Five Extreme Sports You Can Do Barefoot: Adventure Sports Without Shoes

There’s something about being barefoot that just feels right. Maybe it’s the sense of freedom and liberation that comes with ditching your shoes, or perhaps it’s simply just the connection to nature that comes from feeling the earth under our feet. Whatever the reason, it seems more people are foregoing shoes and opting for barefoot experiences.

I’m not just talking about going for a little shoeless stroll in the park either. Plenty of people have ditched their shoes when it comes to practicing their favorite sports. In fact, if you do a little digging, you will realize that there’s a pretty amazing array of barefoot sports you can do.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is running. There is plenty of great information available on how running barefoot can actually strengthen and tighten foot muscles and lead to developing a healthier running technique. 

Running isn’t the only sport you can do barefoot though, not by a long way. If you want to get in on the barefoot fun, here are five popular barefoot sports that you can try this year.

1) Bouldering

Bouldering has fast become one of the most popular adventure sports in recent years. Thanks to its introduction into the Tokyo Olympic Games and the rise in popularity of indoor gyms, it is thought that over 25 million people worldwide are now climbing on a regular basis.

Perhaps one of the main reasons that have attracted so many new climbers to the sport is that bouldering can be done just about anywhere, with no expensive equipment or specialist knowledge needed. The kit bag for a bouldering session is usually made up of a pair of shoes, a chalk bag, and a crash pad.

As with every sport on this list, however, there are those who prefer to forgo shoes when going for a scramble.

The best example of this is a French climber by the name of Charles Albert. Albert has made some impressive ascents of some notoriously difficult boulder problems over the last few years including Monkey Wedding (V15) and La Valse Aux Adieux Prolongee (V15), all without the use of climbing shoes.

Even those who are new to bouldering will instantly recognize Albert’s usual barefoot climbing technique. Foregoing shoes allow him to use his toes to crimp the rock, as if they were a second pair of hands. Climbing without shoes has evidently given him far superior toe dexterity than most of us possess.

Of course, there are some downsides here. Perhaps the most obvious is that barefoot bouldering is the increased risk of injury to your feet. Without shoes, your feet are more susceptible to cuts and scrapes from the rough surface of the rocks. 

Also, I am willing to bet most indoor gyms won’t be impressed if you start dragging your grubby feet across their walls. In fact, many indoor climbing facilities simply won’t allow you to climb without shoes, usually citing a combination of safety and hygiene factors.

2) Skateboarding

The idea of skateboarding without shoes might sound ridiculous, for most of us, it is probably on par with sliding across sandpaper. Barefoot skateboarding, however, isn’t actually as crazy as it first sounds.

Skateboarding grew from humble roots in California during the 1950s when surfers were looking for something to do when the swell was low. During the early years of the sport, it was still very much a barefoot activity. It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that shoes became more popular among skateboarders.

Today, there is a growing movement of people who are returning to those early roots and skating barefoot once again, especially amongst those who prefer to longboard over skating in a park. The upside of skateboarding barefoot is that you have a much better feel for your board. This gives you more control and helps you to avoid potential injuries.

The main drawback, as I am sure you can imagine, is the increased risk of injury to your feet. 

3) Skydiving

One of the most popular adventure sports around, skydiving is an activity that can be done both with or without shoes. That said, for first-timers, it is probably best to go with shoes as they will help to protect your feet if you land awkwardly.

However, once you have a bit more experience under your belt, there is no reason why you can’t give barefoot skydiving a shot. In fact, many people find that it gives them a better sense of freedom and connection to the experience.

There are a few things to bear in mind if you do decide to go barefoot skydiving. The most important of which is to make sure that you are landing in a soft grassy field or on the sand. It’s probably best to keep the shoes on if you’re landing on concrete, if you want to keep all your toes, that is.

4) Slacklining

Slacklining is one of the most traditional barefoot adventure sports you can try. This unique sport has its roots in the climbing scene of Yosemite National Park in the 1980s. Two climbers by the names of Adam Grosowsky and Jeff Ellington came up with the challenge of balancing on their climbing gear, an idea that quickly spread through the camps in the Valley and the rest of the world.

On the surface, slacklining looks pretty similar to tightrope walking, although there are some pretty significant differences between the two. For example, a slackline is a dynamic piece of webbing (approximately 2 – 5cm wide) as opposed to the tensioned steel cables of a tightrope. The nature of slacklining makes it a lot more challenging as you have to constantly adjust your balance to stop yourself from falling off.

Slacklining can be done just about anywhere there are two trees or posts to anchor the line. Like bouldering, you certainly don’t need shoes to give it a go. Most people actually find it easier to balance without shoes as you have much better contact with the line.

5) Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is another popular adventure sport that can be done both with and without shoes. 

If you are planning on dropping into a downhill circuit or taking part in a rigorous road race, then I would suggest you keep your shoes on. The main reason for this, asides the obvious risk of a nasty foot injury, is that the power you can produce on each pedal relies on having a stiff underfoot base. This is the reason why many professional cycling shoes have a carbon fiber sole. 

That said, if performance cycling isn’t your main priority then by all means, ditch your shoes. Some cyclists will even argue that going shoeless allows you to retain a more natural pedaling motion, as the popular clipless pedals are notorious for putting excessive stress on your knees and lower body.

What’s your favorite barefoot sport?

Ditching the shoes and going barefoot isn’t just for extreme or adventure sports. We already mentioned that running without shoes proves some amazing benefits, but there are plenty of great benefits to exercising and undertaking your routine workouts barefoot too.

So next time you are out on an adventure, why not slip your shoes off? You might just catch the barefoot bug!