Barefoot hiking hazards
I was recently reminded why I usually hike wearing Merrel Pace Gloves. I hiked Lark Harbour Head, in Blow-me-Down Provincial Park, in the Outer Bay of Islands near Corner Brook, Newfoundland. It's a fairly easy 3 km hike (one way) beginning on boardwalk, but mostly on dirt and bedrock. I hiked out barefoot.
It's a beautiful area, if you're ever in Western Newfoundland I recommend checking out the Bay of Islands as well as the more famous Gros Morne National Park, a bit further north.
The sturdy boardwalk turns into rotting boardwalk, which in turn gives way to a sort of corduroy road in the wet spots: forearm-thick tree trunks laid parallel to the trail, with cross-pieces nailed on to hold them in place. This would be fine, only the cross-pieces have mostly rotted away, leaving the nails behind. Someone has pounded those flat... well, most of them. I found one they'd missed, catching it right between my little toe and the next toe on my right foot.
No serious damage done - skin peeled off at the base of each toe, and a bruise between them. I stopped and washed it off, dumped some alcohol on it (yup, I always have my first aid kit!), and continued my hike. I put VFFs on for the return hike because my feet aren't toughened up, not because of the injury.
This also pointed out something I've noticed - the greatest hazards to bare feet are usually human-made. I also caught a branch between my toes on this hike (it's a talent...) which hurt, but did no damage. The branch could "give", though. The spike could not. Unyielding human artefacts are usually pretty rough on feet, shod or unshod.
I'll go back to my usual habits, wearing minimal shoes unless I'm really sure of what's underfoot. I love gardening barefoot, because I know what's around the yard, but heading onto the trails I'll be keeping my shoes on... mostly. Cool, muddy trails on a hot day are too much temptation!
Happy trails, with or without shoes.
PS: I guess you have to click on the thumbnails to see the images at full size.
Looks like an absolutely beautiful hike. Sorry to hear about your foot, it sounds like it had the potential to be a lot worse!
I genarally hike with some form of protection, even if it is a very thin sole, just to prevent abrasion.
Foxglove I have to agree with you moccasins for a reason. I looked into this last year. Why do we see people in Africa barefoot in the villages and yet over here they were shod. I live in what is called Shield country... Canadian Shield. It is a massive area of granite really. Mother nature does her best to wear it done and break off bits in the winter ice etc. They are sharp and hard it is not like tumbled stones. I tried to walk on it all day but it just did not work. I now wear Wokova Feather sandals with a 4mm sole. They take the edge of the sharp stuff but I am regularly stepping on bits that hurt, just hurt less and this has allowed me to become more accustomed to going bare feet on it. No way I could hike all day on it though.
3 hours south of me it is a different story you can hike for miles in the woods on soft dirt and clay but as you point out as soon as you find man made stuff it gets worrisome.
After having gone barefoot for a year and a half I can no longer wear the Merrell products they are simply not near wide enough. I have a pair of Leming shoes that are fantastic and the Feelmax Osma. I just hope my mukluks fit this winter.
Oh yes and just yesterday for the first time I got a sliver in my foot. I work all day in bare feet and was in the shop and think I got a bit of metal in it.... man made again LOL
I was born with wide feet. 5E's wide. My parents had to mail order shoes for me for a couple of years when we lived too far from a major urban center and this was in the 60's.
I run a cottage resort so everyday all day is a work day. I find that I work smarter and cleaner when I do it in bare feet. If taking apart a structure boards with nails are not just tossed aside, one places them nail side down for instance. Debris is cleaned up quicker except saw dust it is nice to walk on. I was drilling out a swim ladder to remove the rivets and I think a bit of that might have stuck, easy enough repair.
I find it hard to do shovel work but most of the soil here is sand/scree type so it can be done. it takes surprisingly little effort to keep the feet out of harms way and my local hardware store gets a chuckle when I go in with my "work boots" on..... my barefeet where a bit speckled from painting.(have to wear something on the feet in the stores :-(
Most of the injuries I've had while going barefoot have been in my own home! There was once I dropped a large cabinet on my bare toes at work :( When I'm outside in nature I get small scrapes but nothing serious.
For me it depends on the hike. If I have no clue as to what I'll be facing on the trails, I definitely start out in my VFFs, and then take them off once I get an idea. In Thailand, I don't even take a pair of shoes with me when I'm outside the city, and oftentimes there will be people joining me here and there in my barefootedness, especially out in nature.
There's just too much variability in the terrain for me to consider barefoot (not that that stops me). I stick with my hiking huaraches almost full year round.
I have vffs but I no longer use them, too restrictive, hot and smelly ;-)
I've had razor sharp stones penetrate the 6mm huararche soles into my feet on a couple of occaisions, and sticks between the toes too. The benefits of not overheating, being able to stride through creeks and mud puddles without pausing, far outweigh the minor damage I've received.
Other hikers seem more concerned about ankle support and snakes. I find I'm more alert to the potential hazzards of the trail because I'm essentially barefooted, and going without ankle support has improved the strength of my feet enabling me to survive ankle turning mis-steps without problems.
Is this what most people are finding?
That's definitely been the case for me. When I was young my parents were told I needed to have orthotics in my shoes to help with my foot and back pain, but I still had constant problems with weakness in my ankles. I've always been a very cautious person (in fact, I think if anything I've only grown less cautious with age!) so I never had a very serious ankle injury that left me long-lasting problems, but since I've started barefooting, all of my problems have gone away, and I've come away unscathed from some missteps that would have been pretty bad before.
Even do construction/destruction work I find I work much more carefully then I ever did in work boots. Lumber is placed nails down and wood with nails in it sorted not just tossed around.
Instead of jamming a shovel into the ground I have to think more about how to use it since a bare foot can not force the shovel in with the same force.
Nothing gets dropped on a barefoot let me tell ya. One can dance a lot faster unshod LOL