Minimalism is the ideal quality to strive for when packing for a trip, but it’s often easier aimed for than accomplished. Shoes can become an egregious culprit in taking up the limited space inside a suitcase or duffel, and when the activities of even a quick weekend trip span from city exploration and restaurant dinners to backcountry hiking and trips to the beach, a bag can run the risk of being filled entirely with footwear.
Sometimes, it makes sense to leave the spare shoes at home and take on vacation in a single pair that can handle everything as best as possible. That’s stating the obvious, but finding such a shoe is no easy task. We’ve found that the best options for an adventurous trip provide the same features as outdoor footwear: a sturdy sole, a breathable and maybe waterproof upper, a secure fit. Style is important too; any shoe that’s overly outdoorsy will shout tourist when wandering around town. The best travel shoes walk the fine line between, and they could be anything from a hiking boot that’ll pass as a sneaker to a burly pair of sandals.
Five Ten Access Knit
Five Ten is well-known among rock climbers and mountain bikers, and the lessons it’s learned in those categories have translated into its small line of hiking shoes. Among the collection is the Access Knit, a shoe with a tongueless, knit upper that’s considerably lightweight, breathable and comfortable as a result. The Access Knit features less toe and heel protection than traditional approach shoes but maintains a sticky rubber sole that provides excellent grip and is capable of hiking in cities and on trails. It’s more supportive than it looks, and it’s about as stylish as hiking shoes come, which is crucial when exploring urban environments too.
Salewa Wildfire GTX
Salewa’s Wildfire GTX draws on the designs of rock climbing shoes in many ways but still delivers a supportive ride that’s more than capable of handling the miles of walking that come with travel. The Wildfire’s sole is grippy Pomoca rubber that can handle light bouldering but is by no means overkill when taking on pavement, concrete and cobblestones. Its upper is a Gore-Tex-lined synthetic mesh enhanced with a cage-like exoskeleton for improved stability, which it provides enough of for multi-day backpacking trips. For some, this shoe might be a little too “outdoorsy,” but it’s ideal for anyone whose travel plans include days in town as well as extended overnights on the trail.
Freewaters Tall Boy Trainer
When a trip is short, or its itinerary is void of overly-ambitious outdoor pursuits, a pair of sturdy hiking-focused shoes may not make sense. Freewaters’ Tall Boy offers a lifestyle-oriented alternative. The San Francisco-based company built the shoe for wear every day, at home and abroad. It features a knit upper and has an extra-cushioned, running shoe-inspired sole to make for a very comfortable, one-pair-is-all-you-need travel shoe.
Danner Mountain 600
Danner has been making hard-wearing leather boots since 1932. In that time, its red-laced, brown leather hikers have become iconic. They’re also a bear to break in, but Danner created a softer, more versatile build in the Mountain 600. Still capable of trudging trails in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, the Mountain 600 is available in either a suede or full-grain leather upper and has a cushioned EVA midsole with Vibram rubber on the bottom for grip. It’s also waterproof, and comfortable straight out of the box — it’s the perfect boot for a last minute purchase, especially when the hiking boot look is desired.
The Unico comes from the birthplace of outdoor footwear (the Alps), and it’s a shoe designed to be a crossover between a hiking boot and a trail running shoe. Regardless of what it aims to be, it is an impressive piece of footwear, with an upper made of one single piece of Kevlar fabric. That durable exterior is lined with a sock-like wool liner and contains a footbed made of a blend of leather and coconut fibers. It all makes for a reasonably unassuming profile but provides everything necessary to get from A to B and back again, time over time.
Bedrock Sandals Cairn 3D
Flip-flops make it into the bag for almost any trip, but they’re no match for a full day of wandering by foot. Bedrock’s Cairn sandals are something of a hybrid between that and Tevas, but they provide enough support and security to make them a viable option for long-range walking (the company’s chief experience officer, Naresh Kumar, hiked New Zealand’s 3,000 kilometer Te Araroa trail in a pair). Their paracord thong uses an aluminum insert instead of the breakable plug design found on ordinary flip-flops, and an adjustable heel cuff that provides rear foot stability. There’s also a contoured footbed for additional comfort and a Vibram outsole for the best possible grip.
Adidas Terrex Fast Mid GTX
Adidas’ top-tier hiking boot draws heavily on the brand’s influence in sport and style. So much so that it doesn’t look like a hiking boot at all, which makes it a great travel shoe. It supplies features like a speed-lacing system, a Gore-Tex liner, and a Continental rubber sole while maintaining a sneaker-like aesthetic that’s compatible in town and on trail, and that’s precisely the rounded versatility that a travel shoe needs.