What’s the WORST surface for running barefoot?

When I tell people that I run barefoot (or when they see me out running without any shoes), the first response I get is:

“Oh, so you run on the grass?”

Or when I suggest to people that they might want to try running barefoot, the first thing they say is,

“With my feet/knees/ankles/eyelashes, I’d need to run on the grass.”

I mean, it makes sense, right?

Grass is soft. Feet are soft. Therefore, feet should be on grass.

Barefoot = Grass is the common wisdom.

But wisdom is rarely common, and what’s common is rarely wise.

Here’s what I can tell you, though. And it’s not just me, every accomplished barefoot runner I know will say the same thing. And all the other good coaches I know agree.

In fact, what I’m about to say is SO true, that if you meet a coach who tells you otherwise, RUN AWAY (barefoot or not, I don’t care) from this person as quickly as you can, because they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Here it is:

THE WORST SURFACE for learning to run barefoot is GRASS.




Three big reasons:

  1. BIG: Who knows what’s hiding in the grass. If you can’t see it, you might step on it.
  2. BIGGER: One of the principles of barefoot running is that you don’t use cushioning in your shoes… well, when you run on grass, you’ve basically taken the cushioning out of your shoes and put it into the ground.
  3. BIGGEST: Running on grass, or any soft surface does not give you the feedback you need about your barefoot running form to help you change and improve your form.

The best surface for barefoot running is NOT grass or sand or anything soft, but the smoothest and hardest surface you can find.

For me, here in Boulder, Colorado, we have miles and miles of bike path.

In New York City, the sidewalks are perfect!

So, what makes a hard, smooth surface the best? It’s the biggest reason, from above:


Grass and sand and soft surfaces are too forgiving of bad form.

Hard smooth surfaces tell you, with every step, whether you’re using the right form.

If it hurts, you’re not.

If you end up with blisters, you didn’t.

Pay close attention and each step is giving you information about how to run lighter, easier, faster, longer.

I’ll never forget going out on the University of Colorado sidewalks with the Boulder Barefoot Running Club. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot (more about that in another lesson). But I decided to see if I could run in such a way that I didn’t hurt .

At first, each step sent a shooting pain up my leg. Then I made some adjustments and I just felt the friction on the ball of my foot.

By the end of the first mile, I had made some other adjustments — using each step as an experiment — and the next thing I knew I was picking up the pace while putting out less energy than ever. I was running faster and easier than I’d ever run without shoes… and it was painless.

This would have never happened on grass.

I needed the feedback of the hard surface.

If you want to see a barefoot runner get a wistful look in his or her eye, mention a newly painted white line on the side of a road. Smooth, solid, cool… it’s the best! 😉

Oh, and it’s probably no surprise that the advantage of Xero Shoes is that when you wear those on the road, they still give you that feedback you need… but with protection from the surface.

100 thoughts on “What’s the WORST surface for running barefoot?

  1. Running barefoot on surfaces like streets and sidewalks is exhilarating. My feet have never been exposed to such surfaces and the feedback is fantastic.

    My favorite surface to run on? The raised bumps at the entrance to each sidewalk. My feet are forced to relax and it’s not unlike a quick foot massage.

  2. My first couple of runs were in our neighborhood. It’s paved, but not very well. But my default running location is in a park with a paved running path. Surprisingly, it is not that smooth! But I think in the end it is helping me by forcing good form and toughening my feet more than even a sidewalk would!

    It’s surprising how the first reaction by many people to someone who says they run barefoot is, “OMG, what about the rocks?!?!? The glass?!?!? It’s as if barefoot running is some sort of ultra-extreme sport! 🙂

  3. I am new to barefoot running and haven’t done much mileage on hard surface yet – still building up to it but I LOVE running barefoot on hiking trails.

  4. Sidewalks are like butter to my bare feet. Those who don’t barefoot can’t believe it, but it’s so true!

    (Unfortunately, Arizona summer is almost upon us, with temps making sidewalks and asphalt too hot to the foot. But hey, that’s where the invisibleshoe huaraches come in!)

  5. I love trail running barefoot as there are so many different types of terrain and sensations for your feet to experience. Plus there is something very spiritual about running barefoot in the forest.

  6. I saw a guy on t.v. He was talking about barefoot running. I thought this guy has no clue what he is talking about. He must be jumping on the barefoot running scene because he wants to be unique or something….. I was thinking he should research the Taraumara ( who happen to be my ancestral people) They run barefoot or with a simple huarache. Then he talked about his inspiration …THE TARAUMARA ! I was so happy to see that this guy was genuine and had a good understanding of barefoot running and how natural it truly is. Keep up the good work ..all of you…PEACE. “shoes are cages for a sophisticated appendages”

  7. Yeah, I’m such a rebel, running down the street that is full of (gasp) glass!

    (at least my wife thinks so; she’s convinced I’m nuts. I know it feels fine to my feets)

  8. I totally agree that running on the sidewalk feels “like butter”. Running has become so much fun barefoot because your whole body just tingles with sensory input from your soles to the top of your head. I usually go out early in my neighborhood before the sun’s up, but last Sunday I slept in a little and didn’t want to let that spoil my fun. Turns out there’s a LOT of people walking around at 8 am on weekends! When I got home, I told my horrified wife, “Well, cat’s outta the bag…a lot of our neighbors saw me out there today.” Oh well, I’ll gladly be the kooky barefoot guy of the ‘hood.

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vca1QGVAshM


    The official video of ROME Marathon (1960), in which Abebe Bikila run barefoot and won in 2h15′; all the other runners run shod on simple flat running shoes.
    After 50 years we all agree that he was right.


  10. Was man really made to run barefoot on sidewalks?
    Do the Taramuhara run barefoot or on tire-sandals which would provide much more protection.
    The book- Born to Run- speaks of Caballo Blanco running in Tevas.

    1. I think we are equipped to run barefoot on any surface… some ground is pretty hard packed, rocks are hard, sand is giving but abrasive. The Tarahumara seem to do both barefoot and tire-huarachas. Suffice it to say there are a lot of people who’ve done a lot of miles on hard man-made surfaces without a problem.

      That said, I’m not suggesting barefoot is the only way to be, especially on man-made surfaces in industrial cities. There’s a time and a place for barefoot and a time and a place for footwear of varying kinds.

  11. I would venture to say that modern day
    indiginous people have thicker foot pads
    than us multigeneration of shoe wearers

    1. John,

      So, do you think the infants in these indigenous populations are born with thicker foot pads?

      If not, then they’re developed over time with use.

      And if they don’t develop forever (that is, if there’s a maximum thickness for the skin/pads), then there’s no reason why someone who is not part of that population couldn’t put in the time/work to develop theirs.

      Also, for the kind of running we’re doing, we may not need pads as thick as the people you’re thinking of.

      Just thinkin’ out loud…

  12. I am a long time runner with running shoes. I have in the last few months started to run barefoot on the beach (South Florida). I have always suggested strengthening the feet by walking bare on soft surfaces or on a BOSU. When my Huaraches arrive I will definitely start my program to become a barefoot runner. All of my reading seems to indicate that barefoot is the way to go.

  13. love barefoot running…however have to build up your foot pad. Initially i ran 1.5 miles on ashphalt and had some tender spots to recover from before I could run again. Using aqua socks for now until i get my huaraches:-) Otherwise, do barefoot on dirt trails.

  14. I love hard-packed mud, which can be difficult to find. When I do stumble across it however, it provides the hardness of asphalt while also being wonderfully smooth.

  15. I completely agree. I lead a marathon pace group and just completed my first marathon in vibrams (I will be soon making the conversion to huaraches). Most of the training I did was on bike path, which is a combination of concrete and gravel. The gravel is nice, because it is kind of like a foot massage, and the bike path definitely tells you if your form is correct. Plus, if your ankle strength is lacking, running on softer surfaces may make rolling an ankle more possible.

  16. good to know…i have been running in hauraches for about a week now and totaled up about 20 miles on concrete in them. the first 8 or so were painful, and i tried alternating concrete and grass. but i began to feel out how i should take each step, and now i very much enjoy running on a sidewalk or concrete running track.

  17. John said…

    Was man really made to run barefoot on sidewalks?
    Do the Taramuhara run barefoot or on tire-sandals which would provide much more protection.
    The book- Born to Run- speaks of Caballo Blanco running in Tevas.

    Definitely smooth cement for me. Thanks for every ones input. If you still don’t believe man has evolved to run on many different surfaces including hard ones like cement, then I suggest you try it out and listen to your feet. Regurgitating propaganda from shoe companies advertisements is why people are so against barefooting in the first place. Once you try what this post is about: “what is you favorite surface to run barefooted style on?”, then your comments will be relevant.

    Thanks again Steven

  18. “What is your* favorite surface to run barefooted style on?”

  19. I love running barefoot but I actually love running on the grass. It feels so good, like a massage on the foot. Not a fan of asphalt with or without shoes. That being said I do believe that learning to running with correct bio-mechanics is probably more important. In fact if you can run with efficient bio-mechanics and you have shoes or spikes you will run faster than without. Look at track records, look at marathon records all with shoes. When speed is a factor I think shoes are game changers.

    I know this is a barefoot running community so don’t hate me for saying this. Here is something to consider.

    What are your goals?

    Every runner has a different goal and reasons why they run. I know for me barefoot running, VFF, or running in huaraches is for fun exploratory runs but when I am racing and seriously training, I will opt for my racing flats or spikes. You have more traction, more protection, and run faster.

    What are your thoughts?


  20. I can sure tell you where the worst surface to run on-Gravel! We have a beautiful trail near Alameda creek that goes all the way to San Francisco Bay. 13 miles of black top on one side and 13 miles of gravel on the other. When I first started my barefoot adventure in October, I found out quickly that gravel does not work because it hurts like hell on your pads. Gravel is not natural. It’s made with crush rocks. If you run a trail in the back country, it will either be dirt, sand, rocks, or a combination of all. I find that much easier to run on than gravel.

    This morning, I ran with my huaraches on the gravel side of Alameda creek. Just like Steven says, these huaraches are not much different than running barefoot. Ouch! I lasted about 10 minutes and headed for the streets. How about some thicker Vibram Steven? We could have some invisible trail shoes and invisible street shoes.

    Stay off the gravel!

    When I run barefoot on the street, I often carry my huaraches as a “back up” or escape plan. You never know when and if your pads will start to burn. What if half way through a run, you decide that you want to go longer? See what I mean? Besides being invisible, they are also almost weightless.

  21. Hi Mark.

    Depends on the gravel. Some is great. Some is, well, not.

    And, yes, we’ve got what you’re looking for on the way (more details soon).

  22. So the question is what is the best surface … well “hard” is a vague answer. I like the smooth asphalt in residential areas of Vancouver, BC that cars drive on (sharing with cars suck … but c’est la vie). I’m not a big fan of sidewalks as there are indentations of slabs and I spend to much focus of not running into it.
    “Smooth asphalt” is my answer

    1. Smooth asphalt is splendid (don’t even get me started on how nice it is to run on a newly painted line on the side of a road)

      Here in Boulder, Colorado, the Boulder Creek Path or the sidewalks around the university aren’t asphalt, but they’re really smooth, well maintained, and divine for barefoot running.

  23. Around home I practiced walking barefoot or with flat shoes before I went to running, and even tried to keep a mid- to for-foot strike like I was running, which became easier than heal striking after a while. I started running in flat shoes first, before getting my huaraches, and, as with most, I ran too far, and got tight calves. Then I tried walking/running barefoot, thinking I would do that occasionally to work on form, and I found I liked it better than any kind of shoes or sandals. Second to that I like the huaraches. I would alternate between walking and a little running, hoping to build up from there. I still overdid it, so I decided to kill 2 or 3 birds with one stone by going on rough/pebbly surfaces – the idea being that the rough surface would force me to set my feet down more carefully, helping with form, second, when my feet have had enough, that’s time to quit, and finally, of course, to toughen them some. I found later that cobbled stones and other uneven surfaces help because of the added sensory input.

  24. I thought it would be a good idea to run on rough surfaces because, even on sandy surfaces one occasionally finds a surprise, while running in grass, at least around here, there are a lot of acorn shells, so I want to be prepared. I also carry my huaraches in case I need them. Or for walking around, if I’m not walking barefoot.

  25. I have run up to 1/2 mile on a smooth sidewalk. Every time I do that my ankles and top of my feet get swollen and I have to go back to running with shoes. However I can run on grass without any problems and enjoy it. My running shoes have almost no padding and I am no heel striker. My usual runs are on paved streets with rolling hill segments. When I run barefoot I land mostly on forefoot and have almost no heel contact which is quite unlike the way I usually run in shoes. I know I am doing something fundamentally wrong.

    1. Amir… the difference between “almost no padding” and “no padding” is night and day. And there’s no problem with letting your heels contact the ground if you land mid- or forefoot. It’s tricky to diagnose movement from an email, but my guess is that you’re not “placing/lifting” your feet under your center of mass. Imagine that, as you run, you’re trying to sneak up on a deer… or trying to run over thin glass that you don’t want to break. These mental cues might help you find a lighter, easier stride. Oh… or you could simply wonder: “How can I make this feel lighter and easier?” and see what changes to your stride result in that effect.

  26. these huaraches have made me the king of the jungle here in thick bushy hilly woods of the northeast. i can grip really well on fallen tree logs and creekbed rocks/pebbles.
    but it’s cumbersome to sprint thru the forest…
    i am looking for a good natural barefoot long-distance running surface in the wilderness (which rules out asphalt, soccer fields even trails)
    what surface do u recommend- the beach, prairie, rocky mountains?

    1. Well, I’ve been on and enjoyed all of those surfaces, so I recommend ALL of them 😉

  27. Thick layers of soft pine needles! When I run through deciduous wooded trails that periodically change over to pine tree habitat I am in instant heaven. (The downside is pine cones and roots of course but treading with care is all that is needed.)
    Conversely, the worst surface that I find myself mincing my way through lies beneath oak trees in the fall. Killer acorns. Lots of bruises.

  28. In case anyone is attempting sand/beach running, I wanted to post a direct email reply Steven (Founder of this website) gave me after I asked about running on the beach/sand. Thanks for such a quick and thorough reply Steven (my Invisible Shoe order will be coming soon!)…

    Hi Kavih,

    Let me answer your questions… below

    1) Is sand/beach running recommended or frowned upon?

    Neither. It’s a fine surface to run on, just like concrete, trails, streets, and any other surface. It’s just that each surface has different characteristics and will require different adjustments in form and conditioning.

    Sand is, obviously, abrasive, in a way that concrete isn’t. Sand, obviously, absorbs shock in a way that concrete doesn’t.

    You may want to check out the article I wrote at http://www.invisibleshoe.com/297/surfaces/

    2) Does it matter whether it is soft or hard-packed sand to run on? (I have a theory that soft sand is worse than hard…)

    I agree with your theory. 😉

    3) Have you or those you know experienced long barefoot runs on sand/beach and did you/they experience pain after the run (is what I’m experiencing expected)?

    Again, you’re running on a highly abrasive surface, and you have to use more energy to overcome the amount of shock absorption in the sand. That said, over time, you can acclimate to almost anything.

    BTW, you mentioned that you were trying to stay off your heels. There’s no need to do that. You don’t want to LAND on your heels, but trying to stay off of them is unnatural and takes a lot of extra energy. Aim for relaxing as much as you can and you’ll see that your heel probably drops and lightly touches the ground before you lift your foot off the ground.

    4) Would Huaraches Sandles help?

    Well, they’ll add a layer of protection… but like any sandal, it’s not possible to keep sand from getting in between your foot and the sole. I know people wear Invisible Shoes on every surface known to man, and I wear mine for everything… but I can’t tell you either way whether they’ll help you. That depends as much on your form and your mileage as it does on the shoes.

    5) For a beginner barefoot runner, should I start off with trails/street as opposed to sand/beach?

    See the post I mentioned, above. (the answer is Yes)


  29. I run barefoot on a seldom used aircraft taxiway at work. People I work with think I’m nuts, but I truely believe they are secretly jealous.

  30. The worst surface for bare feet is concrete swimming pools 🙂 I’d always wear a spot through on each of my toes, pushing off from the edge (ouch !)

    But seriously…. I am stunningly overweight, and unfit and NO I don’t run. My poor knees….

    But walking barefoot has been a revelation in terms of using all those sensory nerve endings in the feet to really come into contact with the ground and really be in touch with the way my ankles, knees and hips are reacting to the way my feet are striking the ground. I am looking forward to being fit enough to run 🙂 You guys are an inspiration to me 🙂

  31. I love smooth asphalt to make me feel like flying, rough asphalt to teach me to soften and silence my stride, grass, sand and mud for the myriads of sensations on my feet.

    And I do appreciate my bare feet for not hurting themselves when something sharp pops up underneath them. My conscious brain would be far too late to prevent the harm if they had to instruct my feet first.

  32. I have run more than 1,100 miles barefoot in the last two years on asphalt and sidewalk. I just finished the Tom King half marathon in Nashville, Tennessee. I came in first in my age group (65+). It was my second fastest half out of four. The other three I ran in shoes.

  33. I have never really run barefoot, but I have done some miles in Invisible Shoes and here’s what I’ve found.

    Running on pavement/asphalt gives you the most blisters and is the hardest on your feet. However, it does also give you great control of your movements, and it freaks people out to see you running down the streets of Los Angeles in sandals at midnight.

    Running on trails in Invisible Shoes is not very painful at all, and also gives you great feedback from the ground. Depending on the quality of the trail, you may have some slippage. Trails with similar consistencies to decomposed granite cause some slippage if you’re going fast downhill, but otherwise trails are great.

    Now, as for grass, there are pros and cons. In the past, I’ve found running on grass slows me down. That was back when I ran in conventional running shoes. Anyone who’s run an XC race on mixed terrain will tell you that the grass portions are the parts where you most wanted to slow your pace. Grass is too bouncy in conventional shoes, and gives you really poor feedback because of all cushioning in your shoes + the natural softness of the ground. HOWEVER, in Invisible Shoes, running on the grass is a completely different experience. Because of the lack of cushioning in Invisible Shoes, the softness of the grass acts as the perfect amount of cushioning, resulting in little to no pain from running in sandals. I can run fast as a MOFO on grass when I wear my Invisible Shoes, and it doesn’t hurt at all. However, it is also important to point out that running on wet grass completely soaks your feet and causes major slippage and instability.
    During my XC years, the coaches would tell us, if we’re beginning to get injuries, we should take off our shoes and jog a couple miles on the inside of the track, which was the outer rim of the turf football field. This barefoot experience allows for good form, no heel-striking, muscle use, and cushioning for joints, and allows any runner to recover and restrengthen their legs from injuries due to overuse. Even among the shoe-wearers, there is this knowledge that barefoot running is beneficial on soft surfaces.

    In conclusion, when running in Invisible Shoes, natural surfaces (dirt trails, grass) work best by eliminating stress and pressure on feet. As for running fast, it would be difficult to determine, but I’d say pavement probably still has a significant edge over grass because of the better grip. For working on a good, steady pace, dirt trails probably work best. Ultimately, I believe it is good to run on different terrains to allow our bodies to adapt and strengthen itself in different ways, and especially if you live in a city, its hard to find trails that don’t cross over into urban areas. My advice is to keep running on what feels good, and when in doubt, SLOW DOWN, run on soft terrain, work on your form, but DON’T STOP. Go as slow as you want, but don’t ever stop.

  34. Having gone barefoot for months on some lava based islands, I would have to say that was the best surface ever for toughening up one’s feet and learning to tread lightly and carefully (and it wasn’t Hawaii, it was on the equator). I doubt that the Copper Canyon runs include many sidewalks either. Good old Mother Nature is still the best surface.

  35. When I first started my transition natural style I ran the first short distances (less than half a mile) barefoot on the well worn roads of the New England town where I live. I was surprised to find that, once I got passed the tickle sensation, that my feet didn’t get all torn up. That was in the fall and the roads got cold and full of debris, so I started wearing some minimal protection, but every run ended with about a mile of barefoot. I found out that my feet were fine until the temps got below 30 degrees F. That bit of barefoot helped me really tune my form and I still go back to it on a regular basis to remind myself.

    Steve, these are great articles!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Jerry.

      Speaking of cold, check out http://www.xeroshoes.com/cold

  36. I have two choices where I live: chip-and-seal or coarse gravel. I have not managed to get comfortable running on either of those surfaces completely barefoot. I run 30 miles a week and cycle 70 miles a week as my daily commute to and from work, so I need to be able to get back out there the next day; I can’t afford to have blistered or cut up feet. My contact xeroshoes fit the bill. I cycle in them part way to work and run the rest without having to carry extra shoes or change footwear. I wear them all day at work too; they are super comfortable…
    When winter comes, I will have to scale up my cycling shoes for protection from cold, but the xeroshoes will ride lightly in my backpack, ready for the run. Couldn’t ask for more convenience, cost effectiveness or a more comfortable run.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t call either of those surfaces “smooth” 😉

  37. I agree completely that a smooth hard surface is best for learning your natural run and building your strength to avoid injury. I took this advice while learning too. After being fully acclimated though, I wouldn’t shy away from grass. Almost nothing feels better than running through a field of grass with bare feet. It’s an awesome experience 🙂

    1. i’d be scared of potential needles or something a bit dangerous like that just laying there.. hard to see everything on the grass

  38. The information in this article is great, except that two statements are totally contradictory. In the “Biggest Reason” statement, smooth surfaces are indicated to be the worst for failing to give feedback through the feet. In the very next statement, smooth surfaces are said to be the “best” for barefoot running. I love and practice barefoot walking, but these two statements can be very confusing for the newbies to barefoot practice. Otherwise, all these articles are such good information when beginning or continuing the barefoot lifestyle.

    1. You’re right to point out that contradictory word. I think it’s pretty clear from the context (the point of the article being an argument in favor of hard surfaces, rather than soft surfaces like grass) that this is an error in the text, and that the “BIGGEST” line should read “Running on grass, or any smooth soft surface…” Steven should correct this article ASAP to avoid confusion.

      1. Consider it corrected 😉

  39. Interesting blog, but I have problems with this statement, “By the end of the first mile,” The worst thing you can do is to over do it when transitioning to minimal or barefoot running. Running a mile or more the first time out is just inviting trouble. If you are a runner, the best way to transition to minimal is to throw in a 1/4 mile barefoot jog with your regular run. The next week increase to 1/2 mile and so on. SLOWLY!

    1. If you read the other posts on this site about transitioning (like https://xeroshoes.com/barefoot-running-tips/how-to-run-barefoot/ ), they recommend even less than what you’re suggesting… this post was simply reporting my experience/experiment

  40. Grass is not bad. Just tricky, because of honeybees and thistles.
    When I walk barefoot what I like most is the variety. Hard/soft, rough/smooth, grippy/slippery. I adjust my step to it and use the tactile feedback of my soles (something I wouldn’t have even with ‘minimal’ shoes).

    I recommend running and walking on a (clean) sandy beach because it is actually a wonderful muscle training.

    Happily doing my 5000 barefoot steps per day (on average), year-round ….

  41. Hey, Day 6 of BF and so far so good. April in Wisconsin and after 51 years in shoes I am trying take it easy. Calves and pads sore which I expected. I know it’s a long haul but my heels already feel better. What would you folks recommend for technique and fitness for 51 YO in his first week BF. I dream of running again but don’t want an early setback. Good to know I am not the only weirdo out there!

    1. Hello, fellow weirdo! 😉

      Soreness is a sign to DO LESS, build up more SLOWLY.

      Take a look at the articles listed in the “Discover Your Feet” section (see the menu near the top of this page) for some more suggestions.

  42. I have ceramic tile in my kitchen, and I stand for hours at a time because I run a cooking business. Should I be standing on it barefoot, or with Xero footwear, or with something more comfortable like Crocs?

    1. First, Xeros are about as close to barefoot as you’ll find… they’re like adding a 4-6mm sheet of rubber between you and the tile.

      Secondly, we’ve had a number of employees who were shocked to discover they could stand up on concrete trade show floors all day without a problem.

      What allows that? Well, when you let your feet work naturally, they’re constantly making small movements to balance you… that’s their job. If you don’t let them do their job, then the balancing function *tries* to move “upstream” into your ankles, knees, hips, and back… which aren’t designed for that purpose.

      So, IMHO, I’d experiment with bare/Xero. You may need to build up the amount of time you can do this way, in the same way that you get stronger by systematically adding weight in the gym. In other words, let your body be your coach, not your idea of what you should/shouldn’t do.

      That help?

      1. Steve, you are my Guru. When I need inspiration, I come to this site or watch Goshen’s DVD. I enjoy explaining the benefits to everyone who is interested. Even the naysayers that try to quote non running medical professionals. I ask: What did you wear as a kid in the 50-60’s? Early track shoes were like barefoot, except they had hardened spikes to grip the cinder tracks. How many young runners have had this experience? Early running shoes had no cushioning or inserts. There is so much unproven “science” out there. I do hear from people who have tried the super cushioned shoes with poor results.
        My education on this subject continues to grow with use and reading. Minimalist first 6-7 years ago, ignored the shoe type vs foot shape over 25 years ago. Barefoot and Xero shoes for the last ~ 3 years?

        1. Very kind of you to say.

          BTW, your response to the nay-sayers is spot on. Up until 45 years ago ALL running shoes were minimalist, and injury rates have not gone down since that’s changed. More, in the early 70’s, medical professionals were advising against using padded, motion-controlled running shoes AND against running at all! So, their story has changed for no good reason.

          Finally, running shoes are a multi-BILLION dollar industry. If one running shoe company could make a product that was DEMONSTRABLY better than another, that would be worth many hundreds of millions of dollars… so… why haven’t they been able to do so? 😉

          1. My feelings exactly. It is about the $’s whether you are a manufacturer or a medical professional. Orthotics and new shoe crazes by-pass the age old knowledge of how we were made by God. We were made and born to run! 🙂

  43. I don’t have a recommendation, really. All of our sandals will be similar to being barefoot but with a bit of protection. The 4mm kit will be the lightest weight. The Cloud adds a bit of cushioning/comfort. The Z-Trek has a more familiar sandal-lacing pattern. It’s up to you.

    If you find the need to “build up” wear whatever you’re comfortable in for the rest of the time.

    Again, listen to your body: a bit of “I did a workout” soreness is okay. Any “Oh! That was a problem” means you should back off 😉

  44. I have been BF now for about 1 1/2 weeks. I walk my dog in the boatyard which is a smooth hard sandy/dusty ground littered with coarse gravel. I have been surprised that I no longer have to pick my way through the stones but can comfortably walk over them. My foot seems to distribute my body weight to away from the sharp rocks to other parts of my sole. I am still afraid though of running here. I run on smooth hard surfaces or sand. Is it possible to eventually run even on a stone littered surface?

    1. Depends on the stones… but I’ve found that my feet have gotten more flexible and responsive and that surfaces which used to be impossible to handle are effortless now. Keep going!

      1. Thank you for the encouragement! I have also noticed this. I ran even on a road surface that had lost its top layer a few days ago quite successfully, and that same road had been too much for me in thin sneakers before. Hard to believe but true!

    2. I took off my zmuras after running ~5 miles and ran totally barefoot. I put them back on when the asphalt was so pitted it was no longer comfortable. I have just been increasing my mileage with Zero shoes and I can’t believe much of the feedback is based on shoe company and Podiatrist malarkey. I love running barefoot and I am turning 70 shortly.

      1. yes! I love running barefoot now! My Xero’s keep me from picking up thorns, but barefoot is wonderful. I use the shoes where needed and for shopping trips etc where shoes are required. My feet, and back, have never felt better.

        1. I found myself running on 2 miles of pitted asphalt road when I tore my invisible should when yanking on the string to adjust it. I just took both off and ran without. Feet are a little tender tonight but no injuries and I know I am on the way to better callous. Coincidently I had ordered another pair which should be here soon to build another pair. I use the 4mm soles to really feel and conditional the foot.

  45. Worst place to run barefoot is Phoenix Az in the summer.he temperature can easily reach 110 degrees, the concrete is hot, and I do not venture to guess the street temperature. The sidewalks present a different problem. To save water, many people have gravel lawns. Many use cut granite, rather than stones. The cut granite has sharp edges making it super difficult to run on. I find cut granite over concrete sidewalks is like walking on nails.

    1. That’s definitely among the top “worst surfaces” I can think of 😉

  46. I don’t think there is a worst surface for barefoot running 🙂

    I have found that varying the surfaces has been the best choice for me, once I developed good running form, as the variety appears to strengthen my feet and runs have become more invigorating, in my opinion.

    My experience has been that gravel is the best surface for feeling the ground and improving form and learning to land gently.

    I went for a run in Z-TREKS today in an open field with 3 – 5 foot high grass/weeds and a very hard/uneven ground surface of rocks, pebbles and weeds and I was able to navigate the challenge without hurting my feet and my feet felt amazing afterwards.

    I think too much of the same surface is so repetitive that it could cause overuse injuries, but switching up different surfaces is amazing.

    I try to navigate over gravel, grass, dirt, pavement and sidewalks on my daily runs and the variety has been great over the past few years. I feel much safer in Xeros than in regular running shoes, as I kept spraining my ankle with those padded shoes 🙂 (I stopped running shoes about 9 months ago), but not with Xeros, Vibrams, or barefoot…much better control and much safer on the ankles.

    Just my two cents,

  47. I first tried the “run until it hurts then stop and start again” in (old) running shoes (carrying a heavy pack on the way to work since at present this the only “time” I have), and my joints were not happy after a while. So then I tried walking at a good pace in running shoes (carrying a heavy pack on the way to work), and my joints again were not happy after a while. Then I tried walking barefoot from the subway (2 blocks on pavement). My joints got even less happy, quite quickly!, and I would get almost a blister under my right pinkie toe and I would have to ice, mostly the right foot.

    Okay so my form stinks despite the fact that I’m landing on the balls of my feet.

    I love the info on this website and next time I try, I’ll only go 200 yards (which is about 2 streetlights, correct?)

    I am now trying to engage my glutes when I walk through the day. (Does anyone else feel strange doing this?)

    I’m not quite sure when to try barefoot again. When I sat down at my computer chair, my right knee gave a brief “Aaak”, but most of the time I don’t feel pain. Any thoughts?

    1. Okay, let’s see… First, don’t try to make changes while wearing a heavy pack. That’ll alter your gait in ways you don’t want.

      Second, regarding blisters, see: http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister … blisters will come from either overstriding (creating friction) or “scraping” your feet off the ground rather than lifting.

      (I’d have to see a pic of the blister location to give you a more specific diagnosis for that.)

      Next, think of “glute walking” as practice to see what it’s like to relax your swinging leg and letting the foot place itself naturally under your center of mass (or close to it) rather than reaching out with your swinging leg. Once you get that feel, relax.

      In fact, “RELAX” is the most important thing to think about and try 😉

      And, yes, 200 yards is about 2 street lights.

      Try again when you feel inspired, curious, rested, and ready to have fun.

      Remember that LEARNING happens in the RESTING periods between short bouts of experimenting.

      1. Thank you, very helpful tips!

        After I posted, I went out and got groceries in my bundle buggy and discovered my left knee is still crabbing when walking so I’ll wait a while. I did however practice walking with my glutes (wearing Five Fingers) and am amazed at how it changes my posture/stride, (my torso straightens and my feet land under my body), very cool.

        This reminds me of when I began using Five Finger shoes a few years ago and my form was even worse than it is now and my feet protested. I had to go back to wearing them one day a week, but I built up. I can see I need to do that again.
        Thank you for the idea that learning also happens while resting. I got incredibly motivated and impatient recently after reading one of Ruth Heidrich’s books where she went out running, and never looked back – I think she’s 80 this year and still running races. She apparently is a “natural” at form!

        I’ll try leaving a picture… It failed to upload. The problem spot is about half an inch below the pinkie toe and it’s on the bottom on the outside edge where the foot starts curving upwards, if that helps. But I’ve a feeling the glute walking is the key for me

        Aside: there’s a store up the street selling Zero shoes (thank you for putting locations on your website!). I’ve been getting so frustrated clomping around in my sandals that have heels. I look forward to trying Zeros.

  48. Either go barefoot or at least wear racing flats. Reason being, if you wear minimal shoes you gain nothing from both worlds – no cushioning and no feedback. It’s a dangerous place to be, I’ve been there and had a stress fracture but since going totally barefoot, no problems and fitter than ever.

    Even 1mm of rubber under your feet will block feedback enough. Only wear minimal shoes when you really have to.

    1. Better than racing flats, Xero Shoes! 😉

      BTW, the effect of 1mm of material between you and the ground depends on the material. The more flexible, the better.

      We did some preliminary testing with the former head of biomechanics from the US Olympic Committee and found that people in our 4 and 6mm soles had the same biomechanics as when they were barefoot.

      1. Running with anything between your soles and the ground is like a butterfly effect that magnifies bigger and bigger with each mile you run in each day, week, month and year. You cannot observe this, it must be felt and only the runner can feel themselves running.

        If you don’t run barefoot you won’t know how to do it, only how you think you should do it. When it’s time to wear Xero shoes you need to rely on neurological bio-mechanical memory patterns installed from running miles and miles barefoot.

        Like you said in the article – learning how to run gently is all about feedback and blocking that built in sensory feedback leaves you guessing more than you should be.

        It’s like learning how to walk from A to B with a blindfold, it’s going to be a lot easier if you do it enough times using your eyes first.

        1. While I agree, and write, that barefoot is best… and that Xero Shoes are about as close as you can get EXCEPT that you’re always stepping on rubber rather than the varied surfaces of the ground … the research we did on novice runners showed that the lack of padding and flexibility of our FeelTrue soles was enough to get them to naturally switch to the same form they used when running barefoot.

          Another factor: with nothing impinging on the upper surface of the toes, Xeros don’t give you feedback that restricts dorsiflexion.

          Again, I agree that barefoot is best… we’re here for when it’s not the best choice 😉

  49. I have found a new worst surface to run on, acorns on asphalt!!! I had run cross country as a sophomore in 1962 and we all decided to go barefoot on a golf course. Wouldn’t you know it, there was a section filled with acorns. Ouch! But these acorns were on grass. Those little buggers are so much worse on asphalt, even with my Amura Z’s!!!

    1. People often think that grass is the perfect surface, forgetting that little bombs can hide in it (acorns, poo, rocks…)

      1. Agreed. Grass has too many hidden dangers. It’s like running on leaves on a root and rock path. You never know what is waiting. Roads right now are my favorite, except for the badly pitted asphalt. My tootsies are getting colder now. Air temp is 41. I will be wear socks with sandals soon.

  50. Great article!

  51. Nice article! I agree about the part about grass being the worst surface, but according the legendary barefoot Ken Bob (for those who don’t know, he has run 70+ marathons barefoot and is the author of “Barefoot Running: Step by Step), even better than a smooth hard surface is a *rugged* hard surface. In his book, he says gravel is the best teacher because you really need to run as gentle as possible otherwise it will really hurt! It teaches you to run with the least impact. Curious as to what you think about that, Stephen.

    1. Gravel will teach you a LOT… but you need the right kind of gravel ;-). You don’t want something so big and pointy that it’s simply too painful to learn on, and you don’t want something so smooth and loose that you slip.

      One thing I can tell you about gravel: stuff that HURT when I first began running barefoot is now no big deal, and sometimes even fun. It’s not because I got thick callouses (which barefooters don’t have), but because my feet became more flexible and I became lighter on my feet and more responsive.

  52. I’m new to this. Can I learn to barefoot-run on a treadmill?

    1. Absolutely. But you may find that when you go outside, your gait changes a bit and you’ll have to adjust a little.

    2. They can be very dirty so be prepared to wash the feet. I have run on a rubberized outdoor track totally barefoot. Last time… I will wear my Z’s instead so I don’t need to take several days to wash out the black residue. The wife made me wear socks. I would suggest you will find the same on the treadmill, not as bad. I would rather run on asphalt, at least the rain washes it off. 🙂

  53. My experience with barefoot running…When I was younger I was pretty fit. Played lots of squash, cricket and soccer with no problems. But, when it came to running long distance I just couldn’t do it! Literally after less than 200m I would get a burning feeling in my shins and just feel soooo tired. I thought “Jeez, these other guys most be so fit. What’s wrong with me?”. So basically I always avoided running. Then one day I just decided to run barefoot. Wow! I felt so fresh and light. My girlfriend was on her bike and I was following alongside. 1km later still feeling fresh. 2km, 3km…what? I feel like I could run forever! Now I understand why people ENJOY running. In terms of surfaces, smooth tarmac feels delicious underfoot. I live in South Africa now. Lots of nice roads in my area but the only trouble is a plant called Devil’s Thorn. It leaves these little round spiky things everywhere. That’s where the Xero shoes save the day!

  54. How well does the Xero work for feet with high arches?

  55. Please point me to the info about why you got the blister. I walked on sidewalk barefoot, foot pains went away, but got a very large blood blister on the ball of my right foot. Thank you

    1. Hi Jamie… that info is at http://www.xeroshoes.com/blister. My FAVORITE thing is a problem that’s only on one side… because it means the OTHER side already knows how to do things correctly! 😉

  56. Hi, I am going to buy Xero Shoes for Kazbegi-Marathon, which is held in Georgia Mountains in September 4th. I hope my choosing will be right.

  57. I’ve ran barefoot all of my 20 years of living, mostly due to having clubbed feet that always end up ripping the sides of my shoes, especially vibram fivetoes (no idea why they market them as “fivefingers”) no matter if I strike heel-first or strike with my forefoot. A forefoot strike is the way I learned to run, and feels most natural to me due to having tightened achilles tendons until I had a corrective surgery at age 9.
    So far, the absolute worst injury I’ve received from running barefoot was from extremely hot alluvium (soil composed of fine silt and Georgia red clay) that had rocks strewn in it. The rocks did most of the damage, but the soil’s give and heat created blisters almost instantly for the rocks to tear into. Barefoot running on hot concrete, asphalt, or cement (I’ve even ran barefoot on the sidewalks of Yangzhou, China) has never caused my feet to blister anywhere near the amount hot soil does.
    I give this article my footprint of approval, although in my opinion if you’re just giving up shoes; dry, stiff soil with grass (preferably slightly browning grass so you know of certain the soil is stiff) is a great material to learn from and ignore, when need be, the haptic feedback you’ll be receiving. Be bare & be aware!

  58. I walk a lot barefoot in the mountains on rocky surfaces since I was young. That is very good and when it was too difficult when I descended, I wore the Amuri Trek this year. It is perfect. I am happy that I discovered them. I wore allready Vibram fivefingers, but in summer they are too hot on my feet.

  59. Just went for my first walk in my zero sandals. You mentioned getting a blister in this post and a search brought me to this. I can tell I’m getting a blister on the ball of my right foot. Can you tell me how to correct that?

  60. Run like a Rarámuri.

  61. I don’t quite I’d agree that grass is the “worst” surface for barefoot running, maybe second worse. I went barefoot for about a year when I first entered college. And now I am living out in the country, where I go barefoot pretty much all the time unless I am using a chainsaw to cut up a tree. I’d say loose gravel or soil with gravel in it is the worst surface for barefoot running. Grass sucks too. Where I live, the grass isn’t exactly that soft. There are sometimes patches of something similar to sandbur, which sucks to run on. And the grass shoots that have been cut are sometimes as thick and stiff as small sticks. Stepping on a stick sticking out of the ground isn’t much fun either. But you tend to figure out how to go barefoot in whatever area you are in, as long as you keep going barefoot. Or wear Xeroshoes, those help.

  62. Totally agree with one exception. Wet sand by the shore or on the ebb tide. You get hard flat surface and you get a pressure outline of the foot which is fun as a poor mans pressure plate!!!

  63. “If you want to see a barefoot runner get a wistful look in his or her eye, mention a newly painted white line on the side of a road. Smooth, solid, cool… it’s the best!”

    Smooth, solid, cool and dangerously slippery when wet. If you’re a fan of professional cycling (Tour de France, etc.), you’ve probably seen riders go down in spectacular crashes that began when a tire came in contact with fresh–usually wet–road paint. Those tires are not unlike Xeroshoes’ soles or the leather-like soles of my bare feet. https://www.reddit.com/r/videos/comments/4wm539/dutch_womens_rider_crashes_badly_while_leading/

    When I was just getting started barefooting, I was on grass in the dark when I felt something underfoot and almost simultaneously a stinging sensation on the top of my foot. I thought I’d stepped on a yellow jacket nest until I got home and got a look at m y foot in the light. Two small twin dots on the top of my foot suggested I’d stepped on the body of a small snake with its head free to bite me. Didn’t quite penetrate the skin..

  64. I just experimented — making my cadence (steps per minute) faster or slower (without changing my speed across the ground), changing my speed across the ground, changing which part of my foot touched the ground first… whatever I could think of.

  65. I work in a large OR I am an anesthesia tech hardly ever sitting running room to room setting up cases. At first wasn’t so sure about these shoes but when I put on my other shoes I lasted maybe a half hour went down to my locker to put my Xero shoes back on ! It took a little adjustment but now I wear all the time. Haven’t had to see my chiropractor ! Thanks

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