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Camp Shoes are Hiking Boots’ Best Friends: How to Choose

Camp shoes are not just for relaxing, but can be used for river crossings to keep your boots dry.
Camp shoes are not just for relaxing, but can be used for river crossings to keep your boots dry.

Many backpackers carry camp shoes or water shoes with them on backpacking trips for relaxing and for stream crossings to keep their boots dry. But how do you choose between the most popular camp shoes available like Crocs, Zems, Sockwas, Vivobarefoot Ultras, or flip flops? Here are the most important features to consider.

  • light weight, since you have to carry them
  • compact and easy to pack
  • protect your toes from injury
  • stable enough for stream crossings
  • dry quickly

Lightweight camp shoes

If you’re trying to cut the amount of weight you carry in a backpack, you’re not going to want to carry a pair of camp shoes like Crocs, that weigh close to 16 ounces a pair. Shoot for shoes that weigh under 8-10 ounces/pair like Zems O2 Oxygen Ninjas or Sockwa X8s.

Compact camp shoes

Some camp shoes can be very bulky to pack in a backpack. Ideally you want a pair with very soft side walls that will fold flat against the sole so you can pack them inside your pack. Hanging camp shoes on the outside of your backpack is awkward and a good way to lose them when they get ripped off by overhanging vegetation. Flip flops like Xero Barefoot Sandals pack very flat or the ultralight Vivobarefoot Ulysses.

Vivobarefoot Ultra II
Vivobarefoot Ultra II

Camp shoes that protect your toes

If you backpacks in areas with a lot of stones or tree roots, it’s important to get camp shoes that will protect you from stubbing your toes. A broken toe can take you off the trail for weeks and can take a surprisingly long time to fully heel without pain (like 6 months to a year). Look for camp shoes with front padding or toe kick protection like the Vivobarefoot Ultra II Sport Shoe or Classic Croc Clogs, for the ultimate toe kick protection.

Camp shoes for stream crossings

If you want to use your camp shoes for stream crossings, you’re going to want a shoe that’s not going to come off mid-stream and that’s going to provide good stability when you can’t see your feet underwater. Look for shoes with a closed heel and ones that close with laces or a velcro strap that helps provide better ankle stability and control like the Adidas Jawpaw or the Sockwa G Hi Water Shoe. 

Sockwa G Hi
Sockwa G Hi

Camp shoes that dry quickly

If you cross stream in your camp shoes or decided to wear them instead of boots in the pouring rain (when the trail is a stream), you’ll want shoe that dry quickly. Mesh, plastic, or neoprene camp shoes are the best in this regard, like the Vivobarefoot Ultra II or the Speedo Surfwalker.

Are camp shoes really necessary for backpacking?

It depends on personal preferences, your other gear choices, and the environmental conditions of your hike. For example, if you wear heavy hiking boots when backpacking, having a pair of camp shoes for relaxing in at night or crossing streams is often worth the extra weight of carrying them. But if you hike in mesh trail runners that dry quickly after getting wet, you can often get by without them if it’s warm enough at night. It really is a matter of taste.

Do you bring camp shoes on backpacking trips? Which ones?

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  1. Yes, Crocs.

  2. When I take any, I currently use a pair of Merrell trail running shoes that weigh 525 gms for the pair (at size 12) which is more than I would like, but it is hard to get accurate weight info from the different mfg’s.
    Especially for products not specifically marketed to backpackers :-)

  3. We took flip flops on our AT section this year but quickly found out they suck when in hilly camps. Switched to Crocs recently but haven’t had them out for an overnight yet.

  4. Last year I bought a pair of Columbia Men’s Techsun™ Vent Sandals. Velcro closure straps, water drainable midsole ports, wet traction rubber, 8.1 oz. Great in camp, even on slopes, and perfect for stream crossings.

  5. Probably something better out there but still like my Teva Terra fi’s

  6. I’ve been struggling with this myself. I really like to have something to change into at the end of the day. So far everything I’ve tried is either too thin in the sole (painful to walk on sticks and rocks), too hard to put on in the middle of the night, or too bulky. My favorite to date is a bulky but light pair of knock-off croc scuffs. And the search continues!

  7. I don’t typically bring them, but there have been multiple times I’ve wished I had, so I might start doing that! Especially in warmer weather, it’s so nice to put something on other than my boots when I’m just wandering around camp. These tips are super helpful, as most of the versions of camp shoes I’ve brought were either insufficient or too heavy. I’m going to check out a few of the models you recommended, thanks!

  8. Cheap but super light Aldi crocs and a pair of cycling over shoes or waterproof socks have so far been the best setup for me.

  9. I use a pair of Waldies, a knock off Croc. Together they weigh about 8.5 ounces for a size medium (fits my 9.5 shoe size.) Waldies fit differently than Crocs, the Crocs slanted sharply across my toes, Waldies are a more comfortable fit for me. Does anyone know how much do the Vivo Barefoot’s weigh?

  10. In the past I’ve brought neoprene water shoes, which seem heavier than they should be and aren’t very comfortable walking around on roots and rocks.

    On my last backpacking trip I brought along my Cushe Slipper shoes which don’t seem too heavy at ~10oz for the pair in size 11. The canvas uppers allow the shoe to collapse flat and the EVA sole provides some cushion on roots and rocks. Merrell has dropped the Cushe brand but continues to sell the Merrell Slipper which appears to be the same shoe.

  11. Teva Nilch Water Shoes – have yet to find anything better

  12. I carry a light duty water shoe. As much for doing birdbaths/hygiene in camp as water-crossing. Since it is for occasional use, I want it light and flat to pack. Nufoot booties with a homemade insole made out of some closed cell foam (cheap Walmart 1/2″ pad I cut up and use for stuff like this). I think the pair comes in at about 3 oz.
    Jump up at least one size on the Nufoot to allow room for an insole. I am large and XL was barely large enough to fit an insole. This replaces my heavier Vivobarefoot shoe but obviously the Nufoot booty will not be expected to last very long. But for occasional use, it should serve and not take up[ much room.

    • I also use Nufoot booties. I just put an insert from an old shoe in them. It gives just enough cushion and protection. I even hiked in them once after a severe blister incident. Almost wore a hole in the bottom but they are inexpensive to replace and they pack small and light.

  13. I use a pair of New Balance sandals I found on clearance at REI. They weigh 19 ounces. Kinda heavy, but worth it when I get to camp and can air out my toesies. Good for fording, too. I’ve even done some light hiking in them.

  14. I have been using a pair of Saucony Hattori shoes for the past several years. These are discontinued but can regularly be found on ebay or online discounters for under $50 (I paid $34 for new in the box. While the colors are a bit wild, I think the design / weight and features are among the best out there. They are similar to the Vibrobarefoot Ultra but are a full stretch fabric upper that is much more comfortble on the skin and does a better job keeping out grit and debris. The closure system is velcro plus there is a velcro heel adjustment that makes these a very reliable fit for water crossings or steeper terrain. The soles are soft EVA foam with harder wear pads molded into the sole on the heel and ball of the foott.

    The design allows these to be as compact as a pair of flip flops. My size 10’s weigh 8oz for the pair. If you can get over the ” look at me” colors, they are among the best camp shoe options out there.

  15. I use trail runners for hiking so I just wade through the water while hiking and deal with wet feet while hiking.

    I carry Teva Mush flipflops for camp, light weight (about 5 ozs for both) and I can wear socks with them. I have even done socks and bread bags with the flipflops in 10 inches of snow.

  16. Depending on the season, I will carry a pair of Rainbow sandals or a pair of New Balance MT110 trail runners. I wear sandals to work and on weekends until the morning temps drop into the 50s (even then I’ll put on some tabi until it’s in the 40s when I walk to work), and I just carry my city behavior over to camp. At a pinch under 16 oz for the trail runners, I prefer the sandals whenever I can get away with them.

  17. I never used to worry about camp shoes as where I lived was so-o-o-o very cold with water temperatures rarely above 2/3 degrees, Now in more a temperate climate I find a spare footwear very useful. In winter nothing beats a pair of down boots with a chamois leather sole added and for summer a have settled on a pair of beach paddling shoes. These are light weight will roll up or scrunch up in an odd corner of my pack, have sticky soles for river crossings and are soft enough to not harm the tent floor etc. With the velcro straps they are firmly fixed to my feet too.

  18. Women’s Hounds Ultralite shoes, around 6 ounces. (http://amzn.to/2dWNZdd). After a day in my trail runner shoes, my feet love to breathe and relax in these feather-light clogs!

  19. I love my keens. I’m not sure of the style but they are a little heavier but I don’t mind. I use them to hike in as well. I’ve had great luck on all terrain due to the toe protector and extra heel support. (I’ve only been in creeks though, no rapid moving or deeper water crossings.

  20. I have been using the Vivobarefoot and they work out well. Very light, and enough sole strength to be protective. I also have a second set with a neoprene “build in” sock (removable) that is good on shoulder season or when pack rafting, etc.

  21. I always bring camp shoes with me – there’s nothing better than releasing your feet after whole day in hiking shoes. I typically bring very light flip flops, I had a pair of neoprene boat shoes but they were too heavy and took forever to dry.

  22. In warmer weather, I opt for flip flops (for around camp, not for hiking or stream crossing). But when the nights get chilly enough, I find myself wanting warmer feet, and I can’t comfortably wear socks with flip flops like some folks apparently can. Maybe I’ll give Crocs a shot, or just skip the camp shoe altogether if the weather is too cold for flip flops.

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