Feet have been a big issue for outdoor enthusiast and NFL athlete and Cooper Helfet, 29, who has played for Seattle and Oakland. He’s had two season-ending injuries, one to each foot. The first was a stress fracture to his right, later set with a pin; the second was a weight-lifting accident involving a 90-pound mass smashing his left, just last year.
Let’s just say Helfet’s approach to foot health has changed dramatically because of the incidents. “Sometimes you want a supportive shoe that will protect your foot and give you the most defense against an injury,” he says. “At the same time that weakens your foot, so you need to go get a minimalist shoe so you can start to strengthen your muscles and learn to grip with your foot like humans have forever.”
THIS OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST IS SOLD ON THE BOULDER BOOT
For the latter, Lems’ Boulder Boot has been Helfet’s best friend. “Lems are like the Nike Frees of boot world,” he says of the natural shoe he first discovered through Huckberry. “If I’m going backpacking for 12 miles days, I’m going to wear a sturdier boot, but if I’m going for a day hike and want to be active in different activities all day long, then Lems have been great.”
Active might be an understatement for this outdoor enthusiast does in a typical week. “I like everything outdoors, even new stuff,” he says of recently getting his sky-diving license.” My friends are all insane surfers and I try to keep up, I grew up snowboarding. I hike, mountain bike—anything that involves getting outside and usually an adrenaline rush of some kind. I like more social activities, too, because I like to be around people.”
His Lems pretty much go everywhere with this outdoor enthusiast: walking to the beach, for beers afterwards, on casual blood-flow workouts indoors, down to the market on his skateboard, some Frisbee golf and just about everything in between.
“I like the green and brown color scheme. Those are rad for just hacking around, but the leather brown ones I can dress up and wear with jeans and a nice shirt but still be super comfortable.”
While the Boulder Boot has taken Helfet all over San Franscico, where he grew up and currently resides, the minimalist shoe has also seen plenty of road-trip time. Helfet squishes them up in a Patagonia duffle for travel. “With these I just pack fewer shoes, because I can wear them for any outdoor activity or workout, plus they can be a night shoe. On most trips they just work for all of the above.”
Helfet will haul his Lems to a friends’ sprawling ranch in Wyoming this summer and even took them up the “hard side” of 14,000-foot peak in Colorado.
“I was going out to do some rafting, hiking and chilling, but my buddy asked me to climb Torres,” he says. “He wanted to do the technical side where there was this whole knife section. I only brought my Lems, so I just said screw it and figured it out. I couldn’t believe how those Lems stuck to the rock and how I was able to send it on such a technical hike.”
MAKING A SMALLER FOOTPRINT—AND BIGGER IMPACT
Whether it’s the Lems or a path he was already on, Helfet says he’s living a more minimal in general these days, purging his closet and being more conscious of his consumption habits.
“I try to be conservative in terms of my footprint,” he says. “I’m not ‘hyper-active’ with it, but I’m aware of being comfortable and casual day-to-day, just having very small needs and always having on me what I need. I live a much simpler life.”
The simplicity of a life lived outdoors is something Helfet is also trying to pass on to the next generation through his foundation, The Nature Project. He’s partnering with other professional athletes to get underserved, inner-city kids outdoors.
“The problem these days is it’s not considered cool for kids to be outside away from their phones,” he says. “With professional athletes, we make it cool.”
The organization’s goal is to get 1,000 kids outside this year. Even in a two-hour window at a local beach or park, his team is teaching effort and perseverance while getting kids out of their comfort zone—and into the wildly accepting natural environment. And it can be as simple as demonstrating how to play outside.
“I love the beach, walks, hikes, rivers, but for me it’s always been about the activity,” Helfet says. “I try to remember what I liked to do as a kid—rock throwing, climbing a tree, building a sand castle.”