A couple of friends and I have taken up hiking here in South Africa and they're pretty geared up with their ankle guards, and extreme hiking shoes and what not. They've got their hiking underwear and whatever else they feel they need.

I've always always been opposed to heavy bulky shoes, and always wear minimal stuff. Heck I even said a prayer after ZemGear shut down their operation, so sad so sad.

I hike fine with my minimal footwear. I'm extremely light on my feet, so my toes do not bump into anything, and I tread lightly with quite a bit of agility, so I move like a ninja.

The only thing is, my feet are pounding after a hike. As in muscle-pounding. It's like when you do too many wrist-curls, but on my feet. Personally this is a feeling I welcome, and love. And my feet heal within a couple of hours after the hike, so it doesn't bother me.

But is it unhealthy in the long-run? (I promise, I did not intend that pun.)

EDIT: As requested, I don't hike with just my sneakers or anything. I specifically purchased a thick-soled aqua sock so that I could enjoy the many waterfalls we encounter on our hikes.

  • Your edit still leaves uncertainty: does "minimal footwear" = "thick-soled aqua socks" and what are thick-soled aqua socks? (I suggest you merge rather than append your edit.)
    – Martin F
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 19:38
  • @MartinF Aqua Socks typically have thin soles. The one I use, has a slightly thicker than normal - that's not to say it isn't still thin by average standards. It's still pretty minimal. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 21:40

2 Answers 2


If the pain is from muscles only, then there should be no long term problems. However feet are extremely complex with lots of small bones, cartilage and tendons. So it is possible that these are involved in causing your pains. In worst case, you could even have fatigue breaks. The fact that the pain is going away after a few days makes this less likely, but tendons and cartilage may still be involved (they don't heal that fast, but pain may still subside). The only way to know for sure is to ask a health professional.

Whatever causes this pains it shows that your feet are not up to the task you require of them. This might or might not be connected with your foot wear. Judging that is way too individual to be done properly over the internet. The main point is you need to train: Go more regularly on shorter hikes carrying less weight. If the pain arises regardless of intensity, you want to consult a knowledgeable shoe seller/fitter and if the shoes aren't the problem, a health professional. If not, increase length/weight/speed/... and as with any training, listen to your body/feat while doing it.

And just to be clear: I am very well aware that there is always some soreness in ones feet after a full day of hiking, no matter how good a fit ones shoes are or how well one trains, but the description seems to exceed and differ quite a bit from "normal" soreness.

  • Thanks. I forgot to mention, the pain only comes in when we hit rocky patches. Especially downhill rocky patches. They're the worst. The pain is not as a result of walking too much or too fast. It's rocky terrain that causes it. Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 21:53
  • @StuyvesantBlue That's kind of relevant (like very) ;) That might be slipping? But there I am totally guessing to be honest.
    – imsodin
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 21:57
  • Well I guess it has more to do with the bottom of the feet being subjected to unnatural posture and conditions. But you're right. I'll need to check with my health professional. Friends always nagging me to get some hiking shoes. I just don't favour the idea of pampering yourself. It's a hike. Not a movie! Cheers :) Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 22:01
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    @StuyvesantBlue Maybe I should have first asked: What shoes are you wearing? From your description I thought this was a bout heavy and high hiking boots versus light and low trekking/trail shoes. Your "pampering" statement lets me suspect that you go hiking in everyday shoes like sneakers. If that's the case stop thinking about it, go buy proper shoes for hiking (there are light hiking shoes, I prefer them as well over boots).
    – imsodin
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 22:04
  • I never hike in my everyday sneakers. They're way too flat-and-thin-soled and would get completely wrecked. I especially bought an Aqua Sock for my hiking needs. It has a decently thick-sole. If you google Soviet Jive Neoprene Aqua Sock - you'll find it. The reason I chose this, and specifically a thick-soled one is because we get many waterfalls on our hiking trails. And I love climbing them. My buddies with their fancy thick hiking shoes cannot climb waterfalls at the risk of their shoes getting wrecked. I cannot encounter beauty, without experiencing it. It would just feel useless. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 1:18

The answer to this question will vary on your level of foot strength and the terrain.

Human beings did pretty well for thousands of years without supportive footwear, but when they started walking on hard stone and climbing rocky mountains they quickly discovered their feet weren't suited for it. You'll notice that most large mammals that live at high elevation have hooves.

Most people entering the minimalist barefoot shoe niche grew up wearing sneakers that provided some level of support for your arch/ankle/etc., which has the byproduct of under-developing the stabilizer muscles in your feet as you grow and mature. The result is very sore feet after using the minimalist shoes for long periods of time; the risk is causing a muskuloskeletal disorder from straining these muscles by using them excessively before they have the opportunity to properly develop.

It's not unhealthy to wear minimalist footwear, but on what terrain your wear them could be bad for your body in the long run. Human beings were never meant to walk or run exclusively on hard pavement or sidewalks. Nor were we designed to clamber around on sharp rocks at high elevations. Homo Sapiens are a low-elevation tropical animals, You'll notice the vast majority of the world's population is still in Southern Asia, which is very tropical. We had to adapt technology like clothes and footwear in order to thrive in other environments.

If you're running on soft ground and you have the foot strength, then there are plenty of arguments in favour of minimalist shoes being better for you than other shoes, because it brings your posture and gait back to what nature intended it to be. If you're hiking in the mountains on uneven rocky terrain, especially while carrying a heavy bag, then you'd be better off wearing a supportive hiking boot, emulating a sturdy hoof of a high-altitude ungulate.

  • I really really like your answer. It makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective - and it provides some very awesome insight into evolutoinary aspects that I did not consider. Such as your example about mammals that live on rocky terrtain etc. Thanks for that! Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 12:17
  • This seems a little contradictory to me: "...sneakers that provided some level of support for your arch/ankle/etc., which has the byproduct of under-developing the stabilizer muscles in your feet..." Care to clarify?
    – Martin F
    Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 19:46
  • @MartinF it doesn't seem contradictory at all? What he's saying there is that most people who start wearing minimal footwear did not begin from an early age with this trend/lifestyle choice. They were wearing normal sneakers, with inner-soles and outer-soles that provided much more support than minimal footwear. As a result of wearing these sneakers prior to taking up minimal footwear, this led to their feet being under-developed to handle minimal footwear. Commented Feb 2, 2018 at 21:44

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