Barefoot Hiking Tips for Beginners

barefoot walking in turkey

Hiking barefoot in Turkey at the ghost town Kayakoy. This walking surface would fall under “Not Recommended”.

When my partner started hiking barefoot last spring, we realized how little we pay attention to the trail beneath our feet. I’ve traded my ten pound boots for minimalist shoes, and my partner goes fully barefoot – flesh on dirt. We’ve learned the hard way what to expect barefooting in the forest. Here are barefoot hiking tips for beginners:

Barefoot Hiking Tips

Preparation for Barefoot Hiking

  • Start with short hikes or walks to break your feet in and get used to using different muscles.
  • Scope out trails you’re interested in before trying them barefoot. Pay attention to the trail surface, and especially look for gravel and small rocks.

Picking Trails to Hike Barefoot

  • barefoot hiking on a gravel road off the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River

    Gravel roads, like this logging road off the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, are less than fun to hike barefoot.

    Avoid trails with gravel, like old logging roads or railroad grades. Small to midsized rocks like gravel are much less comfortable to walk on than larger rocks. Moraine and rocky alpine landslides can also be uncomfortable, particularly if the rock’s been crushed a little. The best trails are in forested areas where the ground is softer.

  • Read the description of the trail carefully – many trails start off or run along graveled logging roads or railroad grades.
  • Avoid equestrian trails, which may have a lot of horse manure that’s hard to avoid.

Gear to Bring Barefooting

  • Bring a towel or spare bottle of water for cleaning your feet before getting back in the car.
  • Bring backup shoes in your bag in case your feet get too tired or you come across some rough surface.

Expectations for Barefoot Hiking

  • Know that you will hike slower than you would in shoes, particularly downhill. Let your friends know that you may hike slower than usual, and don’t hike with speed demons.
  • Be prepared for comments from other trail users, some of them mean-spirited or rude. Have a pleasant or witty one-liner response at the ready, or try to use it as a teachable moment. My partner likes to joke, “I can’t afford shoes.”
  • Barefoot hiking uses different muscles than shoed hiking, so take it easy at first to avoid getting sore.

Seattle Barefoot Hiking Trails

In the Seattle area, we’ve had success barefooting on these trails:

  • Pratt Lake Basin – the trail surface is ideal for barefooting. Right now there’s a small blowdown/landslide area near the beginning that’s navigable.
  • Denny Creek – the trail is mostly soft. All bets are off once you cross the river, though.
  • Twin Falls – the beginning has a few rocky spots but then is relatively soft.
  • Rattlesnake Ledge – you have to walk along a gravel road for a quarter mile to reach the trailhead, but once you’re there, the trail is acceptable. (Continuing upwards from the ledge, the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail has decent tread until the last 2-3 miles, where you will definitely want your backup shoes for the small rocks and gravel. That trail’s also long, so build up to it.)
  • St. Edwards State Park – lots of leaf litter and mud can make the trail slippery.

Trails to Avoid for Barefoot Hiking

crushed gravel on the Middle Fork River Trail

Pretty but painful: the Middle Fork River Trail has extensive sections of crushed gravel.

Most hikes are doable, even if not ideal, but we’ve also had some definite ‘misses’ barefoot hiking. Do yourself a favor and bring shoes when you hike here:

About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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