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Welcome to Day 8 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag.
We at HPL have a love/hate relationship with shoes. Of course we love them, but how do you choose which of your favorites to pack for your next adventure?
Since shoes tend to be so specific in their purpose, the task of whittling down to just a few pairs for a several week to several month adventure becomes an agonizing one at best.
Here I’ve devised a travel shoe packing strategy to help keep your pack light and your feet happy.
The Shoe Packing Strategy
A lot of your shoe packing decisions will be based on your planned activities. If you’re traveling for more than one season or climate, you still don’t have to pack extra shoes, just more versatile options.
I’ve grouped travel shoes into three categories: sandals, walking, and hiking.
I suggest taking two pairs of shoes (wearing one, packing one) but not more than one from the same category. This strategy will keep your packing minimal, and you won’t end up with two pairs of shoes that can do the same job.
Nearly all of these shoes can do multiple-duty, and I’ve outlined some activities that might be ideal in each shoe.
The Exception to the Strategy
Tieks. Since they’re uber-packable, don’t feel guilty adding them to your pack if you have any plans to dress up a little. Tieks are extremely versatile and many women even find them comfortable enough to wear on long walking days. Plus, they’re super cute!
Yes, they’re a little expensive, but they last a very long time if taken care of properly. Check out Brooke’s complete thoughts on Tieks and why they’re worth it.
(Or, try a good Tiek’s alternative like Butterfly Twists.)
Oh, hey – Brooke actually put together a handy video comparing the two brands right here:
Any beachy or tropical location calls for flip flops, of course! I also highly suggest flip flops for hostel bathrooms and campsite showers because those tend to be breeding grounds for foot fungus. If you plan on staying in one location for a while, you might want these as your go-to shoes for quick errands out.
Havaiana Thongs – An Aussie favorite, these are made of durable rubber and come in a bunch of fun prints and colors.
Old Navy Flip Flops – They’re not fancy, but they’re a reliable classic that can’t be beat.
Flipsters – These are super minimal flip flops that are perfect for water activities and ideal for the shower. They’re not good for walking, but they fold up so easily into their carry pouch that maybe you could sneak them in your pack anyway. (These would be a great “emergency sandal” to pack.)
Comfy day sandals
These sandals are easier to wear than flip flops for long periods but still with a minimal feel. Plus they are super easy to pack. You’ll want them to be comfy for walking around a decent amount, for trips down to the local market or touring the nearest museum.
Bonus: both of these options can do double duty as your shower shoes!
Crocs Sexi Flip Flops – More than a flip flop! These Crocs are Brooke’s favorite because they weigh next to nothing, offer slight arch support for her picky feet (unlike most “flip flops”), and have the added ability to dress up with the right outfits.
Oh, and you can wear them in the shower? Yes, please. She learned about them from another traveler’s minimalist packing list and has been packing/wearing them ever since.
Teva Olowahu – These Tevas are a comfy yoga mat feel which are great for all types of feet. They feel like a flip flop but the extra straps keep your foot from sliding around, even when they’re wet. I’ve personally done a decent amount of walking in mine with no blisters and no regrets.
Casual Slip-On Shoes
Crocs, TOMS, or similar – Sometimes you need to have that easy-to-slip-on shoe but maybe you don’t want a sandal. While TOMS can be hit or miss for most people, they are definitely an option for simplicity.
These sandals are made for comfort and long periods on your feet. They are great for a day of exploring the city and seeing all the top attractions.
I would definitely recommend a walking sandal if you plan on exploring a city in a warm location or if you just like to let your toes breathe. Many people love these for their travel days too, as they’re easy to slip on and off in security and on the plane or train.
Birkenstocks Mayari – The versatility of Birkenstocks is amazing! All Birkenstocks are easily dressed up with a sundress or maxi skirt but these Mayaris are my favorite. They don’t slide around and the cork footbed actually forms to your foot in the first week or so of wear.
The only downside is they will hold up longer if they don’t get wet repeatedly (the cork dries out over time) so they’re not ideal for rainy locales.
Teva Universal – Tevas are a favorite of many for their comfort and durability. They adjust to your feet (hook and loop closure) and are quick-drying, so these ARE great for surprise downpours.
And, if you’re not afraid of a minor fashion faux pas, you can add socks if your feet get cold.
Naot Dorith – Brooke LOVES her Naot Dorith sandals, and this is coming from someone who has plantar fasciitis and who had ACL knee reconstruction 15 years ago. Because of those two issues, she tends to stick to tennis shoes for big days of walking.
However, the Naot Dorith work perfectly for her as a walking sandal option, and they can easily dress up in the process – winning! This means there’s generally no need to pack that pair of Tieks when you have these. Like the Birkenstocks, we would not recommend wearing them around in rainy locales.
Sneakers are great for city walking, but you don’t have to bring your grandma’s trainers. These tennis shoes are fashionable and comfortable too.
New Balance 574 – This classic look never seems to go out of style.
They are comfortable like a trainer, but they’re also trendy in Europe right now, so you don’t have to look like a tourist. I still like wearing mine around home for errands and casual days.
Adidas Samba Classics – Brooke pretty much lives in her Samba Classics. Yes, they are technically men’s indoor soccer shoes, but they are also trendy for women to sport in either the white or black version.
She loves their slight arch support and timeless style – plus she can walk everywhere in them! Brooke prefers to pack a pair of Samba Classics and a pair of sandals for most trips.
If you are in the habit of working out or going for a run, you can still continue your usual activities while traveling. Let your gym shoes double as your walking shoes so you don’t have to pack extra. Here are our favorites.
ASICS Gel-Contend 5 – I like to run, and running while traveling is a great way to get to know new cities! Asics have been my go-to brand since college. I have severe underpronation, so the Gel-Contend series (plus my orthotics) is perfect for my feet, and very comfortable for long runs or walks.
(Please do your pre-run research first. Know where you’ll be running, and take a friend or make sure the area is safe for you to be jogging alone. Always practice your usual safe-running strategies no matter where you are.)
Adidas Climacool – Brooke isn’t a runner, but she loves a good gym sesh when given the chance. These Adidas replaced her long-worn Nike’s and seem to do the trick quite nicely. However, she bought them while in the States last year and can’t seem to find the right style available online.
Europe in the fall/winter or another cool climate can have you wishing for a fashionable but comfortable pair of boots. Plus, the chance of considerable precipitation can throw a wrench in your plans for a classic sneaker. Consider these options for beating the weather without looking out of place.
Sam Edelman Tinsley Rain Boots– Our friend Ashley loves these for their packability and of course, how waterproof they are. And they’re cute, so what’s not to like? They also come in a ton of fun colors! Rainboots are a great option if you’re visiting Seattle, London, or another notoriously rainy locale.
Blundstone Chelsea boots – These boots go with literally everything. Wear them in wet, cool weather, as they are warm and comfortable. We recommend treating them often to keep them water-resistant or check out the winterized version for 100% waterproof boots.
Kodiak Original All-Season Boots – Cute and waterproof! Great for sightseeing during the day, and easily dressed up for the evening. No one will ever know you’re a tourist. Choose a color that will be versatile with the rest of your wardrobe.
Chaco Barbary boot – Back from my favorite Chaco brand, these boots are a little more casual but still very waterproof! They pair perfectly with jeans and have more arch support than some other boots. If you have a high arch like me, I highly suggest these for sloshy winter travel.
Visiting a cold or snowy city? You’ll need reliable boots that will keep out the elements but are still appropriate for daytime walking and perhaps even dining out. You might want to pack one of these if you’re touring Ontario in winter or hoping to catch the northern lights near Reykjavik.
Sorel Slimpack II Lace Winter Boots – These classic snowboots have recently shown up in day-to-day casual fashion, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still quality waterproof boots that will keep the snow out and your feet warm. These Sorels are rated to 0F (-17C), so they’re bound to keep your toes toasty even in a light snow.
Kamik Sienna 2 – Both leakproof and lightweight! These tall Kamiks are rated to to -4F (-20 C), so don’t worry about shuffling through that heavy snow. Wear these for walking long distances and still keep the water and cold out. If you have difficult feet, this pair will accommodate your orthotics as well. Their low profile makes them 100% acceptable for your dinner plans.
Columbia Minx Shorty III – If you plan to be in Moscow, Iceland, or another similar climate in the winter, you’ll need an actual insulated snowboot instead of just a warm, waterproof boot, especially if you plan to be in nature more than the city. This pair by Columbia is rated to -25F (-31 C) and has a rubber outsole so you won’t lose your footing.
It’s also available in a mid if you prefer. Something to consider: a number of wearers recommend sizing up.
Hiking and Trekking
These sturdy sandals can be worn for short or less-intensive hikes and long walks outside, especially in warm climates. Choose them for taking the winding trail to the waterfalls, even while carrying your pack.
However, because these aren’t too heavy-duty, they are great to wear for exploring a city too.
Chacos – I have worn Chacos for years for both travel and as my go-to summer shoe at home. Because they adjust so easily to your feet, there’s no slipping and sliding, and the sturdy base feels secure on trails too.
Keen Rose Sandal – They’re lightweight but sturdy. The closed-toe makes the Keen Rose Sandal perfect for hiking trails, but they’re great in the city too! The neutral colors and strappy construction are sporty and stylish; they’re cute with skirts and shorts.
Brooke highly recommends these hiking sandals and has worn her own pair around Australia while exploring both the city and the great outdoors.
Light Hiking Shoe
Both lightweight hiking shoes and trail running shoes are a great option for brisk day hikes or on easier trails. They are going to be best for warmer hikes, as they are breathable, and probably won’t keep any snow out of your socks.
Trail running shoes are especially great if you’re hiking on your trip but also packing ultralight, as they dry quickly and you won’t need to pack a heavier option boot.
These two choices are favorite brands that break in easily and won’t be wearing out anytime soon.
Saloman OUTline Low GTX – Saloman knows trails and comfort, so you can’t go wrong. The OUTline Low GTX has a wide toe-box and of course, great stability and traction in the sole.
This particular style comes in some low-profile colors, so they wouldn’t be out of place walking around the city or worn with pants at dinner.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 – My trail running friends swear by Hoka One One, and for mid-range hiking these will be in the ultimate in comfort plus stability.
They are also lightweight enough for exploring a new city. One downside: the color choices are mostly bright, so you might stick out a bit.
Extra bonus: the Speedgoat 3 is 100% Vegan.
Trekking shoes will provide better protection in cold climates or in the elements. If you need extra stability for a mid-distance or off-the-trail hike, upgrading to a hiking/trekking shoe like one of these is suggested.
Keen Targhee III – Keens are a reliable brand and these Targhees are no exception. They are waterproof and great for snow and water. The added protection of a toe cover makes them great for uneven terrain and longer hikes.
This style is slightly wider, so they’re a great choice for someone who needs a bigger toe box.
Merrell Moab 2 – These are my personal favorite, and I spent most of my trip to Peru and Machu Picchu in them. Merrell is known for comfort, and these Moabs were very sturdy on the trail as well.
Unlike some other hiking shoes, they are great right out of the box. The style of these is less bulky and the top looks like a sneaker, so I don’t feel silly wearing them other places too. Back at home, I still wear these for snow and icy winter weather.
Editor’s Note: Merrell also makes these in a Mid.
Merrell Ontario Mid – If you’re set on a mid-height boot but still want lightweight comfort, the Ontario Mid is a great choice that is also surprisingly stylish! This Merrell is a fan favorite as an all-around boot, made of full-grain leather upper while being waterproof and breathable. I would definitely wear these to dinner.
You might choose this heavy-duty version if you need extra ankle support, are carrying a heavy pack, or plan on trekking for a number of days on rough terrain. This style of boot is heavier but highly durable and is still comfortable enough to be worn on days in between hikes.
Lowa Renegades – Lowa gets my pick for the best backpacking and heavy-duty trekking boot. These Renegades hold up in the elements, provide extra ankle and sole stability, and are comfortable to boot (no pun intended).
How to Choose Your Travel Shoes
How many shoes do I pack for a trip?
Take only what you truly need.
We say 2 pairs of shoes is the ideal goal to pack for your travels. However, we also understand the need for an extra pair on certain getaways, such as the added shower flip flops if hostels and/or beaches are on the agenda.
(That said, there are actually several casual shoes that can double as your shower shoe if needed!)
Four pairs of shoes would be our ultimate max number of shoes to pack for a trip – even for gap year, round-the-world trips!
Get critical with your shoe choices
Ask yourself questions as you whittle down the list:
- Will you be needing these shoes more than once?
- Is it imperative that you bring these exact shoes?
- Can you make another pair work in its place?
For example, a pair of high heels for one nice dinner out and a few nights at a club is not a good enough reason to pack them for that 3 month trip. Can you use black ballet flats or a pair of sandals work for those situations instead?
Luckily, the trend for comfortable, technical shoes that also look cute is becoming more and more popular, just like Megan discovered in her search for a comfortable walking sandal
What Shoes HPL Would Pack – Examples
Weekend away to a city in the spring:
Staying in an Airbnb, enjoying brunch and seeing the sites.
- What Brooke would pack: Blundstones (if poor weather, otherwise Adidas Samba Classics) and Tieks or Butterfly Twists
- What Emily would pack: Birkenstocks Mayari sandals and Asics Gel-Contend running shoes
Round the World Trip:
- What Brooke would pack: Keen Targee III and Chacos, plus Tieks or Butterfly Twists
- What Emily would pack: Teva Olawahu sandals and Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 trail runners, plus Tieks.
Summer Europe Trip:
Most of Europe in six weeks with a friend’s destination wedding in the middle.
- What Brooke would pack: Naot Dorith sandals (could be worn at wedding depending on dress code), Adidas Samba Classics (Crocs Sexi Flips if staying in hostels)
- What Emily would pack: Naot Dorith sandals and New Balance 574 sneakers, plus… am I allowed to sneak in the Flipsters?
Hiking the Inca Trail:
- What Brooke would pack: Keen Targee III and Keen Rose Sandals (plus a shower flip flop)
- What Emily would pack: Merrell Moab 2 and the Keen Rose Sandals
Winter Getaway in the North:
Two weeks in Scandinavia.
- What Brooke would pack: Sorel Explorer Boot and flip flops
- What Emily would pack: Kodiak Original All-Season Boots (plus wool socks) and the Kamik Sienna 2 boots
What Not to Pack
Yes, you might be tempted, but avoid packing these shoes. I think you’ll regret it later.
While Toms are fun and easy to slip on, they don’t provide any support or traction. They might be great for your airport layovers but they won’t do double-duty for city walking. And as minimal as they are, they don’t even fold up for easy packing.
Converse Chuck Taylors:
Hear me out. Chuck Taylors have been a long-time favorite of mine for day-to-day around home, but I rarely pack them.
Though they’re stylish sneakers, they’re also incredibly flat, making them hard on your feet, and you’ll feel every cobblestone. I know because I did actually take them to Spain for a semester, and yes, I felt every cobblestone and had aching feet.
I have never heard anything good about this type of elastic flats. They’re not made for walking, and the elastic never suits anybody’s feet.
They seem like a nice packable alternative to a more expensive shoe like Tieks, but they’ll wear out easily, which brings me to my next point…
Something similar but cheap just because it’s cheaper:
The number of times you’ll have to buy these and break them in will not be an improvement on the price of the quality version. Just don’t do it.
Something new to you:
Most shoes need at least a trip to the mall or around the block a few times, some more. You’ll want to be sure they won’t cause new blisters.
My beloved Birkenstocks took several days of forming to my feet before they felt comfortable. Chacos take some getting used to, several long walks worth, and some tweaking on your straps adjustment along the way. Hiking shoes and boots will definitely need some extra time.
Extra Reading: What Shoes for Work and Pleasure Trips?; 8 Reasons Toms Make Great Travel Shoes; Rebuttal: Toms Make TERRIBLE Travel Shoes; Shoes to Pack for an RTW
Take Action: Take Only the Shoes You Need
Go through your planned itinerary and activities. Decide which shoes you will need to take and pare down to the best of your ability. Look for taking fewer high-quality shoes that can serve multiple purposes.
Let us know the shoes you’re taking with you on your upcoming trip, or let us know if you need some extra advice, in the comments below.
My last trip I took just a pair of Clark’s Privo mary janes and they were amazing (and shower flip flops). We were in cities mostly, and I walked about 5-10 miles a day in those babies and my feet never bothered me. This time I’m taking those again as my main walking shoes, but will probably wear a pair of boots on the plane OR pack some ballet flats. I’m going to Ireland in the winter, so if I find the right pair of boots I’m bringing ’em.
ZA @ The Girl Who Cry Wolf says
For many of my solo trips, usually I’m in sandals and happy to live in it. In fact, if I could get away with just sandals for my upcoming trip, I would certainly do so. Unfortunately, my next trip is to Japan during winter, thus, it’s unavoidable, I need to get a good pair of boots. Thanks for the tips. I won’t forget about flips flops since I’m gonna crash at hostels. during the trip.
The last two summers I have gone on two month trips and the only shoes I had were work boots and water shoes. They worked great.
After 2 days of reading through your amazing site I had to comment! I start my trip 01/03/2014 travel in America, Canada & Fiji before our work Visa in Australia. You have helped me with so many things I will definitely be keeping an eye on articles in the future!!
Shoes are the one thing I actually don’t overpack, lol. I usually stick with a pair of trainers for walking/hiking/exploring, a pair of flats (the Dexflex ones from Payless are surprisingly chic and comfortable, and great for the price), slippers (I’m from Hawaiʻi, we wear them everywhere haha), and my trusty Nine West black ankle boots. Those have a chunky heel so they’re dressy but still comfortable, they can be counted on to keep my feet warm. I usually wear them on the plane so they don’t take up any extra room and still feel semi-chic. They’re great for any business meetings I might have to attend or for fun nights out.
I just wanted to point out that Merrell quit producing the Henna sandal in 2012. I noticed this when the original review was posted, but since you’re using it as a viable shoe option in follow up posts, I thought it worth mentioning this time.
I’m a big HPL fan and reference it before every trip I make. Thanks for keeping it going!
That’s strange since Megan just bought hers, but thanks for the update. 🙂 I’m sure there are other shoes in their line that will take their place.
Ok the Henna is still sold on the Merrell UK site, and Megan is in the UK. You can also buy online.
I haven’t travelled yet, just day dreaming and planning. But I was wondering, would anyone have any suggestions for alternatives to sandals when travelling for those who have to wear orthotic inserts in shoes all the time?
Hi Olivia – I also have troubled feet these days. Have your asked your foot doctor about options? I know they offer different types of orthotics these days (like for heels and such) – perhaps they have something that can go on a sandal footbed? (I could be dreaming here) If not, check out sandals with excellent arch support, such as Chacos. Have you seen Abeo sandals before? http://www.thewalkingcompany.com/womens-plantar-fasciitis
I have flat feet and wear arch supports all the time. I find that Merrell is one of my favorite shoes (I think I own 7 pair now). I bought a sandle from them 2 years ago that was made with a high arch. I didn’t even have to wear my support. They also have close toe shoes (which I mostly wear) that are for summer/spring/fall. I have been sliding my support under the insert and it works great. Check them out online or in a strore that carries them. Have fun planning you first trip. The girls I work with always make fun of my pre printed packing list. I print my master for every trip and tweek it for wherever I’m headed to next : )
Has anyone else had any experience traveling with Danskos?? I studied abroad in France in college and wore them EVERYWHERE because they are so comfy if you’re standing or walking and they look nice because they are leather and at least I think they are cute too. However, studying abroad meant that wherever I went I was just taking a smaller backpack without all of my stuff in it so I usually wore my Danskos while in transit so I didn’t have to pack them. I’m now thinking of backpacking in Europe for several weeks and can’t decide whether to take them or not because they are a heavier shoe. I have a couple pairs of closed toe ones (Mary Janes and regular clogs) and a pair of sandals that I love, but don’t know if they’re worth packing the weight around…… any thoughts on Danskos for travel??
What would you recommend for traveling to winter climates?
Hi Ashley – It all depends on your trip itinerary and the types of activities you’ll be partaking in. Something with a waterproof upper would be great if there will be snow, and you’ll be out in it. Companies like Keen and Merrell make boots that should be comfortable to walk in.
What are your thoughts about Jambu Clementine Flats? I’m planning a trip to India and consider thees.
What insoles have been added to the Tieks? I am really contemplating purchasing a pair, but worry about odours permanently destroying the leather insole.
I put in some cheap insoles and regret it terribly. The insoles stunk so bad, and then the sticky layer on the bottom was really hard to remove and that had absorbed the smell. You’re better off without them, unless you have some washable ones that can be removed easily.
a nifty solution to stop inner soles from getting stinky – buy some cheap sockettes – the thin ones,
flip them over the while inner sole with the opening at the bottom underneath.
Helps the innersoles last for days and days without getting stinky – and you just sink wash the sockettes and replace them
Girl in the Merrell store taught me that one a few years ago.
I discovered skechers go walk last year. I’ve done a few trips since & have now got to the point where I take nothing else. They are so comfortable and cushioned. Ideal for long days of city sightseeing as well as being up to light hiking trips. Lots of different colours & designs.
Nerissa Edwards says
I suggest checking out Allbirds! Most comfortable shoes ever (no I don’t work for them!) right out of the box. The flats are great for traveling too. And washable!