Barefoot running: The meaning of this term has become somewhat muddy as of late. Before the book Born to Run came out, barefoot running used to mean engaging in the act of running while barefoot. These days it can still mean running barefoot, but it also is a synonym for running while wearing footwear that allows the foot to react to the ground and to behave as if it were barefoot, such as barefoot shoes or barefoot running sandals.
Barefoot shoes are considered any form of closed toed footwear that has minimal structure and allows the feet and legs to behave with a degree of approximation to no shoes being worn at all. They allow the body the freedom to function as nature intended. For example, instead of using a technology introduced by a shoe-such as shock absorbtion or arch support-to navigate a rugged trail over long distance, the feet, legs and body as a whole must be used to adapt to the terrain and effectively traverse the same landscape with minimal assistance from the shoes.
While minimal shoes can run the gamut from very thin soled varieties with little to no support, to very thick cushioned soles, barefoot shoes always provide as little support as possible and are usually zero drop from toe to heel (the amount of sole material is the same thickness from the toes to the heel). However, the amount of support and structure can vary based on the application they are intended for.
Barefoot running sandals are similar to barefoot shoes in that they provide minimal support while still offering various options for different uses. Barefoot running sandals differ from barefoot shoes in that they can provide the least amount of structure and support possible, allowing the foot to effectively grip the earth's diverse terrain via the complex mechanics of the metatarsals and toes as if barefoot. For example, the nominal upper of a running sandal (just a strap) and the extreme flexibility of the minimal sole forces the foot to grip the sandal with the arch and toes which affects running form positively by encouraging a higher cadence and lighter steps.
While there are those that still adhere to the idea that true barefoot running is only running with completely unshod feet, for most this is an impractical idea. For the many people that choose to Rewild their feet via a barefoot lifestyle, few are able or willing to live year round barefoot and so employ a number of types of barefoot running footwear. With varying levels of minimalism, each contain attributes that excel in a particular application. A shoe quiver if you will. For example, one might wear barefoot running sandals for daily life and running throughout the Summer months but still utilize barefoot shoes from time to time in the Winter or if participating in an obstacle course race or if having to hike through deep snow.
Written by Colin Evans