Barefoot is a metaphor for living and adventuring with nature, not against it. Vivobarefoot is at the forefront of the movement, which is primed for a regenerative resurgence, and is leading the conversation about what a regenerative outdoor brand looks like. We’re stoked to have them as a presenting partner for our Emergence Edition, and to pass on some sweet discounts to all Adventure Uncovered readers.
We’ve been barefoot for most of our history. The oldest known footwear, a sagebrush bark sandal found in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, is thought to be around 10,000 years old. And although archeologists have identified the distortion of the human foot, an indication of shoe wear, up to 40,000 years ago, this remains an evolutionary blink of an eye.
Shoes have since taken over. Most of us now own a wardrobe of them, mostly with heels, arch support, padding and other fashion features. Walking literally barefoot, beyond home or days on the beach, is relatively unusual, limited to a few cultural customs and subcultures, like Australia’s barefoot movement.
But in recent years barefoot or ‘minimalist’ footwear - footwear that mimics the barefoot condition with zero-drop heels, thin soles and wide toe boxes - has re-emerged. Books like Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, a more pressing need to reconnect with nature and a new wave of scientific research around barefoot biomechanics have all catalysed the emergence of brands like Vivobarefoot.
Vivobarefoot passionately champions the evolutionary genius of the human foot, and warns against how modern shoes are harming it and our ability to move as nature intended. Without claiming barefoot footwear to be ideal for everyone - and always urging new barefooters to progress carefully, for instance through the new Vivohealth hub - Vivobarefoot designs footwear in line with growing evidence challenging our understanding of healthy movement, and the growing necessity to reconnect with the ground beneath us.
The barefoot debate mostly focuses on running performance and injury prevention, with mixed results. By changing technique and posture, barefoot running likely helps many runners reduce impact injuries and build stronger feet. Others will prefer the cushy ‘comfort’ of padded running shoes. But the evidence that wearing barefoot builds foot strength, flexibility and health goes far beyond running. More athletic feet will be better conditioned for a range of objectives, from summit pushes to gnarly trails. And asking our feet to work a little harder might help with bunions, plantar fasciitis and high arches.
But barefoot thinking questions more than how we move. The way Vivobarefoot sees it, barefoot is also a metaphor for how we relate to and explore natural environments. To live barefoot is to live with nature rather than over nature - to live regeneratively. Barefoot means adventure as co-existence, not conquest. This is why we wanted to collaborate with Vivobarefoot.
By designing footwear that reconnects us with nature, and modelling business practices that give back more than they take, Vivobarefoot is showing how outdoor brands can help respond to our related ecological and mental-health crises. Barefoot footwear is regenerative footwear.
'To live barefoot is to live with nature rather than over nature - to live regeneratively. Barefoot means adventure as co-existence, not conquest.'
There is a biological dimension to barefoot adventure. With around 200,000 nerve endings per sole, a huge percentage of our proprioception information - i.e. our awareness of our body’s movement in space - comes through our feet. But padded shoes block this information. We all know the joy of being barefoot in sand, but are less aware of possibilities of reconnecting with other terrain.
There is also a design element. The remarkable evolution of outdoor kit now allows for safer and more extreme outdoor experiences. But it typically reinforces an idea of adventure ‘progress’ focused on human conquest, not on encouraging a healthier relationship with nature. Vivobarefoot’s regenerative ethos challenges this, and in the process draws not just on new materials and technologies, but also very old ones.
The Ecological Survival Collection (ESC) project, for example, envisions barefoot footwear designed to thrive in each of the planet’s main biomes: Temperate Forest, Frozen Wilderness, Tropical Jungle and Arid Desert. Designed in close collaboration with wilderness experts, the emphasis is on protecting our feet without sacrificing barefoot sensation and health benefits, all while using traditional technologies blended with the most sustainable materials available. “The secret to comfortable feet in extreme environments always comes back to them being allowed to move and breath, moving moisture away from the foot not trapping it next to it,” says Ben McNutt from Wild Human, who was heavily involved in the design process.
'A big part of the sport is to be one with nature and accept the challenges that come with weather and terrain on both land and in the water.'
Adventurers are increasingly exploring the possibilities of barefoot. “A big part of the sport is to be one with nature and accept the challenges that come with weather and terrain on both land and in the water,” says Swimrun World Champion Fanny Kuhn. “Wearing barefoot shoes lets you be even closer to nature and really feel the ground beneath you - mentally and physically.” Record-breaking endurance athlete Tony Riddle, meanwhile, regards barefoot as a core part of his natural lifestyle philosophy and rewilding practice.
And barefoot as a metaphor for living and working regeneratively has many wider implications for how Vivobarefoot works. It drives the Livebarefoot Fund’s funding and incubation of regenerative projects, from kelp farming to indigenous shoemaking. It encourages people to rewild themselves on bushcraft courses with Wild Human. It underpins the new Vivohealth Hub, which helps people learn how to move naturally and safely. And it guides the upcoming Right to Roam campaign championing outdoor activists fighting to make the outdoors more accessible to all.
At Adventure Uncovered we want to work alongside brands passionate about moving outdoor culture forwards and telling new stories about what it means to adventure. Vivobarefoot’s thinking around barefoot, regenerative living and what it means to be an outdoor brand today meet these requirements.