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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, 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 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 Achilles Sandal.

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 Astral Water Shoes 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 Chaco Classic Sandals or the Sockwa G Hi Water Shoe. 

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 Wave Water Shoes 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.

Updated 2018.

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

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12 comments

  1. I seriously stay awake at night thinking of the ideal camp shoe. This is sad. It’s the last piece of gear I feel I need to dial in.

    For backcountry fly fishing and creek walking and lake wading i got the O’Neill superfreak split toe wetsuit booties. After cutting off the velcro and removing the cordlocks they’re down to about 8 oz for the pair (dry). The split toe is awesome for gripping on rocks.

    Hella comfy for scrambling around on granite and stepping on rocks and sticks but does not dry particularly quickly and is COLD in the morning (good way to wake up tho!).

    Does not slip on easily for late nite pee breaks either. Sockwa Dojo Neoprene slippers look intriguing too but haven’t seen them in person.

    Beach shoes/socks are lighter and probably dry better but lack the split toe and the heavy duty sole.

    I had a pair of Sandugo sllip ons I used for a while (kinda like Crocs) but the sole got torn up on high sierra granite.

    • I got a pair of Sockwas thinking they’d finally solve the “ideal camp shoe when backpacking” dilemma. While they are light and dry fast and great for slipping on for a middle-of-the-night nature call, the souls are very thin, so I feel every sharp granite nugget or stone when walking around camp. I still haven’t seen the ideal shoe.

  2. I like my Chaco Z1s, but they’re pretty heavy. I’ve also used a pair of neoprene sea kayaking low-cuts for hikes where I expect it might be wet. Warm to surprisingly low temperatures, even without socks.

  3. Vivobarefoot Achilles Sandal…… all I can say is wow! they feel like a whisper on your feet. easy on/off lacing, nice sole.. i wear barefoot hikers so i am used to feeling the ground..if you are not these will feel a bit like nothing but your feet exhale, relax and seriously feel wonderful in these. you could press them into service in an emergency if you can tolerate a barefoot shoe as well. too light for anything but an emergency though. as a water shoe they are secure and stay on well. 5 oz….. seriously…. what is not to love. generous toe box as well and you could leave your socks on as the laces adjust and the shoe itself is generous. my regular size fits very well and i am a picky foot / fit person. they are not cheap, however is anything cheap that moves you lighter??? just saying…

    • I am adding to my previous comments. .. I have been at a camp working as an aquatics director and l have been living in these shoes. With or without socks, all day ever day, no blisters or problems of any kind. Easy on off. Great water performance. Love them even more….

  4. I don’t know if those Sockwa X8s are really 8 oz. somehow I doubt that. But all the water shoes I ever tried have the problem of sand/gravel getting in which almost requires I take them off to empty out. Anyway, what I settled on is the Walmart cheap sandals. They are 8 oz. and cost $10 or less. They fold down flat. They have adjustable top strap made of 2 sections. For a stream where I need them to stay on I carry 2 velcro straps so I can arrange a strap around the back of my foot, good for swimming or settling into a pool to cool off or wash up. If I require a shoe to stay on when crossing a dangerous stream where good footing is a must I just wear my regular boots, wet boots are not a problem when I get going and they do dry off after 2 or 3 sunny days. Better safe than sorry. Hiking in Walmart sandals is Ok, they are surprisingly sticky for having no tread but on a gravelly surface where there are big pebbles, I feel every one, that can be uncomfortable.

  5. Teva’s. They’ve worked for me for over 25 years, 7-8 pairs. About 9.5 OZ for a pair of mens 10.5’s after a little trimming.

  6. I was just near Mt Marcy over this past weekend, and wore inexpensive flip-flops at camp. I am switching to something else that is way more stable before heading out again.

    I also wore FFs the last time I hiked and stepped on a stick, and was injured enough that the trip, while it did not end, was less fun.

    I am never wearing FF again ins the woods. This past weekend I saw a hiker who had minimal gear and was really in shape and fast carrying some sort of Crocs.

    The FFs are terrible in the water. I was in the water after the fist day and then at the trailhead before I drove home. Do not get FFs for the water. They cause pain and suffering.

    Get something from this list. The Crocs were good for the guy I saw, so maybe find lighter versions, like the “Rolex” I bought in Korea in 1992 while in the Navy. I am still wondering how the Rolex was so inexpensive.

    “Croc” means anything shaped like the original, but less expensive, and lighter weight. Strap them onto the outside our your bag, and when crossing a river, such as the Hudson River up near Mt Marcy, throw the “Crocs” on and hope that “Rolex” does not get wet.

  7. Here’s my opinion on camp shoes. I want something I can slip on in the middle of night without having to pull them on with my hands. As a hammock camper, I want to be able to just slip them on while sitting in my hammock if I have to go to the bathroom. I also want my toes covered, so I can keep my feet more protected and clean while walking around the campsite. I am an ultralight backpacker; but I refuse to give up my Crocs as camp shoes. I wear a size 10, and mine weigh just over 13oz for the pair. They are not the lightest option available, but are not the heaviest either. They are, however, the most convenient, comfortable, quickest-drying, and durable camp shoes you can buy, period. I’ve tried minimalist sandals before. And while they are lighter than Crocs, they were nowhere near as convenient to use. They were a pain to fiddle with in the middle of the night.

    My last point is in response to packability. If you are also using your camp shoes for water crossings, you never want to pack your shoes inside your pack. They should be lashed on the outside somewhere, so they are able to dry out. If you attach them on the outside of your pack, then packability is of no concern.

    • I have recently started backpacking again and was in a quandary about what to use for camp shoes. I have used “Offroad” Crocs canoe-camping and figured I would give them a try since I find them comfortable and they provide some protection in the rocky, rooty Adirondack campsites. I wear a pair of wool socks (with a liner) in cooler temps and when it is wet. I hammock camp and like that they are easy to put on when leaving the hammock. I don’t feel the weight is unreasonable, but then again my kit is not ultralight. They are a bit bulky and thus far I have just put them under the top of my pack so they are accessible if I needed to use them for a water crossing.

  8. I wear La Sportiva Bushidos as my hiking shoe. In camp I put on Sealskinz waterproof socks and slip into my La Sportivas.

    Dry feet; only 1 pair of shoes to carry!

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