I have been a fan of going barefoot for a long time.
The argument presented by shoe manufacturers, that evolution somehow overlooked adapting our feet to a lifestyle of walking and running upright across rough terrain, leaving us in dire need of "corrective" shoes and orthotics. All while equipping us with large brains, efficient hearts, and incredibly complex nervous systems, is totally absurd.
Making the transition from a life trapped in shoes to stomping around unshod can be daunting though. Your feet are NOT worthy. Not right away at least.
What I did.I started at home, spending as much time barefoot as possible. Then lifting weights and doing sprints at the park barefoot.
I bought a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor's. The old ones you grew up with, not the new ones with extra cushion and arch support.
I also bought a pair of Vibram 5 fingers. I used them a lot too, just ask my wife.
From there its mostly just accumulating time without shoes, then giving your feet rest and letting them adapt.
What I learned.The goal is to make your feet STRONG, improve your connective tissue, and mechanics.
Don't worry about toughening the skin right away. That happens quickly, much more quickly than the muscular and skeletal adaptations.
Some intelligent periodization or linear progression is important here.This can be as simple as adding 5 minutes each day, or doing one session barefoot then one in shoes.
The injuries happen when the muscles and skin have adapted but the mechanics and joints (which are limited by lower blood flow and growth rates) have not.
In other words the minute you start to feel really good moving around shoeless is the time to be the most careful.
The timing will vary.I spent most of my life clomping around the beach either barefoot or in simple sandals. I also rock climb, so i was ahead of the curve, but it still took 6 weeks to adapt to the higher volume. Some people may need 6 months or more. It depends entirely on where you start out.
Whats important is enjoying the journey.Your feet have nearly as many nerve endings as your hands, and a large area of your brain is dedicated to collecting and interpreting the sensations of the ground. The surfaces underfoot have a huge range of textures, temperatures, and sensations.
Its like discovering a whole new variety of foods to taste, or suddenly going from deaf to hearing. It's really cool.
Pay attention.This one teaches itself. Look where you walk, pay attention for sharp objects, or anything that might be painful to step on. Practice Zen and the art of don't hurt yourself.
5 Fingers are cool.They are not really necessary though. When you can't be barefoot, at the gym, the store, or a restaurant then Chucks are fine. If your outside you don't really need the 5 Fingers, you can just go barefoot.
It will take time, moving to quickly from walking to running will just give you blisters, or worse.
Move slowly at first and appreciate the adventure of it, the funny looks, and the extra connection with the world underfoot.
Part 2 will address making the transition from walking to running, and from carpet and grass to concrete, dirt and gravel.
Till then how much time can you get barefoot?