At times, the barefoot shoe movement has played out like an all-out unleashing of designers' unbridled creativity. We've seen foam feet, ruggedized socks, foot condoms, half shoes and every other type of foot-suit imaginable. Now we add one that goes beyond our wildest imaginings: chainmail foot sleeves.
Gost-Barefoots separates the idea of "barefoot shoes" from the idea of "minimalist shoes," two terms often used interchangeably. Minimalist shoes (i.e. those offered by most other manufacturers) use more traditional shoe design elements in creating an artificial environment aimed at imitating the feeling of going barefoot. While they do strip away material, they still put relatively stiff cushioning between the foot and the ground.
"Barefoot or minimalist shoes have a completely different purpose, as these shoes continue to protect from dirt, temperature variations, humidity and water," the German company explains on its website. "But exactly those are the factors that make our feet strong and healthy."
Inspired by a natural paleolithic diet, Gost's managing director Jörg Peitzker pursued his belief that feet were meant to interact with their environment unimpeded by footwear. He believes that because the feet contain many nerve endings, they are an important part of our sensory system that has been nullified by stifling modern footwear.
Peitzker first tried the most natural approach, ripping footwear off completely and running around on naked feet. It didn't take long for him to realize that his feet weren't quite up to the task of running over raw, wild ground – not without significant risk of pain and injury. When he turned his attention toward existing barefoot shoes, he found them all to be too restrictive, not availing the feet the opportunity to provide the sensory feedback he sought.
Peitzger got to work on a more "environmentally open" design that lets your feet feel the surface, temperature, humidity level, etc. while still affording full protection from cuts, scrapes and other injuries. In searching for fabrics, Peitzger found the combination of properties he was looking for in the chainmail most commonly thought of in relation to the Middle Ages, but also used in modern-day applications like butcher gloves.
The stainless steel chain mail is strong, durable and flexible, allowing the feet to feel temperature, moisture and ground contours. Considering chainmail can protect from meat-slicing butcher's blades and medieval swords, it can presumably offer plenty of protection from the rocks, roots and broken glass that runners or hikers may encounter on a given journey. With nothing but chainmail on your feet, you can run with more confidence through all types of environments and still feel the grass, soil or sand below.
Metal booties don't necessarily sound very comfortable, but Gost says that the chainmail construction is smooth against the skin. They're designed for natural environments, such as trail and beach running, not roads or man-made surfaces.
PaleoBarefoots come in several different styles, starting at around €200 (about US$260). Gost sells them online and delivers to "all countries." While the price is rather steep for a pair of shoes, Gost claims that PaleoBarefoots are durable enough to "last a lifetime."
PaleoBarefoots are an interesting test of just how big the market for minimalist footwear is. They fill the gap between more traditional barefoot styles like Vibram FiveFingers and going completely barefoot, but is that a gap that really needs filling? We've watched enough Discovery Channel to know that people can travel over all kinds of harsh terrain completely barefoot, so is a chainmail shoe really necessary? Peitzger himself admits that the PaleoBarefoots are purpose-built for only off-road use, so wearers will want to wear separate shoes to travel to their off-road running destinations. It seems that buyers will get minimal use out of their $260 shoes.
The PaleoBarefoots do offer an intriguing combination of foot protection and natural, barely-there design. They definitely appear lighter and more "barefoot-like" than other barefoot designs and still offer protection from the sharp, nasty hazards that threaten to slice naked feet.