Why I want to hike barefoot

Why I want to hike barefoot

Witali hiked 4300 km through Europe in two stages. He’s currently giving presentations about it, does so-called “meaningful hikes” and regularly tries out crazy things.

Half-length portrait of Vitaly sitting in front of his slide show.


“After ten kilometres my feet have already started hurting. My rucksack feels very heavy. I've got much too much stuff with me. At lunchtime I already want to give up and put up my tent. I ask myself for the umpteenth time why I set out again...”

That's my diary entry from 14.09.2018, on the second day of my 1700 km long tour on foot from Oslo to Cologne. Even though it was only eight months since I’d returned from my 2600 km long tour through France, Spain and Portugal , I noticed that my feet had to get back into it again, into the long treks with walking boots and rucksack.

However, in the next few days I noticed that it hardly improved. I suffered constantly from blisters on my feet. It was now the end of September in Sweden and I was walking alone in the rain on the Bohusleden path towards Göteborg. It wasn't particularly warm, and because I didn't have anything else to do in the loneliness of the forest, I just kept walking.

Looking back, now that I’m lying comfortably on the sofa and writing this text, hiking in the forest in rain, snow and sunshine is one of my best memories. But when I look at my diary the same word keeps popping up: pain.

I ask myself if I can sidestep it? (pun intended ;D) Because I’d like to keep walking. Perhaps once round Europe on foot . It would only be about another 15,000 km after all.

I thought about just going barefoot for part of the route. After all, people conquered the world barefoot for thousands of years, so why can't I?

I have very little experience with walking barefoot – I was and still am the first to put shoes on as soon as it gets a bit stony. Let's see how quickly that changes.

Witali sitting by a lake from behind, in the midst of untouched nature.


Why barefoot walking can be a good idea

Senses and coordination

Walking barefoot is the most natural form of walking. Our feet are very sensitive; they connect the body with our surroundings. The information from the feet is passed on to the whole body. As soon as there's a sole between our feet and the ground, this exchange of information is interrupted. That affects the coordination of the whole body, and it does that throughout our lives. Because we mostly wear shoes as soon as we can walk.

Walking barefoot leads to feeling balanced and grounded. Isn't that just what so many stressed people yearn for?

Movable toes

When I look at my toes, they come together in the shape of an arrow. But if you look at pictures of the feet of regular barefoot walkers, you notice that their toes are spread further apart. Many of them can even control each toe separately, for example lifting the big toe without moving the others. If you're reading this, stand on the ground and see if you can lift your big toe without moving your other toes even a millimetre. And, can you do it? For me it doesn't work at all. Everything just moves at the same time, like a fish’s fin.

Why should you be able to control your toes individually, anyway?

It provides stability. That way you can increase and alter the surface of your foot. Your big toe alone can stabilise your body. You're then considerably more stable on your feet, and perhaps you're then also more stable in life – who knows? I’ll report back.

Starting out with bare feet

When hiking long distances I’ve learnt to take things step by step. Because simply knowing where I want to arrive today and not tomorrow helped me to concentrate on the moment and not get lost in the seemingly endless distance of thousands of kilometres. I want to do the same thing with walking barefoot: take small steps. First in a pair of barefoot shoes. And if I'm going for regular morning walks anyway, I can also leave my shoes off altogether sometimes. My girlfriend, by the way, thinks I'm totally crazy. That's why I try to sneak out of the house without her seeing my bare feet, or I take my shoes off afterwards. After a few months she’s sure to have got used to it, hopefully...

Sunset on a lake shore in the midst of untouched nature. In the foreground is a pair of crossed legs from feet to thighs.

Records, records

While researching for this article I saw that the world record for the longest stretch covered in bare feet is 2080 km! Oh no! I wish I hadn't read that. I actually wanted to stop doing that: thinking about records. Hmm, but it sounds doable; perhaps in the future... I’ll sleep on it.

Run wild! Anna, Ran & Team Wildling

Images: Witali Bytschkow