Background. The impact of walking speed has not been evaluated as a feasible outcome measure associated with peak plantar pressure (PPP) distribution, which may result in tissue damage in persons with diabetic foot complications. The objective of this pilot study was to determine the walking speed and PPP distribution during barefoot walking in persons with diabetes. Methods. Nine individuals with diabetes and nine age–gender matched individuals without diabetes participated in this study. Each individual was marked at 10 anatomical landmarks for vibration and tactile pressure sensation tests to determine the severity of sensory deficits on the plantar surface of the dominant limb foot. A steady state walking speed, PPP, the fore and rear foot (F/R) PPP ratio and gait variables were measured during barefoot walking. Results. Persons with diabetes had a significantly slower walking speed than the age–gender matched group resulting in a significant reduction of PPP at the F/R foot during barefoot walking (p < 0.05). There was no significant difference in F/R foot PPP ratio in the diabetic group compared with the age–gender matched group during barefoot walking (p > 0.05). There was a significant difference between the diabetic and non-diabetic groups for cadence, step time, toe out angle and the anterior–posterior excursion (APE) for centre of force (p < 0.05). Conclusion. Walking speed may be a potential indicator for persons with diabetes to identify PPP distribution during barefoot walking in a diabetic foot. However, the diabetic group demonstrated a more cautious walking pattern than the age–gender matched group by decreasing cadence, step length and APE, and increasing step time and toe in/out angle. People with diabetes may reduce the risk of foot ulcerations as long as they are able to prevent severe foot deformities such as callus, hammer toe or charcot foot. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.