Why I Wear Thin-Soled Shoes (Even on Pavement) + How To Get More Comfortable With It

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There’s a misconception that human feet aren’t designed to walk on hard surfaces like pavement. But if you go out into nature, there are rock hard surfaces everywhere! And the nerves in our feet actually get more feedback from a hard surface than a soft surface.

A pair of bare legs and feet standing on rock next to ocean water

The real problem is the lack of VARIETY in the surfaces we walk on. Our feet are incredibly complex with 33 joints, 26 bones, and over a hundred soft tissues – suggesting the incredible diversity of movement they are capable of.

If you don’t use all those structures, you’ll lose the ability to! And on the flip side, if you overuse the same specific structures (while the rest are just hanging out and atrophying) day in, day out by walking on the same type of surface 100% of your time, you can also lose ability.

A flat, hard surface is not inherently bad, but it can be if it’s the only place we use our feet.

Two people wearing Mukishoes Hope Sustainable natural barefoot shoes walking on a log. The child is in front of the adult
Mukishoes are very thin, and they feel delightful on texture!

How To Be More Comfortable On Pavement

So I continue to use thin, flexible soles even on pavement, because the rest of the time I add in variety that gets my feet moving in all the ways they’re designed to on a regular basis. That includes the following:

  • Walking next to the paved path and on texture wherever possible (grass, logs, railings, curbs, anything uneven)
  • Taking leisure walks in nature and at parks instead of on sidewalks
  • Adding bumpy floor texture to the surfaces of my home
  • Rolling my foot over a ball
  • Massaging and working the inner tissues of my feet
  • Doing a variety of foot and toe strengthening exercises

(Find a summary of the bottom three points in this article on foot exercises)

I want to build tough feet that can handle it all. That means I need to modify my lifestyle a little bit to make sure my feet get all the VARIETY they need (are you sensing a theme here?). When I do that, I still feel good during the times I am on pavement – even in thin-soled shoes.

What If My Job or Circumstances Make Variety Difficult?

If I have a particularly long stint on pavement, for example if I’m traveling in an urban area, I might choose a shoe with more cushion. One of my favorites is the Lems Chelsea, shown below.

I also like to add proprioceptive Naboso insoles to my shoes whenever I’m not going to be able to get variety, because they keep my nerves stimulated. In fact, for me Naboso insoles are even more effective for pain relief than cushioned shoes.

A top down view of a pair of white barefoot shoes with Naboso proprioceptive insoles visible inside the shoes

I don’t try to push through pain, so if I feel like the hard surfaces are too much one day I make changes (we’re after longevity here!). That line where more support is needed will be different for everyone depending on where you are currently, but the key is that we have some control over it!

If you’re someone who wants to move the needle when it comes to your comfort on hard surfaces, check out this YouTube video of 4 easy exercises you can incorporate into your day.

In summary, for me the long term solution to a world of hard surfaces is a lifestyle that keeps my feet well-rounded. For that reason, I continue to wear my barefoot shoes and even my bare feet on concrete and pavement.

For more tips on transitioning well to barefoot shoes, check out my best tips here (that are backed by podiatrists!)

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6 thoughts on “Why I Wear Thin-Soled Shoes (Even on Pavement) + How To Get More Comfortable With It”

  1. Thank you for this article! You explain it very well. I see this question come up a lot and now I can send people a link to your article when they ask.

  2. By necessity, I mostly walk on city sidewalks at home in New York City. This myth about pavement kept me out of barefoot shoes for a year or two after I first began investigating shoe options, even though I went barefoot indoors for hours every day. I thought walking outdoors would be different. But when I finally tried Unshoe mocasins after about a year with thick-soled Altra sneakers, my neuroma pain went away literally overnight. I guess I was lucky; I was already used to zero-drop and to going barefoot, so I didn’t need any transition period. My feet needed to be in contact with a firm surface, not a cushy sole, so that my longitudinal and transverse arches could function properly.

    And there’s a lot of interesting texture to be found walking in the city, like the bumpy bits at the curb cuts, subway grates, manhole covers, the seams in the sidewalks, and of course grass and earth in the parks.

  3. Hi,
    I wish you would address the issue of aging feet losing fat. I am 75 and have gone barefoot, as often as possible, since I was a teenage hippie. I had no trouble transitioning into minimal shoes. Then I went to southern Europe and, if the cobblestones weren’t bad enough, the tile floors were a killer. I was in incredible pain and had to wear clog slippers in the house. Now, I also have spinal stenosis and my legs go numb on hard surfaces. Intermittent rock surfaces are nothing like tile floors. I wish somebody would cater to people like me, who need cushioning, but want all the other benefits of minimal shoes. Otherwise, the best I can find is Arcopedico.

    1. There are quite a few options for you! Have you seen this list of Barefoot Shoes for Beginners? Really they’re for more than just beginners, because there are a number of reasons someone might want the features of minimalist shoes with a little bit of cushion. But these are the types of shoes you’re looking for.

      1. Hi Anya,
        I’m trying to buy gym shoes for my 8y/o who lives in Splay shoes, xero sandals, and BOGS snow boots (I know, it’s the best I can do…). The gym floor is carpet over concrete, would an Altra be better for the cushioning or a xero prio?
        Thank you so much!!

        1. Hi! I would say it depends on the amount of time and if he’s feeling any discomfort. A lot of gym work is stability work and not high impact, so thin soles can be totally fine and even really helpful. A 3rd option if you’re concerned is to go with the Xero Prio and get an additional insole (either from another pair of shoes or NorthSole insole to swap in and out as needed for a little more cushion.

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Picture of Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

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