Barefoot Hiking – Pros, Cons, and Dangers [+Infographic]

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This article is for everyone who considers hiking barefoot but doesn’t have experience doing it or just needs to know more about this outdoor activity. Here’s everything you need to know about how to do barefoot hiking safely. We’ve also included an infographic about sixteen of the most important pros and cons of walking barefoot (eight pros and eight cons). You can download it in high resolution by following the link above the infographic.

Most people know that the human body is an extremely complex machine. However, not too many people know that the foot-ankle assembly, as simple as it may look, has thirty-three joints, twenty-six bones, and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments. To make things more complex, add the skin of the sole with all the nerve endings and touch receptors that allow us to feel and respond to pain, itch, tickle, cold, hot, smooth, rough, pressure, vibration as we run, walk and jump. Well, it seems that human foot is quite complex too. Actually, the bones in a pair of feet account for a quarter of the 206 bones in the human body. Then, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the soles of the feet are very important for balance (only the inner ear is more important for balance than the sole).

The sole with all its mechanoreceptors allows you to fully experience your environment, including the terrain (rough, smooth, sand, dirt, rocks, rushing water), the temperature (hot, warm, cool, cold), and the vegetation coverage (grass, logs, and other plants). That’s one of the reasons why some people prefer to hike barefoot. No doubt, hiking barefoot is different than hiking shod and there are many reasons for this. But what are some of the most important pros, cons, and dangers of barefoot hiking?

Barefoot hiker in Moab

Walking barefoot is a great way to experience your environment

Pros of barefoot hiking

Increased balance and coordination

The first and most important thing shoes do is to protect your feet. However, they also dull the mechanoreceptors on your soles and feet muscles. These receptors guide your balance, weight distribution, and coordination. Moreover, shoes also cause unnatural walking gait and deceive you into developing bad habits such as:

  • Extensive loading on one edge of the foot
  • High-impact heel strike

The weight and cushioning of shoes numbs your feet, cause imbalance, and increase the strain on your ankles, knees, and hips. As a result of this, although the cushioning feels good, it also increases the chance of getting an injury. Barefoot trekking makes your body more responsive to the ground, absorbs impact very efficiently, and increases your balance.

Impact reduction

Modern hiking shoes provide good support and protection, which make your feet weak. Moreover, the soles of your shoes insulate you from your walking surface and allow you to jump down whenever you want to, sending shock waves all the way up to your body. This damages your knees, hips, joints, and back over time. Barefoot walking forces you to slow down and step carefully. You just have to watch where you step to avoid potentially harmful object like sharp rocks. You also step naturally reducing the stress on each of the three lower extremity joints and avoiding high-impact heel striking (both are typical for people wearing shoes). The latter wastes energy and turns your leg into a shock producer instead of a shock absorber, which is a prescription for injuries.

Better body awareness

We’ve already mentioned that the soles of your shoes dull the receptors on your soles and feet muscles and insulate you from your walking surface. They block your natural sensitivity, which often leads to injuries. Moreover, even barefoot and minimalist shoes – they both try to mimic what it’s like to be barefoot – dull to some extent the natural sensitivity of the foot skin. Barefooters, by contrast, pick up specific information about their environment from their feet and gain natural sensory feedback. Skin contact with the surface provides information about the temperature, texture, and structure of the terrain in order to provide protection from the varied forces of walking. Though the foot is less sensitive to touch or temperature than your palms or fingertips, it’s more responsive to pressure because it’s designed to handle safe, fast movement on naturally-formed animal trails.

Barefoot adventurer sitting on a rock

Your feet need to stay in good condition so don’t forget to give them a chance to breathe regularly

Better posture

Elevated heels and increased material under the medial arch provide good support and protection of the foot but also increase the stress on each of the three lower extremity joints and distort the body’s posture. Why is this happening? Elevated heels force more of the body weight onto the metatarsal heads stressing them this way. The result is shortened Achilles tendon and distorted posture.

Potential decrease in plantar fasciitis and foot-related pain

The narrow toe box and medial arch supports of modern shoes lead to misalignment of your toes, which leads to varied angles at push-off (it’s very important to hit the correct angle at push-offs). Moreover, your toes cannot spread as they do when barefoot, so the muscles of your feet don’t get the relaxation they need on a regular basis. In addition, shoe-wearing lowers the flexibility of the fore-foot teaching the feet to be lazy. Plantar fasciitis (an inflammation of the fascia) is a common condition due to stress on the heel and attached tissue. It often affects active people who routinely hike long trails. It’s also common among those aged between 40 and 60, runners, people who regularly spend many hours walking or standing on hard surfaces (construction workers, teachers), and obese people. Fortunately, barefoot walking strengthens the muscles in your feet and decreases the chance of plantar fasciitis.

Muscle strengthening

Hiking barefoot has some benefit in muscle strengthening. Feet and legs gradually become stronger and more flexible, which is their natural state. The problem with wearing shoes is that they support your feet and as a result, the muscles in your feet get weaker (this happens with any part of your body when you support it). Unless you have some foot deformity, your foot doesn’t need to be supported by shoes. Remember that when muscles don’t have to work, they get weaker and more susceptible to injury.

Wet feet dry much more quickly than wet shoes

Wet feet dry much faster than any wet trail-running shoes, waterproof footwear or backpacking boots. What’s more, you needn’t waste time taking off and putting on shoes at stream and river crossings. Wet shoes are not only uncomfortable, but they also smell bad and cause your feet to become waterlogged and wrinkly. Prolonged exposure to moisture damages your skin causing cracks, blisters, and other skin related problems. These can be really painful and may restrict your mobility.

Barefoot hiker on a rock in the middle of a river

Wet feet dry much faster than wet shoes

Cons of barefoot hiking

It’s slower

Generally, someone who’s hiking barefoot is slower than a shod person. Most people (especially those with less experience in barefoot hiking) always look at the ground to make sure that they won’t land on anything sharp or spiky that can inflict puncture wounds. Focusing on every single step is not only time-consuming but can also be very stressful and even exhausting for some inexperienced hikers. Certainly, barefoot hiking is slower and requires more attention, which can be annoying.


Another drawback is that your feet may become callused. Calluses form as a result of applying frequent pressure or friction to your feet. They form as a sort of protection from this pressure. However, this protection comes at a price because calluses can be large and painful (duct tape your feet to prevent splitting or cracking of the callus). High levels of activity such as running, dancing, and hiking contribute to developing plantar calluses. Apparently hiking barefoot causes constant friction, which increases the chance of developing calluses. Always try to maintain healthy feet to reduce the likelihood of developing calluses.

You attract too much attention

Keep in mind that hiking barefoot attracts the attention of others and whether want it or not, you’d better be prepared for this. Well, most barefoot hikers aren’t flattered by all the attention the others are giving them. Most of the time, unshod hikers arouse a lot of curiosity among shod hikers but sometimes this curiosity turns into unwanted attention or rarely into a cultural backlash.

Sliding down

Walking barefoot over level surfaces or while ascending is rarely a problem, however, steep downhills (especially those wet grassy paths, scree slopes, and gravel paths) can be a problem because they require extra energy and focus. Using trekking poles or anything else that won’t slide might help to stabilize you. Just be careful and go really slowly on steep descents.

Barefoot hiking: dangerous descent

Steep terrain can be a problem even for experienced barefooters

Missing out on views

Spending too much time looking down rather than at the scenery around you can be one of the biggest drawbacks of barefoot hiking. Sometimes, you’re missing out on views because you’re scanning the ground for things that might hurt your feet. This often happens when you don’t know a place very well. So, you’ll have to stop often to take in the views.

You must never forget you are going barefoot

Walking barefoot can be fun but you should always devote a part of your attention to your bare soles to make sure that you don’t step on something dangerous. Shod hikers can be far harder on their body, which can be either good or bad as it allows them to walk faster but can also make them less careful where they put their feet (this can lead to injuries). Barefooters should never forget that there are all sorts of things waiting to injure them.

It takes time to adapt

In the beginning, your feet will be very sensitive to everything. Your feet will need some time to adjust to navigating your environment barefoot. The more often you hike barefoot over new terrain, the tougher your feet will get and the easier the gravel and rocks will be. In general, your feet will get stronger and hurt less over time as they will build the skills and adaptations that are necessary.

Dangers of hiking barefoot


Splinters of glass, thorns, nails, and metal filings pose a threat to your soles. The best way to avoid punctures or at least to limit the depth of objects sticking into your bare feet is to exert less pressure when walking. If an object embeds in your foot, it’ll move deeper and deeper into the skin with each step you make. So, make sure to remove the splinter as soon as you feel it. In your gear repair kit, you should have what’s necessary to remove a splinter – use either a safety pin or a pair of tweezers (most multi-tools have tweezers).


Broken toenails, burned soles, cut feet, and stubbed toes are among the most widespread injuries that happen to barefooters. Sharp rocks, broken sticks, pieces of glass and metal can all be dangerous when hiking barefoot. Barefoot trekking places walkers at risk for foot and ankle injuries that can end their hike in an instant.


Beware of dangerous wild animals that may sting or bite. A sting or bite in your foot by scorpions, snakes, ants, spiders, and chiggers, isn’t fun and can ruin your barefoot hiking trip. One solution is to constantly watch the trail and where you step. Unfortunately, this can put you at even greater risk in areas with large animals such as bears, mountain lions, wolves, moose, and wild boars. Too many experienced and inexperienced hikers being too careful with visually choosing a spot for each step remain unaware of their surroundings making them an easy target for animal attacks.


Avoiding some plants such as nettle, thistle, poison ivy, and poison oak should be a priority for barefoot hikers on the trail. These plants can inflict painful wounds such as lacerations, punctures, and other open wounds. For example, spiky plants lacerate your skin and can leave splinters below the skin, while the contact with the oily resin in poison ivy, oak, and sumac can produce a rash.

Poison Ivy

Learn how to recognize dangerous plants on the trail and your feet will thank you

Tetanus and parasitical infections

The risk of tetanus and parasitical infections is greater for those who walk barefoot. Beware of rusty nails, splinters, and any other objects that can cause puncture wounds to your soles. Such punctures (and even animal scratches) under your skin can provide a breeding ground for the tetanus bacteria. Tetanus (also called lockjaw) is a very dangerous infection that causes death in about 50% of those affected by it. Everyone who spends time outdoors should receive vaccination boosters with tetanus vaccine every 10 years to maintain the antibody levels in his or her blood.


Barefoot hiking is an interesting activity that provides a different and worthwhile experience. Walking barefoot comes with various pros and cons. Your feet are far more capable than most people think. They just need time to adapt to the new sensations of barefoot trekking.

Certainly, it’s foolish not to wear shoes in certain conditions as they protect your feet from injury and disfigurement. You just need to find the right balance between hiking barefoot and hiking with shoes. Be smart, know the dangers and how to avoid them, and take advantage of the benefits of barefoot hiking.

Do you agree with our pros and cons of hiking barefoot? Or maybe you can add some more to our list? We’d be very interested to hear your opinion. Drop us a line in the comments section below.


Related Articles

Foot and Hiking Shoe Care

Foot and Ankle Injuries

Skin-related Problems


Infographic: Barefoot Hiking Pros & Cons

Barefoot Hiking - Pros & Cons Infographic


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6 thoughts on “Barefoot Hiking – Pros, Cons, and Dangers [+Infographic]”

  1. Walking in bare feet simply feels so pleasant. Yes it’s dirty but feet can be washed. Our local park walk (lane Cove NSW) is muddy after much recent rain and it’s great fun in the soggy spots and a lot easier to clean feet than shoes. The odd stony bits can be a challenge but I slow up.

  2. There’s a few wonderful forest preserves out by me where the grass has grown over the dirt paths and you can walk barefoot comfortably for a good hour. The whole time you’re walking on either grass or packed down cold dirt. It feels amazing. My feet buzz for the rest of the day.

  3. I hike barefoot pretty much all the time in all kinds of different terrain. And I must disagree with some of your cons:
    1.) “Barefoot hiking is slower”
    Actually a pro for me. When you are slower you make less noise and are more likely to see more wildlife. Hiking barefoot in general makes less noise already.
    2.) “You attract more attention”
    Yes, you get some more looks and maybe some comments. But who cares? And most of the times people do not even realize or don’t care. Only very little people ever made a comment, and I never got a bad one in the past 4 years.
    3.) “Missing out in views”
    Maybe, but as you are slower you can take in the scenery much longer. And I did spot more things in hikes than shod hikers.
    4.) “It takes time to adapt”
    100% yes! When you start, take it easy and get adjusted. And keep in mind you need to allow your posture to adjust, but also your feet get more pain resistant over time.
    5.) “Calluses”
    Yes, but if you take care of your feet you get a strong skin more than hard skin. Make sure to have some kind of moisturizing foot cream like Aloe Vera and apply it after every hike. That keeps your skin nice and flexible and you avoid cracks.
    6.) “Sliding down steep slopes”
    Kind of, but if you have gained enough streght back in your feet your toes will grab into the ground and hold you. I had less issues on steep terrain that fellow hiker in their thick boots.
    7.) “You must never forget you are going barefoot”
    Trust me, you do not forget. The sensory sensation of feeling different grounds and temperatures is a constant reminder. Going from mud to grass to snow keeps your feet nerves busy. This is the main reason for me to go barefoot.
    8.) “Your feet get dirty”
    Yes, but washing the dirt of is very easy. The big pro is that your feet do not smell like the one of the people around you who just took their boots off after a 6 hour hike.

    One downside to add is heat. Going barefoot on cold ground is not a big issue. Even snow and icy cold water can be tolerated for quite some time. But when the sun did heat up the ground it is very easy to get burns. Especially on dark grounds. This is also why I recommend every dog owner to step on the tarmac barefoot during hot sommer days to understand what doggie paws are up to.

    The second downside of going barefoot is that you quickly realise how great natural surfaces are while you get aware that they get very rare nowadays.

    But I totally love going barefoot and I would recommend everyone to at least give it a try. The feel of cool grass or wet mud between your toes is just amazing.

  4. I completely agree with the pros of barefoot hiking! I recently went on a barefoot hike and found it to be an incredibly liberating experience. It’s amazing how much more connected you feel to nature and the ground you’re walking on when you’re not encumbered by shoes. I also appreciate the infographic’s breakdown of the cons and dangers – it’s important to be aware of the potential risks when embarking on this type of activity. Overall, I think barefoot hiking is a great way to disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with nature.


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