Winter barefoot walking & living: should YOU try it?
Winter barefoot walking and living was something I was looking forward to as well as fearing once fall started getting to its end. Now even if winter still isn’t over in April, I can proudly say – I did it. I lived trough this entire winter without shoes.
Another fact is that this post took me about three months to write. I want to share my experience and give some advice here… Basically you should not try walking barefoot in winter, yet you most certainly should do it. Even now I’m not sure how to deal with this contradiction as I don’t want to scare you as well as mislead you. I guess I’ll just keep hitting the keys and if at the end of this article you’ll have questions unanswered – drop a comment bellow and I’ll be glad to drop a response.
So, in this post I’ll try to elaborate on the subject of winter barefoot walking (and living in my case) as much as I can as well as provide you with tips and things to be cautious about in case you’re thinking going barefoot in the cold season.
Major part of this article will be based on my personal experience of winter barefoot walking and living without shoes in general. Let us go then.
Without shoes since August 2017
Who the heck am I to give advice on such a crazy topic – you might ask. Well, I have been living barefoot 24/7 for 8 months now (you can find my initial insights on the subject here and here) and I experienced temperatures from +30°C to -20°C trough my feet without getting frost bite, joint inflammation, or any other inflammation. In fact for the first time in my entire life I haven’t had cold and flu during the cold season. Hence my body, my mind, my feet (let’s pretend it’s not the same as my body) have had plenty of time to gradually adapt to the cold. At the start as well during this period I didn’t have any sorts of inflammation inside me, thus my body was able to dedicate itself 100% to cold acclimatization.
Probably most important thing to understand is that if you will start doing cold exposure of your feet like right now (now being the cold season with snow and stuff) – there will be serious consequences. Your body needs time to adopt to walking barefoot on snow in all ways imaginable.
Also if you have any sort of inflammation – you must treat it in less extreme ways first. Yes, cold water and cold air can treat all sorts of illness (check out cryotherapy or Wim Hof as well as his method).
The wisest thing to do in case you’re thinking of taking your shoes off in winter is just to follow your common sense – would running an ultra-marathon in a desert without prior trying to get used to 3k or 5k be safe? Would flying an aircraft full of people without knowing how to do it be wise? You get the idea. Everything needs to start with small steps and one step at a time. Now since you’ve gotten it, let’s move forward.
What should you NOT do.
Walking barefoot is something that is truly natural to all human beings. Thus it should just come out as a natural consequence of you wanting to get healthier, stronger, maybe wiser. And in order to do that, you need to do it because you want it and you feel it might be right for you. Obvious? Not so much…
You should never start winter barefoot walking (or in fact any other activity, that, besides helping you improve your health, might also do you harm) out of reasons other that your personal well being. I know there are people who have dropped their shoes and go barefoot even in winter to express their protest against politics, economy, climate change (Mark Baumer) etc. While protesting against unfair things is good, doing it at expense of your own health, in my opinion, is a bad idea. Especially when people are using such a natural and healthy thing as barefoot walking without preparation (yes, you need preparation, because you’ve spent your whole life in shoes), get injured and form a negative opinion on the subject just because they’re doing it all wrong.
Usually those people get more attention because of their ideas. And say if their measure of protest is winter barefoot walking or living barefoot in general – then it ALWAYS leads to all sorts of traumas, with the queen being – serious frost bite (e.g. where your toes turn black and need to be amputated). Obviously lots of pictures are put on the web to show other people the sacrifice – and naturally all who see those horrible pictures of frostbite and similar think, that winter barefoot walking and living is a thing that only a mad or fanatic person could do. But in reality it is not only wrong to assume that, but it is also wrong to make assumptions based on experiences that have no connection to health and are rather provided and exposed to get publicity and promote the idea or make a point trough sacrifice.
So once again – if you’re going to try winter barefoot walking – do it only because you want it. Only if listening to your body will you be able to achieve results safely as well as have constant pleasure in doing it and not to get hurt.
We’re spending too little time outside in winter to keep the health at its peak
Major part of human population doesn’t like cold season, because of flu and other diseased they get during this time of year. Seems like a reasonable reason to not like it, because one can’t live trough it with happiness. But in reality our bodies have literally no time to adopt to cold weather and get shocked every time we go outside.
Just think about it. If you spend 1 or 2 hours outside daily then you’re spending 22 hours inside in a temperature that simulates summer. So every time you get yourself outside you provide your body and mind with at least 19°C of difference in temperature. 19°C being the minimum, usually the difference reaches 30°C or more. Now try to think of a time when you went outside into -10°C cold with positive attitude about the cold.
Same applies to me. After I dropped my shoes and after winter came I started noticing, that average time I spend outside is about 2 hours daily with about an hour at once and then several 2 – 20 minute intervals. I occasionally max out at 2.5 hours if a walk with my son takes an unexpected turn (a bath in a river & sound effects gathering or else). And that is really short amount of time outside, when you think about it.
What I also noticed is that being barefoot for those pathetic two hours a day helped me perceive cold and winter completely differently than ever before when I was wearing shoes and many more layers of clothes.
Since the winter is almost gone now, I know that winter barefoot walking really can help to overcome that cold-hate most of us feel. Suddenly -15°C doesn’t feel that unpleasant if you accept it barefoot.
The safest way to dive into winter barefoot walking or running, or living.
As stupid as it sounds the main thing to do when starting winter barefoot walking practices is to NOT start it in winter. Reasons:
- To withstand cold surface the snow provides you need to grow a natural sole on your feet. Pretty self explanatory – it will act as an additional layer, that will protect your skin and feet from getting frost-bite. Since (thanks to road salt) I managed to get my natural sole off on some parts of my feet before snow was gone, I can assure you that cold is incomparably colder on “unprepared” skin and it most certainly is much milder on natural sole, that builds up trough constant friction during “no-snow” seasons.
- Gradual exposure to cold is crucial for your feet for the process to be natural. As no one of us was thrown into the snow right after we were born, we don’t need to do it now either. By experiencing slow decrease of temperatures, you will have lots of new sensations also your body and mind will “record” the references of coldness for future “projects”. Meaning if at the end of summer +10°C seemed like cold, after winter barefoot walking in -20°C you will no longer fear or think that +10°C has something to do with cold. And after your first -20°C you will no longer think of it as cold too. That is only if you will do it gradually.
- Cold is kind of extreme thing, since we lived our lives (me – 30+ years) in comfort it is simply stupid to start something this new, this exciting and this healthy at it’s worst and hardest point. Graduality gives you a way to experience the barefoot life step by step if done right. First you need to feel, make peace and fall in love with the difference between tandem of socks+shoes and nothing hindering your contact to the earth. Then you need to go trough all the phases of discovering all the new sensations that will be given by 1300 nerve endings unleashed from their jail – socks and shoes that is. You need to let your body and mind explore all the surfaces, compare, remember and know them.
- You need to get used to the energy other people will constantly be throwing at you once they pass by and see you with naked feet. This may sound/look like it’s a no biggie, but it is. Unless you’re a natural superstar, those looks and comments will be throwing you off constantly. The energy is big so you need to learn to deal with it in small amounts first. I promise you, you’ll look crazy/psycho to 99% people you pass by on the streets in +30°C. Now imagine how you’ll look to them at -30°C. You need to learn either to ignore them, or to face them, or use their negative energy to your advantage. Either way it is better to start taking in smaller amounts of that energy. Also you need to have polite answers to stupid jokes like “who stole your shoes?”, or “didn’t have enough money for shoes?”, or “should we organize a fundraiser to buy you new pair of shoes?” etc. Polite – because being rude is rude.
Winter barefoot walking hazards and precautions.
There are three major hazards when walking barefoot in winter.
- Road salt, that is being used to melt the snow on the roads. This shit is killer for the feet. Even though I had thicker skin from being barefoot ’till first snow – after exposure to salt my skin started to crack at points where toes bend. It burns as hell and as I already mentioned “unprepared” skin can not handle direct contact with cold without harmful consequences (frost bite, swollen feet, torn skin etc.).
- Second one is sticking to metal, concrete, ice and all the other surfaces your wet feet (and they’re wet most of the time, since your own heat constantly melts snow under your feet) may step on. This is probably even more dangerous than salt. A good idea is to take a bottle of hot/warm water in case you’ll need to unstick yourself from something. Pee might help as well. Luckily I managed to not stick to anything this winter!
- Lack of decent movement. You need to constantly keep moving at least a bit. The more you move, the better since movement increases blood circulation and blood circulation in your feet means HOT feet on cold snow. Sounds impossible, but is quite easy to achieve and it feels amazing getting that warmth from inside.
- Lack of blood circulation in your toes also known as Raynaud’s Syndrome.
BONUS: things you’d better have with you when walking barefoot in winter: secret pair of shoes, a bottle of hot water, all other clothes, your head.
What are my goals of not using shoes?
Recently I was invited to host a “lecture” on the topic of “life without shoes” for a group of young families.
Now let me .zip everything into these simple rules if you’re thinking about winter barefoot walking:
- Don’t start in winter.
- Start building your natural sole in warm season.
- Build your cold tolerance in advance. Consciously.
- For the first time on the snow – be relaxed, keep breathing, walk – don’t run around squeaking like little cute pig. That does not help. Concentrate and make peace with the fact that you’ll be touching snow with your feet for some time now.
- After walking on snow spend some time on a relatively “warm” yet still cold surface to allow your feet to heat up naturally.
- Always move. Don’t stand still.
- Dress warm.
- Best of all use your brain and listen to your body.
- Don’t force it and don’t do it for something or someone else except your own health.
- Ask me a question. My response rate is 100% on this subject.
This looks like a nice ending to my story of winter barefoot walking which is a major achievement for me! Finally I’ll be able to write something new!
Thanks a lot for reading. Hope you found some useful information here. Stay safe and leave a comment, question or suggestion below!