When people I meet when I am hiking ask me why I do so barefoot, one of my pat answers (I’ve mentioned this before) is
We go into the woods to see the sights, smell the smells, and hear the sounds, and then we turn off our sense of touch. Well, I don’t turn off my sense of touch.
And they all pretty much get it.
But there is something more.
As I posted last time, I’m up north. (And why is it “Up North” but “Out West”?) I’m staying at a cabin on a lake (hence fixing the pier) and there is a trail leading down from the cabin to the lake. It’s maybe 200 feet long.
It’s a typical northwoods trail, dirt covered in roots, pine needles, pine cones, and twigs.
I occasionally head down the trail at night. You can then head out on the pier and get a really nice view of the stars. If really lucky, you’ll even catch a view of an aurora.
I’ll often not bother with a flashlight. Out on the pier the starlight is quite enough to see where the pier is, so there is no danger of falling off. In the woods, however, it is dark. Really dark (especially since right as you leave the cabin your eyes have not yet adjusted).
But I have found I have no problem walking the trail in the dark.
Why? Because I am barefoot. I am turning on my sense of touch.
It is really easy to feel the trail underfoot when barefoot. Admittedly, I am helped by my memory of where the trail is approximately located, but bare feet let you tell the difference between trail and non-trail.
For one thing, the trail is slightly lower than the surrounding dirt. This is from the decades of feet that have walked it, compressing the dirt. But there is another aspect to that, and that is that the pine needles are looser off-trail (again because they have not been pushed down). With one’s sense of touch engaged and by paying attention to it, it is quite trivial to use that to be able to tell when one is starting to wander off the trail. (If your left foot feels looser needles, move right. And vice versa.)
Of course, you cannot go running down the trail and this probably only works well for a trail that you are familiar with, but it works nonetheless.
If you get a chance you should give it a try sometime.