How Can Someone Walk on Hot Coals and Not Get Burned?

Firewalking has been practiced by cultures all over the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to 1,200 B.C. in India. It always looks impressive, a mind-over-matter feat often used to test an individual’s courage or faith. But walking barefoot over a bed of blazing embers without getting third-degree burns is actually relatively simple -- although don't try it at home. Science tells us that your feet aren’t in contact with the coals long enough to do any harm. Furthermore, coals are typically poor conductors of heat, especially as they burn down.

A lot of firewalking is done at night. The hot coals still look ominous, but there’s usually plenty of ash spread on top. If you keep moving, the risk of burned feet decreases.

Walk, don't run, on the coals:

  • You’re more likely to get burned if you run through the embers. Running pushes your feet deeper into the coals, and they might get singed.
  • The practice is often used today as a team building practice. The shared accomplishment gives members of the group a feeling of togetherness and achievement.
  • Some tribes in Pakistan use firewalking as a decider of guilt or innocence. If the accused walks on hot coals and is unharmed, he’s deemed innocent. Otherwise, he's guilty as charged.
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