has concluded.

Mr. Frazine, who owns a gift shop in Thomaston, Conn., says he goes
barefoot year round, including shoveling his driveway in winter. "I'm
basically a winter person," he says. "If there has been a fresh snowfall,
walking barefoot through it can be really lovely."

Barefooters point at high heels: Such spikes are culturally acceptable
among women, they say, but going barefoot probably causes no more injuries
or problems than wearing high heels.

And a further irony is that some shoe manufacturers tout their shoes as
being close to going barefoot. "Somehow people don't make the jump to the
real thing," says Frazine.

"We live in a culture that turns sports into serious money affairs, and
many people define themselves as outdoorsmen on the basis of how much
money they spend on boots," he says. "And they have difficulty with people
who prefer to go barefoot in a wide variety of hiking environments."

Organizations like the Sierra Club are not quick to embrace barefoot
hiking on long, arduous journeys.

"We run rugged backpacking trips," says Molly Spofford, a spokeswoman for
Sierra Club Outings in San Francisco. "And a good portion of them are in
the high Sierra on granite in tough conditions. I don't think we would
recommend barefoot hiking there, but maybe trails on the East Coast that
are packed dirt and cool would be OK."

Barefooters can gather on the Internet at the Barefoot Hikers site, along
with the affiliated Dirty Sole Society. Here shoeless hikers share their
experiences and rally to the cause with facts and essays. "In Hawaii kids
can go barefoot to school," says Berrow, and in Amish schools too."

"What most people don't know," says Frazine, who signs copies of his book
with a footprint, "is that it has never been illegal to drive barefoot in
any state. And we have checked with the health departments of a dozen
states and none of them say it is illegal to go into a store or business
in barefoot."

What irks barefooters is that it may be a store's policy to prohibit
barefooters from entering, but it is not illegal by health department
edict, because none exist.

Frazine says that wide acceptance of barefootedness has an uphill climb.
"We have no product to sell," he says. "We are promoting an activity that
doesn't need equipment, and our message is that the way we are made is
entirely sufficient."

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