How to Choose the Right Camping Shoes for You
What are Camp Shoes?
Camp shoes are typically a second pair of shoes, in addition to your hiking shoes/boots, that are predominantly worn around the campsite. In addition, some hikers and backpackers will also use a waterproof/quick-drying pair for fording rivers.
Types of Shoes for Camping
Some of the lighter models of hiking sandals could be a good fit. They allow for a significant amount of breathability (as your basically exposing a large portion of your foot), are comfortable and can be used in place of your hiking boots or shoes on easier going sections of trail.
These can range from a cheap pair of boat or kayak shoes, to more expensive (and better quality) mesh fabric style trail runners. These typically resemble “normal” shoes or trainers but are constructed with waterproof mesh or webbing.
The obvious benefit is their quick-drying ability, and make the obvious choice if you plan to use your camp shoes for a significant number of river crossings. Depending on how far up the price scale you are willing to go, they can also be extremely comfortable.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Crocs are a dependable, hardy and waterproof option. More suited for car campers due to their bulk and weight.
Tough Socks & Toe Shoes
Increasing in popularity, both toe shoes and tough socks are essentially “gloves for your feet”, comprising a fabric upper, with either a rubber base (toe shoes) or a rough coated layer (tough socks).
These win out when it comes to being lightweight and compact, but they are significantly less breathable than most other options and can take a while to dry if they get wet.
If it’s a campsite with maintained pavements/boardwalks, then you could consider taking a pair of cheap (or not) lightweight flip-flops. Not as sturdy as several of the other options on our list, but definitely a lightweight and cheap alternative. However, not something we recommend for dispersed or backcountry camping.
Yes, you read that right. Slippers. For those who enjoy winter backpacking and camping, then a pair of flip-flops may be a little too breathable. In this situation, you’ll want something comfortable and warm, and there are several outdoors specific brands of slipper camp shoes on the market.
Benefits of camp shoes
Gives your hiking shoes/boots more time to dry
Anyone who has experienced the misery of pulling on a pair of cold wet hiking shoes before a long days slog knows how important this is. Taking a pair of camp shoes to wear at the start and end of the day while you are pottering around camp, will give your boots an extra hour or two to dry out. Editors sidenote: I’d recommend checking out these Drysure Active Silicon Shoe Dryers to help dry your boots out faster.
Lets your feet have the opportunity to breathe
After a full day of hiking, your feet will thank you for the chance to get some air. Particularly true if you are hitting the trails again the following morning – by letting your feet air out you’re decreasing the chance of getting blisters, and fungus. Eeewww.
Help keep your feet healthy with a pair of backpacking sandals to wear around camp.
Keeps your feet clean at camp
Moving around camp or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be done barefoot, but you’ll definitely have cleaner feet with a pair of ultralight camp shoes on. That and you are less likely to stand on something and injure yourself.
More comfortable than your boots around camp
Suffice to say, that after many miles on the trail you’d rather slip into a lightweight pair of sandals or shoes. It’s much more comfortable setting up camp and get dinner going when your feet can breathe and feel the evenings chill air.
Saves your boots from getting soaked at river crossings
If you double up and get a quick-drying waterproof pair of camp shoes, then they can be excellent for river crossings. Just down your pack, change your shoes and cross that river. Once on the other side, you can put your dry boots back on safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to trudge on in wet boots.
What to Look for in a Great Pair of Camp Shoes
While everybody’s needs are different, there are a few common features of camp sandals and shoes that you should use to gauge whether a particular pair is appropriate for you. Taking some time to understand the following features and comparing them to your needs should help you rank which elements of a product are more important and applicable to your needs
For many people, the main purpose of a pair of camp shoes is to relax at camp, in comfort. Take the time to figure out what is comfortable for you.
I hate wearing sandals and flip-flops, so no matter what, I know I’ll never be comfortable at camp in them, which is why I will tend towards a ‘fuller’ shoe design. For others, the reverse is true, they’ll feel more comfortable with sandals as it exposes more skin more to the air.
Tied closely into comfort, you want to look for a pair that allows your feet to breathe if you have had them cooped up in a pair of chunky hiking boots over the last 1000 foot ascent. Nothing beats a pair of flip-flops or sandals for this, as the more bare skin, the greater the breathability.
If you intend on giving your feet (and legs) some respite at the end of the day, it’s probably best not to burden them with a pair of camp shoes that feel like you’re trailing two cannonballs along.
Typically you would expect a pair of camp shoes to weigh less than 14 ounces, and often substantially less than this. Sandals will tend to be more towards the upper end of this (rough) scale) and the newer mesh water shoes towards the lower end.
When you are transporting everything on your back, then space is a precious commodity. If you’re camp shoes take up an inordinate amount of space then you’ll either need to reduce on other items or get a bigger pack. We’d take the third route, and pick something that has either a slim profile (so it can slip between things), or is easily collapsible.
Waterproof & Quick-Drying
A feature that rather goes without saying, especially if you intend to use them for river crossings. The newer mesh shoes, in particular, are great at drying quickly and are typically faster drying than sandals which tend to use fabric for the straps.
Not necessarily the most important of features but one that could become a source of minor irritation as you struggle to get them on.
Which Camp Shoes are Best for You?
Now that we’ve covered a number of different features you should investigate, let us take a look at three potential scenarios that you may fit into.
Backpacking Camp Shoes
If you are in for a long hike, carrying all your equipment on your back for several days (or longer). You will likely want to prioritize the weight and the compactness of your camp shoes.
The less weight you have your back for the majority of the day likely trumps the comfort for the hour or so you may be wearing your shoes in the mornings, and evenings.
Lastly, don’t overlook breathability. If your feet have been stuck in a pair of boots for the last 15 miles then you’ll want to give them a bit of a chance to recover and get some air while you are setting up camp.
Lightweight Water Shoes
If you know your route requires several water crossings, then the focus will naturally fall on a pair of camp sandals that are quick drying. In addition, you may also want to look at how comfortable they are if you will be hiking in them for long periods of time
We would suggest a lightweight water shoe for use with a simple on/off design at various river crossings, but if you are expecting to wear them for longer durations, then if you can afford to carry the extra weight, then pick a pair of lightweight hiking sandals to give yourself a little bit more comfort.
Car Camping Sandals
If you have no concerns about the weight or getting your socks soaked by river rapids then focus on comfort. Your feet will thank you.
The Best Camping Shoes – The Results
Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip-On Water Shoes
Best Camp Shoes
Our pick for the best camping shoes goes to the Aleader’s Mesh Slip-On. This shoe scores well across the board. It’s incredibly comfortable for a water shoe and actually looks and feels more like a trail runner (Ed: we wouldn’t advise using it for that though).
Its mesh design allows the foot to breathe, and does it well, although, this is the one area where it falls behind some of the other shoes, particularly the sandals which offer greater breathability.
Being a full shoe, it does offer some protection against low branches, rock that you could graze yourself on. It’s also got some great rubber soles for extra traction, that’ll help you keep your footing around camp. Lastly, as it’s designed as a water shoe, it is extremely quick-drying even after being fully submerged.
- Extremely comfortable water shoe that looks like a trail runner
- Great drainage and drying after it has been fully submerged
- Great grip and traction for wandering over slippery rocks
- Not quite as breathable as a sandal
- The meshy will sometimes trap sand and gravelBottom-Line: Narrowly loses out on breathability but tops our ranking due to its overall high scores across the board. If you want a comfortable, quick-drying camp shoe then opt for the Aleader Mesh Slip-On.
Chaco Z2 Classic Sport Sandal
Best Camping Sandals
When Chaco says “classic” they mean it, this sandal has been around since 1989. For any design to survive over 30 years then Chaco must be doing something right, and the first thing that has made this sandal a classic is it’s extremely comfortable to wear.
It’s one of the most comfortable models in our test, with great arch support. Thanks to the webbing design, it is highly adjustable. Meaning that those of us who have slightly abnormal foot dimensions will have no issues finding a comfortable set up (although, you may get a little frustrated from trying to perfectly find that perfect set up).
The very open design means less protection for your foot from scrapes and bumps. The Z/2 Classic is also surprisingly heavy despite this, weighing in at over ~1.5 lbs (shoe size dependent).
- Extremely comfortable to wear
- Best breathability in our review
- Less protection from grazes/cuts from rocks etc
- Can be tricky to get the webbing adjustment setup correctly.Bottom-Line: A hugely comfortable, and breathable sandals, perfect for warm and/or humid camping trips.
Keen Newport H2
Best Water Hiking Sandals
If you plan to encounter a lot of water crossing on your trip, are hiking wet arroyo’s or are planning on kayaking then we would pick the Keen Newport H2 Sandal.
As with any water shoe, quick-drying materials and good traction for those slippery rocks are a must. Add on top of that the Newports’ closed toe design, reducing your risk for little bumps, bruises and cuts on any unseen underwater obstructions.
The downside for the closed design is that 1) if a little pebble/stone gets in, you’ll likely have to take them off to get it out, which leads to 2) these aren’t a simple slip on and off design. Also, weighing in at ~2lbs (size dependent) a pair, these certainly aren’t the lightest choice.
- Very quick Drying
- Toe Protection
- Very comfortable
- Decent Traction
- Rocks/Sand get trapped in shoe
- Not easy on/off
- HeavyBottom-Line: The award for best water hiking sandals goes to the Keen Newport H2. It’s fast drying, has great protection in the right places combined with decent traction and good comfort make it a worthy winner.
KEEN Uneek Sandal
Best Backpacking Camp Shoes
Coming through with our pick for the best sandals for backpacking camp is the KEEN Uneek, and unique they are.
With these sandals, you can’t start anywhere else, but their design. The sandals use a webbing system that looks like a cross between a paracord bracelet and a shoe. Some people absolutely hate them (my wife), and others like the quirky design. The webbing means you get an almost shoe like design but without much weight (weighing in at just over 1lb a pair).
They are an extremely comfortable pair of sandals to wear, although some folks may find the inability to adjust the heel strap a pain. They give good traction, and are quick drying for those stream crossings.
- Lightweight at just over 1lb a pair
- Extremely comfortable
- Unique & colorful design
- Not to everyone’s taste
- Adjustable strap can lead to hotspotsBottom-Line: Thanks to it’s webbing design we would pick these for our next backpacking trip – comfortable around camp, grippy in the water and light on your back.
Vivobarefoot Ultra II Water Shoe
Best Women’s Camping Shoes
The Vivobarefoot Ultra II Water shoe is our pick in the women’s category for best camp shoes. Similar to the men’s Aleader it scores high across the board.
Designed with trail running in mind, these shoes are made to tackle the trails and creeks in comfort and style. The synthetic material and mesh design allows a great deal of breathability, combined with comfort and quick drying times.
A minor downside to these shoes is that after a spell through the water, you’ll need to either elevate your feet or remove the shoes to completely remove all the water from the sole bed.
- Lightweight/Minimalist Design
- Great Breathability & Comfort
- Quick drying
- No drainage holes so water collects in sole
- Insoles and traction boxes can separate from the bottom of the shoe over time.Bottom-Line: The perfect pair of shoes for putting your tent (and your feet) up at camp, or for keeping your regular hiking shoes dry while crossing creeks.
KingCamp Unisex Warm Soft Slippers
If you are the type that is undaunted and keeps camping when the mercury dips, then consider packing the KingCamp slippers.
These slippers are padded with hollow fiber and lined with polar fleece for great warmth on those chilly mornings. The rubber anti-slip soles and nylon waterproof shell fabric will help keep you on a solid footing, and your feet dry.
- Warm and comfortable
- Anti-skidding rubber sole
- Easy on/off
- Rubber sole can become detached after prolonged useBottom-Line: If you are looking for some winter warmth at camp, then these bootsies are a great lightweight addition to your pack.