It's becoming increasingly popular to go barefoot. With a book like "Born to Run" storming the nation, the idea that God made our feet so we do not need the support of shoes, and indeed thrived as a people for thousands of years without supportive footwear, is catching on.
I've yet to read "Born to Run." I discovered barefooting and minimalist footwear mostly out of desperation. I'd been hiking is simple sandals for a few years already -- year round. Then this summer I wondered "what if I got rid of everything and grew my own shoes, on my own feet?"
Ever since I was ten, I've "needed" orthotics to compensate for a "weak arch". Here's a secret: most, if not all, of the "weaknesses" in our feet and ankles is due to footwear that makes us move in a way we weren't designed to move (landing heel first), which throws things out of whack, which means we "need" more support to compensate for poor biomechanics.
I started slowly. Going around the house barefoot. Walking the gravel lane in front of our house for two-tenths of a mile. Ouch! I persevered despite my tender feet. That first day something amazing happened. My feet "woke up!"
You know that tingling feeling you get when you finally move a leg that's fallen asleep because you crossed it and cut off the blood flow? That's how the bottom of my feet felt. I kept at it. They felt that way for a week.
Here's what I discovered about going barefoot/minimalist:
-- my woken-up feet provide all kinds of information about where I am in space, helping me compensate for my constant neurological vertigo (which feels like being on a rollercoaster that can go any direction at any time while seated in one of the "Da Vinci" man gyroscopic twirlie thing-bobs). In fact, I can now run again, for the first time since becoming disabled at the end of 2002. I'm now able to stand while shaving and cooking, leaning on the raised counters. Wow!
-- God made our feet to function beautifully. Modern footwear arrogantly modifies how our feet function, altering and messing up our ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, neck. Instead, of wearing footwear that alters the function of our foot, we should be using footwear that helps protect our feet only if needed. From rocks, cold, heat, stickers, etc. That means no support at all. That means learning from scratch how to walk (landing ball/midfoot first, taking smaller, quicker steps, and more).
-- There are very few options for good minimalist footwear. Vibram five fingers are the current best, but I have some challenges with them. I'm currently working with a moccasin maker to overcome those and create better minimalist footwear. I'll let you know how we progress.