Backpacking Camp Shoes: The Smart Trekker’s Guide

backpacking camp shoes

If you’ve never spent a week in wet hiking boots, then you’re in for a surprise at some point in your trekking career.

It’s unpleasant, cold, and leaves your feet swollen and sore. I can’t tell you how often I get jealous of other hikers with nice camp shoes. This secondary pair of lightweight shoes for wearing around the campsite after a long day’s trek are a luxury that will leave your feet smiling. Why don’t I carry some? Simply because I’m willing to leave them at home to save some weight.

So why do I recommend that you carry a pair of backpacking camp shoes? Because they often are small, lightweight, and inexpensive. They’ll improve your enjoyment of the trail and even, arguably, the health of your feet. I think the vast majority of hikers will have a better experience by choosing to carry a nice lightweight pair of camp shoes to help relax and dry out your feet at night around camp.

We’re going to introduce you to a few of the top choices of backpacking camp shoes available today. We’ll also talk about what to consider when picking out the right backpacking camp shoes for your next hike. Let’s get started!

How to Pick The Right Camp Shoes

Backpacking camp shoes are a luxury item for the trail and, like most backpacking items, they come with pros and cons of carrying. Remember that every ounce adds up to pounds on your back. In this case, we’ve already made the decision that camp shoes are worth the extra weight. Let’s take a look at a few considerations for making your choice of backpacking camp shoes.

Open vs Closed Toed Shoes

While cheap foam thongs, or flip-flops, from the local budget store, are an alluring inexpensive and lightweight camp shoe choice, they do have drawbacks. Open toe shoes, or shoes lacking any covering at the front of the shoe, leave your feet vulnerable to injury. Walking around camp with open toe shoes means that if you stub your toes on a stick, you may end up with a nasty splinter under your toe. This can lead to infection, pain, or further injury and is only one example of the vulnerability of open toe shoes.

Consider lightweight closed toe shoes if you’re worried about the possibility of injuring your foot around camp.

Weight

Of course, weight is always a factor in our decision making when choosing backpacking gear. Lightweight shoes tend to be less durable as they’re made from delicate material compared to more luxury options.

While heavier shoes may be more protective or supportive, the price you pay is lugging them around every day while you walk.

Breathability

Camp shoes are usually worn without socks at all. This helps your feet breath and dry out or, if it’s raining, you don’t have to worry about getting them wet.

Simple foam or rubber shoes are great because they’re lightweight, totally waterproof, and usually quite inexpensive. Crocs are a great example of this.

Support

After a long day of hiking, your feet are swollen and need some loving care. That’s why it can be really nice to have a pair of camp shoes that are actually ergonomically designed. Many cheap shoes have little or no arch support which is fine if you’re naturally flat footed. For the rest of us, this can leave our feet just as sore and tired.

Look for shoes with the right balance of support for your needs when considering a trekking camp shoe.

The 5 Best Camp Shoes for Backpacking

crocs Unisex Classic Clog

Without a doubt, Crocs are the most ubiquitous camp shoe among backpackers today. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, totally waterproof (with holes to drain the water), and they are virtually indestructible.

If you’re worried about weight, you can even take off the heel strap and just wear them as slip-on shoes. Because they’re made of lightweight foam, they’ll eventually contour to the fit of your foot. You will find that they have a limited lifespan and the tread on the bottom of the shoe will quickly wear away. You’ll need to replace them at this point or they’ll become dangerously slippery.

Chaco Z1 Classic Athletic Sandal

While you’ll pay a bit more and have to carry some extra weight when compared to a bare-bones Croc shoe, Chacos have some of the best fit and support in the industry. These have long been my go-to summer sandal and I’ve even hiked in them on many occasions. Chaco will repair the webbing straps and the soles on your sandals for life (for a minimal fee) which means many Chaco fans wear the same pair of sandals for decades.

Ladies, you can find the female specific version right here.

I recommend the Z1 version of this sandal as I find the big toe strap intrusive and uncomfortable.

MuckBoots Unisex Edgewater Camp Shoe

These simple waterproof shoes feature a neoprene construction and rubber sole. They’re made to trek through nasty mud, muck, and water while keeping your feet warm, dry, and comfortable.

You may want to consider these as a spring and fall camp shoe option with a little more warmth and foot protection than other camp shoes. They may be on the warm side for mid-summer use in hot climates.

One nice feature about these camp shoes is that the neoprene topline upper is soft and flexible. That means it will more easily adjust to fit your specific foot and ankle size. I like this feature to help ease the fitment process and minimize the needs for returns.

KingCamp Unisex Warm Soft Slippers

While you won’t want to wear these in the summer, they might just make the perfect winter camping shoes. With a rubber sole and 40D PU coated nylon outer, they’re resistant to most things the trail can throw their way. Make no mistake, however, if you kick a sharp stick you’re likely to tear through the relatively fragile nylon fabric.

These are a good choice for the extra insulated warmth value in relatively dry conditions. Insulation is cotton which won’t perform well when wet so be sure to keep them safe inside your tent or shelter if the weather turns foul.

I would recommend caution with choosing where and when to use this type of camp shoe. Be certain that it fits your needs for the season and weather you’ll be hiking in.

Vivobarefoot Ultra II Water Shoe

Somewhere between a minimalist barefoot running shoe and a Croc, these are a pretty cool balance of performance and weight savings. With an open design, they’ll shed water and you won’t need to worry about keeping them dry because they’re 100% synthetic.

Because they wrap the whole foot and lace up for a snug fit, they’re a great choice for washing in the river or waterfall or river crossings. They provide toe protection at a lightweight tipping point. Definitely a strong consideration for those looking to gain the features of a Croc shoe with some of the performance of a running shoe.

Conclusion

For lightweight reliable performance in a backpacking camp shoe, you really can’t argue with a pair of Crocs. They’re popular because they work, they’re hardy, and they don’t weight down your pack.

While you’ll have to carry some extra weight, a more robust camp shoe like the Chaco or Vivobarefoot Water Shoe might be a good choice for their superior fit and performance. They won’t slip off your foot and will accompany you into the river, lakes, and streams you’ll find yourself in.

Be sure to consider what situations you’ll use your camp shoes in. If you’re just staying inside the hut after a day of hiking, a simple shoe is fine. If you’re planning to use your camp shoes not only at night but also during river crossings and rainy days, you’ll want something with a lot more performance.

Happy trails!

About the author

Casey Fiedler

Professional ski instructor and backpacking guide, Casey Fiedler went to school with CWC and NOLS for Outdoor Education and Leadership. Want to read more about what it takes to lead great adventure trips? Casey writes about outdoor education at caseyfiedler.wordpress.com

Click here to add a comment

Leave a comment: