7 Best Camp Shoes: The "Other" Ultralight Backpacking Footwear
"take good care of your feet" - Lieutenant Dan
Why You Need Camp Shoes...
Your camp shoes are not your main hiking shoes... so what's the point in bringing the additional footwear?
Camp shoes serve several extremely important functions to keep your feet healthy in the backcountry. Specifically:
Let Your Feet Breath. Your feet will be steamy, and possibly blistered up, after a long day of hiking. If you are backpacking for anything more than a night or two, you MUST let those feet air out for a couple of hours at night before slipping them into another steamy piece of clothing (socks, sleeping bag, etc.)
Keep Your Feet Clean(er). While letting them breath, you should clean your feet from any grime - mud, bug bites, blisters, whatever. Use tee tree oil, hand sanitizer (alcohol) or a wet wipe to give them a quick cleanse. Continue to keep them in your breathable camp shoes until dry again.
Comfort. After a long day of hiking, nothing feels better than letting your sore feet out of those cast-like shoes. Putting them into a lighter shoe with different contours can feel super refreshing.
Let Your Shoes Dry. While your feet are drying out and enjoying the freedom of the lightweight camp shoes, let your hiking shoes breath and dry out as well. You don't want to have to hike out in steamy shoes tomorrow.
Things to Look For
"Hike-able". You still need to do some walking around camp in these puppies. Your water source may be down the hill a quarter mile. A heel strap can significantly help stabilize your walk and prevent a 'slip and slide'.
Waterproof. In addition to "camp", you can (and should) also use these shoes for river crossings. Therefore, try to keep them water resistant with little or no possibility of absorbing water. Soggy shoes will add some weight to your load and be a huge pain to dry out.
Lightweight. These shoes will be the pair in your pack... being carried. Keep 'em ultralight my friend. Nothing over 16 oz (1 lb). Around 6-12 oz is ideal.
Easy Slip On. You don't want to have to lace up anything - preferably a basic slip on or strap. A good rule of thumb: can you put them on with one hand?
1. Water Shoes
Water shoes, canoe shoes, kayak shoes, boat shoes... whatever. They are made for the water and can be found at Wal Mart for a few bucks. Try to get the kind with well vented top fabric so your feet can dry. See Speedo.
The king of camp shoes. They do not absorb any water, have a durable heel strap and are virtually indestructible. Compared to other options though, they weigh a lot - typically at least 12 oz. See Crocs.
In my opinion, this is the best ultralight camp shoe. It has all the benefits of Crocs (completely water resistant and durable)... but several ounces lighter. The average pair weighs in around 8.5 oz. They also are also much more like a "shoe" and able to take on miles of trail if need be. You will pay for the luxury though. See Vivobarefoot and Aleader.
4. Minimalist Sandals
Some people do entire thru-hikes in these ultra-thin sandals. They feel a bit too bare on rough terrain for many hikers though and often make better camp shoes. Ultralight, extremely durable, open aired and snug enough for a good walk. The best thing is how compact they are in your pack. Some models are reasonably priced at $40 as well. See best minimalist sandals.
5. Tough Socks
These have exploded in the past year. Basically a sock with a rough coated sole - known as a "glove for your feet". Super light and compact. They will not let your feet breath well, need to be washed regularly and may be too support-less for even the lightest hiking though. See Skinners, Free Your Feet, SandSocks and Sockwa.
6. "Toe Shoes"
Vibram Five Fingers are the most popular brand of this style. These are lightweight and can pack up very small. Depending on the model, the soles can also be very rugged for hiking if need be. However, they do not breath as well as other camp shoe options and are hard to dry out. See Vibram.
The lightest of ultralight camp shoes. There are a variety of ways to make your own. Use the soles of your old tennis shoes to tie some lacing around for a simple flip flop (see here). You can also cut out a piece of foam with some duct tape (see here). The pros are obvious; you can make your shoes really light... potentially just a few ounces. The cons; flimsy and not functional for anything other than walking around well padded flat ground.
By Chris Cage Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.
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