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 or Twitter.

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

  1. Choco’s win my vote for the most functional shoe/sandal of all time. Easy enough to slip on, sturdy enough for challenging treks, and durable enough for years of travel.

    1. I have a love/hate relationship with Chacos. They’re the only sandals I can find that don’t cut up my feet, but they’re twice as heavy as I think they need to be. When they designed lighter versions, they screwed up the lacing system and it slashed up the skin and drew blood. Argh. Come on, guys! Fix it!

      1. No bueno with the foot slicing! I tend to disagree about the weight. If they made the Z1/Z2 lighter – would they be able to keep them sturdy enough to hike over rough terrain with a heavy pack on? Maybe if there is a more advanced material…?

        1. Sorry, I didn’t mean a version instead of the regulars, but rather an additional model for people who like the style, but just want sandals for daily use or light trail hikes. Chacos are overkill if you’re just going to the beach or something, and I wish they’d make a lighter sandal for those who just want a simple sandal instead of hiking-worthy monstrosities.

          1. Ahh yes yes! I’m with you 100%.

            If we were to design the “choco lite” – I would also make it easier to get in/out of… maybe I’m splitting hairs here

          2. If you got into a fight the Chaco sandals would make for a formidable club! When i got mine i had to carve the shoe a bit to not get blisters, but now it is ok. But boy are they heavy! I would like to find something

          3. Yeah I’m looking around for alternatives. I’ve gone over to Etsy to look at old-fashioned Greek leather sandals, many of which look pretty great.

  2. Hi! I love your blog; it’s very funny and helpful. My boyfriend and I are backpacking in Europe for 5 weeks this summer and he needs the proper shoes! Can you tell me what kind the black ones are in the lower left-hand corner? Thanks!

    1. Success! They are the Merrell Realm Lace. Can’t believe I managed to find them. I can’t specifically say whether they’re good or not (this post was more about showing what type would work, rather than picking specific items), but I’ve had a couple Merrells before, and I was quite happy with them.

    1. Alright, names are in the caption now. I figured it would be sad if I gave specific names that later went out of style, but I guess they’ll be around for another few years.

  3. Thanks for the post! I’m going to be in Spain in June and July and am worried about my feet overheating. Any sense of how hot the Merrell Realm Lace might be?

    1. I’ve found that leather shoes are pretty much all the same. I’ve never found a solution, though. My feet get hot no matter what, regardless of what my socks or shoes are made of. But merino wool socks, or maybe bamboo, would go a long way in keeping you more comfortable when compared to cotton socks.

  4. I agree with almost all your points in this article.

    I take semi-dressy leather shoes (usually brown – it’s more forgiving than black). I also like the merino wool socks to offset the warmth of leather shoes.

    The only point on which I’d disagree with you is your sandal recommendation – I prefer Tevas to Chacos because they’re not as heavy. This matters for both packing weight and for hiking all day. With either sandal, I strongly recommend moleskin pads.

    1. I entirely agree with the unnecessary weight of Chacos, and have complained before about how their flagship product is like a giant rubber brick. And although they’ve made lighter options, they screwed up the lacing system, which was the best part of Chacos. They’ve recently introduced a newer version of the Updraft, which seems to solve these problems, but you have to be sure you’re not buying the older version with the same name, which was awful.

  5. My favorite Travel Shoe (so far) has been the Keen’s Portsmouth. I wore these on my trek through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

    They were very comfortable and I could stand and walk in them all day.

    I am looking for another travel shoe and bought these ECCO – Biom Urban and they are super stiff and hard on the sole – avoid them.

    I am still looking for something.

    I see you recommended Rohan’s jean plus and other pants, what about their Pokhara???

    1. I actually did just pick up a pair of Eccos yesterday at a nearby store, and I’m quite happy with them. They don’t make them anymore, so I won’t mention them and break the hearts of those who love them, but they have plenty that would be great.

    2. I love ECCO (own several pair) – however lately I purchased the Biom Urban (I mentioned above) and there were stiff. The Lifestyle Vermont are very nice, but I am looking for something a little more dressy and less hikey looking.

      I want to wear to dinner and out on the town, but also a good walking shoe. I am heading to Switzerland for 20 days and want a single pair of shoes for basic hikes around the cities and also a nice night out on the town.

      I was looking at these from Ecco ECCO Contoured Plain Toe

      What do you think?

      1. Those look nice. They’d certainly work for travel, but those look nice enough that I’d be a little careful if I had to hike up a mountain in them. I try to reserve the really nice shoes only for nice occasions, so they last longer, but if you’re just wandering around town, I think those would be just fine.

  6. Hey! What kind of shoes would you recommend if I’m trying to travel super light based on your suggestions. I will be doing a lot of hiking and walking. I am a girl but don’t care to impress anyone at a club…lol


    1. The strategy that most ultralight backpacker ladies have settled on is to use three pairs of shoes; high-quality walking shoes, ballet flats, and flip flops. I’ve seen plenty of variations on this setup (hiking sandals instead of flip flops, for example) but the idea is to have one pair for all-day walking, one for evening, and one for the beach (or really hot weather). The all-day walking shoes can be whatever you want (running shoes or hiking shoes will be comfy for extended periods of time) and the ballet flats pack so small that you might as well bring them, and flip flops are tiny as well.

      I don’t have any specific items to suggest, as shopping for ladies’ footwear is not something I find myself doing frequently, but Travel Fashion Girl and Her Packing List are great places to look.

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