By Kristin Schultz
We all have things in common. Some of us are parents, some of us are students, some of us own businesses and some of us like to paint.
Niskayuna resident Sergey Kats recently formed a MeetUp group for people who have a unique interest in common: barefoot and minimalist hiking and walking.
Traditionally, to go for a hike or stroll down a path, you pull on your moisture-wicking socks and thick-soled hiking boots, but Kats and the nearly 30 group members prefer to enjoy nature au natural.
“The point of minimalist shoes is to remove layers between you and the ground,” Kats said. “It makes walking much more fun.”
Minimalist shoes first gained popularity about 10 years ago when Vibrum started marketing its five-finger shoes. This non-traditional footwear has articulated toes and fits on the foot the way fingers fit individually into gloves.
“When I started wearing them, no one else was,” said Kats who has been sporting the shoes for about four years. “I got lots of strange looks from people.”
By design, the shoes force wearers to strike the ground with the front of the foot instead of the heel.
Originally intended for runners and popularized by Christopher McDougall’s 2011 best-seller “Born to Run,” minimalist shoes now come in a variety of designs, each suited for different activities, including hiking.
“It’s important to find the right shoe for what you’re doing,” said Kats. “Minimalist shoes are great for hiking because it feels more natural, but you’re still protected from getting punctured by things on the trail.”
Kats wears his “five-fingered” shoes just about everywhere but admits they are not ideal in all situations. The shoes are generally not waterproof and he can’t wear them in the winter.
“I don’t start wearing them out until it’s at least 60 or 65 degrees,” he said. “But then you can wear them anywhere. I wear them to the store or when I go walk trails.”
Walking trails is what Kats hopes to do with his newly formed MeetUp group, which is still in its infancy and planning stages. He wants to organize a few hiking and walking trips this summer.
“People who have joined the group know what they’re getting into,” he said. “Some of them want to hike barefoot and others want to wear shoes for protection. We’ll start with some mild activities and then do a trail.”
He said the group is not just for experienced minimalists but also for people interested in getting back to nature.
For Kats, who is also a photographer, his favorite place to hike and walk is the Albany Pine Bush.
“I like the open trails, and it’s a beautiful place to do my photography.”
MeetUp is a website where members can establish and join groups based on common interest. The barefoot hiking group can be found at: meetup.com/barefoot-hiking-and-walking-club.
While minimalist shoes can be found online, Kats recommends going to a physical retailer to try on and find the pair that is best for each individual. EMS in Mohawk Commons carries both the five-fingered shoes as well as traditionally styled options.