13 July 2013

Reflections on Footwear, Part 2: Insufficient Data, Experimentation

After reviewing my previous post, it occurred to me that I really don't have enough data on barefoot hiking to draw any conclusions on its effects on erosion.  While I would consider myself to be a somewhat experienced hiker, I haven't logged enough miles without shoes to really comment on it.  I've logged 70 miles on trail and 45 off trail with minimalist shoes since September of last year, but I've only logged 8 miles on trail and 5 off trail while barefoot, since May of this year.  By comparison, I logged about 90 on trail / 105 off trail miles in traditional boots, shoes, and sneakers last year, and 30 on / 60 off this year, before I gave them up.  So, basically, what I'm saying is that I don't know anything about barefoot hiking.  I'm working on that, though.

Three weeks ago I decided to see if it was possible to just give up footwear entirely.  All of my shoes were hurting me, in one way or another, and I was getting frustrated.  It has been an extremely interesting transition.  When I first started walking around barefoot outside, the thing that worried me and hurt the most was hot asphalt: the black material collects the heat of the sun and can get quite hot.  After dealing with it day-after-day for a short while, asphalt generally just feels warm now, although occasionally it's still hotter than I can handle.  (Interestingly enough, it retains the heat of the sun long into the night, so that even on a cool night, the asphalt can still be warm.  Excellent.)

It hasn't been an entirely positive experience, however.  Carpet, of all things, has been giving me problems.  My skin doesn't tolerate polyester very well, and it seems that most of the carpeting that I walk upon contains polyester fibers.  My skin tends to get irritated when I'm in contact with it for any length of time, and after a while it starts to get physically damaged.  Last winter I tried out SmartWool's touchscreen-compatible gloves, which have a polyester-and-unspecified-metal material on the tip of the thumb and first finger of each glove.  Despite it only being a small amount of fabric, and despite the fact that they were only my hands for a short while each day, I still developed cracked and irritated skin in the area where the polyester was.  So I suppose it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that polyester carpet would irritate my skin, and the edge of my heel would get cracked from being in contact with it so much.

Before going barefoot, I had noticed a few times that my feet would get irritated on the carpet at home.  Now I find myself looking for any opportunity to get my feet up off of the carpet.  There (apparently) is polyester carpet all over the place: on the floor at work, on the floor at home, and even in the floor of my car.  I think that in the past I was subconsciously avoiding being barefoot on the carpets around the house.  I would prefer to stand on the linoleum-covered areas, or the one nylon carpeted room that we have (the only carpet that we've had to replace so far), or I would have socks on.  This is just conjecture, of course, but it seems to be true when I think about it.

So where does that leave me? I'm not entirely sure. I really enjoy walking around barefoot. It's amazing how much sensory information we ignore while in shoes: the ground offers a variety of textures, temperatures and resistance, and very little of it gets through our shoes, even minimal ones. I feel a psychological benefit, as well, in that I feel very happy while walking barefoot. It's hard to say if that's a short-lived, novelty-of-the-moment happiness, or something more.  That happiness is diminished, regardless, by the irritation of polyester underfoot.

I'll figure out some compromise soon, I'm sure, or my soles will adapt like they did to asphalt.  It remains to be seen.

Until next time, "be excellent to each other."