Barefoot Company is a Swiss company that recently conducted a successful Kickstarter campaign and has started selling their “barefoot” running gear, called #FreeYourFeet (FYF). I have never worn any minimalist shoes – the closest I’ve come is wearing track spikes back in my high school days – but I thought these looked pretty cool, so I gave them a try. I received a pair to test and promptly got a kidney stone. A 9 mm kidney stone.
Once all that drama was done, I went for a run in my #FreeYourFeet footwear. The first step was getting them on. They are very form-fitting, and fit my foot very well, except for my big toes. I have really fat big toes (I really do; thanks mom), and it took some work to get these on properly. The foot length and the other toes all seemed true to size based on the size chart on the FYF website. (They are easier to put on the more times you wear them.)
FYF are sock-like garments that are made with an extremely strong material to protect your feet from injury while running, walking, or doing anything else you’d be able to do barefoot – but don’t, because you’d likely get injured. When you hold them, they feel much heavier than a pair of socks, but when wearing them on your feet, they’re very lightweight. The material feels like a sock and stretches to fit snugly without creating any numbness. It does feel a little strange to walk on carpet with them, because of the traction dots on the bottom, but I started putting them on at work before I left to go run, then wearing my regular shoes over them when I drive to my run start point. (I like to run on my way home from work – I get to explore new routes and my kids don’t freak out when I leave right after getting home.)
My friend Uma and I mapped out a route for me to run our first half-mile in them, and then put on my regular shoes. This is because, as with any new type of footwear, you should always give them a “test run” before wearing them for a regular run. The only issue was that it was raining – pouring, in fact – and I was concerned about what would happen to my feet once they got wet. As mentioned before, I haven’t ever run in these type of footwear, but I should add that I’m really a weenie – I usually put on slippers to run out to the mailbox, even. I have what my mom calls “weenie feet.”
Luckily for us, the rain subsided for the first half-mile of our run, and I liked the feel of running in the FYF gear, so we agreed to keep going for another half-mile. Wearing FYF on wet pavement wasn’t too bad – my feet were cold, but the rubber matrix on the bottom provided complete traction and my feet didn’t feel soaked. I was running on sidewalks and across roads where they intersected, and only a few times did I step on a rock that was sharp enough to be felt through the FYF material, made with Dyneema, which is an extremely strong fiber.
When I first started running, I felt like I was running differently. My friend agreed, my gait was different. I was talking shorter, quicker steps and choosing each footfall. It didn’t feel bad, but I made an effort to run more “normally,” and once I actively thought about my form, Uma said I looked I was running with my usual form. I had to continue thinking about lengthening my stride, but it was pretty comfortable. I noticed that when I tried to “run normally” I was heel-striking, but wearing the FYF gear it was much more comfortable – and natural – to land midfoot with each step.
During our second half-mile it started to pour. One of those atypical downpours where you would actually rather take shelter under a tree than keep running. My feet were instantly waterlogged, so we scurried back to my car. I wanted to check out how my feet were doing – they didn’t hurt or feel funny in any way (they had warmed up by then). I peeled off the #FreeYourFeet gear and my feet were fine! A little pruney, like I spent too much time in the pool, but with no red areas or hot spots. (After putting on my usual footgear, we only ran another mile – it was just raining too hard.)
I was surprised how much I liked the feeling of running in the FYF gear. For my next few runs in them, it was easy to feel more natural in them, and I’m up to 1.5 miles at an easy pace. I plan to continue to wear them about once a week for a short run of 1.5-3 miles, building up over time. I think it will improve my running form, but more importantly, it was fun to run in them.
To care for them, so far I’ve just been rinsing them and letting them air-dry, but when they get stinky they can be hand washed in cold water with soap or on a “short” wash cycle in cold water. Just make sure you rinse all of the soap out before you wear them again or the soap could irritate your skin when you run.
As for how they look … well, they look like socks. The black/grey color look more like shoes (with no-show socks) than many minimalist shoes, and I didn’t get any weird looks in them even though I’ve worn them on runs in high-traffic areas. The reason for that is probably that most people could care less what I wear on my feet when I run! Actually, I’m sort of hoping someone asks me about them so I can tell them about #FreeYourFeet – it may be just what they need to refresh their running. The style I tried was the “Low Tide” style – there’s also the “High Peak” version which is pictured above.
The FYF footwear is available online for $80 as pre-orders, but they have all their production in place so each order will arrive in about 12 weeks. Their customer service through their website is amazing – quick and responsive. If you’ve ever considered minimalist running, or already take part, you should check these out. Letting your feet spread out, running more naturally, and feeling the ground – without fear of stepping on something and suffering a cut – is pretty cool. And I can’t wait for my next trip to the coast to “free my feet” on the hard packed sand!