No matter what topic I write on, be it an exotic destination or something thought-provoking, there seems to be no topic that travelers want to dissect more than travel shoes. And for good reason. Bad shoes can drag a trip down by sapping energy. It’s a bit like playing music, you’ll only get a quality product by using quality tools. Putting some thought into your shoes now will keep you from thinking about them while you’re traveling. As it should be.
You’ll need to make some decisions about your travel shoes to narrow down the thousands of options. First of all, how many pairs? Two is the minimum. You need to have an alternate in case something goes wrong with a pair. Shoes rip, break, wear down, or can rub you the wrong way. Having an alternate gives your feet a break. On a typical trip in warmer months, I suggest a pair of close-toed walking shoes and a pair of sandals. In colder months, I suggest a pair of walking shoes and a pair of lightweight, waterproof boots. This is just a minimum.
The key to selecting shoes should be a combination of comfort, weight, and style, in that order. Considering all of the light weight options out there today, you’ll have no problem finding something that meets all three criteria.
The concept of comfort is very relative. Any time I ask for shoe suggestions from readers, the answers go all over the map for what is or isn’t comfortable. Some people think flip-flops are the best while others need orthopedic shoes. Above all, you need to find what works for you. Don’t necessarily buy into the “comfort shoes” concept, though. Many times, shoes labeled like that are needlessly heavy and overpriced. You can turn any shoe into a comfort shoe by adding great insoles, like Superfeet, which you can choose based on your particular foot needs.
A key to comfort is not just a good shoe, but one that is broken-in. Take your shoes for a good long walk every day for a couple of weeks before leaving, and find out how they feel.
While comfort is certainly important, putting an emphasis on choosing lightweight shoes can make a huge difference in your overall bag. Shoes are the single heaviest item you’ll carry with you, so shaving pounds here makes a difference. As an example, a typical “comfort” shoe for me would weigh a pound per shoe. I wear a women’s size 12. With some research, I’ve found similar comfort at around 8 ounces. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, take your kitchen scale to the shoe store. I’m serious! You’d be shocked how much weight varies from shoe to shoe, and weight has little to do with comfort or quality. Online shoe sellers also note the weight of a typical shoe, so look closely before you buy.
If you’ve been very careful with weight, you can add in extra pairs if you wish. I have been known to bring up to five pairs of shoes for two months, being super careful about weight and bulk of each pair. Five pairs can be the same as two, depending on what you pick.
Style and Color
After 20 years of tour guiding, I have decided that there are two color strategies for packing. Black/white/bright color and brown/beige/white. Pick a direction for your clothes, and the shoe colors should follow. If I’m doing a black color scheme with black pants, gray or red tops, I might bring black sandals and walking shoes, and one super colorful pair, like the yellow camel skin shoes I bought in Morocco.
If I’m going for a neutral look (which works well in summer) my clothes would be mostly beige, white and maybe a bit of blue. I’d take brown walking shoes, light colored sandals, and beige slip-ons.
If you are not sure where to start, I have a couple of formulas for making a selection.
For men, in addition to two basic pairs, I’d add a pair of flip-flops in the summer for beach time, or a pair of lightweight trail shoes with good tread for hikers. An ideal combo for a man in warmer months may be leather walking shoes (like Eccos), tough sandals (like Tevas), and a lightweight trail shoe (like Merrells). In colder climates, a pair of walking shoes (Rockports) and pair of light athletic shoes (Sketchers) and a pair of waterproof boots.
For women in summer, I suggest a solid pair of neutral colored walking shoes (like Asics Metrolyte), lightweight sandals of your choice (Ecco, Taos, Naot), and a pair of slip-on shoes (Butterfly Twists, Empress, Bob’s). I also bring flip-flops for grotty hotel floors and beaches. In the winter I suggest warm, lightweight walking shoes (Allbirds), lightweight slip-ons (Toms), and boots (Uggs).
As usual, I’ve been sniffing out the best travel shoe choices for this year. Shoe companies sadly change styles frequently, so these shoes are available as of June, 2019.
Sarah’s Picks for Women
I’ve been on the go again this year, from Thailand to Tuscany, and these are the shoes that have served me well so far.
I have never been a big fan of Tevas. They are too sporty and clunky and heavy. Plus, they stink after a while. But they do have their place. I bought this pair for Thailand since we do a variety of active days, biking, hiking, snorkeling, and walking in the heat. This style was surprisingly feminine even in my size, and always comfortable. They are overly heavy, but if you’re only bringing two pair, they are versatile enough to hike and go to dinner in. A similar style, Tirra, gets good feedback from readers.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say these are the perfect travel sandals, but I’d say they are close. They fit my feet perfectly, the straps are adjustable, and the soles are similar to a running shoe but they are still elegant. I picked an odd champagne color which surprised me by matching everything in my bag. They also weigh nothing and pack almost flat. Bellissime!
While I don’t feel that these shoes win any style points, they were a great shoe for lots of city walking. Sketchers are always extremely lightweight and feel like marshmallows. They are also inexpensive. This makes then seem ideal, but with the amount of walking I do, they fall apart more quickly than other brands. I see them as almost disposable but that’s ok. They do the trick and come in wide and extended sizes.
I’m spending the summer in Italy with my kids, and I plan to do some recon work for the next edition of the Sicily book. The book is missing hikes because I just didn’t have time to get to that. So I need trail shoes, but they need to double as my regular city walking shoes. On the advice of a reader, I picked these up and am happy so far. They are sleek enough to go with nice jeans and a cute top, and are not bulky. They didn’t have my size in women’s so these are men’s but they still look unisex enough to work for me. And at 8 ounces per shoe, I’m very pleased.
by far, the lightest pair I own. These are not new to you if you’ve read my blog before. I’m now on my third pair and I still love them. They are so light, attractive and the wedge makes them more respectable than a standard flip-flop. They also come in sizes up to 12, so a big woohoo!
Yes, you’ve been waiting to hear about these I suspect. Are they all that? Is it worth the price for shoes you can’t try on? I wasn’t willing to shell out the cash for them so I bought a secondhand pair from Poshmark. After a year of wear, the answer is yes, that are that good. Super comfy, soft as a kitten’s bum, and can be worn without socks and they don’t get stinky. I do love them, I’m even considering getting them for my teenage son. They are extremely warm, perfect for autumn through spring, but way too warm for summer. I know they claim otherwise but I’ve tried it and I hated them in the summer.
They don’t make a women’s 12, I bought a men’s 10 but they definitely feel a little clunkier than they need to be. Also, they stretch out, as wool does, and I’ve seen reports that the wool wears down over time and gets holes in it, but we knitters know that these are fixable problems. You can launder them to get them back in shape, but that means they aren’t great for extended trips without access to a washing machine.
All in all, I do recommend them, but they are quite pricey for the quality. Amazon sells inexpensive knock-offs that run small but could be worth picking up to try out the concept first.
I’m sure you’ve seen ads on Facebook for random shoe brands. I saw these and was curious so I ordered them. They caught my eye as they are a little funky in style, and I rather like that.
So far, I really find them comfy and the leather is soft. The toe box is squared which is nice for my wide feet. The insoles are good enough, although I like a higher arch so I’ve added my own and they work well. The back flips down and turns them into scuffs, a nice design feature. The only weirdness is the soles, which have raised rubber circles on them. A strange choice for tread, but they feel delightfully springy and grippy. They could be lighter, but at 8 ounces they are ok. Mail order shoes from Australia are a bit of a risk, but I’m happy with them and they arrived really quickly. Bottom line: they’ve made the cut for this summer’s backpack, which is the highest compliment from me.
Sarah’s Picks for Men
My sons are traveling with me this summer, so I’ve done some research on men’s shoes as well. I am particularly interested in extended sizes as my older son is already in a size 14, if you can believe it. Here’s my intel from my research.
What’s good for the goose and all… I like these for myself and am so impressed with their weight and grippy tread. They will be very versatile for travel, both my sons will be getting a pair.
This is my go-to purchase for universal shoes for my son. They are light, breathable, don’t get stinky, and come in a wide range of sizes. They also can pass as dress shoes if you don’t look too carefully.
Ecco shoes are one of the most durable and comfortable brands in general. They also tend to make comfort shoes look a little nicer. These sandals are a cut above Tevas in many nice ways. The are classier, in black or brown leather, for a start, and would look nice both on a beach or at a nice dinner. The also have the major advantage of a leather footbed, which solves the Teva stink problem. They are heavier that I’d like, coming in at a slim 13 ounces, but not bad for a highly constructed men’s shoe.
I’ve become a huge fan of Uggs. They are super durable and well constructed, and by far the most consistently comfortable shoes I own. This sneaker takes their best qualities and combines them into a great travel shoe that weighs in at only 7 ounces! They are great looking and come with the cozy wool insole. The only downside is that they are suede, so you’d have to get some kind of protectant spray for rainy destinations. Otherwise, a great choice and nice range of sizes.
If you’re going with the three pair theory, this would be the ideal third pair. They are versatile. They’ve been made with synthetic mesh to be water shoes and have a grippy sole for wet surfaces, but that same mesh would be ideal for hot climates or people with typically sweaty feet. Stylewise, they’d look fine with nice pants in the city. The weight is what makes them a perfect spare pair- only 5 ounces per shoe, which is virtually unheard of in men’s shoes.
These are my picks, may they take you wherever you’re going in a comfy, lightweight, and stylish way. Up next, my reader choices for travel shoes 2019…