There’s a prevailing belief that your barefoot shoes need to be super thin in order to be “barefoot approved.” But I push back on that. So let’s talk about cushion and the role it plays in our shoes.
If I were to put barefoot shoe characteristics on a scale from most to least important it would go like this:
- Wide Toe Box
- Zero Drop (no heel rise, uniform sole thickness)
- No Arch Support
- Thin Sole/Ground Feel
Wide toe box (for big toe splay) and zero drop might be a tie for most important, but the point is I rank thin soles last. And here’s why:
The Case Against Worrying About It
Reason #1: If your shoes have #1-4 you are getting tons of benefit from them. We’re talking better alignment, stronger foot muscles, less toe pain and deformity. And what people in the barefoot shoe world consider to be a “thick” sole is actually pretty thin compared to conventional options where a comfort shoe often has 2.5 cm thickness. So if you get yourself into a “thick” barefoot shoe instead of a regular old sneaker I say good job!!! Your body will thank you.
Reason #2: As someone who spent almost her entire life wearing orthotics and thick-soled shoes I am acutely aware of how long it can take to transition. If you’ve been mostly shod and sedentary in your life, you probably also have a thin fat pad on the bottom of your feet. I used to feel like my bones were hitting the ground every step I took because my tissues were so thin. Some cushion can keep you out of pain but still in minimalist shoes. As long as you are exposing your feet to texture regularly, your fat pad (aka your natural cushion) can get thicker over time and you might not need the thick-soled shoes any longer.
Reason #3: ANY kind of foot covering is a barrier between your foot and the ground, inhibiting the feedback your nerves get. Even socks do this. That’s why being BAREFOOT as much as possible is best. So I don’t find it worthwhile to fuss about a couple mm difference, when ultimately you should just take them off as often as you can (which circles back to #2! Go barefoot to increase your fat pad).
The Case Against Thick Soles
Reason #1: Your balance is affected if you are too far off the ground and can’t sense where you are in space. This can actually result in more wear and tear on your body over time.
Reason #2: You get more muscles activated in a thin sole with lots of ground feel. In thick soles we tend to rely more on our trunk muscles than our feet to move through uneven terrain.
Reason #3: Thick soles can be a crutch. It’s possible your thick soled shoes are preventing you from learning how to walk with a lighter step. Extra thin shoes force you to come to terms with how hard you’ve been slamming down and that can be a powerful tool for relearning movement.
So if you are someone who is wearing thick soled shoes that are barefoot in all other respects, don’t beat yourself up about it. Real change takes time, and try as we might some things don’t ever change for us. But you can reap tons of benefits from combining healthy footwear with foot exercises, ultra thin sole not required to thrive. Check out my recommendations of thicker barefoot shoe options below!
Comments? Feedback? I’d love to hear your take on this.
5 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Worry About Cushion in Barefoot Shoes”
I’d also add that humans weren’t meant to stand/walk on really hard surfaces for extended periods of time. For some people’s lifestyles, more cushion may be extremely important. While back to nature is almost always better, sometimes modern problems require modern solutions (like heavily cushioned shoes)
For me what seems to work best are the Mono Gordo model from Luna Sandals. My foot does everything it would do on the ground on the actual sandal itself while still giving me 19 mm of protection from Los Angeles streets when I’m walking around and from the hard concrete stairways when I need to catch the train.
Those are great sandals! And the soles last forever too.
Awesome post. I got here from your Lone Peak review. (Also awesome). Unwise knee surgery has left me with a bit of missing cartilage, so I *need* a bit of extra cushion. (I can run bare foot on a cushioned carpet okay, but not on pavement like I used to.)
I love your hierarchy of importance, as well. Yeah! Nice going. That’s what I’m after. Going to your list of cushioned shoes now. :__)