I haven’t worn shoes in two years – the world is far better barefoot

After going shoeless on a walk with her boyfriend two years ago, El Robertson hasn't looked back. She tells Eleanor Peake about climbing seven mountains and shopping barefoot

El Robertson, 26, has been barefoot for two years. She has climbed seven mountains without shoes and she goes to the shops every day barefoot. This is what she has learnt.

As a child, I was always very quick to remove my shoes. But as I got older, something shifted. 18 months ago, I went for a walk with my boyfriend. We were both wearing shoes. On the way, we walked through a stream and my feet got wet. I hated the feeling of wet feet and wet socks, so I took them off. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to hike barefoot. It felt so much nicer than wearing boots. I walked the entire rest of the journey shoeless.

Since then, I have rarely worn conventional shoes. I’d say I wear them maybe twice a year for special events. I go to the shops barefoot. I drive barefoot. Sometimes people will say: “You seem to have forgotten your shoes.” I know that it’s a bit strange for people so I understand why they stare. I don’t usually get much trouble for it though.

Usually, people are worried for my safety. I think there is a misconception that being barefoot is dangerous for your feet but I haven’t found that. I sometimes get a splinter but very rarely, probably just as often as I’d get a splinter in my hand.

Thankfully, having to wear shoes for work is not a problem as I work from home. I don’t think I could go to an office without shoes on, as much as I’d like to. I think they would have some health and safety concerns and send me home.

The one thing I hate doing is walking on the tarmac barefoot. Man-made surfaces like that completely can cut up your soles. A forest or the beach is way easier. It’s obviously sometimes difficult to be barefoot in the UK. When it’s too cold to go without shoes, I wear minimalist shoes that are designed to feel shoeless. These are great for strengthening your natural foot arch, in the same way that being barefoot does. It’s a good place to start for those that are barefoot-curious.

She has climbed seven mountains without shoes (Photo: Instagram @el.ventutres.uk)

I always hike barefoot. I have even climbed Yr Wyddfa (formerly known as Snowdon) barefoot. It causes people to lose their minds. People will always spot me and say: “Isn’t that dangerous? Aren’t you going to slip?” That makes no sense to me. I have seen people hiking up mountains in trainers and sandals. I think those shoes are far more dangerous than just taking your shoes off.

The hardest thing I have ever done barefoot was attempt the Welsh 3000s (a hiking route in which you summit 15 mountains, all over 3,000ft, in three days). It is extremely rocky and extremely painful. I don’t think anyone has ever attempted it barefoot. Dealing with moving scree paths, which are basically routes with large bits of flint and gravel, while already having climbed seven mountains, was too much for me.

I was so determined to finish the route but I couldn’t. I was scared. Having the ground move underneath me was terrifying. The ground would suddenly start slipping and all the rocks would start tumbling onto your feet. My feet were so swollen and scratched up so my friend went on without me.

My motivations for going barefoot are very personal. I just really enjoy it. But there are also a lot of health benefits. Since being barefoot, I have found my feet have started to widen. My muscles have grown and now my feet take up a lot more space in my shoes. All of a sudden, my old shoes have become uncomfortable. They feel really cramped and pointed.

If I have to wear shoes now, I’m full of regrets. I might spend an entire day dancing in shoes that don’t really even fit me any more. My feet will hurt so much afterwards. For people that have never been barefoot outside, hiking might hurt at first. Over time though, it would feel easy. I find it similar to having your arm in a cast for six weeks. After taking off the cast, your arm will feel weak and useless. Your feet are being overly supported by shoes to the point that they hurt without them.

My friends and family obviously think I’m a complete weirdo but a lot of them are quite outdoorsy. They are open to trying new things and learning. A few of them have joined me on barefoot hikes. Every now and again a friend will message me to say they have tried going barefoot outside. I love it when that happens. I think it’s something everyone should try at least once.

Is being barefoot good for you? A podiatrist steps in

“Walking barefoot can be beneficial in several ways but there are also drawbacks to consider in the modern world,” says Emma McConnachie of the Royal College of Podiatry.

“Our feet are naturally designed to be barefoot and the skin on our feet is able to thicken to protect us as we walk about nature’s surfaces. It can help reconnect you with nature and offers great sensory benefits too,” she explains.

Still, there are some things to consider. “Going barefoot at home can be a good start, however there has been an increase in reports of foot pain caused by walking barefoot on hard floors,” says McConnachie. “Carpeting offers cushioning to the feet so watch out for pain that could be a sign that the complex ligaments, muscles and tendons in your feet are not quite ready for walking without the support of the shoes that they are used to.”

One in 10 people over the age of 55 has peripheral neuropathy, a condition which means the nerves do not function fully. This often starts in the feet, resulting in a lack of feeling which could make going barefoot dangerous. “Many people with diabetes or circulatory issues will also have problems with the sensation in their feet so would not feel if they have stepped on something they shouldn’t have,” says McConnachie.

“I would also not recommend going barefoot with an open wound on your foot as infections in the foot can get very serious very quickly.”

Before hiking barefoot, McConnachie recommends joining a guided barefoot trail first.

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