Weekly Feature

hiking, hiking equipment, backpacking

Barefoot Hiking and Other Unique Ways to Hit the Trails

August 13, 2008
by Sarah Amandolare
The word connotes rugged, strenuous exertion, but hiking has various incarnations and levels of intensity. One constant is the sport’s emphasis on communing with nature, simultaneously taking advantage of and respecting its features. The feet are crucial as well, whether shod or not, repeatedly pushing against the earth until a destination is reached.

Sole-Full Hiking

Hiking’s beauty is its accessibility; although some hikers insist on expensive gear, others go shoeless, “for a sense of communion with the earth and for the sheer pleasure of feeling more of the world with their feet,” said a New York Times article. The barefoot hikers liken the feeling of various surfaces on the soles of their feet to “warm velvet” and “the scales of a sleeping dragon,” for example.

Unusual Hikes, Outstanding Hikers

Susan and Lucy Letcher, nicknamed Isis and Jackrabbit, are sisters from Maine who covered the entire Appalachian Trail barefoot. The Letchers grew up roaming barefoot in the woods, which made the transition to the Trail somewhat easier. Just a few weeks into the trek, running on gravel was a cinch, and at one point, the sisters walked over broken glass for nearly an hour before realizing it.
Jason Lewis intended to traverse the world in three years “using nothing but his own muscles—walking, rollerblading, kayaking, pedaling,” according to the Web site Live for the Outdoors, which featured an interview with Lewis upon his return to England. Perhaps the lure of nature or a hiker’s high kept Lewis going; he ended up out in the wild for 15 years, but says he missed warm pubs and hearty English fare.
Writer Ian Frazier takes a low-key approach, but his epic walk along New Jersey’s Route 3 reveals as many thought-provoking observations as a woodsier effort might. Frazier rides a bus each day along Route 3 into Manhattan, and watches incredulously as his fellow commuters “sensibly occupy themselves with newspapers, laptops, CD players, and so on,” while he insists on staring out the window at the passing scenery. “If this were a ride at an amusement park, I would pay to go on it,” he says. Frazier was so enticed that he decided to walk the length of his commute, which only includes quick stretches of grass, interrupted by highway. “Nothing occupies this short-grass region but occasional Canada geese keeping one eye on the traffic, like bartenders watching a drunk,” he says.

Tools and Trips for Hikers

Backroads leads walking and hiking vacations in countries all over the world. Select different activities, such as carpet weaving in Turkey, and levels of challenge.
For veteran hikers wanting inspiration or newcomers needing advice, Every Trail is full of resources. Hikers share photos, satellite images and information from their treks. Practical details including trip duration, distance and average speed are listed.
The Hiking Web site offers some basic information for beginners, such as the best time of year to get started, places to look for hiking buddies, proper hiking attire and a few key differences between hiking and walking. For example, although it may seem obvious, it is important to note that “while you are hiking there generally won’t be a car, bus, house, store, or any shelter to duck into if you get too hot or too cold or too tired or too hungry,” the site explains.
Backpacker Magazine reveals what it has dubbed “the Holy Grail” of trail food: Freezer Bag Cooking, developed by Sarah Kirkconnel, an ardent backpacker and cook. Kirkconnel’s freezer bag meals are packed with individual portions of dehydrated foods with a gourmet edge.
Visit the official site of Freezer Bag Cooking to order the cookbook and meals. Peruse the left sidebar for “Our Hiking Trips,” featuring photos and information on hiking trails across the United States.
Leave No Trace is a wilderness philosophy that nature should be left as is by campers and hikers. Initially developed by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service in the 1960s, Leave No Trace encourages simple principles, such as leaving what you find, being considerate of other visitors and disposing of waste properly.

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