The Best Travel Shoes for Backpacking Europe and Beyond
Not packing the right travel shoes and socks will lead to extremely bad times during your travels. The climate will be the main factor when deciding what footwear to pack. What you would wear in Thailand isn’t necessarily what you would wear in countries like Japan, Europe, South America, and USA.
Not only should you pack comfortable shoes, you should pack multiple styles of comfortable shoes. A good rule to follow is to always pack two-three pairs of shoes: one pair of comfortable walking shoes for sightseeing, one pair of dress shoes fancy evenings, and a pair of sandals for beaches and showers. This rule will serve you well in South America, North America, Europe, and Japan. However, if you are bound for more tropical or winter climates, you will have to change your strategy. The best shoes for travel will greatly depend on what you plan to do in your destination country, so plan accordingly.
Having crappy cotton socks will make you miserable all day and cause blisters and smelly feet. Taking care of your feet is a cornerstone of traveling and to neglect that rule will only lead to misery. If you think cheap athletic shoes will serve you fine traveling, think again.
Keep it Casual: Cute Close Toed Walking Shoes That Go with Anything
For countries like South America, North America, Europe, Central America, and Japan; a good daily travel shoe will serve you well. Running shoes and cross trainers are fine, but they are not designed for walking on multiple surfaces. For example, a running shoe is fine on paved sidewalks and roads, but will start to break apart when walking on cobblestone streets. They also are too soft to feel comfortable for all day use and will show mud and dirt extremely easily. The other downside with cross trainers and athletic shoes is that you’ll have to switch them out for nicer shoes for evening dinners and clubs. We recommend always bringing two pairs of shoes, including one dress pair, but if you only want to bring one shoe we recommend a dark color that looks fashionable hiking or in a club.
KEEN makes shoes only for the outdoors and traveling. They last long, have a great warranty, and can be stylishly paired with most outfits if you wear dark colors. They have tons of styles available for women and men.
Keep it Cool: Top Rated Summertime Shoes and Sandals
If you haven’t been to South East Asia before, you’d likely think a pair of running shoes would be fine, but you’d be wrong. The humidity will rot your shoes, keep your feet forever wet (regardless of what kind of socks you are wearing), and after a few days they will be ruined. South East Asia, and other tropical and jungle climates, require wearing something that is more open. A simple pair of flip flops would work if you are planning on hanging around the beach or pool, but if you want to go trekking in the hills or jungles, you’re going to need something comfortable, open with good grip, and durable.
If you are worried about completely exposing your feet to the world, these sandal shoes work great. They protect your toes, attach to your feet with a strong cinch cord, and can easily be worn in the water or on a trail. Great for Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and any other warm climate, these are our go to day shoe.
These are the most expensive sandals you’ve ever laid eyes on, but there is a reason. They are strong, durable, and support your arches extremely well. You would only need these for places similar to Thailand, Vietnam, and Bali. If you buy one pair of these they will last you for life, and are worth the price.
Keep Warm: Comfortable Boots Hiking for Men and Women
Traveling to Patagonia, Iceland, or Russia? You’ll want a quality boot that keeps you warm but doesn’t weigh 1,000 pounds. A ankle high boot is the best choice because it allows you to tuck your pants into the boot and keep the bottoms dry, while simultaneously keeping water out of the boot. A good boot should be lightweight but durable, water resistant, and have excellent tread. It should be able to handle all around terrain such as snow, mud, gravel, and sand.
Being a ski bum in California for a number of years means you need a solid snow and hiking boot. These double as both and can withstand heavy daily use. Just make sure you air them out after a long day (a good rule for all shoes). They are made for men and women.
Keep it Stylish: Fashionable Dress Shoes for Nights Out
Shoes take up a lot of space in your bag, so having to pack two pairs isn’t ideal, but necessary if you want to enjoy evenings in countries like Europe, Japan, and South America. Restaurants, clubs, and bars are more strict on dress code than parts of Central and North America. Men generally need to wear dress shoes as do women. Athletic shoes are not allowed in a lot of places. What shoes you want to bring are up to you, but for men consider packing one of the following:
- Wing tips: If you are unfamiliar with shoes, wing tips are men’s dress shoes that round out at the tow and generally have some kind of design. They are classic and never go out of style.
- Loafer: These are slip on shoes that don’t have lacing. They can be worn with or without socks and are great for warmer countries like Cuba or the Caribbean.
- Chukka Boot: Chukka boots are ankle high boots that generally have little lacing and are suede or leather. They are more modern and casual enough to wear for the day and easy to dress up at night.
- Laced Boot: There are a lot of styles of boots, however simple lace up boots like Redwing or Doc Martens never go out of style. They are generally ankle high with a lot of lace. They allow you into bars, restaurants, and clubs, but some places will only allow wingtips or loafers.
For women, we’re not going go into what is recommended because you most likely already know what works and what doesn’t. A pair of ankle high boots is super diverse because they are casual and dressy, but you can’t go wrong with high heels or wedges.
Along with underwear, socks will be the most important thing you pack. Packing the wrong kind of socks will set you up for cold, wet, and blistered feet. This is an area where you want to buy quality brand socks that are proven to wick away moisture and stay dry, keep you warm, don’t show stains, and wash easily. When it comes to selecting the right fabric for socks, there are a few different choices.
Wool vs. Cotton Blend vs. Nylon Socks
- Cotton: Soft and cozy, but generally not the best choice for traveling. These are usually the bulk white socks you buy at the store and they don’t last long. Cotton tends to hold onto sweat and they become holy with little use. If they are blended with nylon they are a bit better, but still retain much of the sweat and tend to keep you less warm. Stay away from cotton socks when you travel.
- Nylon: Made of tiny plastics, Nylon is extremely resistant to mold, bugs, and fungi. It’s also waterproof. Nylon wicks away sweat pretty well, but not fully. They aren’t very warm, and tend to leave sweat on your skin instead of absorbing it causing cold and damp feet. They are ok when blended with cotton.
- Wool: The best choice for socks, wool keeps your feet warm, wicks away moisture, cushions you from blisters, and most of all keeps you dry. The downside to wool is it can sometimes be itchy on your skin but there are softer brands that have fixed this issue.
Be smart with your travel sock choices, it could be the difference between a great time and a horrible time.
Top Backpacking and Hiking Socks for Traveling
Speaking of being smart, Smartwool socks are the best traveling, hiking, and motorcycling socks on the market. They may seem pricey. but they will last years and you’ll spend way more on cheap socks in the meantime. They are also soft on the skin, unlike other wool socks. Try their hiking socks, your feet will thank you.
Best Shoes and Socks for Travel Summary
Your feet are the most important thing when it comes to travel, so take care of them with high quality products that won’t have hating yourself later. Bring shoes that work on pavement, cobblestone, and dirt; as well as dressier shoes for fancy evenings. A cheap pair of flop flops is great for beaches and showers, but if you’re visiting an area like Southeast Asia, pick up some Keen Sandal Shoes or Rainbow sandals. Socks that wick away moisture are your best bet for keeping your feet dry and warm, so invest in wool or nylon blends. Follow these tips and your feet will thank you.