Natural walking is the practice of barefoot walking in the most natural environments, with the most natural techniques and methods in order to maximize the enjoyment of walking while providing low stress exercise. The concept of natural walking is that to do whatever is most natural for the body is the best form of walking. Natural walking, as exercise and not as simply an enjoyable pastime, is one of the very best forms of exercise of any kind while being low on stress and high on pure fun.

What is "natural walking?" Natural walking is outdoor walking during daylight hours in bare feet on non-abrasive natural surfaces such as grass, earth, hard-packed sand or other natural surfaces at a pace that is adequate for exercise and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Natural walking vs. unnatural walking The following list covers the advantages of natural walking and guidelines to doing it properly and safely.

  1. Barefoot Natural walking must be done barefoot. That is the way that humans walked for many thousands of years prior to the invention of footwear. Barefoot walking utilizes the feet entirely while shoes restrict some of the natural movement of the feet. Shoes and footwear, since they are man-made, cannot be considered as natural. Since we are not born with shoes on, we have to adapt to wearing them. In addition to restricting some of the natural movement of the feet, shoes cut off the range of sensory ability of the feet and cut down on the sensory pleasures of contacting the grass and earth. Shoes also are often the cause of blisters, overheating, fungus, foot injuries and pain.
  2. Outdoors Walking outdoors is natural. Early humankind had no indoor facilities; walking was a daily outdoor activity and was a necesity for survival. Outdoor walking maximizes the contact with nature and availability of fresh air and natural scenery.
  3. Earth Connection to the Body Natural walking allows for a natural connection to the earth through the feet. Nearly all natural health specialists and healers acknowledge that we need to be "grounded" to the earth. This "groundedness" effect is believed by many to enhance and unblock the body's chi energy, chakras, and subtle energy. Also, in addition to possible subtle energy benefits of earthing, recent research on earthing and a book dedicated to that topic (Earthing -The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?) shows that earthing allows for free electron flow into the body. This flow apparently provides electron balance and a wide range of health benefits. Earthing by barefoot walking on the earth's surfaces is the easiest and most direct way to attain electrical earthing benefits.
  4. Reflexology Effect Reflexology is a form of massage therapy that involves point pressure stimulation of parts of the feet. Natural walking on grass and other natural surfaces provides a similar form of stimulation that has a "reflexology effect" that is beneficial. While this benefit is not as intense as a full reflexology session, it is far superior to walking with the feet encased in shoes. Shoes offer no reflexology effect at all and in fact shoes block the feet from any stimulation by the environment.
  5. Natural Surfaces Grass that is healthy and well hydrated is the best natural surface to walk on. This includes grass that is common in lawns (fescue, bluegrass, zoysia, etc.) and other similar forms of soft vegetation such as clover, soft (non-toxic) broadleaf weeds, and other non-toxic leafy vegetation. Grasses generally range from good to outstanding as a natural surface. Other non-grassy earth surfaces, such as smooth earth, slightly muddy earth, and hard-packed sand (e.g. wet sand that is near the shore of a beach and provides a firm support for walking) are also natural as long as they are not harmful to the feet, and range from fair to excellent. For best results, the earth that the grass grows in should be fairly smooth (i.e. not filled with a lot of hard dirt clumps) and not filled with stones, sticks, or other debris. These types of obstacles, while natural, tend to diminish the enjoyment of the natural walking experience. Unnatural hazards (glass, metal, garbage, biohazards, etc.) should be avoided. Clean, well-maintained parks usually provide some of the best natural walking surfaces.
  6. Cooler Walking Area Grass and live vegetation have much less surface heat radiation than concrete and asphalt, and generally can provide a cooler walking area.
  7. Natural Gait The body's natural walking sequence and motion of bones, muscles, and other body parts, i.e. "gait", is thrown off in all cases at least moderately and sometimes substantially with the use of shoes. Studies have shown that only barefoot walking makes it possible for a completely natural gait as long as the feet are normal and healthy. A natural gait allows for full movement of the toes and front of the feet as is readily done when barefoot. Likewise, carrying substantial weight (being substantially overweight, carry a heavy backpack, etc.) will adversely affect the natural gait. Natural walking promotes a natural gait.
  8. Use of the Toes Natural walking allows for full use of the toes when walking. This is not possible with any type of footwear, even flip flops, which provide a barrier between the toes and the ground.
  9. Natural Exercise Pace Natural walking is best done at a pace that is good for exercise; not too fast, and not too slow. A too-fast pace can cause a risk of injury and sometimes is unduly stressful in warm or hot conditions. A too-slow pace is inadequate for a good exercise workout. A general range for natural walking is 4 to 7 km/hr (2.5 mph to 4.7 mph), and will depend on several factors, especially the quality of the surface. Smooth soft grass and earth surfaces are much more conducive to a faster pace than are uneven grassy areas that are rocky or are full of unpleasant sharp-edged weeds or stubble. It is quite acceptable, and in fact wise, to temporarily slow down a bit if some obstacles or poor terrain are encountered and then return to the regular pace when safe to do so.
  10. Water Water is the most natural liquid refreshment. Bottled water should be brought with you when natural walking and you should hydrate yourself before, during, and after the walk. For natural walking to be done most successfully, at least 0.5 to 0.8 liter (1 pint to 1.7 pints) of water should be consumed per hour, and more if the weather is hot or if it is very sunny. The water can be cold, cool or at a tepid temperature.
  11. Distance A natural walking distance is one that provides sufficient exercise but does not exceed one's natural limits. If you feel pain, aches, significant discomfort, etc., the walk should be ended as soon as possible. Exercise should not cause regular significant injuries or even regular minor injuries. Each person's appropriate distances (i.e. natural limits) will vary as you get more in shape and as your feet get more "ruggedized." It will typically increase over time.
  12. Daylight Natural walking is best done in daylight with natural lighting (i.e. sunlight). It is not recommended to be done under the lights, or in darkness.
  13. Posture The posture is either straight or slightly leaning forward. The main exception to this is when going uphill it may be necessary to make posture adjustments (e.g. slightly more forward when going uphill).
  14. Leg Movement A natural sequence of leg movement is used, not an exaggerated lifting of the legs up and down and also not a lack of upward leg movement along with sliding the feet across the ground or shuffling motion. The legs and feet should be lifted moderately and go straight forward, not outward.
  15. Weight Natural walking is best done if you are at a natural weight for your height and body type. You should not be substantially overweight. Being very overweight may put too much stress on the feet and knee joints. Early humans that went barefoot all the time were rarely overweight due to the scarcity of food. Being at one's correct weight is best for optimizing the natural walking experience. Regular natural walking can lead to some weight loss (with proper dieting) if you are overweight but it is better for stabilizing weight rather than reducing weight.
  16. Cleanliness Natural walking is done in a clean environment (i.e. no bio hazards). Harmless grass, dirt, and vegetation debris will get on your feet. Brushing debris off the feet and watering and drying them should be done after each walk. A full cleaning of the feet and rest of the body should be done after returning home.
  17. Breathing Deep lung breathing is used in natural walking, as practiced in yoga and martial arts. The diaphragm is fully expanded for belly breaths when inhaling, and each inhaling breath starts at the bottom of the lungs and goes to the top of the lungs, which are totally filled before exhaling.
  18. Stride Length A comfortable stride length should be used for natural walking. The stride should not be too long or too short. Your natural walking stride will typically vary from your natural stride length to less than this when encountering difficult terrain or obstacles.
  19. Do Some Uphill Walking If possible, part of each walk should include some uphill walking. The uphill portion(s) can be very slightly uphill or more steeply uphill, depending on your preference. Uphill walking promotes a better aerobic workout and is better for the muscles. As you get better at natural walking the uphill sections will become more easy to accomplish.
  20. Armswing The arms should swing in the reverse direction to the legs and should be back-and-forth, not side-to-side.(i.e. not crossing the front of the body). The amount of armswing can be either slight or substantial, whatever your preference is.
  21. Time Duration of Each Natural Walk Initially, as you get used to walking barefoot outdoors, this will typically be a 20 to 30 minutes. After a while when you are fully acclimated to natural walking, the time duration of a walk can range from 30 minutes to about 2 hours. There is no fixed upper limit; it is an individual parameter that can vary depending on how you feel, the weather, your fitness, etc. The typical range for a natural walk is 40 to 100 minutes. During most of the spring, summer, and early fall, three to six natural walks per week, weather permitting, should typically be possible.
  22. Temperatures The best temperature range for natural walking is 55 F (13 C) to 86 F (30 C). Walking barefoot outdoors below 46 F (8 C) may not be comfortable for everyone and is a matter of individual choice. Even above 50 F (10 C), if the grass is wet, it may be too cool on the feet for some. Walks on wet grass at temperatures of 59 F (15 C) or above should not be a problem for most. Natural walking should not be done at temperatures or wind chills at or below 39 F (4 C), with the exception of very short walks (0.8 km total, i.e. 0.5 mile) or possibly longer distances for those experienced barefoot walkers who have gradually acclimated themselves to cold weather barefoot walking. Walking in extreme heat should be limited to shorter-than-normal distances, and requires much more hydration (water intake) than usual. All walks should be ended if discomfort or numbness is felt due to either heat or cold.
  23. Foot Motion When walking naturally, the feet do not come down hard on the heels. Three methods of natural walking are all perfectly fine and are a matter of preference. These three are (1) heel-to-toes with rapid shift of weight away from the heel, (2) straight down, and (3) front-part-first or fox walking. For heel-to-toes method the foot lightly touches the surface with the heel first and the contact surface moves rapidly toward the ball of the foot and toes. Normally the front of the foot (including the toes) carries the bulk of the load, not the heel. The other two methods are self-explanatory but there are websites that go in more detail on fox walking (so refer to them if you want to learn more about front-part-first walking). With any of these methods, if an obstacle (e.g. large stone) that you did not see is stepped upon by the middle or inner part of a foot, you can rapidly adjust the weight to the outside of the foot is your pace is not too fast. This ability to make quick adjustments should be used if you feel an obstacle that is uncomfortable and large enough to cause an injury. A too fast pace makes it harder to make momentary adjustments and makes bruising injuries more likely when stepping on protruding blunt objects that you do not see and subsequently step on. Generally, an experienced natural walker will have a light stepping foot motion that is well matched to the pace.
  24. Clothing In mild, warm and hot weather, clothes should be light, loose and comfortable. Cotton and natural fabrics should be used as much as possible. Cotton/synthetic blends are okay but less desirable. Hats with brims are recommended for sunny conditions. In colder weather it is important to dress with warmer clothes to retain body heat as there will be greater heat loss from the feet being barefoot than there is when wearing shoes.
  25. Safety There are 25 safety guidelines for natural walking that should be followed. These are listed under The 25 Basic Safety Guidelines of Barefoot Grass Walking by Tom Kutscher. It is best to memorize the safety guidelines and practice them at all times that you do natural walking. They are included in this website.
  26. Accessories That Are Okay Sunglasses, bug repellant, sunscreen, watches, keys, IDs, and other essential items are okay. Cell phones, electronic devices, and other items that will distract you from the walk should either be shut off or left behind. Shut off the outside world except where you are walking. Also, do not wear weights for strength conditioning; weight work is fine but should be done separate from natural walking.
  27. Rainy Conditions While it may be tempting, it is not advisable to walk in the rain. The primary hazard is lightning. However there are other hazards as well (slippery areas, puddles that can temporarily hide sharp objects and other hazards, possible chilling from wet clothes, etc.). Light drizzle is usually okay for walking as long as there is no lightning. Natural walking is best done in weather conditions that are dry or after a light rain. Walks that are done on wet grass in warm weather after a substantial rain are especially enjoyable.
  28. Non-Competitive Natural walking is not competitive. It is for exercise and enjoyment.
  29. Enjoy the Moment The sensual pleasures of natural walking vary with the temperature, grass moisture level, sunlight, wind, natural sights, grass length, grass texture, ground texture, and other parameters. Take it all in as you walk and enjoy the moment.
  30. What will Others Think? It is understandable that you may feel self-conscious walking barefoot while others are all in some form of footwear. You will get over this fairly quickly. Remember, you are the one doing the natural form of walking, and they are not.
  31. Fun You had fun as a kid going barefoot, didn't you? So go back to what you did as a kid! Kids instinctively get it right. Ditch the shoes and return to what is fun!

While natural walking is terrific, there are three main drawbacks when compared to traditional forms of indoor exercise. First, the weather will be a limitation, especially cold, winter weather. Second, the conditions of the grass and the ground can vary substantially. Dry grass and earth is less fun to walk on than well-hydrated grass and moistened soil. If you really want a totally predictable exercise routine with an unchanging environment and with unchanging grass and earth, that is not possible. And third, there are some minor hazards (minor bruises, cuts, scrapes, slivers, occasional bug bites, etc.) that usually are not a problem for most people but could be for some.

But the benefits of natural walking far outweigh the drawbacks. And the cost is FREE if you go to public parks with no admission charge or to other free public areas. No expensive athletic shoes to buy, no lessons, and no equipment, yet excellent exercise with the backdrop of the scenic outdoors. The upside of natural walking greatly exceeds the downside!

It is permissible to reproduce any and all of this article "Natural Walking for Exercise" by Tom A. Kutscher without permission from the author provided that (1) the author is acknowledged as the originator and source of this text and (2) no copying of this article is done for commercial purposes.