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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 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 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
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.

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

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55 comments

  1. At home and car camping, I often wear Crocs because they’re so comfortable. After my recent back surgery, I wore a fluffy sock and Croc on my right foot for two months because the nerve pain in my foot forbid any regular shoe. At the Kingdom Hall, I told everyone it was my dress Croc.

    I tried a pair of Crocs for a stream crossing one time and my feet slipped all over the place inside them. They even do that if I put them on right out of a shower before I’m completely dry. There’s no way I’d use them again for stream crossings. I have some different types of shoes designed for water use but only don them when car camping near a lake. When hiking, it will just be my trail runners and then walk them dry.

    Although I’d love Crocs as a camp shoe, I always decide against carrying the extra weight. My trail runners aren’t hard to put on if I need to get up for a pit stop overnight. In my tent, I give my feet a break by putting on my dry, still fluffy extra pair of socks.

  2. I can’t find the Zems 02 Oxygen Ninjas for sale anywhere. Probably looking for a size equivalent to mens 8/9. anybody knows where , I’d like to try them out.

    • I use the Innov8 286 GTX for hiking. There is no weight penalty for the extra height and it helps to keep debris out of the shoes. Although they feel like a light glove around my feet, after ten hours walking I want something else. The lightest campshoes I could find are the Sockwa G4’s at 186 grams for a pair (size 10) and they also perform double duty for river crossings, swimming on pebble beaches or showering in showers that look suspiciously dirty.

  3. Check out Hounds shoes, a pseudo ripoff Croc you can buy at Walgreens. Men’s pair size 9-11 is < 8oz. I always like the camp shoe convenience but hated the 12oz. Croc weight. These somehow make me feel better in my mind…!

  4. Pro Tip: cross streams in your socks. They grip the rocks like crazy. When done, ring them out and hang them on the outside of your pack, and put on the dry socks that you carried across the stream and which are still dry because you didn’t slip.

    • Then you need to carefully clean the debris off the fabric of your socks after, or the debris will rub you all day long when you wear them in shoes. I have had one tiny dirt that rubbed my foot yet I can’t get it off. It took multiple stops and careful inspection. It was just one piece. Imagine that trouble multiplied by dozens. If you don’t need the protection of rubber soles, you may as well cross stream barefooted.

  5. I picked up a pair of Arc’teryx Bora2 GTX hiking boots for this exact reason – the hiking boot liner is removable and doubles as a camp shoe. No time at all to break them in, waterproof, and I can throw the liner in the wash separately. Kind of pricey, but worth it and you can buy replacements or warmer versions as needed.

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