Using Paleos® shoes for covert barefooting – A review
Paleos® shoes are great for barefoot walkers and runners looking for extra foot protection, and indeed that's mostly whom the GoSt Barefoots company markets their shoes to: you'll find plenty of photos and videos on the internet of bare feet in chain mail, treading on all kinds of soft natural grounds.
But I'll tell you what you won't find images of Paleos® used as everyday footwear. That is, chain mail shoes worn over regular socks by city dwellers walking on tarmac and other everyday hard surfaces.
Me, I wear my ANTERRA CLIFF shoes at work, in town, in buildings and in my car, these shoes are fabulous replacements for regular city shoes, and it's a great shame they're not more actively promoted for that purpose. If you want to know why I like them so much, read on...
A little bit about me
Many years ago, I was a hardcore barefooter, I went everywhere without shoes. I first ditched my shoes on a doctor's advice to cure a tenacious knee pain. It worked, so I kept at it. It wasn't a lifestyle choice at all, but a practical proposition it was either straying outside the norm or living on painkillers. Not being shy, I chose the former.
And boy did I look odd! I'm not the kind you'd normally associate with barefooting. I'm a typical suit-wearing middle manager, the kind of which you find in nondescript offices the world over. My background is more Bayreuth than Woodstock – to use cheap clichés. When I decided to eschew the shoes, I simply went on with my life, just without shoes. So imagine if you will your typical business-like person without shoes on that was me, 15 years ago.
But I lived in the United States, in a rather live-and-let-live state. Sure I did get stares, but I never got thrown out of public places, or given lectures on propriety. Now I live in Europe and the social standards where I live are rather stricter. Also, my company's dress code would never tolerate a barefoot employee – not in a million years. So, sadly, I started wearing shoes again. I wore very thin-soled shoes to prevent the knee pain from coming back, but still shoes, and I forgot the pleasure of barefooting.
Enter the ANTERRA's
Two months ago, I sustained a pretty severe foot injury I dropped my milling machine's vise onto my foot. Despite wearing safety shoes, I managed to break my big toe and lose the toenail. After surgery, I couldn't wear shoes anymore even sandals hurt me pretty bad. I could only walk pain-free without any kind of footwear on.
Still, even knowing of my accident, I knew my company would never allow me to come to work barefoot. So I started looking for acceptable-looking footwear that would closely mimic walking barefoot. I quickly dismissed the usual “barefoot shoes” commonly found on the internet, as I figured they would never be gentle enough on my injured foot.
And then I found the Paleos®. They're not so much shoes as safety socks, really. But crucially, they do look like shoes – very strange shoes, but shoes nonetheless. After a visit to GoSt Barefoots headquarters in Germany, where the friendly staff let me try the shoes on for fit, I ordered a pair.
I chose the Anterra Cliff shoes, I find the ANTERRA model better-looking for men, and the CLIFF version has thick rubber “Paws” that are essential to walk safely on slippery surfaces and to minimize wear on the sole's chain mail links. The paws are rather important, since I'd use the shoes almost exclusively on the rough, unnatural and abrasive surfaces they're not normally designed to be walked on for long. My Anterra Cliff shoes arrived in the mail in a matter of days. The next morning I wore them at work. And...
Not looking back!
This is me in my office (sorry, but due to my job, I'm not allowed to show my face.)
Can you tell I'm barefoot? Well, neither could my colleagues. Quite a few saw I was wearing odd-looking shoes, but many more didn't even notice! Those who did were curious enough to actually ask me what they were made of, and a quick and honest explanation was more than enough to fully satisfy their curiosity.
That went on for a couple of days. When everybody's curiosity was satisfied, it was back to business as usual. Every once in a while, I get a passing remark about my “Sir Lancelot shoes”, but it's all in good fun, never snide or demeaning. Interestingly, more than a few colleagues seemed jealous of the obvious freedom the Paleos® afford to my feet.
I work in a factory, and I can walk everywhere safely, and without getting thrown out by the staff – including the workshops. Here are the most common the surfaces I walk on at work:
It's the same sort of surfaces that are found almost anywhere in buildings and in the city, really.
What about the cold and water?
Since I use my Paleos® as city shoes, I wear them with socks – black or dark socks usually. Besides, since my foot still hasn't fully healed, it's not terribly hygienic to expose it directly to the germs on the ground. As a result, I haven't yet tried to wear them barefoot, as they're intended to be used.
Of course, the chain mail is fully open to the element that means if the cold is biting, it'll bite you. If the ground is wet, it'll wet you. That's what barefooters want: they like feeling the elements on their feet. What they do not want however is wearing wet cotton socks all day long.
My solution to the wetness problem is thin neoprene booties, originally intended for windsurfers:
They're only 3 mm thick and totally waterproof. I wear them over my regular cotton socks whenever it rains hard, or when there's a significant amount of water on the ground. The Paleos® can easily adapt to the extra thickness, by loosening the elastic laces.
When I'm done walking on wet surfaces and I know I won't go back out for some time, I take off the neoprene booties, tighten the laces on the Paleos® and I'm quickly back to the ordinary, breathable dry cotton socks.
In a sense, with the Paleos®, I do on my feet what everybody who lives in cold climates learns to do with the rest of their body, dress in layers. The Paleos® are just the outer, physical protection layer. I just adapt the amount of material between them and my feet to the conditions.
However, I should mention that I don't actually use the neoprene booties all that often. In fact, it turns out the paws under the shoes raise my feet off the ground enough to walk on slightly wet ground without my socks getting wet at all.
Here are the degrees of ground wetness I can and can't cope with wearing the Paleos® and only the cotton socks.
There's quite a margin before I really have to use the neoprene booties, so, mostly, I don't. Even if I misjudge the degree of wetness on the ground and my socks get a little wet, if I don't walk too far, they usually dry within 10 minutes.
What do the Paleos® feel like?
Quite simply, I feel almost barefoot all day long. I say almost because obviously there's a layer of chain mail and rubber between my feet and the ground. But I can feel the surface I walk on surprisingly accurately, the Paleos® deaden the intensity of the feeling a bit, but not the quality.
In fact, it's quite intoxicating, I feel as if I walk barefoot, but I don't have to pay attention to the ground ahead as much, because I know I won't feel intense pain if I fail to avoid a pebble or a bit of glass.
But the most intoxicating thing is the feeling of complete social acceptance. Nobody notices me, yet I'm as good as barefoot, all the time, everywhere!
I can cope with the social stigma of true barefooting if I have to. But I must admit, never having to bear it and feeling so good with my feet at the same time is very, very relaxing.
What about wear on tarmac?
GoSt Barefoots advises Paleos® wearers to avoid abrasive surfaces such as tarmac, even with the rubber paws, they say the metallic links will eventually wear out and break open, particularly at the heel. That's why they don't advertise the shoes for the usage I make of them.
However, there are several factors that probably mitigate the wear quite a bit:
- GoSt Barefoots markets their shoes towards runners. Me, I don't run, I only walk with my shoes. The difference in wear between shoes – any shoes – used for running and for walking is massive.
- True barefooters quickly learn the proper way of walking on bare feet: the ball of the feet should land on the ground first, not the heel. Also, they quickly learn not to drag their feet. When I first put on my Paleos® and went for a walk outside, my old barefooting habits came right back, and I instinctively protect the soles of my Anterras like I used to protect my own soles: I only compress them on the ground, I don't abrade them. I feel very much that if I can naturally avoid damaging my own flesh, I probably won't damage my Anterras any faster than strictly necessary either.
I've only had my ANTERRA's for a month and a half. But I keep a close eye on the condition of the links on the soles and at the heel. Right now, they look dirty and oxidized, but essentially undamaged:
Only time will tell how long they last until they need repairing. GoSt Barefoots offers a 1120 € resoling service, whereby they replace the entire sole and the paws. Even assuming my Anterras only last a year before they need resoling (and I sure hope they'll last longer), excluding the initial purchase price, that works out at 10 euros per month for the absolute luxury of going barefoot everywhere in total freedom. Is it worth it? It sure is to me!
My ANTERRA's are one of those rare things I buy every once in a while that I wonder how I managed to live so long without. They've brought the joy of barefooting back into my life. I had forgotten how good it feels to spend my days with my feet totally free and now I'm rediscovering it without having to contravene dress codes and deal with artificial social constraints.
I highly recommend Paleos® shoes, and I wouldn't hesitate to get another pair for a second if I lost them.
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