Barefoot Backpacking with Barefoot Jake

My name is Jake Morrison. Among the the Washington state outdoor communities and online hiking forums I’m known simply as ‘Barefoot Jake’ - you may have already heard of me. As far back as I can remember I’ve had an obsession with the outdoors and in particular the Olympic National Park.

When I was a small boy I had a trail map (PDF link) of the park pinned up in my bedroom. I would daydream for hours about some day crossing it with a backpack on my back. I can remember drifting off to sleep while thinking about what route I would take through the park and where I would set up various camps.

After many years of training my feet I have since crossed the Olympic National Park two times, both wearing a pair of minimalist Vibram Five Finger KSO Treksports. My first trip across the park was in 2010 with a hiking buddy taking the Elwha Trail and out the Skyline Primitive Trail.

My second time crossing the park was last year in 2011. I started out near Port Angeles, Wa and hiked over a series of spectacular passes. The route took me over rock, scree, through snow and water. It ended up in the Lake Quinault Rainforest via Obstruction Point to North Fork Quinault. As far as I am aware, I am the only one to have accomplished this wearing Vibram Five Fingers or any other type of minimalist footwear.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I am currently planning an epic 30-day trip where I will be staying off the maintained trails as much as possible, circling the Olympic National Park in a counter clockwise route - you’ll hear more about this and training your feet in future posts. In order to get ready for this trip, I am training a few times a week to keep my cardiovascular and feet strength up - I’m sure I’m going to need it. I am also planning to summit Mount Olympus this July if the weather conditions cooperate.

In the last two years I have come to the realization that pack weight and what you wear on your feet directly effects our efficiency in these types of natural forms of traveling. I guarantee you that our ancestors never carried 50lbs of outdoor gear on there backs or wore $500 dollar mountaineering boots. We need to get back to basics.

I have often been accused of purchasing ‘fancy’ backpacking gear and always having to have the latest and greatest gear technology. I have since made it my goal to get back to the ‘basics’ of what being outdoors is all about and vowed to simply carry less. I have also started to enjoy making a few MYOG/DIY projects and have experienced great joy at using my own gear. The Internet is such powerful tool in helping fuel our creativity and sites such at Brian’s Backpacking Blog are such an asset on giving you the tools you need to unlock your MYOG potential. I will admit the world of minimalist/UL gear isn't my specialty, but I am learning a little more each day and constantly expanding my knowledge.

Why am I writing here, on this blog? Both Brian and I are passionate about minimalist footwear. Brian has discovered a new lease of freedom with his running via switching to minimalist shoes and based on my many years of training I have acquired the knowledge of what it takes to train your feet to wear minimalist shoes and be comfortable and safe in tough conditions.

By focusing on the importance of proper posture, body mechanics, cadence and keeping a light load in your pack for maximum efficiency I’ll explain how to train your feet to be safe for hiking over rock, snow and even being wet for hours at a time.

The easiest way to train your feet for harsh conditions is to avoid wear shoes as much as possible, but that’s easier said than done right? You can still get started in the simplest of ways, even before you hit the trail. Need to get your mail from the mailbox but it’s snowing outside? Take your shoes and socks off and go for it. The more your body and your feet get use to the feel of handling the cold and wet conditions, the easier it will be to make the transition to doing that more often. Why not take a moment the next time you camp near a small stream or river to take off your shoes and socks and walk across various river rocks practicing distributing your weight and feeling each rock. You’ll need to be very careful and take your time with it, but not only will if feel invigorating it also makes for a great feet stretching tool. I also like to do feet stretching exercise at camp, along the trial or at home using things that are just lying around’.

I have been invited to contribute here on Brian’s Backpacking Blog and plan to post updates on an occasional basis about all things barefoot backpacking. My intention is for my posts to become a multi-part series about the struggles I’ve had to face and my experience in having to address the issues one has as a barefoot or minimalist backpacker - I hope that this will be of help and interest to any of you who are starting off along a similar path. Realizing that all of us blogger’s are a bit narcissistic and occasionally have strong opinions, I am open to positive criticism and will try to answer any questions to the best of my knowledge. ~ Cheers, Barefoot Jake.

Note: I do not represent any particular product or manufacturer. VFF’s work best for me because they give me the glove-like feel that suits my style. As with all new forms of training, please be careful and take your time!

Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Barefoot Jake as a guest writer to Brian's Backpacking Blog! Jake shares my passion for minimalist footwear and has far more experience in this area than I do, making him the perfect contributor for all things outdoor & barefoot. Be sure to check out his blog for other great posts about barefoot backpacking.

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