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Barefooted person leaving footprints behind.
A person not wearing shoes.

Barefoot is the most common term for the state of not wearing any footwear.

Wearing footwear is an exclusively human characteristic, however some animals held by humans are also issued with footwear, such as horses and, more rarely, dogs and cats. There are health benefits and some risks associated with going barefoot. Footwear provides protection from cuts, abrasions, bruises, and impacts from objects on the ground or the ground texture itself, as well as from frost or heat burns, and parasites like hookworm in extreme situations. However, shoes can limit the flexibility, strength, and mobility of the foot and can lead to higher incidences of flexible flat foot, bunions, hammer toe, and Morton's neuroma. Walking and running barefoot results in a more natural gait, allowing for a more rocking motion of the foot, eliminating the hard heel strike and therefore generating less collision force in the foot and lower leg.[1][2]

There are many sports that are performed barefoot, most notably gymnastics and martial arts, but also beach volleyball, barefoot running, barefoot hiking, and water skiing. In modern language, someone who tends not to wear shoes in public or is participating in the aforementioned sports may be described as a barefooter.[3][4]

Children Dancing in a Ring - 1872

Historical and religious aspects[edit]

Ancient Olympic discus thrower
Barefooted female prisoner;
Wales, 19th century (museum exhibit)
Buddhist monks in Mahagandhayon Monastery (Amarapura, Myanmar). Monks line up barefoot to accept their late morning meal offered by donors.

People in ancient times, such as the Egyptians, Hindus, and Greeks often went barefoot, as the inhabited terrain mostly mandated no practical necessity for footwear.[citation needed] The Egyptians and Hindus made some use of ornamental footwear, such as a soleless sandal known as a Cleopatra, which did not provide any practical protection for the foot. Athletes in the Ancient Olympic Games participated barefoot and generally unclothed.[5] Even the gods and heroes were primarily depicted barefoot.

The Romans, who eventually conquered the Greeks and adopted many aspects of their culture, did not adopt the Greek perception of footwear and clothing. Roman clothing explicitly including footwear was seen as a sign of power and as a necessity of living in a civilized world; accordingly slaves usually were to remain barefoot.[6] There are many references to shoes being worn in the Bible. During weddings of this period, a father would give his son-in-law a pair of shoes to symbolize the transfer of authority.[7]

During the Middle Ages, both men and women wore pattens in Europe, commonly seen as the predecessor of the modern high-heeled shoe,[8] while menial classes usually wore hand-made footwear out of available materials. Going barefoot was seen as a marker of poverty and the lowest social class, as well as being the mark of a prisoner (see below).[6] In the 15th century, chopines were created in Turkey and were usually 7–8 inches (17.7–20.3 cm) high. These shoes became popular in Venice and throughout Europe as a status symbol revealing wealth and social standing. During the 16th century royalty, such as Catherine de Medici and Mary I of England, started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller or larger than life. By 1580, even men wore them, and a person with authority or wealth was often referred to as "well-heeled".[8]

The phrase barefoot and pregnant is now used to illustrate a woman's traditional role as a homemaker and thus her lack of opportunities to socialize or to have a career outside of the home.[9] It was first used in the early 20th century, possibly by Arthur E. Hertzler (also known as the "Kansas Horse-and-Buggy Doctor"),[10] promoting a hypothesis that:[11]

Barefoot girl in Udaipur, India

Bare feet have come to symbolize innocence or childhood in a glorifying perception of freedom from real-life requirements. The connection to childhood and innocence, as well as the simple joys of country life, are embodied in the poem "The Barefoot Boy" by John Greenleaf Whittier, published in 1855.[12] Additionally, the book Dancing Barefoot by Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton features five short stories that chronicle his journey from childhood and youth through to maturity and self-acceptance.[13]

Religious aspects[edit]

In most religions, the exposure of bare feet is regarded as a sign of humility and subjection. Some religious practitioners have taken a vow of Gospel poverty, while there are certain convents where going barefoot is obligatory (Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, Poor Clares, Colettine Poor Clares). With regard to the use of footwear as a display of status, the religious and common art of many cultures throughout the world shows a person without shoes symbolizing either extreme poverty or the state of captivity and unfree servitude.[14] In Thailand, Master Jinshen, a Buddhist monk, walks 20 kilometers (12 mi) per day barefoot as a reminder to others who pursue a material life to protect and be concerned for Mother Nature. He states that he does this to follow Buddhist rules, to lead the people to the path of virtue, and to develop his Buddhist spirit.[15] It is customary in Judaism and some Christian denominations to go barefoot while mourning.[14] Some Christian churches practice barefoot pilgrimage traditions, such as the ascent of Croagh Patrick in Ireland at night while barefoot (although the nighttime part is no longer encouraged).[16]

In many religions, it is common to remove shoes when entering a place considered holy. For example, in the Book of Exodus, Moses was instructed to remove his shoes before approaching the burning bush:

Anyone entering a mosque or a Hindu temple, including a visitor, is expected to remove his or her shoes; racks for the storage of shoes are usually provided at the entrance.[17][18]

Foot washing, or ceremonial washing of others' feet, is associated with humility in Christianity, and Jesus Christ is recorded in the New Testament as washing the feet of his disciples to serve them during the Last Supper. Christians who practice foot washing today do so to bring them closer to Jesus and to fill them with a sense of humility and service. Roman Catholics show their respect and humility for the Pope by kissing his feet. In a similar manner, Hindus show love and respect to a guru by touching his bare feet (called pranam). It is customary to show one's respect by walking barefoot around Raj Ghat, the monument to Mahatma Gandhi.[14] Both United States President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II paid him this honor.[19] During the Imperial Japanese period, removing one's shoes in the presence of a person of higher status was a sign of showing one's own humility, subordination, and respect towards their status.[14]

Christian congregations of men and women that go entirely barefoot or wear sandals include the Discalced, like the Discalced Carmelites (1568), the Feuillants (Cistercians, 1575), the Trinitarians (1594), the Mercedarians (1604), and the Passionists.[20]

In many branches of Romani culture across the world, it is traditional for women to dance barefoot.


Firewalking is the practice of walking barefoot over hot coals. It has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to Iron Age India – c. 1200 BC.[21] It is often used as a rite of passage, as a test of an individual's strength and courage, or, in religion, as a test of one's faith. Today, it is often used in corporate and team-building seminars and self-help workshops as a confidence-building exercise. Firewalking implies the belief that the feat requires the aid of a supernatural force, strong faith, or on an individual's ability to focus on "mind over matter".[14] Modern physics has largely debunked this, showing that the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground is not enough to induce a burn, combined with the fact that coal is not a very good conductor of heat.[21]

Barefoot customs by country[edit]


It is common for Australians, particularly young people, to be barefoot in public places, especially during summer.[22] McDonald's launched a summer advertisement in 2012 featuring a customer running barefoot through the hot carpark to the restaurant.[23] In some rural and remote areas, such as the Northern Territory, Western NSW, regional Queensland and many islands, students often attend school barefoot. On Lord Howe Island the Lord Howe Island Board has described the fact pupils at the government-run Lord Howe Island Central School are allowed to attend school barefoot as a part of the "island lifestyle" and a "community asset".[24]

New Zealand[edit]

In 2010, an American lecturer missed out on a job after criticising barefoot locals in a newspaper.[25] The lecturer wrote barefoot locals were "not only backward and uncivilised, but dangerously unhygienic and repulsive to North Americans" in response to an article mocking a no shoes, no service policy in Texas. In 2012, a travel writer for The New York Times wrote the number of New Zealanders barefoot in public, including shops was "striking".[26] Many expats in New Zealand have been surprised how many people, of all races and classes, carry on daily business barefoot[27] In 2014, Air New Zealand was subject of critical attention after allegedly forcing a customer to wear shoes.[28]

United Kingdom[edit]

A barefooted Scottish boy c1845 - Robert Adamson

Being barefoot in public is more common during warmer months, and often accepted as a social norm, however this does not extend to metropolitan cities such as London, but more for rural areas and more common for young children and teenagers. Some British schools also allow children to attend school barefoot in warmer months, and encourage it for indoor and outdoor physical education lessons. The National Health Service has recommended that people "go barefoot or wear open-toed sandals whenever you can in the hot help stop your feet getting sweaty and smelly."[29]

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa barefoot walking in public is part of the predominantly white Afrikaans speaking culture, although English speaking people also often walk barefoot in public, especially in the summer months and in cities such as Cape Town. The National Guidelines on School Uniform list shoes as an optional item[30] while the Draft Guidelines state "Pupils, especially in lower grades, should also be permitted to attend without shoes in hot weather". Most children attend school barefoot. In many schools, the dress codes either encourage kids to attend school barefoot or prefer kids to attend school barefoot, especially in the summer months. Some South African schools have sport uniforms where bare feet are compulsory, such as primary school rugby. Another sport where bare feet for kids are compulsory is "tou trek" or tug of war. Being barefoot in public is generally tolerated. In South African shopping malls, stores, and events, it is not an uncommon sight to see barefoot adults, kids and especially teenagers and young adults.

United States[edit]

In some parts of the United States, where taboos against barefoot walking are strong[citation needed], it is common for people to wear the same shoes indoors and outdoors, and for guests to keep their shoes on when visiting other people's houses.[citation needed] Youngstown, Ohio, actually did have an ordinance prohibiting barefooting until it was struck down as unconstitutional.[31] However, in the early 18th to 20th century many children in rural areas of America often went barefoot due to poverty.[citation needed] Many stores, restaurants, and other public venues in the United States employ dress codes prohibiting bare feet.[citation needed] While private business owners are free to set their own policies, many cite different health regulations, though these typically are occupational safety requirements that pertain to employees only.[citation needed]

Imprisonment and slavery[edit]

Depiction of barefooted prisoners by Cornelis de Wael; To Visit the Imprisoned c. 1640
Barefooted female slave in South America

Removing the footwear and making a captive go barefoot has been one of the first conventional methods to tag and identify prisoners in most civilizations. It was a usual feature and often the principle element of early prison uniforms. The visual aspect of bare feet is therefore used to contrast the conventional appearance as footwear is regarded an obligatory clothing feature in urbanized cultures.

Besides the indicatory aspect going in bare feet restricts the freedom of action in many situations. A barefooted person is therefore disadvantaged opposite a shod person in many practical respects. This aspect is often used to exercise physical control over individuals in captivity.

A barefoot person is usually disadvantaged in a physical confrontation against shod individuals. Drastically more severe injuries can be sustained especially by a kicking person outfitted with footwear in contrast to a person in bare feet. For this reason shoes are considered deadly weapons by penal laws of most countries.[citation needed] Bare feet on the other hand present an opportune and vulnerable target for the application of force. These effects are usually desired by correctional or police officers primarily in confrontational situations with antagonistic individuals. The risk of personal injury is therefore notably reduced and the situation can often be resolved more efficiently.

Another main objective is preventing and counteracting potential attempts of prison escape. Without the protection of the feet that shoes provide, the locomotion of an unshod person is more difficult in the majority of exterior environments, so a potential fugitive is easier to retrieve in many cases. Detainees are often discouraged from attempting escape by this measure alone.[32]

A barefoot person experiences certain discomfort in daily life situations. The desire to be protected from the common inconveniences of the ground, mostly due to coarse textures or adverse temperatures, prompted humans to make use of footwear in ancient history. Incidentally the traditional visual appearance of civilized societies was established, including footwear as an obligatory feature. A forced exclusion from the conveniences and also appearance of footwear typically creates an frequent awareness of being vulnerable, therefore it can have an intimidating effect on a person. The enforcement of bare feet often creates a consciousness of being powerless and degraded notably on prisoners, as they typically cannot relieve this situation on their own.[33]

As the practical effects are typically achieved effortlessly, keeping captives or prisoners barefoot has been cross-culturally practiced since antiquity.[34]

It was also commonly practiced to identify slaves in former times.

Slave codes[edit]

Barefooted oriental slaves (Jean-Léon Gérôme – The Slave Market)
Barefooted slaves in North America, 1780s

Since ancient times, it is a common practice in civil societies to wear footwear as a standard feature. In contrast to this convention, slave codes often decreed that slaves go barefoot. For example, the Cape Town slave code stated that "Slaves must go barefoot and must carry passes."[35] This was the case in the majority of states that abolished slavery later in history, as most images from the respective historical period suggest that slaves were barefoot.[36] To quote Brother Riemer (1779): "[the slaves] are, even in their most beautiful suit, obliged to go barefoot. Slaves were forbidden to wear shoes. This was a prime mark of distinction between the free and the bonded and no exceptions were permitted." [37]

Shoes have been regarded as badges of freedom and signs of empowerment since early human history, while going barefoot designated a rather low social rank, often having the status of an unfree person. Using the symbolic meaning of shoes to display a respectable social status and also being vested with authority, people have ceremonially been issued with footwear as is mentioned in the Bible, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: "But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet (Luke 15:22)". Forcing individuals to go barefoot by taking away their shoes and disallowing or hindering them to be worn accordingly has the reversed meaning. While since ancient societies the standard form of appearance commonly includes footwear as an implicit feature, the imagery or bare feet is often used to indicate submission, subjugation or dependence, in certain contexts also being disarmed or disempowered.
Therefore, this detail has become an informal and sometimes even formal law in societies practicing slavery. A barefooted human could be unmistakably identified as unfree and be attributed with the lowest social status on the spot. As a consequence appearing barefooted in any social situation was proscribed for common citizens and strictly avoided.
In many US states this perception is prevalent to this day as everyday shoes are typically also worn in the private space and being barefooted is effectively placed under taboo (see above).

In certain societies this rule pertains to this day where slavery is still unofficially practiced. The Tuareg are known still to practice slavery and force their slaves to go barefoot.[38]


In several countries of the world prison inmates have to remain barefoot under regulatory constraint. In history this was common practice in most civilizations as bare feet were commonly received as a characteristic of unfree individuals. It also marked the first means of visually marking prisoners in terms of a prison uniform.

This is current practice in China,[39] Zimbabwe,[33][40][41] Thailand,[40][42][43] Uganda,[44][45][46] Iran,[47] Pakistan,[48] India,[49] Congo,[50] Malawi,[51] Rwanda,[52] Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast),[53] and North Korea[54] among others.

In Thailand, a defendant in penal proceedings traditionally must remain barefoot for courtroom appearances.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61]

In Germany it was common practice during the Nazi-era to keep especially female prisoners uniformly barefoot. In particular camps the women also had to perform forced labor in their bare feet, at times even under adverse weather conditions. This was implemented as means to intimidate the detained individuals and dampen renitency as well as to reduce the expenses for clothing items. It was also part of the then prevalent practice in Nazi-Germany to victimize prisoners.[14][62][63][64]

Within women's penitentiaries in socialist East Germany (German Democratic Republic) especially political prisoners who were regarded as opponents of the regime could have their footwear seized and be detained barefoot as an aggravation of their penalty.[65]

The earmarking of captives by forcing them to go in bare feet was also practiced specifically on imprisoned women in parts of the United States until the early 20th century. It was then common practice by penal institutions particularly in Texas to exclude female prisoners from being issued with any kind of footwear, by this means keeping them barefoot throughout. Contrary to this measure adequate shoes were provided for male convicts as a matter of course. There were no apparent security motives for this unequal treatment; it was however practiced to point out the evident hierarchy between male and female detainees. The according structure of subordination of the female prisoners also towards the male convicts was therefore showcased in an evident and palpable way. It also conformed to the notion of the criminal courts, who widely saw prisoners as official slaves of the state.[66] In this an analogy to actual former slaves was drawn, who were often forced to remain barefoot as well (see above). As going shoeless is placed under a more or less strict social taboo in most regions of the US (see above), being forced to go entirely barefoot determined the degradation to the lowest social rank for the incarcerated women. This arbitrary and victimizing measure was an apparent token for the general discrimination against incarcerated women, who unlike male prisoners did not have the right to claim legal remedies at that time.[67][68][69]

In the present ISIS usually deprives their captives of footwear, presumably in order to identify them more readily and prevent escape.[70]

In the Bible there are multiple passages (e.g., Isaiah 20:4) indicating the humiliation inherent in forcing a captive to travel in bare feet. Ritual customs therefore consisted of publicly taking away a disgraced person's shoes. This resulted in the individual being defamed as a "barefooter" culminating in the loss of social standing. On the other hand, taking off the shoes of one's own will and voluntarily exposing one's bare feet is regarded as a token of submission and humility in the Bible. This included the subjection under higher powers as well as a mundane authority. Therefore, it was concluded to be imperative that prisoners or captives were to be kept barefoot and in light clothing as a token of their subjugation.[34]

Inquisition and witch trials[edit]

During the era of the Catholic Inquisition it was commonly believed that women practicing witchcraft had their ability to use sinister powers largely diminished if they were forced to remain barefoot. As a consequence first of all the just arrested woman routinely had her footwear taken away, ensuring that her feet remained unclothed at all events. Due to interpretations of the Malleus Maleficarum it was believed that in case a witch was not strictly kept in her bare feet she could still cast a spell on people by just looking at them. As the prosecutors wanted to avoid any risk, it was seen to it that the bare feet of the accused woman were constantly visible, so to convince themselves at any moment.

During questioning or in court the accused women often had to stand on a consecrated spot with the soles of their bare feet touching the sanctified area. This was believed to completely inhibit any of their purported magic powers. Accordingly, the women were forbidden to look at the prosecutors when their bare feet were not strictly in place. To further ensure safety they were often lead in walking backwards when facing the prosecution. They were allowed to turn around only if their bare feet could clearly be seen to be within the bounded spot. As the accused women naturally could not use any magic while they were tried, this assumption became an accepted doctrine. Accordingly, contemporary depictions about inquisition proceedings or similar situations portray the tried women barefooted in almost every case.[71]

Corporal punishment[edit]

Demonstration of "bastinado"

The soles of a person's bare feet also serve as a target for corporal punishment, commonly referred to as "bastinado" (foot whipping). This method is mainly used in the context of penal functions and situations of detention or incarceration.

The practice of foot whipping is still officially employed in several Middle Eastern nations where the term falaka is customary. In history, bastinado was frequently practiced in Western countries as well. Among others, it was commonly used in German territories, where it was employed until the end of the Nazi-era, mainly within the reformatory and detention system. In certain facilities it even continued to be used during the 1950s.[72][73][74][75]

The beatings usually aim at the muscular tissue within the vaults of the foot (longitudinal arch of the foot), omitting the bone structure of the ball and the heel. The vaults are highly touch-sensitive and therefore susceptible to pain due to the tight clustering of nerve endings.

As bastinado causes substantial suffering for the victim while physical evidence remains largely undetectable after some time, it is frequently used for interrogation and torture in rogue regimes as well.[76]

Arts and entertainment[edit]

Many singers and dancers perform on stage barefoot. The classical dance of Cambodia had its roots in the holy dances of the legendary seductresses (apsaras) of ancient Cambodia and attained its high point during the Angkor period in its interpretations of the Indian epics, especially the Ramayana. Cambodian dancers were well-born women of the king's harem and danced barefoot, with the feet turned outwards and the legs slightly bent at the knee to cushion the movements of the upper body. The unimpeded movement of the foot was essential to the art. When the land was invaded by the Thai, the dancers were taken to the Thai court, where their art was adapted and continued to flourish.[77][78]

The barefoot dance movement of the early 20th century challenged the received laws of classical dance and the broader laws of social decorum. For decades, the bare foot had been perceived as obscene, and no matter how determined barefoot dancers were to validate their art with reference to spiritual, artistic, historic, and organic concepts, barefoot dancing was inextricably linked in the public mind with indecency and sexual taboo. In 1908, Maud Allan shocked and fascinated London theatre-goers with her barefoot dance of desire in Salome, and scandalous tributes positioned her as the embodiment of lust. For many, barefoot dancing represented not only the freedom and horror of modern sexuality but the progress and decline of high culture.[79]

Dancer Isadora Duncan performing barefoot during her 1915–18 American tour

Californian Isadora Duncan revolutionized dance in the Western world by jettisoning the tutu and the pointe shoe of classical ballet and scandalized audiences by performing works of her own choreography in flowing draperies and bare feet. She anticipated the modern women's liberation movement by urging women to rid themselves of corsets and matrimony.[80] Duncan divorced the bare foot from perceptions of obscenity and made a conscious effort to link barefoot dancing to ideals such as "nudity, childhood, the idyllic past, flowing lines, health, nobility, ease, freedom, simplicity, order, and harmony". She believed her utopian dance vision and program would ameliorate the perceived ills of modern life and restore the world to the imagined perfection of Ancient Greece.[79]

The 1954 film The Barefoot Contessa tells the fictional story of Maria Vargas (portrayed by Ava Gardner), a Spanish cabaret dancer of simple origins who frequently went barefoot. She was cast in a movie by writer and director Harry Dawes (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) and became a major star. In 1978, Ina Garten purchased a specialty food store in The Hamptons named Barefoot Contessa, after the movie. She liked the name because it went well with her simple and elegant cooking style. She sold the store in 1999 and wrote her first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which became one of the best-selling cookbooks of the year. She would go on to write more cookbooks and, in 2002, started production of a television show on the Food Network, also named the Barefoot Contessa, which continues to run.[81]

Singer Joss Stone performing barefoot on stage

In the latter half of the 20th century, many singers, primarily females, have performed barefoot, a trend that continues in the early 21st century. One of the first singers to become well known for singing barefoot on stage was Sandie Shaw, who became known as the "Barefoot Pop Princess of the 1960s."[82] Jimmy Buffett is known for performing barefoot at concerts, promoting an island/beach bum lifestyle.[83] Cesária Évora of Cape Verde was known as the "Barefoot Diva" for her habit of performing without shoes.[84] Other performers known for performing barefoot onstage or in music videos include Ian Gillan[85], Sade[86], Linda Ronstadt, Patti LaBelle,[87] Joss Stone,[88] Shakira,[89] Steven Wilson, Björk[87], Katharine McPhee, Sophie B. Hawkins, Deana Carter[87], Kelly Clarkson, Florence Welch, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Jewel[87], Dolores O'Riordan[90], Emmelie de Forest[91] and Gwen Stefani.[87] All members of the German brass punk band LaBrassBanda perform barefoot and in Lederhosen.[92] Musician, composer, actor and comedian Tim Minchin performs his live shows barefoot, saying "I don't wear shoes cos I went barefoot one day and liked it."[93] Some singers believe that being barefoot allows them to channel their vocal energy better – a theory based on the teachings of the alternative medicine of reflexology. Others may do so to provide a more relaxing atmosphere and to calm them down.[87][91] Joss Stone says that she doesn't like wearing shoes on stage because she doesn't want to fall over.[88]

Tony Meléndez and Mark Goffeney have played the guitar on stage barefoot, with their feet, since they were born with no arms.[94][95][96] Similarly, in 2008, Jessica Cox became the first person with no arms to use her bare feet to fly an airplane.[97] There are armless artists who use their bare feet to paint, including Simona Atzori, who is a dancer.[98] Renowned Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is almost completely deaf, always performs her concerts barefoot in order to feel the vibrations of her instruments and the orchestra accompanying her.

Health implications[edit]

(Left–B) plaster cast of an adult foot that has never worn shoes displaying natural splayed toes (Right–A) cast of boy showing damage and inward-turned toes after wearing shoes for only a few weeks

There are risks and benefits associated with going barefoot. Footwear provides some protection from puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks, or thorns as well as abrasions, bruises, heat burns, electrical shock, and frostbite—but studies of people who habitually walk barefoot have consistently found that these problems are minimal, with only about 0.89% of barefoot people having any kind of foot complaint linked to walking barefoot (including temporary conditions such as abrasions) or having the tops of the feet uncovered.[citation needed] Feet that have never worn shoes rarely exhibit problems such as bunions, corns, and "fallen arches",[99][100] are not prone to more than ordinary foot eversion on standing and walking due to the associated weakness or stiffness of the joints of the foot and weakness of the muscles controlling them,[101] as well as having a much reduced incidence of problems such as callouses.[102]

Walking barefoot results in a more natural gait. People who are used to walking barefoot tend to land less forcefully, eliminating the hard heel strike and generating much less collision force in the foot and lower leg.[103] A 2006 study found that shoes may increase stress on the knee and ankle, and suggested that adults who walked barefoot may have a lower rate of osteoarthritis,[104] although more study is required to elucidate the factors that distribute loads in shod and barefoot walking. A 2007 study examined 180 modern humans and compared their feet with 2,000-year-old skeletons. They concluded that, before the invention of shoes, humans overall had healthier feet.[103] A 1991 study found that children who wore shoes were three times more likely to have flat feet than those who did not, and suggested that wearing shoes in early childhood can be detrimental to the longitudinal arch of the foot.[99] Children who habitually go barefoot were found to have stronger feet, with better flexibility and mobility, fewer deformities like flat feet or toes that curve inwards, and fewer complaints.[105] Walking barefoot enables a more natural gait, eliminating the hard heel strike and instead, allowing for a rocking motion of the foot from heel to toe.[103] Similarly, barefoot running usually involves an initial forefoot strike, instead of on the rear of the foot, generating smaller collision forces.[1]

Since there is no artificial protection of the bare foot, some of the possible issues include cuts, abrasions, bruises, or puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks, or thorns, as well as poisonous plants, animals, or parasites that can enter the body through the cuts on an injured bare foot.[106] In people who are not habitually barefoot, Athlete's foot is spread by fungal spores coming into contact with skin that has been weakened and made moist. The fungus is known to only affect around 0.75% of habitually barefoot people in one study and can be prevented by reducing shoe use and keeping the feet dry, particularly after walking through a damp environment where people communally walk barefoot as the fungus only develops under the right conditions, such as when people fail to properly dry their feet after swimming or showering and then put on shoes. Wearing shoes such as flip flops or sandals in these areas can reduce the risk.[107] As such, the fungus is very unlikely to develop on a person who goes barefoot all the time.

The hookworm parasite, found only in warm, moist climates where human feces contaminated with hookworm larvae has been left in places where it might come into contact with human skin, can burrow through a bare human foot (or any part of the body that comes into contact with it).[108] However, as the parasite tends to occur mainly in mud and cesspools, its spread cannot be stopped by most standard shoes[citation needed] since the larvae can penetrate fabric and small holes. The parasite may spread through contaminated material coming into contact with any part of the body, such as through flecks of mud splashing on an ankle or leg.[109] The hookworm parasite is relatively mild, has few symptoms, and can pass completely unnoticed when the infestation level is low enough. Since the hookworm infection is very cheap and easy to treat, and since it requires infected feces to come into contact with human skin within a particular time period, eradicating hookworm is mainly a matter of hygiene (including the building of proper toilet and waste-disposal facilities) and mass-treatment. In very cold weather, shoes can provide thermal insulation, protecting against frostbite.

Issues that can develop as a result of someone who has always worn shoes going barefoot include calf pain or Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis due to shortening of the Achilles tendon and the foot being underdeveloped, due to regular use of shoes. A careful transition eases or remove symptoms, which quickly vanish as the foot adapts.[110][111] Blisters on the feet may occur in the first few weeks of going barefoot, until the skin has become more robust.[110] Individuals with diabetes or other conditions that affect sensation in the feet are at greater risk of injury while barefoot. The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetics wear shoes and socks at all times.[112]


In the United States, there have been myths that regulations require the wearing of footwear. In the United States, during the period of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, business establishments would deny admittance to barefoot hippies arguing that health regulations required that shoes be worn.[113] This led to a belief by many in nonexistent OSHA or local health department regulations preventing people from going to stores, restaurants, and other establishments without shoes. However, those regulations that exist apply only to employees and not customers.[114] Specifically, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to "ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear" when there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole of an employee's foot, and where an employee's feet may be exposed to electrical hazards.[115] Additionally, employee footwear, where required by OSHA, must comply with one of the standards described in OSHA's regulations.[115] State and local laws may dictate when and where an employee must wear shoes.[115]

Some people speculate that driving barefoot increases the risk of an accident if bare feet slip off the pedals.[116] It is legal throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to drive barefoot.[116][117][118] However, in some US jurisdictions, police officers may ticket a driver for other things if the fact that they were driving barefoot or in flip-flops/high heeled shoes hindered their driving and/or resulted in an accident.[119]

Sports and recreation[edit]

A woman sitting in a library with her bare feet on a chair.

There are several recreational activities one can participate in while barefoot. Those involved in water sports such as swimming and water polo almost always participate barefoot due to the difficulty of swimming with footwear.

Other common activities performed barefoot include yoga, pilates, hiking, running, driving, water skiing, touch rugby, soccer, beach volleyball, surfing, tubing, gymnastics, Slacklining, and martial arts. Wrestling can be done barefoot. Although most modern Greco-Roman and WWE wrestlers wear shoes, sumo wrestling, Yağlı güreş (oil or "Turkish" wrestling), and mud wrestling are commonly done while barefoot. Fijian wrestler Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka of the WWE has wrestled barefoot as well.[120] American football is not traditionally a barefoot sport, though several placekickers have preferred to kick barefoot, including Tony Franklin of the Philadelphia Eagles and Rich Karlis of the Denver Broncos.[121][122] The two schools of thought involved in barefoot placekicking were that the lack of a shoe provided the kicker with a better "feel" for the ball and greater control over its trajectory. The second theory is that shoes and socks absorbed kinetic energy, and kicking flesh-to-leather created more torque.[123]


People of all ages all over the world can participate in barefoot hiking, gathering for walks through forest and hiking trails sans footwear. Barefoot hikers claim that they feel a sense of communion with the earth and enjoy the sheer pleasure of feeling more of the world with their feet.[124] There are several clubs throughout North America practicing regular barefoot hikes, including the Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota, Seattle Barefoot Hikers, East Bay Barefoot Hikers, the Barefoot Hikers and Grass Walkers of Greater Kansas City, and the Barefoot Hikers of Connecticut.[124][125][126] In this an analogy to the social state of former slaves was established, who were regularly forced to remain barefoot as well (see above).[127][128] Two sisters, Lucy and Susan Letcher, hiked approximately two-thirds of the 2,175-mile (3,500 km) Appalachian Trail barefoot from June 21, 2000, to October 3, 2001.[129][130] On November 12, 2010, 2,500 people in Mahabubnagar, India, participated in a barefoot walk, which was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's largest.[131]

In European nations, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, there are barefoot parks or walks.[124][132][133] These parks are kept clean and maintained on a regular basis, so that barefoot hiking can be done in an environment suitable for people who are habitually shod. Barefoot parks usually include a lot of adventure stations, allowing visitors to experience the feeling of soil textures underfoot; to wade through rivers, mud, brooks, or ponds; and to exercise foot gymnastics, balancing, and climbing. The Barfußpfad (barefoot trail) at Bad Sobernheim in Germany attracts over 100,000 visitors annually and has seen approximately 1 million visitors since its inception in 1999.[134]

This concept was first developed in the 19th century by Sebastian Kneipp, one of the founders of the Naturopathic medicine movement. He believed that applying your feet to a range of natural stimuli would have therapeutic benefits. This is related to the ancient practice of reflexology, practiced in China for thousands of years for relaxation and to promote longevity.[135]

Seoul, South Korea, has 158 barefoot parks, allowing people to relax in a natural environment.[136]


Many leisure and competitive runners have been known to run barefoot, including well-known athletes Zola Budd of South Africa and Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia.[137] Todd Ragsdale, of Talent, Oregon, set the world record (pending confirmation by Guinness World Records) for the longest distance run barefoot on June 5, 2010, as part of the Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. He logged 102 miles (164 km), or 413 laps on the South Medford High School track, barefoot.[138] The fastest person to run 100 meters (325 feet) on ice while barefoot is Nico Surings of Eindhoven, Netherlands, who ran that distance in 17.35 seconds on December 8, 2006.[139] Laboratory studies suggest that, due to the lack of extra weight on the feet, the energy cost of running barefoot is reduced by 4%, resulting in lower oxygen consumption.[137] There is evidence that wearing traditional shoes while running leads to heel strike gait that, in turn, leads to higher impact as well as a greater risk of injury.[1] Barefoot running encourages the runner to switch to forefoot strike and may reduce the risk of knee damage.

Barefoot running can be dangerous, especially to runners who do not adequately prepare or give their feet time to adapt to the new style. Many injuries are possible, such as injuries to the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia, or stress fractures in the metatarsal bones or lower leg. Barefoot runners who do not prepare their bodies could provide, "a stimulus plan for podiatrists, orthopedists, and physical therapists."[140]

The official position on barefoot running by the American Podiatric Medical Association states that there is not enough research on the immediate- and long-term benefits of the practice and that individuals should consult a podiatrist with a strong background in sports medicine to make an informed decision on all aspects of their running and training programs.[141]

One alternative to barefoot running is to wear thin-soled shoes with minimal padding, such as moccasins, plimsolls, or huaraches, which result in similar gait to going barefoot but protect the skin and keep dirt and water off.[142] Some modern shoe manufacturers have recently designed footwear to maintain optimum flexibility while providing a minimum amount of protection. Such shoes include the shoes made by Vibram FiveFingers,[143][144] Vivobarefoot,[145] and Nike's Nike Free shoes.[146] Sales of minimalist running shoes have grown into a $1.7 billion industry. Sales of Vibram FiveFingers alone grew from $450,000 in 2006 to $50 million in 2011.[147]

Water skiing[edit]

A barefoot skier

Barefoot skiing originated in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1947, when slalom skier A.G. Hancock tried to step off his ski.[148] The same year, in Cypress Gardens, Florida, competitive skier Richard Downing Pope, Jr., became well known in the sport of barefoot skiing.[149] The first barefoot skiing competition was held three years later, at the 1950 Cypress Gardens Dixie Championships.[150] In 1978, skiers from ten nations competed in the first World Barefoot Championships in Canberra, Australia. The same year, the American Barefoot Club (ABC) was formed, which governs competitive barefoot skiing events in the United States.[148]


Early skateboarders rode barefoot, preferring foot-to-board contact and emulating surfing moves.[151][152][153] The plastic penny board is intended to be ridden barefoot, and Penny Skateboards have promoted the riding of the board barefoot by selling T-shirts and stickers.[154][155] They have also posted social media posts encouraging barefoot riding,[156][157] particularly in summer.[158] The Hamboard, a surfboard style board, is also intended to be ridden barefoot. Barefoot skateboarding has been witnessing a revival in recent times.[159] Many modern skateboarders skate barefoot, especially in summer and in warmer countries like Australia, South Africa, and parts of South America.

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External links[edit]