Can you travel with just one pair of shoes?

Finding the best travel shoes for men

I’ve seen a million products claiming to be “perfect shoes for travel,” and 90% of the time it’s laughably inaccurate and deserves a smack upside the head. Finding travel shoes should be incredibly easy, and it just goes to show these marketers have no idea what travel shoes are, or just want to play pretend.

Merrell Element travel shoes for men
These were my “one and only” travel shoes for 7 straight months. The Merrell Element. Classy and comfy, the perfect combo.

Now it’s not that they’re terrible; much of the time they’re fine, and will last for a decade and stand up to all sorts of trouble and still be comfortable. That’s fine for hiking, but travel shoes aren’t just for hiking. They’re also about pretending to be a classy person whilst attempting to project some semblance of respectability. And this is where so-called “travel shoes” fall tragically short.

It’s not all their fault. Many travelers think they need hardcore, do-it-all, super-tough hiking boots to take them through the wilderness and come out the other side with nary a scratch on them. So they buy them every year, and encourage outdoor companies to keep making more. But you don’t need hiking boots for travel. Even if you’re going hiking.

Allow me to elaborate.

And/or rant.

Qualities of the perfect travel shoe

The world’s most spectacular travel shoe will perform magnificently in the following categories:

  • Comfort: Sooner or later, you’re going to get stuck walking around all day in these things. And I mean all day. In fact, you might even have to run. You’ll want a pair of shoes that’ll give you all-day comfort, on cobblestones, gravel roads, and unforgiving concrete.
  • Durability: It’s unlikely that a pair of shoes will fall apart after a few months of use, but, obviously, you want something that’ll stand up to frequent use. This also means it’s nice to find shoes that’ll be easy to clean, since you’ll probably get mud all over them sooner or later. Imperviousness to puddles is also a plus.
  • Style: That’s right, I said style. What’s a scruffy backpacker doing talking about style? Shouldn’t we care about function rather than form? Well, yes. But if you’re working to pack as little as possible, form is function. If your shoes look good and feel good, you only need a single pair of shoes, whether it’s for a night out or an all-day hike. Win win.

And so, what does the outdoor industry offer us when it comes to “travel shoes?” Well, pretty much this:

So-called travel shoes for men
If you find yourself saying “I’ll need some nice-looking shoes ALSO,” then find something else.

Ask yourself (or someone else) if any of the above options pass the style test.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and I’m not saying you have to look like you’re going to prom, but when you’re traveling, you’re eventually going to go out for the evening, and you’ll want to look presentable. I don’t particularly care about looking really fancy, but at least presentable.

If your “travel shoes” only work for hiking or daytime walking, then they’re not really great travel shoes. They’ll only suit certain purposes, when they could very well suit all of them.

Case in point:

Travel shoes for men
Comfort + style = good travel shoe. Pictured: First row: Clarks Street Lo GTX, Clarks Portland 2, Clarks Rockie Lo GTX. Second row: Not sure, Teva Cedar Canyon. Third row: Merrell Realm Lace, Merrell Realm Moc, Rockport Rugged Bucks Mudguard. (Styles go in and out, but just flip through Amazon’s “customers also viewed these” suggestions)

Now again, I won’t bother to point out favorites, since it’ll be up to you to pick out which travel shoes look and feel the best, but my point is that you don’t need outdoorsy shoes for travel. You only need casual shoes.

And if you bring casual shoes…you only need one pair of shoes.

Why casual leather shoes are the best travel shoes

Remember the list of qualities we’d like to find in a perfect travel shoe? Casual leather shoes do it all:

  • Comfort: Find something that fits nicely and feels good, and these’ll be your new favorite shoes. Plus, any high-quality leather shoe will handle a hike just fine. In fact, that’s the only kind of shoe that was used for hiking back in the days before fancy high-tech stuff. It’s the sole that matters most for comfort anyway.
  • Durability: I will make the case that leather shoes are actually more durable than certain outdoor shoes. The smooth surface has very little that can get snagged, and can be wiped clean with a wet towel. No meshy outdoor shoe can do that.
  • Style: There’s nothing more stylish for a guy’s feet than a nice pair of leather shoes. Go ahead, I’ll bet you a beer.

Two caveats:

  • Don’t I want sneakers? Well, maybe. Some people just really, really want comfy, soft, pliable sneakers, maybe resembling Converse canvas shoes, and if you really enjoy having those too, go ahead. I’m just here to make that point that you can easily get away with having just one pair of shoes, and it makes a very, very big difference in terms of pack weight, with practically no downside.
  • What about breathability? It’s true that leather shoes will be warmer than meshy hiking shoes or light sneakers, but in my experience, no shoes are breathable enough for me, and sooner or later I’ll slip them off to air out anyway. The ladies love it.

(Pro tip: Turn any pair of shoes into a pair of slip-ons with Synch Bands. They’re elastic laces that don’t need to be tied, and they make it a lot easier to kick shoes off and yank them back on, and fit is still really good. Great for slipping off a pair of shoes on a long bus ride in hot weather to air out, for example.)

One final point of debate:

  • Should they be waterproof? Maybe. Although I definitely love waterproof shoes, you might not need to worry too much about it. Some people stay inside when it’s raining, and if that’s you, then waterproof shoes won’t do much for you. But if you’re the type who adventures out into the rainy wilderness because you’ll only be in Italy once, then by all means, go for the waterproof ones. Also, puddles and snow will be powerless against you. Powerless I say!

So there it is. High-quality, nice-looking casual leather (or fake leather) shoes are hands-down the best travel shoes for men anywhere to be found. And luckily, there are just about a billion of them out there. And they’ll allow you to travel with just one pair of shoes. It’s part of how I managed to get by for 9 months with just a 20 liter daypack.

I’d certainly recommend a pair of sandals as well, for hot days, beach visits, and shower trips. Flip flops are fine, if you can find comfy flip flops…but I prefer a little more security. I like to go hiking in them too.

And thus:

Ultimate travel shoe setup:

Best travel shoe setup for men
Pictured are options from Clarks and Chacos.

I actually met a guy who was traveling with one pair of dress shoes, one pair of walking shoes, one pair of hiking shoes, and one pair of sandals.

You can do that if you want, but as long as you find a great pair of comfy, classy, do-it-all travel shoes, you won’t need to. They’ll do everything you’ll ask of them, and your back will thank you for it. Have fun!

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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125 Comments on “Can you travel with just one pair of shoes?”

  1. I would say almost the exact same thing to ladies! Tennis are unnecessary unless you’re doing extreme stuff. Other than the shoes I wear, I take one pair of comfy flats and shower shoes and MAYBE a pair of heels depending on the trip.

    1. Girls generally bring more shoes (I’ve heard the trio of flats, flip flops, and walking shoes works nicely), and it’s lucky us guys can get away with bringing just 1 pair of shoes and 1 pair of sandals or flip flops, but girls’ shoes are usually a lot smaller. Not as comfy, of course…but they’re incredibly tiny, so you can pack more of them into the same space as a guy would need to do. On the other hand, we don’t need to pack makeup, so we have an unfair advantage there.

      1. Well my point is that you don’t need outdoorsy shoes to go traveling. All you need is something comfortable, and you can choose the style independently of that, and one style that will cover all bases from fashion to function is a casual leather shoe.

        Personally I have no problem wearing even more casual footwear for a night out, but some clubs won’t let you in if you’re wearing anything less than fairly classy leather shoes, which is why I picked it as the “correct” answer. In some cases it’s the only thing that will do.

        1. Gore-tex walking shoes (usually Merrels for my pedal extremities, though finding anything that isn’t entirely vile is a challenge) + Teva sandals (or similar) my preference.
          Both washable and v. quick-drying.

          Leather shoes not great, IMHO, for the beach, scrabbling over rough terrain &c

          Just my tuppence worth :0)

          ps. great site

          1. …tho’ having said which, a high quality pr. of properly stitched leather shoes with commando soles are easier to repair (for small change) in countries where the skill to mend stuff still exists.

          1. I haven’t tried those, but that was part of the reason I was pointing out types of shoes that would work, rather than specific models, because sooner or later they’ll be out of production and new things will come along. I’ve never been a fan of wingtips, but they would certainly work just fine. They look maybe just a bit too nice to handle a dirty trail, but in the city they’d be fine.

  2. These are great tips. One cannot stress enough about picking the right pair of shoes for traveling. Though I have to say that it always seemed to me that the guys have it easier than the girls when it comes to traveling shoes.

    1. We do. Muahahaha. Though on the other hand, women’s shoes are usually smaller. If you’ve ever compared girls’ flip flops to guys’ flip flops, they’re half as thick. So figure girls can do the trio of flats, flip flops, and all-day walking shoes of whatever type, and they’ll probably be as voluminous as the duo of guy shoes which I describe. Some of the time, anyway.

  3. Speaking of travel shoes, what about the New Balance 840 or the Saucony Echelon LE, preferably the black leather ones since they’re neutral & would match any color. So would they qualify as travel shoes?

    1. Well, they still somewhat resemble tennis shoes, and some people don’t mind that, but I like to find just one thing that’ll work for everything. If you feel fine taking them along to a fancy bar or restaurant, then okay. But if you think you’ll need some “nice” shoes for those occasions, well…then just get the nice shoes instead.

  4. The ones in the middle on the right are awesome. Any idea what brand they are or did you just google? (I mean the “these ARE traveling shoes” section).

    I’m headed to latin america for 8 months soon and if i can get comfy/durable shoes that don’t look like “dad shoes” I’ll be a happy dude.

      1. Beautiful! Thanks mate. I’ve had a look and here in Australia Florsheim do some pretty decent (albeit overpriced) casual, durable feeling boots also.

  5. When looking for light weight travel shoes, I came across this US company called LEMS (Live Easy & Minimal). They do some very stylish boots and the good thing is they are collapsible & packable, which means less space :-)

    These shoes give you the barefoot experience (maybe you should do a review SnarkyNomad)

    Also they have a nice range of shoes for women. This is the pair I like. They look respectable enough for the party scene.

    http://www.lemsshoes.com/Mens-Boulder-Boot-Brown_p_87.html

  6. I agree with you 100% and for all the reasons you state my favourites were the Salomon Elios 2 GTX. Smart full nubuck leather, you could hike or walk around all day in them and still feel ok going to a pub or restaurant for dinner and not look like you’d just stepped off the trail.
    Problem is my old pair (my second) has just about worn out and of course they don’t make them any more, typical! So the search begins for something that will work as well, wish me luck!

  7. I agree with Nicole above, not exactly stylish. What are your views on desert boots, j crew or clar, and territory ahead Stanton earthy sneaker as travel footwear. As for travel pants, have you tried any of the Kuhl models of pants. I am really into natural fiber look and feel, but understand their weight and other limitations.

    Thanks for doing page. I am picky about my travel clothes, even though I do not get to travel nearly as much as I like. Most “travel clothing” lacks style, looks dorky and has a terrible feel. Keep helping us find better options.

    1. Desert boots look nice, and as long as they’re built nicely, I think they’d work just fine. The suede might get a little dusty, but it’s probably not such a big deal.

      I kind of like Kuhl, but they have sort of a weird mix; they have a semi-technical appearance, but usually use non-technical fabrics (aka cotton), so they seem to be in a weird middle ground where they’re not that ideal for anything. They’re not bad, though. They often look nice enough, and work well enough; I just wish they’d make at least a few things that looked totally normal, and used a performance fabric of some kind.

  8. Hello again! Sorry for swarming your pants thread, but I have a question about the shoes. I bought some GoWalk (Sketchers) and although comfortable, I think it will definitely not cut it, when it comes down to walking up and down the different streets and terrains in Europe. I looked up the Merrell Element you mentioned earlier in this post. Looks like it would be an amazing shoe, but it’s proving difficult to find here in Canada. Has the model been replaced by a newer version? If so, do you the name of the newer replacement which would be similar?

    1. No problem. And your search will prove futile, as the Merrell Element no longer exists…try the Merrell Realm Lace. It’s the closest thing in the current lineup. I was a big fan of all the Merrells I’ve used, though of course people have feet of all different shapes and sizes. Keens are also rather highly regarded, and worth checking out.

    1. Given the options at the moment, it’s a little tricky finding a replacement. Generally I go to shoe websites or outdoor stores and click on the “casual shoes” section, and try to find the one that looks the coolest. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the “coolest,” but it would reliably work in a variety of situations. I much prefer a more laid-back appearance, but I don’t have any favorites on the horizon at the moment…the search continues!

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