Minimalist footwear changed our lives

That's a fairly audacious claim to make, but it's true. Our present day lives include the physical activities of running, walking, and hiking. But it wasn't always this way.


Damien and I met in University. We were young and we were both active. I wasn't as diverse in my physical interests as Damien, I mostly enjoyed brisk walking and occasional running. But meeting Damien introduced me to new activities - hiking, biking, even kayaking and rock climbing (we did this a bit while still in University with access to facilities).

Neither of us was into team sports but we both wanted to incorporate activity and the outdoors into our everyday lives, most notably commuting to school and work with human powered means such as walking or cycling.


In our early years of marriage and baby raising, Damien was more motivated than me to be physically active. This has changed in recent years.

I am much more serious now about being physically active. First it was hiking, then skiing, and now daily walking and running. Damien and I share a mutual desire for increasing physical activity in our lives, and sharing this with our kids.

When we were young, staying fit and exercising should have been easy. But in his mid-twenties, Damien started to suffer from foot and knee problems.

Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon

Activities Damien loved to do, running and hiking specifically, were too painful for him. Now that I am more active also I can appreciate the struggle this caused for Damien. At the time I wasn't as sympathetic as I am now to the frustration and loss caused by physical injury.

Damien spent a few years and several thousands of dollars investing in cycling as a means to stay active and fit. This was less hard on his knees and feet, but new physical problems developed and the time commitment of this sport turned out to be hard on family life. Then he did weight lifting for a while, building a simple home gym so he could integrate working out into family life.

Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC

Damien, ever the researcher, wasn't content to accept a life of sore feet, knees and back. In his early thirties he started looking for solutions to this problem. (Incidently, it was his eczema and allergy issues a few years earlier that lead us down the dietary path we now follow. Pain and poor health will do that; make you look for solutions.)

In looking for a solution to his bodily pain, Damien came across the concept of too much shoe being the cause of unnecessary injury.

Xero shoes

Footwear? Really? Shoes with shock absorption and motion control, carefully designed for and marketed to active individuals, this was the cause of the problem?

It was a radical idea at the time and a completely different paradigm than what were told by doctors who recommended expensive orthotics and pain killers. "Solutions" that weren't solutions at all.

Discovering the minimalist approach to footwear changed Damien's life. And the course of our family's future.


Damien, my now half-marathon running, backpacking, and hiking husband used to be unable to do these things.

Did you catch that? My forty year old husband is more physically fit than he was at thirty. Activities that were painful in his twenties and early thirties are now a regular part of his life as a forty year old man.

What is toesalad

Damien discovered the concept of minimalist footwear and "going barefoot" when the idea had nowhere near the mainstream acceptance it has now. When Damien made the switch to minimalist footwear the only shoes available at the time were custom made moccasins.

The change in Damien's life was so significant he couldn't help but spread the minimalist footwear gospel.

After a transition period of building his foot muscles (they had atrophied over the years with "too much shoe") he could actually do activities that he thought were no longer possible.

Damien would tell anyone who cared to listen about his shoe conversion and the importance of letting our feet return to their natural state. He spent more and more time learning about foot health and he searched high and low for minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes were hard to find in those days.


In time, I went minimalist also. We shod our kiddos in water shoes and low profile sneakers for hiking and let them run barefoot as much as possible in our northern climate.

All of this passion and interest birthed something completely new in Damien - the desire to write and share this message with the world. Before this Damien didn't like writing. But now he had something he actually wanted to write about. He had a message to share.

By the way, this is how we teach homeschool writing. Write about what you care about. Write for a reason.

At first he started writing about minimalist footwear on our (very quiet right now) adventure blog. Then he started doing lightweight backpacking gear and minimalist shoe reviews for another publication. He started to build a reputation as a minimalist shoe guy and wanted to create a resource for people interested in minimalist and barefoot shoes.

Damien wanted to create a site to provide solid recommendations for those just getting started and to hopefully encourage companies to continue designing and manufacturing more shoes for this growing demographic.

And thus, Toe salad was born, out of a passion (kinda like babies.)

A passion to share the message of healthy feet being the foundation of healthy bodies. And a passion to support other people in discovering this principle and to help them find footwear to meet their needs.

Toe Salad started publishing in January 2011. It's grown a bit since then and last week we launched Toe Salad v2.0, a major upgrade from the original blog.

Damien built the whole thing on a brand new platform. This version of Toe Salad showcases not just his footwear knowledge (seriously, the guy knows so much about minimalist shoes) but his computer prowess and technology skills. I thought that if Damien worked at home I would better understand what he does. Turns out I still have no clue.

Toe salad screen shot

I share all of this with you - the story of how Toe Salad came to be and it's new look - for a few reasons.

  • The new Toe Salad makes it so easy for you to find information about shoes and ask questions. Over the years Damien and I have helped FIMBY readers with shoe and foot related issues. The old Toe Salad forums were a bit intimidating and many people just contacted us directly for help, which we don't mind, we're here to serve people. However, this upgrade makes it much easier to find shoes and help for making the switch to minimalist footwear.

  • Toe Salad is a big part of our family's life and a big part of my life. I am taking an increasingly active role in editing and writing. And as always, I take all the photos for Damien's posts.

  • If you visit our home, you will find we have more shoes than we know what to do with and if you are a men's size 9.5 we will try to give you some as you leave. I find it incredibly ironic that minimalist shoes clutter our lives. Ha, Ha! Seriously though, the benefit of this is we don't have to buy shoes anymore. Damien is considered an expert and authority in the minimalist footwear community and companies give him shoes for review and also "just because". This is a nice perk when raising three growing, active kids.

  • We teach lifelong, interest-led learning to our children by modeling that kind of education ourselves. This looks like having an interest or need, finding a solution, and sharing that solution. Experiencing personal change and growth, adding your voice to the world in an attempt to change people's lives for the better. By following our interests and investing time in our own personal growth we model for our children what life long learning and contributing looks like.

  • This explains why our adventure blog, Outsideways, has been so quiet lately. About seven months ago we decided to invest our writing and blog building energies on the sites we are most passionate about and that have the most traction and readership - Toe Salad and FIMBY. We'd love to build an awesome "think outside the box adventure blog" also, but with limited time and energy we are choosing to focus on our two main blogs. FIMBY feels a bit more adventure/outdoorsy because of this. Outdoor adventure is becoming front and center in our family life so this makes sense.

  • Damien is available for hire. Toe Salad is a resume of sorts for one just one slice of Damien's programming skills. Everything you see there, he made happen. For those of you familiar with blog platforms, there are no "plugins" for the work Damien did. He built it all, custom. I'm incredibly proud of him and in awe. If you need help getting things sorted out for your own blog, website, or online technology strategy, we can help. Contact us here.

Go check out our re-launched blog. If only to see how cool it looks. You'll find my mug and bio on the About page.

Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

Filed Under

Resource Library

« Proof Positive
Blender Pancakes »
  • erin

    erin on June 11, 2013, 1:44 a.m.

    How timely this is! I have been dealing with lower back pain, sciatic pain, and planter fasciitis for a while now. Both my chiropractor and my massage therapist have talked to me about footwear. I've been a Birkenstock girl since highschool and I've just come to realize how much healthier it is for me to walk barefoot or with shoes that mimic barefoot walking. Since making the switch I've noticed a huge difference – HUGE! If I even just step into a pair of my old shoes and walk around for 5 minutes my feet, legs, and back are aching! I'm headed over to check out Damien's site and read more about minimalist footwear and to see what he recommends for types of shoes (and boots)! Thanks!


    • damien

      damien on June 12, 2013, 12:42 a.m.

      We would love to have you come visit. If you have any question at all, please do feel free to submit it to the Q&A section, I am happy to help out any way I can!


  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on June 11, 2013, 2:57 a.m.

    You fit in so many aspects of your life and passion in one little blog post: homeschooling, serving, work that matters/passion, adventure & it! We made the switch to barefoot style shoes (I have vibrams, husband has vivos) and all the pain I had when running (knee swelling, hip pain, and ankle pain) disappeared within a few weeks. Incredible. When I hike, I actually feel really clumsy if I wear something other than my vibrams, but with them on, I feel like I can just glide through the forrest. 

    And hey, my husband is a 9.5, so if you're ever looking to get some off your hands....he'd love a pair! ;) 

    The Toe Salad v2 looks great. We get the newsletter and saw it when it first came out. Awesome site, Damien!

    PS-What are those "mary jane" style shoes you are wearing? With the black toe piece? Those are really cute. I am pretty minimalist in my clothing (each piece has to be able to be worn for either casual or dressy, and can go for at least 3 seasons), and that style of shoe would be great for dressing up or down. I like them!

    Sarah M


    • renee

      renee on June 12, 2013, 1:15 a.m.

      RE: Mary Janes. Those are Kigo shoes. You can find them here. They are one of my favorite pairs of shoes. So versatile.


      • Rachelle

        Rachelle on June 12, 2013, 12:18 p.m.

        Renee, thank you for still sharing the kigo love! What a gorgeous site. We're always so happy to see the wonderful things your family is doing in the world. Be well!


        • renee

          renee on June 12, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

          Hello Rachelle! So nice to "see" you again. Easy to share the kigo love when I LOVE the shoes (smile).


        • Male Enlargement

          Male Enlargement on Dec. 6, 2013, 1:57 p.m.

          Very &X6E;iсe post. I juѕt s&X74;umbled upon yo&X75;r blog and wished tto say that I have real&X6C;y enјoyed surfing aroun&X64; your &X62;lo&X67; posts.

          In any case I'll be ѕubscribіng to уour rss feed and I hope you write agаin very so&X6f;n!

          &X48;&X65;re &X69;s my weblog ... Male Enlargement


  • Marianne

    Marianne on June 11, 2013, 11:04 a.m.

    I love this!  I saw a similar type of shoe on Sharktank.  I thought, "What a great idea".  I've been having footproblems.  I am going to check it out. Thanks for tweeting!


    • damien

      damien on June 12, 2013, 12:45 a.m.

      Yes, those were Xero Shoes you saw on Shark Tank. Steven Sashen (the founder) is an friend of mine - a really great guy.


  • katieh

    katieh on June 11, 2013, 12:36 p.m.

    the re-worked site looks great! Huge well done to you both.

    before I had children I used to wear teva canoe shoes in the summer because i liked being close to barefoot. i only stopped because i kept going through them and they were harder to get hold of locally. Now i've just ordered myself a pair of xero so i can give things a try in my build up to starting running.

    also while i'm here - your salad book is amazing and has totally changed my lunch! THANK YOU!


  • Kika

    Kika on June 11, 2013, 3:41 p.m.

    Interesting how some of our life struggles can become 'blessings' as we seek out help/information and we are then able to encourage others. I hate my feet constricted so live in fliplops much of the year though I know they're not 'good' for me. For years, too, I have appreciated the bit of cushioning they provide to my hip indoors or out. I haven't read much about the science behind going barefoot but have always wondered how that would work for someone like me (serious hip problem, etc.). One thing I hate is all the concrete in this world - so hard on joints!!!!


    • Kika

      Kika on June 11, 2013, 3:44 p.m.

      Renee, I went over to the about page but am unable to read it - it looks so cool with the writing over the images but the print isn't bold enough for me to actually make out what it says.


      • renee

        renee on June 12, 2013, 12:17 a.m.

        Kika, maybe you have an old browser? It shouldn't look like that. Maybe try safari or chrome?


      • damien

        damien on June 12, 2013, 12:48 a.m.

        Yes, older versions of Internet Explorer will be problematic. Newer versions (9+) should be fine, and Chrome/FireFox should be fine too.


    • Ginger

      Ginger on June 22, 2013, 7:38 a.m.

      Sorry to hear you have serious hip pain. I have experienced all sorts of joint pains that left me debilitated. Your condition may be very different than mine, but I became pain-free by eating a plant-based diet (no meat, dairy, eggs) with a little fish, no nightshades (tomato, potato, eggplant, and peppers - black pepper is okay), and no tea. It only took two weeks on the diet before I noticed a significant improvement. In the beginning I was just happy to be able to walk without crutches and now I am bicycling, cellercizing, and hiking. The diet is a miracle for me. I wish the best for you.


  • Penny

    Penny on June 11, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

    I just checked out TS, it's amazing!  Thank you for putting all this great info out there, I am sure it will help a lot of people.  I've just started running, and love it, but can see where the right shoes could make it even more fun.

    I'd lalso ove to know what the mary jane's are.  I'm in need of a shoe like that.  Sneakers don't go with everything, sadly.


    Keep up the GREAT work, and thank you for sharing it!


  • Lisa

    Lisa on June 11, 2013, 6:23 p.m.

    Very interesting.  I have very limited knowledge of minimalist shoes, but after reading this I definitely want to know more! I'll be checking out the new website for sure - thanks!  And on another note, I would also love to hear more about how the diet change helped your husband's eczema and allergies.  I struggle with eczema, and we're noticing my oldest daughter is starting to develop both eczema and allergies.


    • renee

      renee on June 12, 2013, 12:55 a.m.

      oh.. boy. So, here's the deal. I'm no doctor (just gotta say that) but I can tell you briefly our experience.

      We first removed dairy, over 12 years ago. That's a huge culprit in skin issues and allergies. Then, we were worried we'd be getting too much protein and not enough calcium (from dairy products) to balance that out (from what I remember, too much animal protein isn't good for the pH balance in your body and you then leach calcium from your bones to neutralize the acid. I don't know if that's still the thinking) so we decided to remove animal proteins from our diet also.

      That was our logic then but since that time we've read a lot more and better understand plant-based diets and we don't worry so much about protein and calcium, etc. But that's why and how we changed our diet initially - to heal Damien's body. 

      Removing dairy improved matters significantly but it wasn't till we also removed corn and wheat (gluten-specifically) that it completely went away. Now, with our own kids any tummy troubles, skin issues, allergy responses etc. we immediately look to what they are eating to see if that is a culprit. It's not always but what we eat has a huge impact on our bodies.

      Also, we removed fragrances and chemicals from our home environment. Anything that causes irriation to skin.

      Foodwise, I recommend the book Disease-Proof Your Child by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. 

      Our overall approach now to treating eczema and allergies is to avoid the things that we know cause it (discovered through elimination diets and trial and error with skin products) and to build our health with nutrient rich food. Food full of natural disease fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals. 


  • Trace

    Trace on June 12, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

    Wow, Renee and Damien, nice work! I was just visiting TS, and I am so intrigued! I've suffered from plantar fasciitis for three years now, and I've been wearing mostly Orthaheels ever since. Now, after a search on TS, I think maybe I've been doing everything wrong! What I read makes so much sense. I'm interested in learning/reading more. Oh, and Correct Toes might be something to try? 

    So much great info between you two. Keep up the good work!


  • Jason Elsworth

    Jason Elsworth on June 12, 2013, 1:51 a.m.

    Despite being a life long backpacking gear junkie I have never been that interested in shoes. However, I am a complete convert to minimalist shoes. I am pretty sure that it was you guys who first made me aware of the whole barefoot concept. In these situtaions I usually invest many hours into investigating the whole area and looking for the perfect x,y or z.  With minimalist shoes I decided to take a quite different approach and just took my shoes off for the summer. By the end of the summer I was completely convinced. I still haven't really looked in any depth at the principles of minimal shoes, but I wear Lem Primals in the winter and Teva Zilch sandals  in the summer (I still wear Inov-8 295's for major backpacking trips). If I was a runner I would look into it in more detail, but running isn't currently something I am able to do. The range of shoes available here in NZ is quite limited, especially for kids, currently my youngest has Inov-8 Talon 160s. These are not ideal from a minimalist point of view but have been a superb hiking and cross country running shoe. However, if used for day to day wear the traed sooon wears down. I am just this minute about to replace them with some Flux Gloves, which will also be his day to day school shoes. Unfortunatley I again have to order in from overseas. So thanks for putting us on the track to stronger feet.


  • karen knapp

    karen knapp on June 22, 2013, 10:31 a.m.

    Seriously, can we just come live with you for a month or so and you can feed our brains, our tummies, and our feet? !!!  And send some of those 9.5's this way for my man.  He has knee issues and certain shoes make it worse.  And my 11 year old has ankle issues. She has been going thru physical therapy.  Supposedly her calves are very tight and not flexible because she grew and and is growing so fast so every time she plays bb, dances etc it affects her ankles.  So let teach me about eating healthy, teaching homeschool, now shoes and feet, and oh the activity outdoorsy teaching hasn't sunken in yet....miracle are always possible!  And now I just want to hire you for a homeschool mentor and your hubby for a blog takeover!  May I say how much you bless me.  I have and am learning so much from you and know I will continue to do so!  Thank you!


  • Lisa Z

    Lisa Z on June 22, 2013, 3:15 p.m.

    Renee, I love this post! You guys are getting me more and more interested in minimalist shoes especially now that there are some cute styles out there. I had a foot guy tell me to go more barefoot or minimalist a few years ago and I do think I'd be most comfortable in minimal shoes, but I'm not very interested in going barefoot in Minnesota! I did just buy a pair of Ahnu hiking boots at REI, which aren't minimalist but they are closer to it than most--very lightweight and with a non-cushy sole. I love them!!! Ahnu makes other shoes that are minimalist, I think. Have you looked into that brand at all? I'd love to know what you guys think!

    I will definitely look at your links.


  • Clare

    Clare on June 22, 2013, 9:16 p.m.

    What a great post - I'd never heard of the barefoot concept and am feeling very inspired. But I wonder if you have any tips about foot care? I live in London, and find that whenever I wear sandals my feet get really dirty, and also the heels get hard and flakey. I'm really interested in Xero shoes (they are in the UK too) but not sure how my feet will cope being open all the time in a dirty city. Thanks, sorry if a silly question!


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.