Close-up of two feet to mid-calf from behind. They are standing on a lying, mossy tree trunk and are wearing Wildling barefoot shoes and ocher-colored long trousers.

Hiking with minimalist/barefoot shoes: Next-to- nature enjoyment for hiking fans

Let's immerse ourselves in nature – ideally barefoot

Don’t we each yearn now and then for a brief time-out from the stress of daily life? Surrounded by nature’s greenery, leaving our cares behind and simply breathing the fresh forest air?

It’s little wonder that hiking has become more and more popular in recent years. For many of us, a hike is a lovely opportunity to align body and spirit, to wind down and relax.

A barefoot hike can be a very grounding experience, with our feet feeling the moss-covered ground, small pebbles and the moist, ticklish blades of grass. But it’s not always easy. After all, you don’t hike just over soft ground. There are also pointed sticks and rocks. So many people choose the second-best thing to barefoot: hiking with minimalist or barefoot shoes.

Field report: hiking with minimalist shoes

A passionate hiker, Witali has hiked 4300 kilometers on foot across Europe in two stages. He gives lectures about it, conducts so-called "hikes with meaning" and regularly tries out crazy things. For the Wildling Blogazine he wrote down why he wanted to hike barefoot:

“After ten kilometers my feet have already started to hurt. The backpack feels very heavy. I have way too much stuff with me. At noon I feel like giving up and pitching my tent. Ask myself again why I set out again.' So reads my diary entry from the second day of my 1700 km tour on foot from Oslo to Cologne.

Over the next few days, I noticed that it hardly got any better. Blisters on my feet plagued me constantly.

Looking back, now that I am lying comfortably on the couch writing this text, hiking in the forest, in rain, snow and sunshine, is one of the most beautiful memories. However, when I look in my journal, one word keeps popping up: pain.

I wonder if I can get around it?

Close-up: two feet in Wildling barefoot shoes balancing on a tree trunk lying on the ground.

The Tann Resouled model.

Image: @annapaulinefranz und

I have been thinking about simply walking barefoot for part of the distance. After all, humans have conquered the world barefoot for thousands of years, why can't I do the same?

I have very little experience in walking barefoot. Yet barefoot walking is the most natural form of walking. Our feet have a very fine sensory system, they connect the body with the environment. The information from the foot is transmitted to the entire body. As soon as there is a sole between our feet and the ground, this exchange of information is interrupted. As a result, the coordination of the entire body is affected, and that for our entire lives. Because most of the time we wear shoes as soon as we can walk.

Walking barefoot leads to balance and grounding. Isn't this exactly what so many stress-ridden people long for?"

This is the link to Witali's complete field report about barefoot hiking.

What are minimalist shoes and how do they work?

“Barefoot shoes” and “minimalist shoes” are two terms that are often used interchangeably. At Wildling Shoes, we’ve made a conscious decision to call our shoes “minimalist shoes”, because this best expresses our philosophy: As much shoe as necessary, as little as possible. In other words, as minimal as a shoe can be.

Barefoot shoes are a contemporary variation of footwear that allows the foot to move as naturally as possible. In contrast to conventional shoes that force the foot into a specific form, barefoot or minimalist shoes are distinguished by a flexible sole and a wide toe box.

Close-up: A pair of adult and a pair of children's feet, both in Wildling barefoot shoes.

The Chestnut model.
Image: @pifletteproduction

This allows the foot to maintain its natural rolling movement, and it strengthens the muscles. Barefoot shoes protect against sharp rocks and uneven surfaces while still giving the wearer a feeling of walking barefoot. So unlike the name might suggests, barefoot shoes are not actually “Shoes you wear barefoot”, but rather shoes designed to give you the feeling of walking barefoot.

We therefore prefer and embody the term “minimalist shoes”. We want to wear shoes that only minimally restrict the foot and that are manufactured sustainably to leave the smallest possible “footprint” on the environment. Y’know, minimalist shoes! If you’re interested in finding out more about what barefoot and minimalist shoes have in common and the fine differences that distinguish them, go here.

But now back to our topic: What’s it like to hike in minimalist and barefoot shoes?

The benefits of hiking with barefoot shoes

Many nature fans love hiking in minimalist and barefoot shoes. Why is that? We can think of a few good reasons:

Minimalist shoes give us a natural feeling of walking: Our feet sense an authentic barefoot feeling, but the foot is still protected from injury. Minimalist shoes can promote the natural rolling movement of our feet and enhance our perception of the characteristics of the ground supporting us.

They strengthen our foot muscles: Without a thick sole and preformed footbed, our muscles must, or better said, can become active themselves again. We can exercise and strengthen our foot muscles, and that’s good for our long-term foot health.

We improve our posture: In minimalist shoes, many people automatically adopt a different, more upright posture. This can have a positive influence on the entire musculoskeletal system.

We regain our balance: Hiking with minimalist shoes really challenges our foot muscles to actively stabilize our feet. Over time, this reinforces our balance and coordination and enables us to regain our balance on our own again and again.

Perceiving nature with all our senses: Lots of folks feel an especially strong bond with nature by hiking barefoot. We can experience the outdoors with all our senses and especially with our feet as they directly feel the surface we walk on.

Close-up: a child's foot in a Wildling barefoot shoe on a sandy, stony surface.

The Tejo model.
Image: & @annadammpunktcom

Mindfulness of ourselves and our environment: When we walk through life barefoot or in minimalist shoes, we generally move with greater awareness. Many members of the Wildling Shoes community find this relaxing, and sometimes even eye-opening: We pay greater attention while we’re walking and at times we discover herbs, flowers, animals or a uniquely beautiful stone on the side of the path we may not have seen otherwise.

What are the most important things about hiking with minimalist or barefoot shoes?

Minimalist shoes make our foot muscles work harder than conventional shoes. This obviously applies to hiking, too. So when taking our first walks or hikes in minimalist shoes, it’s OK for us to take our time and gain some experience first.

When we first slip into minimalist shoes, before simply heading out on a day hike, it’s recommended to initially start off with short walks that gradually get longer and more intense.

Our Wildling Shoes friend and hiking guide Davide has written a guest article for us with more ideas about how to “find your feet” for hiking in minimalist shoes.

Is there a “best” minimalist or barefoot shoe for hiking?

Different shoe models are suitable for different kinds of hikes. The Tanuki paper shoe is especially breathable and dries quickly, making it very practical for walks through damp fields, small streams and larger puddles. In the cooler seasons, many Wildling Shoes wearers prefer warmer shoes like North Wolf. Of course, we’ve also asked the Wildling Shoes Community what their favorites are. You can find their answers further down in the article, or online at Instagram.

What should I pay attention to in selecting hiking shoes?

Occasionally, shoe sizes in minimalist or barefoot shoes don’t correspond so precisely with the sizes for conventional sneakers or hiking shoes.

The right shoe size

This is because we’ve gotten so used to squeezing our toes into our shoes that we automatically buy shoes one size smaller than our actual size. The Wildling Shoes Size Finder helps us figure out our correct shoe size so our toes have as much room as they need.

The hiking season

During the hot months, we usually want an airier feeling around the feet and the most breathable materials for our hiking shoes. That often changes when things cool off. But even on winter hikes, minimalist shoe models like Panther or Nordwolf can keep our feet toasty warm.

Are there risks when hiking with barefoot shoes?

As mentioned above, it makes sense to give our foot muscles some time to get accustomed to walking and hiking in minimalist shoes. As the muscles gradually get stronger, we develop a feeling for what we can rely on our feet to do.

It’s a different story though with any kind of health issues. People with conditions like foot deformations, osteoarthritis, open wounds or other health problems should consult with their physician, orthopedist, physiotherapist, etc. in advance to clarify possible risks.

Let your barefoot adventure begin

A hike or even an initial walk in minimalist shoes can be a very special experience indeed. We suddenly feel our feet much more from the ground up that we’re standing on, and this can help strengthen our foot muscles, our general body awareness and our entire perception.

Every Wildling Shoes wearer knows this feeling, and yet the experience is very individual for each of us. It’s difficult to describe, but we can all feel it as well as our bond with the earth, with nature and with ourselves.

Cover image: @wildundwunderbar