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Finding Minnesota: Barefoot Hiking

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) -- Sturdy boots are usually considered key to a long, safe hiking trip. But some hikers strip off all the foot protection to fully appreciate the ground they walk on.

Jim Guttmann co-founded the group Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota in 2003.

"It feels so amazing to actually feel the trail underneath you," he said.

Members of the group eagerly soak in what others avoid – the bumps, grooves and edges of the Earth's surface. Jane Maloney, a computer software salesperson from Burnsville, has been hiking with the group for about six years.

"Kids like to run in the mud and squish their toes in the mud and things like that," she said. "Maybe it brings me back to being a little kid again."

"It's kind of a buffet of sensations," said Rob Lowry, an acupuncturist and Tai Chi instructor from Richfield.

The Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota is a group with about 50 members on its email list. It schedules one trip a month in the spring, summer and fall – mostly in the metro area. There are no dues, no fees; all they ask is that you expose your soles.

"When you're hiking in shoes, every step feels the same," said Guttmann. "Without shoes, every step becomes a new experience."

"It's difficult to describe to people that don't normally go barefoot," said Lyle Lange, a security guard from New Hope.

On a recent hike, members came upon a large deer that didn't notice them at first.

"You can get a lot closer to wildlife when you're barefoot because you make a lot less noise," said Cyndi Scherzer, an insurance agent.

Newcomers to the concept often need to get over a mental block about barefoot walking, and learn the right way to step.

"If you haven't done any walking and especially barefoot walking, you start out slow," said Guttman. "The more weight you can distribute across the flat of your foot the better."

The group does steer clear of trails with lots of sharp surfaces like fresh wood chips or crushed rock.

"It's not meant to be a strongman competition or extreme sport by any means," said Guttmann

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