Backpackers guide - The best shoes to pack
Learn which two pairs of shoes you will actually need for a year’s backpacking. (Men’s and women’s options.) Plus three pairs to leave behind.
You only need two pairs of shoes for a year backpacking!
I know, take a deep breath put aside the, but won’t I… and the what if’s, for a minute and hear me out. There are exceptions and I will cover them below but trust me after years on the road, the times when you curse the weight and space they take up in your pack, will much outweigh any times you actually wish you had an extra pair. If that should happen and for some reason, you can’t beg or borrow a pair from your host or fellow travellers, there are few places in the world where you will not be able to buy a cheap pair at the last minute. You do not want to be lugging around extra pairs of shoes for any period of time, take my word for it the pack fairies will thank you!
There are three types of shoes that travellers find particularly difficult to part with, I call these holiday shoes. They are fine if you have space in your suitcase and don’t have to carry all your gear with you all the time but if you are travelling for more than a few weeks holiday you need to be brave and say goodbye.
X Flip flops – Are you going somewhere warm, with casual dress code and don’t expect to be doing much walking? If so pack your flip flops. Flip flops often get included because they don’t take up much space but if you are doing a lot of walking as most backpackers do, upgrading to a supportive pair of sandals will save your feet and flip flops will become just another space waster. If you can’t bear the thought of hitting the showers without a pair, drop into your local Asian convenience store and grab a pair of these disposable ones at a fraction the space and weight.
X Hiking boots – Dangling from the bottom of travellers packs everywhere. They look pretty adventurous but if you ask said travellers, they will probably admit that they have only actually used them once in the last year and wish they would stop smacking them in the back of the knees. (The only thing stopping these getting chucked, is the $400 they paid for them and the magical what if…)
If you are going to be doing serious hiking (more than a few days at a time) and the terrain will be very rough, wet or snowy then, by all means, bring your hiking boots. If you’re going to be doing light tramping only, there is nothing your running shoes can’t handle. If you do choose boots, make sure you wear them in at home. I know you nod - duh, but you have to actually do this. The first hut on any hike is always littered with Band-Aids and whinging backpackers who didn’t quite get to breaking in their new boots!
X Heels/dress shoes – Some ladies cannot be parted from their heels. If you wear heels all the time at home and big city nightlife is a main part of your itinerary, nothing I say is going to stop you. Consider the terrain you will be walking on, cobbles and badly kept pavement can be hell on heels. Also choose something that can go from casual day to night life, perhaps a dressy wedge. If you don’t wear heels much at home and are only including them just in case you get invited somewhere fancy then restrain the urge. Both men’s and women’s dress shoes travel badly, they get squashed, are not practical to walk in and are only used once in a blue moon. If the occasion does arise you will be able to borrow or buy something suitable in the moment but chances are you can make do with what you have.
Ok now I have covered what not to bring, here are the shoes I think are compulsory for all backpackers. If you are travelling to a summer destination you’ll need options A and B, if you’re travelling to a winter destination B and C. On a truly round the world trip you might spring for all three but boots take up a lot of room, so make sure you can’t live without them before adding them to your packing list.
(Disclaimer I am not receiving any compensation for promoting these products. The products mentioned are not brands I have used myself, they are just examples of the style of footwear I take when I travel)
A). Leather hiking sandal – I hate hiking sandals! I think they are the ugliest thing ever but boy are they comfy! To this end, I recommend a leather (or faux leather) sandal. They have the grip to clamber over rocks, the support to walk for hours and the minimal leather straps mean you can dress them up for even reasonably formal occasions and best of all you minimise the tourist dweeb look. This style of multipurpose sandal is a must have.
B). Running shoe – A good running shoe, one with enough support and cushioning for hiking but styled for casual wear. This will be the most multipurpose shoe you can get. From casual exploring, to hiking and even local bars and restaurants, as long as you keep your shoes clean you can get in most places in trainers nowadays. Chose a darker colour and less “sporty” pattern to help them fly even further under the radar. I have done many a hike in good quality running shoes without ever getting a blister. If you’re worried about dampness you can waterproof your shoes or take a pair of waterproof socks along to keep your feet toasty and dry.
1 men's and women's versions available Nike Free 4.0 v4 Running Shoes
C). Boots – I love boots, I live in them but you only want to include these if you are going somewhere wintery, where you expect a lot of rain or snow, otherwise these will become dead weight in your pack. I have worn boots like this hiking, clubbing and even to the office. You want something flat with a sole that has some actual cushioning and grip. Find something waterproof, a zip is handy for ease of removal and laces for getting that perfect fit. I would also choose something plain so that they go with a range of styles. In a winter environment, the right pair of boots will keep you dry and warm and support your feet and ankles during any kind of adventure.
Now the catch with only owning two pairs of shoes is they take a lot of wear and tear. Try and get the best quality you can afford. There are good quality shoes available second hand, or spring for a new set, many now come with a year’s warranty. You can wear them till they fall apart and get a replacement pair at the end of your trip for no extra cost. Try them on and if they don’t feel just right don’t get them!
You also have to be prepared to look after them properly, you may want to water and odour proof them before you go. Real leather is very hard wearing but will need to be cleaned if you’re getting it wet regularly, so make sure you have the right supplies. On the road make sure you brush off the worst of the dirt and air/dry them out regularly, take the time once a month to give them a clean, they will last longer and you will have happy feet even when you’re walking all day every day.
Author of Stress Free Adventure Planning
If you enjoyed this post check out this one on what not to pack – how to travel lighter for longer.
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