I've been doing the 'barefoot' thing for about a decade now. Love being barefoot whenever possible. Most days I can pull off never having to put on shoes, save for heavy loading/unloading, working in/around other people (esp. with tools like shovels, picks, forks etc.) and making deliveries to town.
If I absolutely must purchase shoes to wear for certain occasions, I always look for 1)
zero differential between heel and toe, 2)
a broad open toe box (as opposed to confined, artificially narrow toe boxes that predominate due to current fashion sensibilities), 3)
a neutral toe box (no 'upswept' toe contour so common in many of today's athletic shoes) and 4)
no arch support (arches are made stronger with load from the top, just like a stacked stone arch or the Roman Aqueducts - the surest way to collapse an arch is to push up from underneath it - same principle applies to feet albeit with different subtleties). Basically, I look for a shoe that allows for my foot to naturally express it's shape, exerts the absolute minimum amount of interference with my proprioception (any change here messes with gait and posture all the way up to head position) and provides a second skin to protect my foot from unwelcome foreign objects or substances.
During the summer here on the farm our clay soil becomes rock hard, and all the plants like to leave spiky presents that can penetrate even thick skinned feet like mine. On days like these I'll sometimes wear my bike tire sandals that I learned to make at the Acorn Gathering a couple years ago. They meet all the requirements from above and are light as a feather to boot, but do a great job of keeping the pokies out of my feet.
Before I shifted my lifepath into regenerative farming I ran a fitness business and ultimately a CrossFit gym for the 8 years following college. We converted lots of people to the barefoot lifestyle there. The most important thing that always made or broke someone's transition into barefooting was whether or not they stuck to "slow and steady". All too often people would get super fired up and contrary to our recommendations, they'd go do the same activities they used to do but either barefoot or in a more 'minimalist' shoe. Like David Fraleigh said in a previous post in this thread, changing the way we walk from the lazy, proprioception starved yet commonly accepted 'heel to toe' to something more like forefoot and midfoot first, fox-walking takes A LOT of work and attention.
Entire muscle groups and gait patterns need to be relearned, individual muscles need to condition from their formerly lethargic life, and your body needs to learn to interpret all of the new sensory information coming in.
The entire energetic patterning of each step needs to change from, in 'heel - toe' mode:
first contact with ground is made through heel -> energy is transferred directly through ankle mortise joint (weakening it) -> energy is transferred directly up the tibia into the knee joint (degrading it) -> energy is transferred to femur and directly to hip joint (degrading it) -> further up the kinetic chain in a stressful way...
to 'fox-walking' mode: first contact with ground is made with forefoot/midfoot -> energy is attenuated by active and strong arch of foot -> passed through active peroneal, gastroc and soleus muscles in the lower leg -> passed to active quadriceps as it crosses the knee -> passed to active glute max, medius, minimus and TFL with minimal energetic transfer through the 'hard tissues' of the skeletal system.
Essentially, when the decision is made to go barefoot, the vast majority of people will need to retrain their gait from a passive, impact heavy, energy absorption system into an active, impact minimal, energy attenuation system. The muscles, muscle groups, and order in which they are used is different in each of these patterns. The former 'heel - toe' pattern takes a toll on joint surfaces that are meant to roll, slide and glide by turning them into shock absorbers and directly compressing them. The latter 'fox-walking' pattern attenuates the forces involved in each step with active musculature, thus increasing longevity and health of joint, fascial and other connective tissue. I won't go into the 'step off' part of gait here - maybe another time if anyone is interested, but suffice to say, 'heel - toe' is a "pulling" style of walking, while 'fox-walk' is a "pushing" style of walking - and we want to push not pull when it comes to our gait! Pulling leads to a whole host of additional problems (work flow is hip flexors -> hamstrings -> anterior tibialis/peroneals -> eccentric impact loading of the arch and intrinsic muscles of the foot WHICH EQUALS a round gut, flat butt, blocky midsection, large muscular cankles (ankles as thick as calves), dysfunctional arches, over-pronated feet (duck feet!)
To each their own, but I don't think most folks desire that outcome...
Whew, I didn't plan on that, but I got fired up reading a barefoot thread! I hope this added something to the conversation.
Oh, and before I wrap, here's a great podcast with the 'Barefoot Podiatrist' Ray McClanahan on Daniel Vitalis's Rewild Yourself podcast. He covers all sorts of great stuff, but lends that Western-trained medical perspective to it. Interview with Dr. McClanahan starts at about 31:00. http://www.danielvitalis.com/rewild-yourself-podcast/the-barefoot-podiatrist-dr-ray-mcclanahan-140
Also recently had a buddy let me try a pair of his XeroShoes - pretty darn cool overall! https://xeroshoes.com/
Ok I'm DONE!