I have used “barefoot shoes” for more than a decade. Only occasionally, I wear something else. It started with a pair of Vibram five fingers, but after family complaints about the weird-looking toes, I moved on to various types of “normal” minimalistic shoes, such as the ones from Vivo Barefoot. Yesterday, I wore a pair of Birkenstock sandals and immediately noticed how strange it felt when I started my daily standstill session. I felt it impacted my stance; I swayed more and felt less grounded. By coincidence, I was interrupted halfway through the session and decided to stop my standstill and start over again. Then I took the opportunity to switch to a pair of barefoot shoes for the new session. I immediately noticed how different it felt to stand still with a thin versus thick sole. This relates to why I wear barefoot shoes in the first place.

Sandals vs barefoot shoes

Benefits of wearing barefoot shoes

Barefoot shoes share some similarities: minimal cushioning, wide form factor, and zero drop. They primarily serve as a thin “layer” protecting the feet from the surroundings but do not have any padding you typically find in regular shoes.

From what I can see in the literature, there are different opinions on the benefits of wearing barefoot shoes. Less cushioning and support help strengthen the foot muscles, improving foot and ankle stability. This can lead to improved balance and coordination.

Having a sole only around 3 millimeters thick also helps sensory feedback. When I walk, I can feel separate stones under my feet. It is lovely to feel connected this way, and probably why I feel more “grounded.” Some people ask whether it is easier to get injuries. It is the opposite. When I walk on rough terrains, such as in the mountains, I walk more carefully than I might have done with thicker soles and more protection. I have not had a single injury in the 10+ years I have worn barefoot shoes in all conditions.

Feeling Grounded

In my experience, barefoot shoes depart from the overly supportive, heavily cushioned footwear that has become the norm. I do not have any scientific evidence, but my experience has been that barefoot shoes have led to stronger feet and heightened sensory feedback. It also improves stability. My experience of standing still with sandals showed how much more imbalanced I felt with a thick sole between myself and the ground. It would be interesting to study this more systematically.