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After a long day on the trail, what’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most hikers, you take your shoes and socks off as soon as possible! This is an important step in taking care of your feet while camping.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the basics of taking camp shoes for backpacking along with their care: what are camp shoes, what to wear when done hiking for the day, and how to keep your feet healthy and happy while on vacation!
At their very core, camp shoes are a shoe to wear that lets your feet breathe after being stuffed like mini sausages into socks and shoes for hard miles, grueling labor, and sweaty hours. This allows the feet to let out heat and to let the skin get out from a steamy enclosure which leads to healthier feet in general.
There are definitely some in the thru-hiker community who will argue that they are unnecessary weight and don’t provide much benefit.
Instead of arguing with people, I wanted to outline solid reasons why you want to find your ideal camp shoes and how they benefit you on a long hike.
Do You Really Need Camp Shoes?
When it really comes down to it the real issue is in people having to carry a second set of gear that has a very limited scope of use, that when you are gearing for as much multi-purpose gear as possible then adding camp shoes then kind of goes directly against this.
This is a good question and in many cases, you would not want one to use gear but camp shoes serve multiple purposes within one item, they allow breathing of feet once the data is over while also providing feet protection from the ground.
After this, they actually can serve as good shoes for water crossings in some cases where you would like to keep your socks or other shoes as dry as possible.
While this could be done in normal trail runners or hiking boots is soaking them always the right move?
Personally having a super lightweight pair of Xero sandals, or for many the ever-loved Crocs, is a simple way to provide foot care and TLC, you really need to have your feet outside your sweat-filled shoes as much as you can as this helps them stay clean and healthy.
A small weight in shoes is a small trade-off for foot health as your feet will be what end your hike faster than nearly anything else with the exception of mental fatigue.
Let’s take a look at the variety of shoes that can be used as some people will choose sandals, flip flops, or any other types of shoes to bring depending on their preferences.
Types of Shoes Frequently Used as Camp Shoes
There are about six types of camp shoes I can think of that are the most common for thru-hikers, they are all very lightweight and many can easily be carried externally or folded up very small to fit inside your pack.
Sandals are the most popular option for camp shoes as they are lightweight, easy to put on and take off, and can dry quickly.
The downside is that they offer little protection from the elements and probably shouldn’t be used in cold weather.
These are the little shoes you would use in a water park that provides traction but don’t have a lot of structure to them overall.
They are great for water crossings as they will keep your socks and other shoes dry and can also be used as camp shoes.
Flip flops are a good option for warm-weather camping, but they offer no protection from the elements though they can dry off incredibly fast if they get wet and they protect the bottom of your feet from rocks and stabby objects.
These would be things like the down booties, many of which come with some tread on the bottom but this truly limits their viability on the trail as they will not work in water crossings and really become a more one-use item.
Everyone has probably heard of things like Vibram Five Finger shoes, these are the “toe” shoes where your toes are not enclosed fully in the shoe and they have a very thin sole but they are amazingly flexible shoes overall.
These are one of the most expensive options on this list of shoe types and they aren’t very open to help your feet breathe so they are not my personal favorite as a camp shoe but could be a good trail shoe.
Rugged Sock Shoes
I have only seen a few of these but they are basically camp socks with a durable coating applied to the bottoms of them, giving them the nice comfy feel of a sock but the durability on the bottom closer to a shoe.
Physical and Mental Benefits of Camp Shoes
Now that you understand the types of shoes that are frequently used for camp shoes we can dive into the physical and mental benefits of having a change of shoes for your downtime.
Allow Feet to Breathe
The biggest thing camp shoes provide is a way to get out of your main hiking shoes and allow your feet free air access to breathe, this is required for them to stay healthy and should be a focus at every campsite.
When your feet get hot and sweaty from hiking in shoes, or even with socks on, what happens? Your feet start to produce bacteria which can lead to blisters as well as athlete’s foot.
Maintain More Foot Cleanliness
Keeping your feet clean is extremely important for long-distance hikers who are wearing the same pair of shoes every day as they sweat and grind their feet against the shoes.
This can also help your socks last longer since you are cutting down on their wear and tear and also allowing them to air out.
Provide Camp Site Comfort
If you have camp shoes you can easily and freely walk around camp without hurting your feet, making it easier to get what you need from your pack or do what is needed at that point.
It also makes walking on sharp rocks a lot less painful and can help in protecting all of the bottoms of your feet for when you take off your shoes later in the evening.
Allow Hiking Shoes a Chance to Air Out and Dry
After 8-12 hours of hiking your shoes will get gross and at least damp with built-up sweat, getting your feet outside of the shoes is an excellent opportunity for your shoes to dry out.
This process can help the shoes last longer and also cut down on bacteria and other things that love the warm and wet environment.
Protection While Crossing Streams
When it’s nice and warm outside then crossing streams in your hiking shoes isn’t an issue but when it is colder and will take longer to dry there are large benefits in crossing streams and similar in camp shoes.
They help keep your shoes and socks dry and then can dry while on the outside of your pack once you continue hiking.
Night Time Restroom Trips
If you wake up and need to go to the restroom at night you want to have fast and easy shoes to put on to head out, whether to dig a cat hole or to use the shelter potty both need urgency and speed.
Normal shoes and laces are hard enough when wide awake to manage but at 1 am sliding shoes on to get going is much preferred.
What To Look For In Camp Shoes
When you are looking to purchase lightweight camp shoes for your thru-hike you have a few specific needs you want them to fill and if they don’t they may not be useful or may break down too fast for you while on trail meaning multiple gear replacements.
The keys to camp shoes are their water resistance, overall comfort, durability to damage, overall weight, packability and space needed, and the ease at which you can put them on and take them off.
Let’s be honest, price is always the first thing most look to when buying gear, most of these backpacking camp shoes will come in around $20-$60 in most cases, but you can go more expensive I wouldn’t recommend it.
The reason I wouldn’t spend a lot here is that there is very little benefit to spending $50-$100 to drop an ounce or two, where that $100 on your big three could yield a pound or more off your back.
Keep this to below $50 and preferably look for a sale or other discount to get a deal on these.
For weight, I always try to get the lowest weight possible and for flip flops and sandals you may find truly light gear, after this the more material used the more the weight tends to increase so try to keep these no-frills.
You don’t want these to absorb water as this would mean more carry weight on your backpack, instead, you want materials that are water-resistant and won’t absorb what moisture you and them come in contact with.
I don’t like to wear shoes that aren’t comfortable, the same goes for camp shoes on the trail overall, you’ll be wearing them a lot so they need to be able to handle different environments and surfaces.
The shoes will take a beating on the trail, from rocks and roots to thorns and branches, you want something that is going to last as long as your hike.
You need these to be simple to pack, Crocs for example have many holes which people use to attach to the outside of their packs without consuming inside storage space.
If they are to be inside then they need to be able to roll up, fold up, or get very small for storing in your pack.
Easy On and Off
The longer it takes to get these shoes off or put them back on then the less likely you are going to want to use them, so look for quick-on/quick-off features such as the Crocs fold-down heel strap that allows you to easily slip these on and off with ease.
Final Thoughts on Camp Shoe Use on Long Treks
If you’re planning on thru-hiking for weeks or months, then it’s important to think about what your feet need, and looking at wearing camp shoes is part of this decision.
Camp shoes are an excellent option because they keep your hiking shoes dry and ready for the next day of use while providing protection from water sources that may be present in some parts of the trail.
They also provide a level of comfort if you wake up at night and need to go out during cold nighttime hours to dig cat holes or visit shelter potty areas.
Comfort is key when choosing ultralight camp shoes; make sure they feel good before buying them!
If all this sounds like what you want, let us know what other questions we can answer so we can help guide you with purchasing decisions as well as what specific features would work best for what kind of hiker you are.