hiker standing in front of mountain view

Mindful hiking in minimal shoes

Many times, we get asked where and how Wildling shoes can be worn, or when not to wear them. Especially in situations where special footwear is common, many ask themselves whether such shoes can be replaced by minimal shoes. One of those examples is mountain hiking and trekking.
Seeing as the shoes commonly used for such activities are very sturdy and oftentimes very heavy, it is no surprise that many are wondering whether they can be replaced by light and flexible minimal shoes. But is that an option?
What a great opportunity to set off into the mountains and talk to some experts who feel most at home there.

First stop: Italy! Here is where dear Wildling Shoes friend Davide lives and works as a hiking guide. According to him, the main part of his job consists of “showing people how to face the mountains in the safest way possible and to allow even the less experienced to live great experiences in remote places in the Alps in a conscious and ethical way”.
The next stop is Bavaria where Natalie and also Caro live, both work for Wildling Shoes and often take to the mountains as a healthy work-life balance which lead them to becoming two very experienced hikers.

Mindfulness is key

So does Davide think it is safe to hike in minimal shoes?
Davide: “A structured shoe during mountain trekking is very important but at the same time it is very limiting, wearing a rigid shoe provides you with protection but in some ways it is like having a limb in a cast, our skills do not develop at their best movement, therefore using a minimal shoe during trekking is absolutely possible as long as there is a particular awareness and attention towards an adequate mentality.”

person mindfully hiking up a mountain
Image: ©Sandra Chiolo | A person mindfully hiking up a mountain wearing minimal shoes

Caro agrees with this last point: “Wearing minimal shoes for hiking and trekking is not something you can do without a certain amount of practice. I've noticed that the more experienced I became, the faster I was able to move in rocky and uneven terrain. My eyes scan the ground much faster than an inexperienced hiker and I know exactly where to put my feet. This is paramount when hiking with minimal shoes, as the chances of twisting an ankle, for example on loose rocks, is naturally higher than in flat terrain.”

For Natalie, the terrain is a very important factor in this matter, as there are vast differences in the way we use our feet if we stay on trekking paths or if we go climbing off the beaten paths into rocky terrain. Her and her children are no newbies to following the paths in Wildling shoes but when it comes to climbing, a sturdy shoe is what they trust in. However, common hiking boots tend to be very heavy and may make the legs very tired much faster than a shoe as light as a minimal shoe. Natalie also likes to take Wildling shoes along for regenerative wearing at the end of a long day of hiking as the feet may feel strained and tired from climbing and having to support a heavy and inflexible shoe.

Minimal shoe training

All three of our mountain experts agree, that in a way, taking to the mountains in minimal shoes can be a very fulfilling experience; however, they come with some limitations. While trekking shoes protect the ankles and offer some support to the entire structure of the foot, minimal shoes rely on the feet’s muscles to do the job. Now, if said muscles have not yet fully developed or have been stifled by wearing regular shoes for most of the time, they may not be ready to support the body while going downhill or on uneven or rocky terrain. Here, it may be advisable to turn to regular hiking boots.

Now one may wonder how to train wearing minimal shoes in the mountains when it is advised to protect the untrained feet by wearing regular hiking boots. Well in a way, it is a wonderful thing that Wildling shoes are so light, as they can be taken along for parts of the paths that seem doable and can then be exchanged for shoes that offer the correct support when going downhill or on a rocky path.

kid climbing up rock formations
Image: ©aralierae | A kid carefully climbing up an orange rock formation wearing minimal shoes

“And as a bonus”, adds Caro, “it may also be good for your health to switch to minimal shoes for hiking. I had been struggling with knee problems before I began hiking in minimal shoes and since I stepped out of the common hiking boots (and taken along some hiking sticks), these problems have not been limiting me any more!”
Now this is a testimonial that may motivate the one or other to take along some minimal shoes on their next hiking trip and give them a try, isn’t it?

It's all about feeling(s)

But how about the missing profile on minimal shoes, won’t I be slipping? Natalie has made the experience that when one is used to hiking in minimal shoes, the support comes through the feet working to keep the grip and balance which can work as well as wearing heavy boots with thick profile. However, this is also an aspect that needs to be trained and shouldn’t be relied on as a fact from the very beginning. As an interesting observation she adds “funnily enough, my children seemed to learn this much faster than I did when they set off in the mountains with their minimal shoes. It’s almost like it simply came natural to them.”

“Hiking and trekking in minimal shoes does not necessarily come with limitations, but with opportunities”, Davide says and Caro fully agrees with him. We have the opportunity to train our bodies to tread more lightly, to become more aware of the ground we walk upon and to listen to our bodies better in terms of balance and strain. After all, hiking is not a matter of the feet alone, but of the entire body and how its parts move together to create a wonderful experience for body and mind.


Header Image: ©Caroline Filger | A hiker standing in front of scenic view of mountain tops wearing minimal shoes