What if all you need is already right there in front of you? In a world where media constantly sends us messages about how to look, what to wear and how to think about life, it’s going to take someone wise and wild enough to get us thinking about going back to nature as a way to harness the true power we have as a species; to revive the vitality we once had as a natural part of the planet.
Encouraging us to “ReWild Ourselves,” he teaches that Invincible Health is produced by a life aligned with our biological design. In his passionate, engaging tone Daniel invites us to make small changes in our lifestyle that can result in big impacts in how we see and connect with our environment.
Up until now we have been taught that the genes we inherited are the genes we are stuck with, and there’s nothing we can do about that. Daniel suggests a different picture, one in which we have the power to influence our genetic expression by taking control of the environment around us.
The air that we breathe DOES matter, and the food that we consume DOES make a difference.
In this enlightening interview, Daniel offers practical tips on how you can incorporate some natural dynamism back into life so that you can be vigorous, strong and healthy.
Homo sapiens seldom select suitable seating stations. Let’s see if we can remedy that.
This video demonstrates the flatfooted squat, which unlike the “in chair” seated position, is a anatomically natural and structurally healthy resting posture for humans.
“A fourth of mankind habitually squats in fashion very similar to the squatting position of the chimpanzee, and the rest of us might squat this way too if we were not trained to use other postures beyond infancy.” -Gordon W. Hewes
With studies emerging that suggest that sitting is a potentially harmful activity – “Sitting is worse than smoking” is the new meme – one has to ask the question, is it sitting that is really so dangerous, or is it sitting in chairs, couches, and lazyboy’s that is so detrimental? In other words, what results would we see if a study was done examining the health effects of prolonged flatfooted squats (as we see in modern Asian populations and amongst many indigenous groups) compared against the effects of sitting in modern chairs?
Going Number 2
The flatfooted squat is also the natural position for human defecation - yes, I’m talking about pooping – and a far healthier way for us to void our bowels. A study published in the journal Digestive Disease and Science titled “Comparison of Straining During Defecation in Three Positions” states the following:
“The present study confirmed that sensation of satisfactory bowel emptying in sitting defecation posture necessitates excessive expulsive effort compared to the squatting posture.”
Just how significant are these “straining forces”? Here is an interesting article on spontaneous fainting and death that can occur in individuals with compromised cardio-vascular systems when straining on the toilet.
Fortunately achieving the healthier squat position in the bathroom is fairly simple, despite the gleaming porcelain centerpiece that adorns most of our throne-rooms. In the video above I show the Lillipad, a device from New Zealand that converts your existing toilet into a squat toilet. Using this device or something similar – there are many items like it available online – will help to ensure that you get into a full flat footed squat at least once a day (if you are voiding your bowels less than once a day then you’ll likely find the squat position all the more valuable).
What About Babies?
There is much more that could be said about the flatfoot squat than is really within the scope of this post. In particular I am thinking of its use as a natural labor and birthing position. Incidentally if you are a female reader who may have used this posture during your labor or while giving birth, your input in the comment area below would be invaluable to this community!
The Benefits Of The Flat Foot Squat
I have noticed several benefits from adding the flatfooted squat into my daily movement patterns, and while they are subjective I think many of them will be felt by you too if you give it a try.
-Greater ease and comfort in my body in general
-Increased hip mobility
-Increased knee mobility
-Increased ankle mobility
-Reduced lower back discomfort, reduced lumbar compression
-Greater ease in bowel elimination and bowel health
-Increased range of motion in the pelvic girdle
-Increased “space” in the pelvic floor – I suspect with benefit to the prostate
-Greater ability to compress my body into a smaller area.. not sure if that is really a benefit, but I think it’s pretty awesome
-Increased ability to comfortably rest on rocky and wet terrain without having to sit on the ground
My Challenge To You:
Are you ready to give it a try? If so then I challenge you to 1 minute in the flatfooted squat per day for the next 10 days. If by then you see no benefits, simply stop doing it.. But if you do, then you have yet one more tool in your personal health development toolkit. Remember, this isn’t some new exercise infomercial I’m selling, rather it is an atavistic mobility and resting posture that is an essential part of your hominid heritage. For me it is a crucial component of my ReWilding Sovereign Self Health Care Strategy.
Have you already been flatfoot squatting? Noticed any health benefits? Are you taking the challenge? Please feel welcome to describe your experience below!
The 4 Four Noble Elements: Part 2 Water — Strategies for Gathering, Storing, and Drinking The Best Water Ever
Check out part 2 of my Four Noble Elements interview series I am doing with Extreme Health Radio!
This is part 2 of the 4 part series where I’ll be going over my ReWilding strategies by exploring the 4 Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In this interview I discuss the element “Water”. For me, water represents our life force. The water we drink is what makes our blood. I enjoy my interviews with Extreme Health radio because I have the opportunity to go into areas that are usually too in depth for most radio shows. There is some new and more comprehensive information here, and there is much more to come!
Enjoy, and stay tuned for parts 3 & 4!
Beau and Aaron of ExistAnew.com dared to take it there… It was great fun talking to these two creative and intelligent fellows – ok, I am partial to them both since they live in Maine – about some topics that certainly occupy my mind but don’t always make it into my interviews. Listen at your own risk!
Will humanity continue barreling forward towards the technological singularity or will we will we once again establish a healthy relationship to biology and the life support system that is our beautiful planet Earth?
Big questions, interesting conversations, lots to think about…
Hello everyone, here is an interview I recently did with Extreme Health Radio.
This is part 1 of what will be a 4 part series where I’ll be going over my ReWilding strategies by exploring the 4 Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In this interview I discuss the element “Earth”. For me, Earth represents the foods we eat, and our digestive system in general. What was great about this interview was they gave me the opportunity to go into areas that are usually too in depth for most radio shows. There is some new and more comprehensive info here, and there will be more to come!
Enjoy and stay tuned for parts 2, 3 & 4!
Though it may come as a surprise to some readers, the consumption of processed water poses many verified health concerns for human beings. This article will explore just one form of water processing, that of demineralization, which is the removal of dissolved minerals and trace elements from water through filtration and distillation methods aimed at removing man-made contaminants.
It has been estimated that human beings – the last extant member of the Homo genus – have existed in our current form for some 200,000 years. Of course hominids in general have an extraordinary history that reaches back millions of years before the present. During that time, and until only very recently, human beings drank exclusively of a water that could be described as “whole” or “wild” in that it came directly from the hydrosphere of the earth and was not chemically purified, refined, or “processed” in any significant way before being consumed.
This water would have come from either surface water – streams, rivers, lakes, and dug wells – or from ground water surfacing as springs, whose source were aquifers, deep pockets of stored water beneath the bedrock of the earth. Today, particularly throughout the developed world, the consumption of unprocessed water is rare, as modern humans, even those living in rural communities, rely ever more increasingly upon a kind of “processed water” for their hydration needs.
The term “processed water” has not yet become a part of our everyday vernacular, but I suspect that in time it will become as common as the phrase “processed food”. I use the term to describe both the mechanical processes aimed at cleaning water, such as filtration and distillation, or chemical treatments such as “purification” via chlorination, “supplementation” via fluoridation, or “stabilization” via the use of phosphoric acid and sodium hydroxide treatments designed to reduce corrosion of municipal or commercial piping infrastructure.
Just as it is with food, there exists a variety of water processing techniques, ranging from gentlest forms of filtration to the increasingly more aggressive forms of refinement such as heat distillation. Consider, analogously, the example of the cereal grain wheat. Whole wheat berries represent a minimally processed whole-food form of wheat, while whole wheat flour is a more significantly, though still gently, processed food. On the extreme end would be white flour representing a much more heavily processed form of the wheat berry. While all three forms are, technically speaking, still wheat, the first represents a whole-food matrix of carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, the second contains the same though many of the delicate lipids and vitamins have begun to degrade and oxidize, and the third is essentially just the micro-nutrient deficient carbohydrate remnant of wheat.
In keeping with this metaphor, we might consider water from a natural spring source as “whole-water”, a water that has been carbon filtered as a gently processed water, and ultimately a distilled or reverse osmosis water as being the most aggressively processed water of all. The whole water contains a suite of substances – both solids and gasses – dissolved into a matrix of H20 molecules, the second form has had some of these substances removed, and the third represents a highly refined water, being little more than chemically pure H20 molecules. This is the “white flour” of waters.
Most of us were raised and educated with the idea that water is simply H20, two Hydrogen atoms bonded to a single Oxygen atom in what geometrically resembles the silhouette of Micky Mouse’s head. What could be simpler? This chemical – Dihydrogen Oxide – is chemically pure water, found in laboratories, but almost never found in nature in significant amounts. Natural water is far more chemically complex, and is as varied in its composition as is the geology from which it is drawn. Heat distillation and reverse osmosis filtration were developed and used for scientific and industrial purposes respectively, and neither was developed to produce drinking water. Their employment in the creation of contaminant-free drinking water was an after thought.
Of course the contamination of the worlds surface water from industrial, agricultural, and radiological contaminants has lead to the increased need for filtration or distillation in order to remove harmful compounds and radio-isotopes present in surface waters, however evidence has emerged that suggests that the water created thorough these methods may not be supportive to human health.
When people speak of “water”, especially in reference to natural water as found in the biosphere, we are actually referring to an electrically dynamic matrix of H20 molecules in which positively and negatively charged ions (electrolytes) are dissolved. These electrolytes are an important part of the nutritive qualities of a given water, and when they are absent, as in the case of demineralized water, that water becomes less nutritious.
“Demineralized water that has not been remineralized , or low-mineral content water – in the light of the absence or substantial lack of essential minerals in it – is not considered ideal drinking water, and therefore, its regular consumption may not be providing adequate levels of some beneficial nutrients.”
-Health risks from drinking demineralized water, F. Kozisek,
WHO guidelines for drinking water quality
From the perspective of human nutritional needs, the differences between wild water and distilled water can be likened to the difference between whole sugar cane and white sugar (sucrose). While sugar cane contains sucrose, it contains many other nutrients too, such as vitamins and minerals, making it a wholesome and nutrient rich food. When it is refined into molasses and ultimately into white sugar all of these and other critical parts of the whole have been removed, leaving behind chemically pure “white sugar” consisting exclusively of crystalized sucrose. While more “pure” from the chemist’s perspective, we now know – and it has been nearly universally accepted – that the consumption of chemically pure sucrose is not supportive to human health. It’s too pure, lacking the important vitamins and minerals that are essential to our homeostasis and to the metabolism of the calories contained in the sugar itself. The effect is a draw upon our bodies stored nutrients from other food sources and ultimately results in a net loss of nutrients from our bodies. Could the same be true of chemically pure water?
“Recent epidemiological studies of an ecologic design among Russian populations supplied with water varying in TDS suggest that low-mineral drinking water may be a risk factor for hypertension and coronary heart disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, goiter, pregnancy complications and several complications in newborns and infants, including jaundice, anemia, fractures and growth disorders.”
-Health risks from drinking demineralized water, F. Kozisek,
WHO guidelines for drinking water quality
According to the World Health Organization, consumption of demineralized water (distilled, reverse osmosis, deionized, desalinated) poses several health risks that may include damage to intestinal mucosa and loss of minerals due to increased diuresis. They also remind us that chemically pure water should be remineralized before consumption, though they admit it is difficult if not impossible to “reconstruct” natural water. Their report on the topic (a rolling revision of the WHO guidelines for drinking-water quality) entitled “Health Risks From Drinking Demineralized Water”, discusses the fact that while commercially or municipally demineralized water is often “stabilized” with a re-injection of minerals and trace elements after its processing, this is rarely the case when demineralization technologies are employed for household use, and many people continue to drink this demineralized water. They also note that the addition of minerals to these waters has been to improve the organoleptic properties (taste, smell, mouthfeel) since demineralized waters are widely reported to be poor in taste and less thirst quenching than fresh water, or to reduce the corrosive effects that demineralized waters have on pipes and infrastructure. In other words, the aim of remineralization efforts has not necessarily been to replace essential nutrients, but rather to make demineralized water more palatable and stable. Perhaps the choice and form of minerals used and their ratios would differ if it were the health of the end consumer that were the impetus for remineralization. Unfortunately at the time of this writing most water remineralization efforts have been strictly for commercial or industrial purposes.
“Possibly none of the commonly used ways of re-mineralization could be considered optimum since the water does not contain all of its beneficial components. Current methods of stabilization are primarily intended to decrease the corrosive effects of demineralized water.”
-Health risks from drinking demineralized water, F. Kozisek,
WHO guidelines for drinking water quality
What emerges now is a picture of healthy water that seems to parallel that which has recently come to light about food. Just as we are evolutionarily adapted to eating foods in their whole form, so too are we similarly adapted to drinking water in its whole form, as it is found in nature, as it is found in the hydrosphere. This water, something more than the sum of its parts, is a beadwork of electrically charged elements strung throughout a dynamic and constantly shifting hydrogen-bonded tapestry of water molecules, producing something that isn’t easily replicated by simply adding minerals into demineralized water like so many ingredients in a recipe.
Still, remineralization techniques represent an improvement upon demineralized waters when they must be consumed, and are therefore advised. If you are using reverse osmosis or distilled water to reduce chemical contaminants in your water supply, consider employing some water remineralization strategy to reintroduce missing nutrients to your drinking water. An added benefit will be improved organoleptic properties – such as taste, smell, and thirst quench – which in turn can lead to an increased desire to drink water and thus becomes an incentive for remaining more fully hydrated. Additionally remineralization reduces your exposure to the risks associated with drinking demineralized water.
An easy and inexpensive way to remineralize your water is adding small amounts of a whole, unrefined sea salt or land salt and then measuring the amount of minerals with a TDS meter. Unrefined salts contain a natural balance of trace elements in addition to sodium chloride, and a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter reads the content of minerals in water in parts per million (PPM). The World Health Organization recommends drinking water whose TDS begins around 100 ppm and ranges as high as 400 ppm.
Simply place the electrodes of your TDS meter into your water to get a baseline reading, and then begin adding very small amounts of your whole salt and stirring. Once fully dissolved, recheck again until you reach your desired TDS reading. You can find a TDS meter here.
If you are interested in finding a source for whole, wild water that is free from man made pollutants, probably no strategy is as effective as personally gathering water from an aquifer fed spring. A user built data base for springs around the world can be found at www.FindASpring.com and can be used to assist you in accessing wild water where you live. There is a developing community of people who are using this strategy all across the globe, and the momentum is building. This is an excellent way to interface directly with your watershed, with your local ecosystem, and ultimately with nature herself.
Here’s an interview I did recently with Angela Stokes-Monarch, check it out below!
Fire By Toothbrush!
Hey Friends! This is a guest blog from my good friend Brian Smith. When he sent me over his initial images, I knew I had to share it!
It is common with surthrivalists to steer clear of items that have only one use when putting together their go-bags (aka bug-out-bags) and EDCs (every day carries). Usually a toothbrush makes it in as an exception. This no longer has to be the case.
Recently Daniel Vitalis, a friend and mentor of mine, released an all natural, 100% biodegradable toothbrush, constructed of bamboo, available through his company, Surthrival, provider of some of the highest quality products available in the health industry today.
Being of similar mind to Daniel in many ways, one being our shared enthusiasm for Earth skills, aka primitive survival skills, I knew that bamboo is a commonly used material for a friction fire starting method called the fire saw. This knowledge, coupled with noticing the dimensions of the new toothbrushes when I received my own, I immediately suspected another potential use for them, as hand drill hearths. The hand drill (spinning a “stick” between one’s hands on a stationary “stick”, called the hearth) is the most common friction fire method used by indigenous humans worldwide, and my personal favorite. When I decided to retire my current toothbrush, I proved my theory true, giving these awesome toothbrushes yet another use before tossing them into the compost pile.
Here’s what my process looks like:
Using the hand drill spindle (the stick that’s being spun, which is usually about pinky thickness & arms length), in this example the dry flower stalk of prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola), I press the end of the spindle into the toothbrush in the spot where I’m going to attempt to spin an ember from, just hard enough to make an impression. I then take the tip of my knife and make a “dot to dot” pattern around the impression, like so:
Then, I use my knife to pop out the center of this circle:
I then use my spindle to do a little bit of preliminary drilling in this hole, just enough to “burn in” the hearth, seating the drill:
Next, I carve a notch in the side of the toothbrush, who’s purpose is to collect the dust created from the friction of the spindle being spun on the hearth (toothbrush). The notch looks like this. Notice it is just shy of the center of the circle and squared off:
Now, I’m ready to go for an ember. When the dust in the notch reaches ~800 degrees F from the friction created via speed of rotation & downward pressure on the spindle, given that it is getting enough oxygen (and is dry!), it should spontaneously ignite, becoming an ember:
Here’s a video demonstration:
For those interested in learning more about the floating technique mentioned in this video, here is a recent video of me giving a more detailed explanation and demonstration.
Here is an article Daniel wrote on friction fire a while back.
Thank you for reading! If you use Google+, please add me to your circles if you’d like to be updated on future blog posts & Youtube videos.
“Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.” -Edith Wharton
For all of you with that lingual longing, for the vocab votaries and pirates of parlance, add this one to your glossary:
Funambulate fu•nam•bu•late (fu-NAM-byoo-leyt):
To walk or dance on a stretched rope.
From French funambule, from Latin funambulus, from funis “rope” + ambulare “walk”
While the word can be translated literally as “rope walk”, I can’t help but notice that it also means, in English, to “Fun Ambulate” or to “Fun Walk”… I digress.
This modern form of Funambulation is known as “slacklining”, and utilizes webbing rather than rope. What began as a pastime for backcountry rock climbers has developed into a robust culture all its own.
Unlike some of the more infrastructure specific obstacles that I will be showing in this video series, slacklines are relatively easy to set up at home, and the skill is picked up with practice as opposed to something that must be taught to you by someone else. I built mine. using some ratcheting truck tie-down straps that I picked up at a hardware store.
Below is the Funambulation as a Meditation video, demonstrating the obstacle itself, but also detailing this skill as a metaphor for living.
If you haven’t seen the film “I Believe I Can Fly”, I think its really worth your time. For me, it was one of the most inspiring films I have seen this year. The combination of crisp cinematography, startlingly high altitude filming locations, and seemingly fearless displays of human ability demonstrated by the cast make this a bit of a white-knuckle ride at times. Here is a 14 minute free clip of some of the greatest funambulists alive today.
Vibram Five Finger performance update: Five little piggies make funambulating a breeze! Notice in the image below that my little wrigglers form-fit flawlessly around the wobbly webbing of the slackline. Yet another surface upon which they bestow a major advantage.
Be sure to check out SurThrival, my online store for nutritional formulas that are revolutionizing the experience of SurThrivalists, Functional Fitness Athletes and ReWilders everywhere! There’s also great t-shirts, and other fun merch to satisfy your thirst for things!
Check back soon for part four of this series, and until then, please leave your graffiti on the wall below!
You, the reader, are much appreciated! Muchas Gracias!
Some people are at the top of the ladder, some are in the middle, still more are at the bottom, and a whole lot more don’t even know there is a ladder.
-Robert H. Schuller
This – the second installment in a series of six – is all about the rope climb. I want to be clear from the outset, this was not a strength of mine as a young lad. Gym class, for me, was nothing short of traumatic, and I remember struggling with all things athletic. Far from the enthusiasm I feel for it now, the rope climb felt more like a punishment designed to prove, once and for all, my total ineptitude and inadequacy to the rest of my peers. Staring up at this tenuous filament suspended from the dizzying heights of the gymnasium ceiling high above, I couldn’t have felt… well.. heavier. I was a bit “husky”, and fitness wasn’t my proclivity, but looking back I am rather disappointed at the lack of instruction offered in the “physical education” programs of my youth. Having now had the opportunity to share this rope-ascension skill with several people, I have found that most can learn it easily within the first few minutes. Perhaps my gym teacher was never properly taught, or maybe back then the job was more about the wind-pants and whistle anyway! I digress…
Today I find a good deal of satisfaction in being able to easily overcome obstacles like this. But as you will see in the video, technique trumps strength, and this is more of a skill than a show of force.
Here is a close up of the friction-locking foot work that makes this technique so easy. Also, consider this a *Vibram Five Finger Performance Update*! They work famously in this rope climbing skill because the technique requires a dextrous manipulation of the rope, the added kinesthetic awareness that my Vibram’s provide make for a more precise and surgical technique. The disadvantage however being the soft sole, which lessens the friction on the rope. I imagine boots would make for a more stable friction-lock. Chances of me giving that a try… low. Very low indeed.
So, what’s the message here. Why this post. I honestly want to inspire you to get out there and play! Challenge yourself, and develop your skill and potential! Don’t have access to your own obstacle course you say? Visit a local park or playground (after school is out, don’t be weird!), they usually have amazing infrastructure designed for human play.. Ok, designed for small humans, but you can adapt! Consider getting involved with the many obstacle course races and challenges that are cropping up all over the country! You are an animal… Train like one!
Got ten toes, and are looking for a discounted pair of Vibrams? Check out BornToRun.com! Use the coupon code SURTHRIVAL to get 10% off your purchase!
Thanks for reading, watching, and please feel free to leave some graffiti on the wall below!
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
For several years now I have been active on the internet sharing health and nutrition strategies that are specifically aimed at the ReWilder.
This post is the first in a slightly different, though I think very complimentary, approach to the ReWilding concept. It approaches the obstacle course as a field on which we can ‘exercise’, or better yet train, our bodies to function at something resembling our full capability.
ReWild Your Body!
I have been participating in Obstacle Course Adventure Races this season and am training daily to become better equipped and more proficient at navigating these obstacles and barriers with ease. It is more than just physical training, it is a metaphor for living!
My girlfriend Ali Schueler, and our good friend Frank Giglio have formed Team SurThrival, all with the goal of running the Tough Mudder this October! Its been a great opportunity to put ourselves, our Vibram Five Fingers, and SurThrival’s nutritional supplements to the test! My appreciation for our Immortal Velvet Elk Antler formula has really deepened in the last couple of months. It has become my go to pre-training, post-training, and all around recovery formula.
For the next few weeks, I will be sharing videos about my obstacle course training, as well as posts about how this relates to the philosophy of ReWilding. This first installment, shot in July of 2012 at the “Tough Mountain Challenge” at Sunday River, Maine, gives an overview of our training philosophy.
I’d really like to hear what you think of the video in your comments below! These events really inspire me, and I hope that this video can inspire you too!
Eschewing Shoes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Vibram Five Fingers, The Official Shoe Of ReWilding? Part 3!
In the first installment of this series, I waxed philosophically about the foot fetishes of our culture and pined for the plight of immobilized toes everywhere.
The second article in this series explored “prehensility” and the all-but-forgotten grasping motion of the human foot.
Both articles focused on Vibram Five Fingers as a viable, available, and rather well designed answer to these pervasive podiatry problems.
In this, the 3rd installment, we will get down to earth, and discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of a life lived in Vibram Five Fingers.
Should anyone at or affiliated with Vibram find themselves reading this, please consider sponsoring me, I am an advocate and an ally. Ok, that was shameless.
You might be asking yourself, “where is the balance here?”. If all of this Vibram Veneration seems a hyperbole, if it seems I sing only the praises of this somewhat alien foot-cover newcomer, be forewarned, my tone is about to change.
I promised that I would critique those things for which Vibram Five Fingers fall short, and I will proceed to do so with a critical eye. My suspicion is that even the sworn Vibram Five Finger loyalists will agree, these shoes are the best, but they are not perfect. Yet.
Many of the kinks I’ll address, I suspect, will be worked out with time as this trend in footwear continues to evolve. This has certainly been true of many of the initial foibles first featured in the early Five Fingers.
I promise, I don’t wear these shoes to be different (though perhaps being different is why I am attracted to these shoes, it sounds the same, but it’s different). This isn’t about being freaky, being a hipster, or being tacti-cool. I wear them because they are the most bio-mechanically/ergonomically functional shoes in existence. For me, the only thing better is nothing at all. Now, herein lies my most significant complaint. What’s up with the colors and design patterns?
My favorite pair at the time of this writing is the Spyridon LS. This shoe has the best balance of minimalist feel and protective covering. It offers grippy, tready traction, while maintaining a prehensile, foot-fist friendly sole. My complaint then? The many garish, ultra-luminous reflective surfaces and ostentatious silver toe racing stripes!
A case in point
Recently someone approached me with the following comment: “Do you have the rest of the skeleton suit to go with those shoes”. Now, as annoying as that quip is, I’ve got to hand it to him, I appreciate good humor when it strikes me.
Scrolling through the pages of their website, one is reminded of the flamboyant color schemes of the 1980′s ski industry. Why the intense day-glow colors and frenetic (even schizophrenic) psychedelic patterns? Now, in fairness, there are a few more muted pairs, but – in men’s at least – these are the more rigid soled versions, and prevent the prehensile, foot-fist experience that I am after.
“Dear Vibram, the Spyridon is amazing, can I get a pair with just the base colors? Maybe before you paint them and add reflective tape?”
I spend several weeks a year camping with friends and am annoyed, if not embarrassed, every time someone turns on a head lamp and my shoes start glowing! I like to wear earth tones, and by design I prefer to blend into my environment… and I usually do, that is except for my shoes, which are lit up like an upper middle class suburban home at Christmas!
I understand that there are those who want their feet to reflect when running through urban streets at night. Car vs. Human contact can be as unpleasant as anything, however, I prefer to garner a bit less attention while walking at night.
Solution: Offer models like the Spyridon in its base colors, with just a bit less flair.
Can’t you smell that smell?
My first Vibram Five Fingers, which were the neoprene KSO’s (incidentally I went through two or three pairs of these in my early beta testing) had one very distinct and difficult to conceal complication. They smelled. Bad. Actually, “smell” is a very cordial way of describing the fetid miasma that these shoes emanated after getting even just the least bit wet.
In fairness, in those days I would wear these shoes without socks, and a size smaller than I wear today. In keeping with this fairness, that was then the recommended use by Vibram at the time.
My experience has been that once this stench developed, it recurred much more quickly each time and the malodor was cumulative. For this reason I would wash my KSO’s in the washing machine about once a week, which helped to reduce this stench, or at least hold it at bay, however – and many of you can attest to this – the smell always won out in the end. I remember one incident in particular. Having my feet up on the seat in front of me at a movie theater. There was a couple sitting a few seats to the right of the one on which I had perched my wreaking wrigglers. I remember when the noxious odor collided with their olfaction, the way they recoiled in shocked disbelief, whispering to one another in disapproving tones. I retracted my feet shamefully for the remainder of the film.
These were the antediluvian days of “barefoot” footwear, and these primitive, thick-browed and sloped fore-headed forebear’s of the modern Five Fingers were more akin to the booties of a wet suit than the sleek, sophisticated, evolved cousin that we all know today. I can remember days when I could smell my own shoes whenever I sat down in a chair. Those were the days when we used to walk up hill to school – both ways – and a soda-pop only cost a nickel. I digress.
Vibram Five Fingers have evolved significantly with each generation, and the current models that I have been wearing are vastly superior to their predecessors of just a few years ago. While I wouldn’t describe them as particularly fragrant, they most certainly have achieved something much closer to neutrality on the nose, and their breathability has become, simply put… outstanding.
It was in the Sonoran desert of Arizona, where my good friend Mathew, harbinger of all things about-to-become-cool, first approached me wearing Vibram Five Fingers (KSO Trek’s, which at that time were the only leather pair available) with Injinji socks beneath them. He extolled the numerous virtues of the sock and Five Finger companionship, though admittedly I was a tough sell.
He said that the socks beat, and even freaked the funk, wicked away moisture, and insulated his feet better into the winter months. It took some time, but for me these points are now but a sermon preached to the converted. Once I donned the five toed sock, I have never looked back. This was the crucial missing link in the five toed footwear system. So crucial in fact, that I have a cubby dedicated to the pile of such socks that I have accumulated. Wait, it gets worse… I have, at any given time, several unopened pairs of the stocks, merchandised in my closet like the stock room of a barefooting shoe shop. SurThrival favors the prepared mind.
At the time of this writing, I have tested two different toe socks, one model from Injinji, which I have tested extensively, and another from Smartwool which I have more limited experience with. Both pairs are merino wool based (which, incidentally is one of my all time favorite functional fabrics), and both come in lovely earth tones. *HINT* HINT* Team Vibram.
The Injinji Outdoor Crew Socks are my staple, the work horse of my collection. They are tried and true. I have probably gone through 20 pairs of them over the last few years, and will concede that I consider them somewhat disposable. I would recommend just such a tact for you too, lest you become disenchanted with their tendency to wear thin and through. This toe sock design, I suspect, is a difficult one to make very robust, that is, without the use kevlar or spider web as a fiber. Eventually they just wear out, and in my experience, much faster than a traditional sock. I have accepted and expect to go through several pairs in the lifespan of a single pair of Five Fingers. I suppose one can just add this to the overall toe-shoe budget.
My Smartwool’s are quickly becoming my favorite, though the pair I prefer, the Toe Sock Micro, seems to be much less widely distributed. Actually, I have only found them in a store once. To date they have not worn out, and are holding up remarkably well, despite the fact that they are far more sheer and of a much lighter weight than my Injinji’s. These are the cashmere sweater of toe-socks. The color of mine is a beautiful coyote tan, and they are very short which translates to less sock sticking out the top of your low-profile Vibram’s. They feel like a luxury sock, truly a grade above. I’m getting goose bumps just writing about them.
For me, wearing socks within my Five Fingers increases comfort, reduces smell (which in turn reduces needing to wash them, which in turn increases their lifespan), increases wicking, thus keeping my feet drier, and increases their insulating properties (due to the properties of merino wool), adding to the amount of late season days I can wear my Vibram’s.
It all comes out in the wash
To wash or not to wash your Vibram Five Fingers… that is the question.
If your Vibram’s start smelling like a wheel of well aged cheese, its probably time to throw them in the wash. That said, I have had to wash my newer Vibram’s (I have never washed a leather pair, so can’t speak on this from experience) infrequently if at all since I began wearing socks with them (and actually this is the main reason that I started wearing socks with them in the first place).
If you do choose to wash yours, be warned, experience has shown that this may reduce their lifespan, even if only slightly.
If you are on a budget and want to get the most out of your purchase, wash them sparingly. As I mentioned above, socks will greatly reduce or even completely avert the wretched stench that plagues the barefoot wearer. This in turn will decrease the need to wash them, and thereby increase their lifespan.
Still, sometimes there just comes a day. Here is what I recommend. Wash them as gently as possible. Set the machine to a gentle cycle, and wash them no warmer than warm. Avoid hot water as it seems to degrade the materials that the shoes are made of as well as the glues that bond the upper to the sole.
I would also recommend that you hang them to dry, or dry them in the sun. Using a machine dryer seems to really damage these shoes and shorten their useful life. I have noticed that it causes the uppers to pull away from the sole, eventually separating them. It also causes the sole to curl a bit, distorting the original shape of the shoe, even if only slightly.
This complaint is more significant still, and one that I think will prevent many people from fully embracing this style of footwear, no matter how comfortable, hipster, or holy. That’s the fact that any amount of perceivable moisture, even a damp surface, no less a rainy day, completely defeats this shoe. Because the minimalist sole, particularly at the inside of the arch, is so low in profile, and the materials of the upper are so breathable/permeable, even the smallest amount of water penetrates almost the moment it makes contact with the wet or damp surface. This means in order to keep my feet dry I simply can’t wear them on a rainy day unless I concede to this mushy and marshy discomfort. Because I wear my Vibram’s with socks, they too quickly become wet, prolonging the drying experience. For those who wear their’s sans socks, this is a sure recipe for stinkfoot.
Perhaps Vibram can develop a waterproof yet breathable membrane version? Something with the functionality of GoreTex. Perhaps the upper could be taped or sealed higher than the lip of the sole? Something, anything. I want to wear these shoes on rainy days, muddy trails, dewey grass in the dampness of the early morning. I want my shoes to be as versatile as I seek to be. Until then, they are finicky, a bit of a lap dog.
Urine Big Trouble Mister
What’s worse then a stroll through dewy grass or across a puddle laden street in your Vibram Five Fingers? How about the men’s bathroom in a crowded public place? Women, please know I am not discriminating here, this is purely anatomical.
For those of you who are not in the know, or who have been so over-shod as to have never noticed, I will proceed to describe conditions at the foot of a public urinal as it moves from clean to health hazard throughout the day:
The floor in front of this piss-pot is swabbed clean by the person elected to just such a task. Man number one approaches, unsheathes his sword, and proceeds to urinate into this porcelain pan, leaving behind a droplet or two on the floor (men are often messy). Man number two -no pun meant here- approaches the urinal, and to avoid stepping in man number one’s urine drips, he steps just slightly wider and further back. He now, of course, leaves his own urine droplets/splash pattern, though somewhat larger than man number one due to his lack of proximity, and these coalesce with the previous droplets. Now a small puddle forms. Each successive man contributes to this in his own way, and the puddle grows ever larger, bleeding outward across the floor like a bottle of ink spilled upon a map, stretching north and south, east and west..
Enter yours truly. Vibram Five Fingers on, and hyper aware of their unique moisture wicking properties. This puddle is, for me, an obstacle course who’s consequences are greater than any risk I have ever taken in the outdoors. This is formidable. I have micturated (hehehe this is the scientific way of saying peed) in some rather unorthodox positions to avoid this veritable slip and slide. This balancing act of course brings attention to my feet, and hence my shoes, and adds to the stream of questions that I must then answer or strange looks that I must avert.
My Question to Team Vibram: How is this dealt with in the bathrooms at the Five Finger corporate offices?
The Vibram Tan
Ok, this isn’t really a design flaw, but just an issue posed by any shoe.. that is the tan line. I like my Vibrams, actually, the obsession boarders on devotional (does this make me a “podiphile”?) I like them so much that I sometimes wear them at times when, in the past, I would have simply gone barefoot. Now, I am descended from some pretty olive skinned Italiano’s, and after spending 5 successive years lifeguarding the Southern Maine beaches, my skin tans quickly, evenly, and efficiently. This is something for which I am grateful, though I am developing something of a Vibram tan line. While its not something I expect the designers at Vibram to remedy, it bears mentioning.
A Rock In My Shoe
My Bormio’s are surely the most sturdy of my five toed footwear. The leather is of high quality and the sole is rugged. While far from water proof, or even water resistant, they do stay drier than my other pairs. Some prehensility is sacrificed for this robustness of sole, but this is to be expected. I am deeply appreciative of their simple brown color, which fulfills the earth tone color pallet that I fetishize. Also, one comment made by a passerby has stayed with me and it was this: “Those are the most tasteful Vibrams I have seen”. Compliment? Kind of. It brings us back to the paragraphs above.
Regardless, I have been very happy with these, and have tested -which is to say abused- them for months at a time in the Sonoran and high deserts of Arizona, and can say that they – or my pair at least- have held up famously. This is saying a lot, as this arid, rocky, thorn ridden biome plays havoc on even the most hardy cobble-craft. (Note: the desert leaves one free of the moisture issues mentioned in the above paragraphs. Would moving to the desert to get more out of my Vibram’s be pathological?)
Still, the Bormio is less than perfect, and from what I understand is being discontinued (I protest this!). My complaints? There are 2 and are as follows:
1. The Zippers. These have held up well and I have had no problems. My concern is this: With each shoe having two zippers, one per side, this is a total of four individual zippers per pair, making the chances of a catastrophic zipper failure quite higher than I am comfortable with. It makes taking these into the back country or as your sole travel shoe somewhat restrictive. I understand the reason for zippers, but there must be another way. Even one zipper per shoe would increase my confidence.
2. The height. They are so close! They are an almost-boot, falling several inches short of the mark. Actually they are at exactly the right height to receive aberrant kicked up pebbles like a hoop receives a swished free-throw. Socks mitigate this to some degree, but to have these almost-boots just a bit taller would make them -to my mind- a far superior piece of foot gear.
A Final Note on Prehensility
It seems fair to say that the Vibram Five Fingers exist on a spectrum from soft, “almost nothing there” soles, to more rigid soles who’s intent is to be a light “trekking” shoe. I would like to point out to the user that the more rugged the Vibram Five Finger model you choose, the more “Prehensility” you will have to sacrifice. This is not a flaw in design, rather just a consequence of the currently available building materials.
The most comfortable and prehensile Five Finger’s I personally own and have tested are my Bikila LS’s. They are like an extension of my body and feel almost as light as a sock. I have effectively shredded them, though I do feel I got my money’s worth! Incidentally, they are a bit “harder on the eyes” than many of the other pairs I own.
The stiffest sole and least prehensile of all the pairs that I have tested are my Trek LS’s. These are not just stiff, but seem to run a bit narrow as well. They do however come in a light brown and black, and are probably one of the most tasteful shoes that Vibram offers. I wear my black ones on “dressier” occasions.
As I mentioned above, the Goldilocks -”this pair is just right” – for me so far is my Spyridons. They are a great balance of soft sole, knobby tread, rugged but soft exterior, and breathable comfort. I am gearing up to order a second pair any day now.
3 Seasons instead of 2.5!
Oh what would I do for a for a pair of winter Vibram boots? What’s more, I know they exist, as leaked images have been on the web for some time now. Living in North America means that most of us have cold to colder winters that we must contend with or integrate into. Whichever you choose, most likely you will have to hang up your Five Finger’s until the spring (likely the second, drier part of spring).
Most of us understand that a mitten is warmer than a glove due to the heat sharing that takes place with the en-mittened digits (as opposed to the cold isolation experienced by gloved fingers). The same is true of the toes, and for avid outdoors-people, isolating your little piggies from one another is probably not a great idea. Still, perhaps it’s time for a Five Fingered boot that allows us to “barefoot” later into the year. Looking at these prototypes has me drooling!
These are, beyond all others, my favorite shoes. Period. In my opinion -as I mentioned in the previous article- they are “the best invention since the wheel”. The quest for perfect foot protection stretches back to the early days of stone knives and friction fire. In fact, it is a quest that predates even the dream of the wheel (that is the melodramatic climax of the article).
I have sometimes mused on whether the ancient moccasin makers may have considered this individually digited idea, or if perhaps the early hunters wished for such a nimble footed option. This I can never know, but what I have directly experienced is this, these are the first shoes that I have worn that allow me to express the prehensility that is my human birthright (ok, sorry, that was the melodramatic climax). Are they perfect? Far from it. Have they been consistently improving since they were first released? Absolutely, and their evolution has just begun! As a proponent of the “ReWilding” philosophy, it is in not often you will hear me say this, but… I am excited to see where this technology is headed!
What have you experienced wearing these shoes? What do you think about prehensility? Which Vibram’s or other barefooting shoes have you like the most?
Please comment below and share this article with other people who have feet!
If you would like a 10% discount on Vibram Five Fingers, Smartwool and Injinji socks, or a multitude of other great “bare footing” products, use the coupon code SURTHRIVAL at BornToRun.com
Check out SurThrival for products designed to support your ReWilding process, and….
Thank You – Sincerely – for reading this!
Staying adaptable; a change of plan
I had intended to make part 2 – this part – of my article on Vibram Five Fingers about what I love and don’t love about this iconic five-toed footwear, having now lived in them for the better part of 5 years (is that one year per toe?). I also wanted to share what I’ve learned about getting the most out of them, and what you can realistically expect to get out of them in terms of performance and lifespan. Once I saw your comments and emails, I realized that part 2 would need to take a different turn, and that I could return to my original intentions for part 3.
Let’s tackle a few of the questions I received, and following that I’d like to divulge the source of my feverish five finger fervor. Read on.
What about sandals, flip-flops, and other “Barefooting shoes? Do you really think I should wear those hideous things?
After publishing part one of this article, I received several comments and emails from people asking about everything from women’s flats and boat shoes, to sandals and flip flops. Also, there are many of you out there that are having great experiences with other “barefoot” shoes that have a more traditional toe box, i.e. sans toes.
Let me take each of these on, one by one.
Flats and boat shoes: What’s ‘less bad’ (that’s like saying good, only not) about these types of shoes is that there is very little rise from toe to heel, which places the foot in a more natural position when compared against shoes or boots with a “high” heel. They still do, however, restrict the metatarsal bones of the foot, which are the long bones that run from the ankle (tarsals) down to the first knuckle of the toe. These bones are bound together by the shoe, even if slightly. They also restrict, and force to a point, the phalanges of the foot, which are the small bones of the toes. It reminds me a bit of wearing a snow-suit when I was a wee tot. I could still walk, but my normal movements were most definitely restricted.
Sandals and flip-flops: Sandals typically restrict the metatarsal bones in nearly the same way that shoes do, utilizing straps or laces to bind the bones of the foot together. Often, even though the sandal is well-ventilated, the phalanges are tightly bound to one another. Also, many women’s sandals have unnaturally high heels which we discussed in the previous installment of this article.
For the purposes discussed here, flip flops are far superior to most shoes in several ways, however my personal experience has demonstrated that they are best used like a lounge slipper or when we plan to be going primarily barefoot and need to cover the sole of the foot to negotiate short sections of rough terrain or if we are planning on entering into foot un-friendly establishments.
What I love about the flip-flop is that the metatarsals and phalanxes of the foot can fully open and relax. Because they do not contain an arch-prosthesis (also known as “arch support”), the foot is allowed to assume is normal resting state. The near complete open air ventilation is, of course, also part of their obvious appeal.
There are however a few significant detractors to the flip flop design, not the least of which is the incessant “flipping and flopping” sounds that usher forth with each step forward.
In truth – and of course I own flip flops and do utilize them for what they do best in my lifestyle – there is just one issue that I take with the flip flop, and that has to do with the subtle but significant way that they change the way we walk.
Imagine – or better still, actually go out and test this – walking up a steep hill in the sort of “standard-issue” thong flip flop. You will note, either mentally if you are imagining, or kinesthetically if you are real-world testing, that with each step up the incline the flip flop’s tread surface tractions to the ground, while the plantar surface of the foot – the sole -tends to slip rearward out of and away from the thong harness of the flop itself. The next thing you may notice is the natural tendency to grip the sandal with the toes in order to keep the foot aligned over the sole of the flop.
If you attempt to walk even the most mildly contoured or technical surface, you may note that your foot occasionally slides to one side or the other, slipping off and over the edge of the flop’s sole. Again, you may notice the tendency to grip the flop with your foot in an attempt to keep your foot aligned over this constantly shifting and rather unstable platform.
This constant gripping of the flip flop means that the foot receives our body weight in what is often a contracted, toe squeezed position. What is the short term result? For me it is the frequent tearing away of the skin at the tip of my toes, as my down-turned big toe tip skids over the front lip of the flop and scrapes across the substrate – that’s a really nerdy way of describing a surface material – I’m walking on. ”Give blood, hike in flip flops”! What are the long term results of this? I am unsure, but I suspect it takes us further from our goal.
The summation is that the flop does not move with our bodies, but rather hangs (or “flops”) tenuously off of our bodies. In other words, it does not integrate well with our anatomy or bio-mechanics. Should we choose to engage an “unconventional environment – which is to say, do just about anything outside of simple across-asphalt-ambulations – there is simply too much work involved here and too little reward. It is difficult to jump from surface to surface, as in crossing a stream strewn with stones, or to hike up a hill, particularly one of loose gravel or one blanketed with dry leaf litter. It can be done well, but you’ll work for it.
I prefer to use my flip flops in hotel rooms (barefoot here is just gross!), short easy walks, or anytime I am primarily barefoot and need to move quickly from unshod to shod, (as in barefoot on the beach, then heading into a shop) etc.
Other Barefooting Shoes: There is most assuredly a revolution underway in the athletic shoe world, and it marches under the banner of – rather ironically – ”bare footing” (if you haven’t read or listened to the book “Born to Run” I highly recommend it!). In response to the demands of the barefoot running market, and of course to compete with the Vibram Five Finger, many companies are developing, or are already marketing their “barefoot” designs. These are typically flat and flexibly soled shoes with very wide toe-boxes and minimal uppers (some shoemakers, like Adidas have released their own digited designs).
These shoes represent a huge leap forward in footwear technology, allow for space between the bones of the toes and feet, and don’t rise from toe to heel. Many allow some sensation of the texture of the substrate you are standing on as well, due to their thin soles. And yet, there is still one reason why I haven’t embraced these designs the way that I have taken to my Vibram Five Fingers. These shoes still restrict one specific motion of the foot, and this may be the most important of all. It can be summed up with just one strange but vital word…
prehensile |prēˈhensəl, -ˌsīl|
adjective; (chiefly of an animal’s limb or tail) capable of grasping.
Why I “Barefoot”
In writing this article I have been searching myself for why I obsess over barefooting, either literally, or symbolically as is now the trend. I have observed how I walk, how I run, how I jump, and how I climb. I have watched my feet in forage, crossing streams and creeks, and barefoot on the beach. I have observed myself on slack lines and rappels, shooting on the range, driving a vehicle, and fighting in Krav Maga classes. Climbing a 2 inch rope and sliding back down. Jumping for height and jumping for distance, walking for stealth, or just strolling through a Whole Foods produce section. All of these experiences have led me to one conclusion, my foot (and of course, our feet) is capable of a movement that is all but ignored by modern civilization. That is its ability to grasp.
When I set out to describe this grasping capability of our feet, I began with a memory bank search for the word used in anatomy and physiology to describe this simple simian movement. I had studied human musculoskeletal anatomy to a fair degree of competency at one point in my life, but couldn’t seem to remember what this movement was called. I remembered plantarflexion, the “pushing the gas peddle” movement, and its opposite, dorsiflexion. I recalled supination, the turning or the plantar surface of the foot inward to face the midline, and its antagonistic motion known as pronation, turning the plantar surface of the foot towards the outside of the the body.
Even after consulting my texts and the all-knowing oracle at Google, the closest I could come was “metatarsophalangeal flexion” which is a way of saying the curling of the toes under the foot. Still, this didn’t satisfy.
I am left to use the term “Prehensility” which describes the ability of an appendage, like a foot or tail, to grasp. There are a few reasons that I hesitate here – and please, if someone reading has a more loyal locution, please divulge it below!
First, the word lends itself nicely to the Darwinian idea of a hierarchy of organisms, at the top of whom resides man in all his wisdom (Homo sapiens means “Wise man”). As someone who doesn’t subscribe to such nonsense – I sense a bit more equity in the natural order of things – the etymology of this word challenges my sensibilities. The word comes from the Latin “prehendere”, or prae ‘before’ + hendere ‘to grasp’. It subtly implies a kind of primitivism, or a “not-yet-fully-formed-ness”, as if to have this ability is un-evolved or resides in the domain of the lesser apes (maybe I am just a lesser ape?).
Second, when I began looking for references to human prehensility, more than anything else, I turned up articles about individuals who had lost – through accident, disease, or having been born with a specific disability – the use of their hands. These individuals often develop the abilities of the foot to a remarkable degree of precision and excellence, using them to perform complex tasks with an adroitness we usually associate only with fingers.
Have you seen this extraordinary video of Sabine Becker (she’s extraordinary, not the video), who performs tasks with her feet that demonstrate the resplendent nimbleness of our misunderstood, underused, atrophied, and – dare I even say – abused feet.
Here’s the rub, it’s as if at once this very human capability is seen as unadvanced, unevolved, or ‘proto’, yet this very ability clearly lies within the reach of human possibility. Second, that because we board our feet to rigidly shanked shoes which render us incapable of grasping with the foot, we act as if it is not possible at all lest we revert, devolve, or abase to this podiatry deftness. I will leave room here for the reader to draw their own conclusions about this. Mine are the following:
I am weary of anything or anyone that seeks to limit my potential, eliminate my inborn abilities, or is offended by my capabilities. While I am not insinuating that we need to develop our foot dexterity to the level that Sabine has, I do think her video is beautiful and I am as or more impressed by it than I am watching the athletes at the forefront of parkour and “human flight“.
Everything within our grasp
While there are many ergonomic shoes available today, many of which fall under that strange, but now pervasive catchword “barefoot”, it is my Vibram Five Fingers alone that have allowed me to explore prehensility as an integrated part of my bodies regular movement repertoire. This is something that I don’t have access to in sandals or flat-soled shoes, no matter the width of the toe-box or thinness of the upper. Having access to the individual toe pockets allows for independent movement of the digits, which is essential to this most fundamental faunal movement. After all, it is how we stay in touch with the Earth.
As something of a post script, I wanted to share the shoe that I wore before the development of the Vibram Five Finger. I think there are a couple of motivations here, one of which is to demonstrate my long commitment to natural ambulation and the unyielding search for the “ideal” shoe. The other reason is because these shoes are ninja-chic, inexpensive, and easy to procure online. They are called jika tabi, and come from Japan. They have a very thin sole, an innovative clasp system that creates a customized fit on the leg, and best of all, a separate large toe (you can even wear regular single compartment socks with these by pushing the sock between your large and second toe). While the other four toes still share a single compartment, the ability of the foot to grasp is still largely intact. These shoes are worn by the Ninpo community, or those who study Ninjutsu, the ancient Japanese “special forces” martial art. You can order these “Tabi Boots” here.
Stay tuned for part 3 of this article which will focus on the specific benefits and bedeviling curses of these five toed innovations. Socks or no socks? Leather vs Synthetic. And the best and worst environments for wearing them. And the big one… ”should I wash them or let them stink?”
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please share it (that is, if you do in fact want to share it), and leave some comments below.
Oh, my friend at BornToRun.com wanted me to offer you 10% off at their store, which stocks Vibram Five Fingers and everything else “barefoot”. The coupon code is SURTHRIVAL. Enjoy!
Also, check out SurThrival.com for my product line which is designed to support your ReWilding!
That’s what I am doing, how are you ReWilding?
Vibram Five Fingers, the Official Shoe of ReWilding? Part 1: Fetish, Perversion, & the “Barefoot” Revolution!
So many wonderful articles have been written on the bio-mechanics of the human foot and the benefit of walking and running in Vibram Five Fingers and other “barefoot” style shoes, that I will not, here, tread such familiar ground. Rather, this article is an exploration of our cultures depraved foot fetish, its bio-mechanical perversions, and the divestment of the uni-toed serf shoes that have crippled wo/mankind for far too long!
I have a little joke I make about my Vibram Five Fingers… I like to say, “They are mankind’s greatest invention since the wheel.” This is, of course, a bit of a joke, as some truly innovative cultures – I’m thinking of the Inca/Quechua of Peru – Didn’t really even utilize the wheel (evidently it was too hilly in the Andes). What I mean to say here is that this may be the biggest footwear breakthrough since the moccasin. This is difficult to say publicly (please go easy on me, die-hard primitive-skills fundamentalists), I think they may even surpass the moccasin. I don’t say this lightly… Read on.
“What are those?”
Before I begin, allow me to issue this WARNING: If you choose to embrace this podiatry pentad please be prepared. Expect the flummoxed stares of the uninitiated and the probing questions of the uninformed.
I have generated some pre-fabricated responses, because – and those of you who wear them know – people constantly stop to ask about your shoes. There are a few typical comments and questions that people ask, almost as if on queue. Next follows a small sampling of the usual suspects:
1. ”Are those things supposed to be comfortable?”
2. “Those look really comfortable but I just can’t stand having anything between my toes. Doesn’t that bother you?”
3. “How can you wear those, they are just so weird looking!”
4. (Maybe my favorite) “Those are cool, but how is the arch support?”
In fairness, I would like to be clear about this upfront. If I suspect that someone is asking me these question with a genuine interest and an open mind, I am happy to share. If, however, I feel I am simply providing amusement for a dull and unpolished mind, I have a script. I will share it in a moment, but first, lets explore some perversion.
Since I first awoke to the startling conclusion that I was a highly domesticated and crudely shod primate, I have wrestled with the following puzzling enigma. Why does nearly every shoemaker design shoes that angle acutely towards a terminal point at the toe? Here is what I mean: Do me a favor and take off your shoes. Follow this with the removal of your socks. Now, gazing with a soft focus at your foot do you notice an overall shape more like a divers flipper, or is your foot shaped like a stiletto? If your foot looks like the one below you are exempt from this conversation:
This image is of the foot that the shoes I grew up with were designed for. If you think that I am being dramatic, please go through your closet, gather together a sampling of the shoes in your collection and compare them to the feet that are just left of this text. I have shown this image a few times to some rather large crowds as part of my projected slideshow presentations. It has been an interesting psychological experiment to watch the reaction of the crowd as it goes from one that says “business as usual” to a kind of light revulsion. This is usually followed by laughter of a strange and somewhat uncomfortable nature. It takes a moment for a person to awaken to the full meaning of the image. Yes, this photograph is a fabricated deformity. Stranger still, it is the imagined deformity that shoemakers build shoes for. Nearly all shoemakers, from those who manufacture athletic shoes to those who build dress shoes, from fashion to function, there is a perverse foot fetish in full effect. It pervades the minds of cobblers and podiatrists alike.
I suppose you can force a foot into a sort of blunted point. I guess the proper term would be “brace” the foot. I say this because of the way the side walls of the shoe’s toe-box presses the metatarsals together. It reminds me of the way dental braces bind together the teeth. I guess there is more similarity between orthotics and orthodontics than just the sound of the word. I digress.
Let’s conduct the following thought-experiment: If we were to put a person with fully functional legs into a pair of leg braces, and required that they don them for most of their waking hours, year after year, what would be the outcome? I suspect we could anticipate some muscular and skeletal atrophy after a time. If you attempted to walk around in leg braces each day and only took them off to shower and sleep how weak would your legs eventually become? What if you implemented this regimen from the early days of walking? How comfortable would you be without them after a few decades of living in your leg braces? How safe would you feel without them?
All Bound Up
In fairness, we wouldn’t be the first culture with a foot-deformity fetish. The Chinese practiced foot binding – which is to say, that it was practiced on Chinese women – right up until 1912. It is thought that no small part of the allure was the way these broken, crippled, and deformed feet caused these women to walk. You can imagine with a child-sized foot there might be a certain, um… Sway to the hips. This was, evidently, seen as rather sexy in its day.
And yes, this is a real image of a bound foot. If this seems hideous, oppressive, or like a frightening perversion, I ask you to consider the many well accepted body augmentations that people undertake today to meet the beauty fetishes of our culture. Then, after this reflection, I ask you to take a closer look at this image of the bound foot. Notice the shape, the long, extended heel, the toes bent at a sharp angle to the ball of the foot. The deep, exaggerated arch. Is this familiar?
Sexy In Heels
This issue reminds me of the cultural bias/blindness that we all, conscious as we may seek to be, suffer from at times. People will campaign in the streets to stop the female circumcision that is practiced in some African countries, and those same people will have their newborn boys circumcised later that week. Similarly, we are repulsed by the concept of foot binding, and we will openly and emphatically criticize the way that it de-humanizes women, reduces them to mere sex-objects, and the way it feeds the dominator paradigm, and we will say it all while wearing these:
I guess there’s still nothing sexier than a helpless woman that can’t walk properly. I think male dominators have always liked a woman that can’t run away.
Seriously though, who has been perpetuating the mythos that this is attractive, desirable, or stranger still, is somehow sexually empowering for women? Watching a woman attempt to walk in these body distorting foot-traps calls back to the foot binding of China, and is the very image of the foot fetish that pervades the civilized mind. I won’t get distracted by the discussion of the anterior pelvic tilt that this footwear causes and what kind of affect this might have on the body-mind/physiognomy of the woman who wears it.
Who’s the brains of this operation?
So admittedly, I have been rhetorical in this blog, asking questions who’s answers are at best obvious, and at worst provocative.
So here is another. ”Is there a part of your brain that controls your feet?” And yet another still. ”What happens to that part of the brain when the feet are splinted-off in shoes?” Do these neurons eventually go to sleep, or atrophy from lack of use? While our feet may not be adapted for text book prehensility, they certainly do come pre-packaged with five intact toes, each with its own role (this little piggy went to market). Shoes on the feet remind me a bit of mittens on the hand.
Mittens or Gloves?
Each year I take a significant amout of tactical workshops. This means I end up training with a fair bit of military, police, and private contractors. They often ask about my Vibram Five Fingers, and usually this begins with the typical insecure male jesting. I prefer to quickly turn the table, and will usually ask these professional tactical operators the following question: ” If you had to conduct an important operation, would you prefer to do so wearing a snug fitting and kinesthetically responsive tactical glove or a sensory dulling, over-padded, finger constricting mitten?” This usually puts any further jesting to rest.
My point? The shoes most of us grew up wearing – I say most of us, but really mean all of us, since I don’t personally know any exceptions to this – were more of a mitten than a glove. But, at least a mitten is shaped a bit like a hand. The shoes that I grew up in were shaped very differently than my foot, or the feet of those around me. What’s worse, they lead to the progressive weakening and atrophy of the musculature of the foot, which strangely and even perversely, seems to be the very fetish that our culture obsesses over.
This brings me to the scripted answers for the above mentioned common questions the Vibram Five Finger wearer hears:
Q: “Are those things supposed to be comfortable?”
A: “More comfortable than any shoe that I have ever worn. That is, if you think having your body parts in their normal, healthy anatomical shape and alignment is comfortable.”
Q:”Those look really comfortable but I just can’t stand having anything between my toes. Doesn’t that bother you?”
A: “Really? You can feel your toes? Thats a start!”
Q:”How can you wear those, they are just so weird looking!”
A:”Your foot mittens look weird to me. Aren’t you embarrassed to wear such archaic footwear?”
Q: (Maybe my favorite) “Those are cool, but do they have any arch support?”
A: “Please take a moment to consider this. Arch support causes the lower leg muscles that support your arches to atrophy and so contributes to the collapse of your foot’s arch. Arch support is like crutches for your feet.”
In conclusion, are Vibram Five Fingers the official shoe of the ReWilding movement?
I believe they are, however, and this is the more poignant observation, most of the shoes we have worn throughout the course of our lives are symbols of, and part and parcel to, our human domestication.
Most of us who are ReWilding are seeking a shoe that minimizes the impact it has on the free functioning of our biomechanics, and works with, rather than against, our anatomy. What is most amazing is that it has taken this long for shoes like this to become a reality!
I love to go barefoot, however this is something I prefer in natural and clean landscapes. When I am in a town or city, in public buildings or worse, public bathrooms, I prefer good footwear. When I am on a landscape that risks injury to my bare-feet (I am thinking of the cacti dappled desert we call the Sonoran) I prefer, like the indigenous peoples who developed the first tanned leather moccasins, to have foot protection. I will gladly take the physically responsive, bio-mechanically and anatomically accurate, ergonomic foot-glove over the sensory dulling, over insulated, prima donna padded foot-mitten any day!
Viva la Vibram!
In part 2 of this blog, I will explore the pros and cons of a life lived in Vibram Five Fingers (or at least in the pairs that I have personally tried and tested). I will also share the tips I have uncovered for getting the most out of them, for keeping them clean and smelling good (or not bad at least!) and I will venture to make some rather forward requests to the people at Vibram for a special edition shoe that I think many of us would love to have!
Oh, I almost forgot, my friend at BornToRun.com wanted me to extend to you the 10% off coupon code SURTHRIVAL for any purchase at their store. They have an outstanding selection of Vibram Five Fingers as well as everything else “barefoot”. Enjoy!
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. Please share it, and share your comments below.
ReWild Yourself, ReWild Your Feet!
I am really excited to announce the release of the new book “Pine Pollen, Ancient Medicine for A New Millennium”, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I had the privilege of both publishing this book as well as writing the foreword, and am very excited to see it added to the existing herbal literature.
This project began a few years back when I read Stephen’s outstanding book “The Natural Testosterone Plan”. Actually, I was reading a few of his books and found myself particularly spellbound by the section on Pine Pollen and its incredible androgenic effects. My company, SurThrival, became the first to bring a fully developed Pine Pollen product line to the natural foods market place in North America. I had met Stephen at a workshop he gave in British Columbia (here is an interview I did with him) and having become friends, asked if he would be willing to collaborate with myself and the SurThrival team on a Pine Pollen herbal-monograph. Stephen, having studied Pine Pollen extensively, had much to share on the subject. The results are his latest book which you can find here.
Stephen was sure to include extensive sections on the historical use of Pine Pollen in various traditional medicine systems, its chemistry, as well as its androgen profile, dosages for use, and yes… Even how you can harvest your own! The entire book is extensively footnoted so that you can access the scientific literature from which so much of this information has been compiled.
The following is a short excerpt from the opening pages of the book:
“Although the Western world has been undergoing its greatest herbal renaissance in over a century the medicinal actions of trees are often overlooked, perhaps none more so than pine. Given the drive for new plant medicines and the continual search for a new herb-of-the-day that will simulate excitement in the general populace (e.g. rhodiola, maca), it is astonishing that pine has been unrecognized for so long. This is particularly perplexing since the pollen of pine trees has been used for millennia in China and Korea as both food and a particularly powerful tonic and adaptogen, especially for the elderly.
Thousands of Chinese herbs have entered the Western pharmacopoeia; the earliest and best known is perhaps ginseng. Pine pollen, given its potency, its similarity to ginseng in some of its actions, and its status as, perhaps, the premier phytoandrogen on the planet, should have been recognized long before now as the powerful medicinal it is. This monograph is intended to remedy that oversight and help establish it as one of the most important medicinals in the herbalist’s repertory.” - Stephen Harrod Buhner
I suspect you will all enjoy this book as much as I have enjoyed being a part of it. Stephen, in addition to being a prolific writer on herbal craft and lore, is a poet and word-smith par excellence.
To your health and prosperity,
Tune into Daniel’s next interview on the One Radio Network on November 10th called “ReWilding, Tips & Tricks for Strengthening Our Epigenetic Health”! This is a FREE interview – Call in to listen live at 10 a.m. EST (9 a.m. CST & 8 a.m. PST). Click the banner below to tune in or listen to the recorded version!
On this interview, Daniel will be speaking about his latest research into the reclassification of modern humans as a new subspecies. It is a wild new idea that comes from the effects our modern lifestyle has had on our epi-genome and our health. Because our epi-genetics are influenced by everything in our environment, the lifestyle we have lived has shaped us into some new and all together different creature. The concept of “rewilding” is about recreating or replicating some of our natural conditions to make us healthier and more robust. Daniel will be sharing tips on the kinds of things a person can do to rewild themselves and what it could mean to our health.