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In the past I was only occasionally walking barefoot, on relatively short distances, on the earthy surfaces. But I'd like to train my feet to be able to do much more - including walking on harsh surfaces such as rocks. My inspiration are the documentaries of indigenous peoples walking barefoot in many environment, including rocky ones, and the family tales, that in the past people were walking barefoot to church, even in the winter.

However, I've done today a 20-minutes walk in the city. The pavements were hot because of full sun, and after reaching home I've found out that the skin on my soles is creased and I feel pain even standing. Luckily, it seems that I'm going to get out of it even without blisters.

Obviously my feet are too soft for harsher surfaces. I should walk a lot on earthy surfaces - unfortunately most trails in the surrounding are graveled... But are there any exercises, training programs or treatments to speed up the tempo of hardening foots? From what distances should I begin, and in which tempo to increase them? Does some ointments, cold or hot showers help?

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I have done a lot of barefoot running. You can train your feet to do a lot of things. But at some point the temperatures of concrete on a hot summer day will burn your feet. You can't get around that. Humans weren't designed for concrete. You can train for rougher surfaces, but not so much hotter ones. –  theJollySin Mar 20 '14 at 23:02
    
maybe some of the answers here will help: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/767/… –  Justin C Aug 25 at 18:07

5 Answers 5

Try running on sand for your morning or evening run - sand is very good at early stages of toughening up your feet as it still spreads the load well.

Once you have toughened the skin a bit, you will be able to walk on forest trails, stone, gravel etc.

But for now, the best thing you can do is moisturise your feet - this helps the cracks smooth out so they don't dig into your foot (which is what causes a lot of the pain). Moisturise, and use a pumice stone to rub down any really hard bits of skin.

Your feet will toughen rapidly if you walk barefoot every day.

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Wouldn't rubbing off hard skin be disadvantageous in that the (well-earnt) callous layers of skin would revert back to softer skin underneath? Or does it not really work that way? –  user2189 Oct 5 '14 at 20:40
    
You don't want a solid and thick callous right next to soft skin, as the edge will dig in and cause injury. Rubbing the callous down a little helps even up the developing tough skin. –  Rory Alsop Oct 5 '14 at 21:05
    
I'll have to try some experiments, but when walking barefoot (and if you're lightweight person/load etc), so far I've only experienced benefits from building up super hard pads on my feet - like rocks, they can get. Don't think I've experienced the callouses 'digging in' to the sides of my feet above or anything - but maybe I haven't done enough experimenting yet. You need consistent hard terrain barefooting to be able to observe this. The callouses don't take long to soften back down if you stop using them afterwards... –  user2189 Oct 5 '14 at 21:25
    
I think we are saying the same thing:-) You don't want to rub the callous off, but in the OP's case, moisturising and rubbing off the hardest bits will help him now. –  Rory Alsop Oct 6 '14 at 6:56
    
And on the subject of moisturisation, I have (on occasions) tried an oil high in Vitamin E such as (pure) neem, and it seems to definitely help (without softening the pads per se, but just healthfully assisting them - like resting your muscles in between workouts to only foster their growth). (It's certainly antifungal as well, but it also has well-documented skin healing properties). Other than that I'd mention coconut oil as a generic moisturiser I guess, but possibly not as potently healing as neem is. –  user2189 Oct 6 '14 at 11:02

I lifeguarded in a beach for many years where the beach was covered in iron ore pieces, kind of like walking on crushed glass mixed with sand. It wasn't painful but it did hurt and tried to avoid when possible. By the end of the summer my feet were tough enough that I have stepped on glass about 1 inch in size and it does not puncture.

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I walk and hike barefoot a lot. My feet have no hard skin (ok a few bits around the heel as anyone would). The skin is just as supple as anyone elses, but it's tougher. So if I walk a long distance barefoot, I don't get blisters. Small bits of glass don't affect me 99.9% of the time. The other main difference is I'm used to the sensation of the ground - the small stones, hot bits, cold bits, rough textures etc. That seems to be the biggest thing people are not expecting when walking barefoot - their feet have always been surrounded by an inch of foam rubber and they have never felt a single thing.

So - start out easy - grass and smooth surfaces - paths/sidwalks and don't over do it. Give your feet time to toughen up and your brain time to get used to it. Then try more textured surfaces - fine gravel/pebbles/rock. Woodlands are great, mud and natural rock (watch for nettles and thorns). You'll find that you still feel as much as when you started, but your feet are like soft leather and resilient to most things.

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You guys are of a different species! Just one word of caution: if you are going to start toughening up on grass or in the woods, check for poison ivy. I learned the hard way, sitting on a friends lawn on a picnic. –  ab2 Aug 9 at 19:38

Simply walking barefoot everywhere is one way to toughen your feet. If you live in a city, spend time outdoors in your yard, on the concrete of your garage, patio and on the grass of your lawn. But there's more than just going barefoot that will harden your feet. Jumping rope, running, jumping...you need friction and impact. But, even walking barefoot indoors helps.

Wearing good backpacking or heavy duty hiking boots under load toughens your feet from friction and impact. You build up pretty good callous on your feet if you regularly backpack. Or you're an infantryman in the military. I've had my feet so tough while an infantryman that dragging a Cold Steel Recon Tanto I could shave with across my feet, would only cut callous. I have gone hunting barefoot at times, even in late Fall or late Winter, and there's something to be said for having access to sand, be it on a lake, beach or in a sandbox so that you can walk through it. Toughening the bottom of your feet is a result of impact and friction over time, but being able to sink your feet in sand helps toughen the sides and tops a tiny bit. You usually won't notice such things unless you purposely walk in nature barefoot, because you just don't encounter briars, sticks, rocks and other things contacting the tops of your feet on manicured lawns and pavement.

I've known an old farmer who soaked his feet in kerosene for prolonged periods so that his feet stopped sweating. He did it for about 20-30 minutes a day for a month, and he said his feet never sweated again. Essentially killed off his sweat glands I assume. But at the end of the day, soaked from sweating in the fields, I watched him pull off his boots and his socks/feet were bone dry...while I who was visiting, and from just short leisurely walking, would have socks damp with sweat on those humid Kentucky days. He had tough feet too. I won't pretend to know the medical wisdom or doing such a thing or not, but it worked for him and he learned it from others who had done it before him.

When your feet are damp, it's harder for them to callous up. I and many other infantryman have watched our hard earned callouses waste away and fall off in the swamps of Panama, where days of constant submergence or dampness were normal operating conditions.

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The only way to toughen your feet is to put them in environments where they have to be tougher. I would start by wearing thin sandals everywhere during any weather. Whenever you can walk barefoot in grass or any other natural surface. I hardly ever wore shoes as a child and teenager and it hurt at times but now I can walk pretty much anywhere and my feet are just fine.

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