My collection of barefoot shoes is almost complete. I have a pair of shoes that I use for CrossFit that are not barefoot, but other than that, I’m hooked up with barefoot shoes. And, to be fair, the shoes I use for CrossFit are Merrell’s “Barefoot 2” style, intended to be helpful for a transition to fully barefoot shoes. It’s got a bit of arch support and the toe box is only just wide enough for my comfort. They’re on the list for replacement, though, especially since I recently shredded part of the sole with rope climbs.
My latest acquisition is the pair that I bought to wear at work. I purchased Softstar’s Merry Janes, in the Primal width, which is the widest they go. I was a little nervous about getting them, but once I tried them on, I was sold. My big toe did feel a bit like it was stretching the leather at first, but that’s the nice thing about leather – it will stretch out a bit. The biggest difference between the feel of these on my feet and the feel of the Softstar Switchback boots that I’d already purchased was that the Merry Janes are so much thinner in the sole.
I feel like I’m wearing slippers with the Merry Janes. They are truly barely there, and I can definitely feel the ground beneath my feet more when I wear them. The sole is thinner than the one for the boot, which makes sense since I’m less likely to be walking over uneven rocky terrain in the Merry Janes.
The thinness of the sole is taking some getting used to, but I think it will have a great impact on the conditioning of my legs and feet. I’m using more muscles in both feet and legs, and I can feel that.
I also figured out how to take them off and put them on without undoing the strap or unduly stretching out the shoe. See, these shoes are so unstructured, that I can just fold down the heel, and then slide the shoe on or off without messing with the buckle.
I’m also already feeling the effects of wearing barefoot shoes more of the time in my iliotibial bands (those tendons that run along the outside of each leg from the hip to the knee). I used to have a lot of pain and tightness from my IT band, especially on my right side. I figured out that running regularly helped to keep it in check, but every time I used the foam roller on that tendon, it would be extraordinarily tight and painful. Since I moved to barefoot shoes, the band has loosened up a lot. There’s still sensation when I roll it out, but it’s nothing like it used to be when just resting on the foam roller could bring tears to my eyes.
It used to be if I went a week without running, then my next few runs would be painful as the tendon that had tightened up got stretched out and loosened again. But wearing barefoot shoes seems to reduce the tension and tightness on the IT band without any extra effort on my part. I haven’t, at this point, gone more than a week without running, but I suspect that I will no longer have that IT band to worry about the next time I am unable to run (or backpack) for more than a week.