Archive for June, 2010

Another hot tip

In my earlier entry, How to handle a hot parking lot, I managed to leave off another tip for for walking on hot surfaces. Here it is:

  1. Walk on the edges of your feet. If you are used to shoes, you may not think about the fact that you can walk more on the edges of your feet. If you try that with shoes, the hard sole automatically makes you walk completely flat in the left/right sense. However, with bare feet you can put a bit more weight on the edges, leaving the other edge slightly up in the air and therefor not touching the hot surface. If there are no lines or parked cars, you can walk a bit on the outer edges of your feet until they feel hot, and then switch to the inner edges for a bit. This will often give your soles just enough cooling to easily handle the hot parking lot.

Another technique is to run. While running, your feet spend a lot more time in the air, and the speed can increase a cooling breeze. I won’t do this, though, for a parking lot, particularly when the other techniques work so well. It allows any spectators to confirm for themselves that bare feet are bad; I’d rather leave them with the idea that bare feet are much more robust than they think.

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A thorny issue

If you hike barefoot as much as I do, it is inevitable that at some point you will step on a thorn. Here are some thoughts on that.

First, it is pretty rare, particularly on established trails. Occasionally a bramble or something will drape across a trail, or trail maintenance will cut back the sides of a trail and leave thorny detritus on the trail. However, usually when I step on a thorn, it’s when I’m bushwhacking, off trail. I do have to mention, though, when I hike off-trail, I often draw blood. However, it’s not on my soles: it’s scratches on my legs, arms, and hands. In fact, probably my worst ever thorn “injury” was in the fleshy part of my thumb, when it got snagged on a green briar I was trying to get past.

Second, what usually happens when I step on a thorn is that it goes in, I feel it a bit, and then it comes right back out. This is what happens when the branch the thorn is on is fresh. The thorn only seems to break off when it was attached to an old twig and it has gotten brittle. When I have a thorn go in and out, I never even seem to draw blood. I think they only go in far enough to stimulate the nerves, but not deep enough to hit any blood vessel.

The thorns I have to deal with around here are mainly from green briars, multiflora roses, and brambles of some sort (raspberries, blackberries, etc.). All these thorns are not very long. There also is the honey locust, which had disgusting one-inch spikes. Hint: do not step on these. If you see a honey locust in the area, tread very, very carefully!

Occasionally, a brittle thorn will break off in my sole. Usually, I won’t even notice it, but if I do, it’s after walking quite a bit further and realizing that I am feeling a bit of a twinge whenever I put my foot down a certain way. If I don’t feel like stopping right then and there to so something about it, I’ll just adjust my step (putting more weight on either the right or left surface of my foot) so as not to feel it until I do feel like stopping. This usually works out just fine (if it doesn’t, I’ll stop immediately). Sometimes I won’t notice a thorn until long after I get home. Obviously, this is one that didn’t penetrate past my thick leather soles.

Getting out thorns is pretty easy, and as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve rarely drawn blood doing so. Usually, the thorn will leave a bit of its base sticking out of the skin. In that case, your fingernails might be enough to pull it out. The tapering of thorns really aids in taking them out. If your fingernails are not enough, you might have to use a tweezers. I do carry one with me when I go hiking (and I’ve probably used it, what?, 4 times in as many years). Tweezerman makes a very nice pair of pointed tweezers, but you can also get a nice pair of pointed stainless steel tweezers at any hardware store. You do want the ones with fine (and strong) points, not the slanted type.

Another technique that often works without tweezers takes advantage of the tapered shape of the thorn. What you do is put the fingernails of your thumbs on each side of the thorn, and then, while squeezing, move your thumbs back and forth perpendicular to the squeeze. The following picture tries (badly) to depict that:

Working out a thorn

Working out a thorn

This will usually get the thorn to protrude enough to grab it.

If not, you may have to go digging. If so, dig a bit, squeeze a bit, dig a bit, and eventually you will be successful.

Yes, thorns do occasionally happen when you hike barefoot. But the minor, momentary discomfort is more than made up for by the utter delight, freedom, and sensual input.

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It’s summertime in the northern hemisphere, and the time we get questions about how we handle hot parking lots that have been baking in the sun. Here are a few tips.

First of all, if you go barefoot all the time, you’ll probably build up a much thicker layer of skin on your sole. This acts as a pretty good insulation, so it means that I can just walk across most surfaces without too much problem. It also helps that, while walking, one’s foot is in the air about 50% of the time, so they can having some cooling off time. Running gives even more air-cooling time, but isn’t always as dignified.

Many don’t have the luxury of going barefoot all the time. Jobs can have such restrictive demands. Thus, the soles of many barefooters just don’t have the chance to build up that sort of insulation. So here are two other tricks:

  1. Walk on the lines. The painted lines in a parking lot (or along the side of a road, if that’s where you are walking) are often quite a bit cooler than blacktop. Sure, to walk along them you need to practice your tightrope walking skills, but who knows when you might need them?
  2. Walk on the shady side of any cars. If there are any cars in the parking lot, you can plan your route so that you at least spend part of your time walking in their shade. Just a little bit of this allows your feet to cool off enough to handle, yet again, a longer stretch that has been heated in the sun.

If you overdo it, you can get blisters. If you get close to overdoing it, but without causing problems, the bottoms of your feet will feel just a little bit “loose.” (Don’t let that progress to “blister loose”!) However, just that little bit of looseness won’t hurt you, and it prompts your feet to strengthen up, temperature-wise, just as walking on a rough surface just to the challenge-point prompts your feet to create the extra skin to handle the challenge.

It’s a fine line to walk, challenging the soles enough to strengthen them, temperature-wise, without damaging them. Kind of like the fine line of walking on parking lot lines.

[Update: I’ve added a third trick, at the entry entitled Another hot tip.]

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The Discovery Channel has a new survivor show out, called Dual Survival (if you click on that link, you’ll see some promos).

Cody should be well-known to barefooters. He’s a survivalist who has been going barefoot for over 20 years, so he really knows what he is doing. The September 2009 issue of Backpacker magazine did a feature on him. Here’s the feature photo in that article:

Abo Dude

Abo Dude

You can find the full article on Google Books, here.

From the Discovery promos, we see that he has to cheat just a tad for the really cold (don’t we all?), putting on some socks, and driving his survival partner nuts. They feature an early comment from the partner, Dave Canterbury, that seems to suggest dissension,

If he chooses not to wear shoes and not to wear pants, it’s Bush Hippie Logic and Mother Nature stuff that I don’t get.

I suspect that as the show goes on, though, Dave will come to really respect Cody.

By they way, I did a bit of research on Cody’s statements about mitochondria. While I am not sure one can train one’s mitochondria (but I’d sure like to think so, and I’d sure like to think I have done so with my own), it is true that many who live in northern climates do have more efficient mitochondria that help keep them warm.

Youtube also has some of the promos. Here’s one:

I think I will really like this show, and I think it is good publicity for barefooters.


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The incredible, flexible foot

Over on the Running Barefoot yahoogroup, there was a question from somebody there (a non-barefooter) about a painful condition under the ball of his foot. He of course wanted to know what to do about it, and whether barefooting might help him out. Another reader was concerned whether the non-barefooter had good circulation, since the non-barefooter had had a string of injuries that just didn’t seem to heal up.

I responded, and since I think it is of a more general interest and really explains some of the benefits of going barefoot, I’ll also put that response here:

What you need to do it a lot more barefooting. I know this sounds like broken-record advice, but here is why.

Shoes really restrict the movement of the foot and its muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and that is what tends to lead to foot problems.

When you put your foot down wearing a shoe, there is really only one way to do so: heel to front, and you really cannot vary your weight side-to-side at all, or make foot posture changes to relieve stress on any one location. When you are barefoot you can adjust all sorts of things about where you put weight to relieve pressure on sensitive parts. I have shattered cartilage in one knee (caused when wearing shoes in a place that would not let me in barefoot). When I wear shoes, everything hurts, because I cannot really adjust my step. Barefoot, it is very easy to put my foot down in a fashion that really limits the damage to the knee. I can actually see slightly thicker callous in one particular location on my foot due to this posture change. It doesn’t hurt my foot at all (if it did, I’d find an even different way to position my foot to stop it), but relieves a lot of stress on the knee.

Regarding good circulation: again, barefooting to the rescue. The other things shoes do is restrict blood flow to the feet. You’ve fastened your shoes down nice and tightly so they don’t flop around and give blisters. Well, that also compresses the veins and arteries. It also means that your muscles and tendons and ligaments are not moving much. However, when they do move, they help draw blood in and out. All those parts moving really give a continuous massage and impetus to the blood that just cannot occur when wearing shoes.

The proof is in the pudding. Shoddies really don’t understand how barefooters can go barefoot in the winter. It’s because of the great blood flow we get from barefooting. That is what keeps our feet warm.

Increased blood flow to your foot, combined with an ability to adjust the posture of your foot to take weight off the sensitive spot, may provide you with the relief you are asking about.

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