Layne Stanford sits on a balcony with his feet up while on vacation in Mackinac Island, Michigan.
Layne Stanford of Plattsmouth enjoys the barefoot life. Here he kicks back with his bare feet up while vacationing on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Layne Stanford.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, or lack thereof.

That’s a credo that might interest 59-year-old Layne Stanford of Plattsmouth. He’s part of a trend of people going barefoot, or barefooting, that has gained traction online, although some have been going barefoot for up to a decade before the fad  took off on social media.

While some in the barefooters community live their lives sans-shoes occasionally, others go barefoot 24/7.

“It was unusual at first,” Stanford admitted. “But I don’t get up in the morning and think about putting shoes on. I’ve taken it off my list of things to get done.”

Stanford is an active member on the social media pages for barefoot living, where he posts once or twice a week. With over 12,000 members, including some in Nebraska, the Society of Barefoot Living has created a Facebook community for those who prefer to live their lives barefoot.

Attending church, eating at restaurants, shopping and going on walks are all activities Stanford does without lacing up a pair of shoes.

Stanford explained that flip-flops were his primary footwear since the 1990s so making the switch to being barefoot came naturally, although he keeps a pair of sandals with him just in case he is asked to put shoes on.

His unhappiness with how shoes fit and the way they affect his walking was a major reason for him to go shoeless. 

“Most people walk heel first,” he said. “But when you do that you put this pressure and shock on your ankles, on your knees and on your hips.”

Being able to run barefoot has helped Stanford change how he runs, landing on the balls of his feet and letting his calves absorb the shock. 

“It makes it healthier on your joints, uses more muscles in your feet,” he said. “The shoes are preventing those muscles from being used how they should be.”

Going without shoes isn’t as easy as it might seem, however. There’s a lot of confusion about the legality of the lifestyle choice. 

Stanford said he carries a waiver with him to present to some businesses, such as the shooting range he frequents, goes to, where the lack of shoes may cause injury. The waiver informs the business that it will not be held accountable.

It is legal in the state of Nebraska to drive barefoot, and the Nebraska food code does not mention footwear for either food preparation workers or customers.

IMG 20230425 094539030 scaled e1684120508966 640x584 - No shoes, no service? Not exactly; barefooting is growing lifestyle trend
Layne Stanford’s liability waiver to assure businesses that he will not hold them responsible for any injury from being barefoot. Photo courtesy of Layne Stanford.

“A lot of it is educating those that there is no federal or state health code against going barefoot, it’s not against any laws,” he said.

The social media groups also include links to various websites that detail the legality of going barefoot in each state.

Kriss Sands, 79, a North Carolina barefooter who runs the Born to Live Barefoot blog, said he rarely encounters resistance to his lifestyle, which he’s practiced for 21 years.

“The vast majority of businesses, medical offices, and other public access places treat customers with respect regardless of what they may or may not be wearing on their feet,” he said. “I almost never have any problems in being who I am, a barefooter.”

Sands’ blog details his introduction to barefoot living, and how he found a community of like-minded barefooters.

“Not wearing shoes is a personal choice that is not only natural and very healthy; it does no harm to any other person,” he said.

The Society for Barefoot Livings website has links to studies done on the benefits of going barefoot, including treatment for medial disorders such as plantar fasciitis, as well as physical benefits for the arch of the foot and a person’s gait.

However, not all reactions to barefooters are positive.

“I have had a few negative reactions, such as being told shoes were ‘required’ in some places of business,” Sands said. “In almost all of these relatively rare confrontations, I’ve been able to convince the owner or manager that my bare feet are no threat to them or their business.”

For the most part, reactions are more curious than anything.

Kris Simmons, 63, of Zeeland, Michigan, who has been going barefoot since he was in the 10th grade, said he loves to answer questions about his lifestyle and educate others.

“Our main goal is to try and work toward more social acceptance of going barefoot,” said Simmons, who has been a member of Society of Barefoot for six years. 

In the winter, Simmons said he will often wear boots, but his feet are like leather and for almost all cases, shoes are not necessary for him.

“I have gotten to where I can’t stand shoes,” he said. “It changes my gait, and I can’t walk right in any kind of footwear. Imagine yourself wearing cotton gloves all day long; that’s what it would feel like to me.”

Simmons said that being able to feel the ground beneath his feet is one of the benefits to barefooting.

Stanford agreed.

“When you’re barefoot, you’re more aware of your surroundings,” he said. “With shoes on it’s like bumper cars, but if you’re barefoot you’re paying attention to where you’re at and what you’re doing.”

The foot is also one of the parts of the body with the most sensory receptors, with over 15,000 nerve endings.

“If you’re putting something between your feet and the ground, you’re limiting some of your nervous system from feeling,” he said. 

While the social media groups continue to grow, barefooters want people to know to about the benefits they have seen in their lives because of their decision to forgo shoes.

 “They are an option,” Stanford said. “They’re there, they are a fashion choice, but we don’t all need shoes.”