The pine needles are softer, the rocks smoother and the streams
refreshing. From the bottom up, barefoot hiker has a different
sense of the woodland trail. ``I feel more. I notice more,"
said Canal Winchester hiker Greg Morgan. ``You don't notice hemlock
needles at all if you're wearing shoes.
``It's nice to have a variety of textures. Walking through grass
like you have in your yard, it's actually dull." Barefoot
hikers are sole survivors. Theirs is not a tiptoe through the
tulips. (A tulip tree, in fact, sheds a seed that makes a sharp
point with bare feet.)
A band of central Ohio barefooters meets in state and county parks
for regular hikes on trails graded for the surface and terrain,
hazards and aesthetics.
Others set off solo or with a barefoot friend.
``You go out in the woods to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds,
but if you're shod you turn off one of your senses," Pickerington
hiker Bob Neinast said. ``The textures are really interesting.
Moss is a delight."
And the unshod have practical advantages, he said. ``I don't get
blisters. I don't get sprained ankles anymore. I don't get hot
and sweaty feet.
"And crossing a stream is a lot easier."
A stream can be forded barefoot without getting shoes soaked.
Or a fallen tree can turn into a handy bridge.
"If you do find a log, it's kind of fun," Neinast said. "You
actually curl your feet around the log. You get a feeling of
Such hikers consider the bare foot stronger in a pinch than the
They see the shoe as a fad or a status symbol — or a misguided
means of protecting a part of the body that has stood the test
A foot in a shoe is a hoof, said Neinast, who needs the "instant
Formal occasions and freezing conditions are exceptions, of course.
To a fellow hiker, foot freedom came easy as a child in North
"I would go barefoot when I could, despite my mom's best wishes
at the time," said Morgan, 49. "It just felt good to me."
Peer pressure during his teen years ended his barefoot ways.
Yet the urge lingered into adulthood: After moving to central
Ohio, he found himself back on the trail in bare feet.
"It felt kind of awkward," he said, "but I discovered that,
hey, I'm not alone. There are other barefoot hikers out there."
About five years ago, he set up a Web site called Barefoot Hikers
of Central Ohio.
The group was off and running with "a few dozen members,"
including one from Michigan.
The only cut Morgan has suffered, he said, occurred on a beach.
On a trail, glass doesn't pose much of a problem — but "natural
hazards" such as sticks, stones and nuts do.
"You don't want to drag your feet or shuffle your feet or kick
piles of leaves," Morgan said. "It's a slightly different
way of walking. It comes natural."
Snow and ice discourage barefoot hiking, which can be done on
warmer winter days.
His feet soften during the cold months, Morgan said; then the
soles "thicken up" in the spring.
Along with Morgan, Neinast hopes to expand the barefoot toehold
"I'm not the kind of person who likes having people tell me what
to do," the 48-year-old said.
"I do everything barefoot, first of all" — including about
10 miles of hiking a week.
Neinast has encountered some hostility.
"Some people just think it's not proper," he said.
They buy into "the myth that it's somehow dangerous."
"When you first start walking barefoot, you tend to look down,"
he said. "You do tend to watch your step a bit more. You tend
to see things that you might not otherwise see.
"You get more into it. You develop the technique of scanning to
see what's there. It becomes absolutely second nature."
Also, he said, "There's a spiritual component in this. You feel
more connected with the Earth."