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. If you wear leather shoes while traveling, how do you care for them on the road? I probably go overboard, but I have a set of shoe trees for every pair of leather Ecco shoes I own. I am getting ready to travel for a year and don’t really want to lug the trees (which I normally pack into my running shoes), but am wary of doing light hiking and being in wet climates without them.

    1. Socks? It won’t air out the same way, but if they’re merino socks, they’ll prevent any buildup of odor.

      1. Thanks for responding. I don’t own merino socks yet, but hope to find a deal to buy some in the coming weeks. I can see how they’d help keep the shoes from smelling, but I’m not sure they would keep the leather from shrinking as the shoes dry.

  2. Great post. I’ve been searching far and wide for a pair of shoes that will suit me in many different climates and social settings. It definitely comes down to personal preference. I decided on the Merrell Annex – waterproof but still reasonably stylish and doesn’t look weird with shorts.

  3. This is a perennial question and a great post. In my context, I’m frequently traveling for business and then checking out sites on the shoulders of the meeting. I dress business casual. What is working for me are RedWing Iron Rangers. They are a full leather boot that pairs well with Chinos like Bluffworks or Alchemy Equipment but sturdy enough for light to medium hiking. The cushioning is not as good as other brands, but I went on 5-6 miles hikes in New Zealand but could dress well in Auckland. When they’ve been conditioned, they are very water resistant, which worked out well near Waitomo Caves.

    1. I have a pair of boots a bit like that from Chippewa (or actually LL Bean, but manufactured by Chippewa). I’m not quite used to the weight, but other people certainly are, and they’re quite comfortable. They’d be a pain to pack, which is why I think chukkas or other ankle boots might be a little easier. In cold weather boots make even more sense, since you’d wear them the whole time, and never pack them into the bag in favor of sandals.

  4. Hi,
    I just found your website, and I find your articles really helpful.
    Regarding this one, I checked the Merrell Element you recommended, that now has a successor called Merrell Sprint Blast (I think), but I was looking for a shoe with some waterproof capabilities at least. Do you know of any shoe with the same look as these two, but with goretex or any other waterproof insulation?
    I also like the Clarks Rockie Lo… it looks pretty cool.
    There is only one more issue, and is that I live in the UK, so most of the recommendations of shoes only apply to the US. Do you have any suggestions of brands available in the UK and/or europe?


    1. Not so sure…so I’ll leave this comment up and hopefully someone will chime in with some tips. I have no clue about UK shoe brands, although I think Ecco is available over there, and it has some Gore-Tex options.

  5. Landed on one page, got sucked into an endless abyss of articles here. I’ve been looking for the perfect travel shoes for a few weeks and I thought I finally found it when I saw the title.

    For a city dweller like me (I’m from Singapore), travelling includes an itinerary of beach, city, bars and nature environments – mountains included. Looking at the recommendations here, I don’t think they are very suitable for climbing mountains where feet protection is necessary. Treks include river crossing and sometimes snow. And like some of the commenters mentioned, these shoes do not look good paired with shorts/berms in summertime (I prefer walking long hours in the city in comfortable shoes to flip flops). Definitely not the most ideal travel shoes in my opinion.

    Nevertheless, thanks for the pointers, and the search continues…

    1. If you’re going into the mountains a lot, the options here aren’t ideal. Short hikes would be fine, though. But it sounds like you’re interested less in the urban/city/nice restaurant type of activity, so light hiking shoes are probably better.

  6. Although I might agree that the no list is true, I need a high top shoe for weak ankles, so I use a Merrell Gortex mid boot. It works in almost any situation, rain or shine, but in Europe, restaurants will frown on it a bit. What shoe could I replace them with? My pants will be grey and black (Europe travel – dark colors are essential). Any suggestions?

    Nice blog by the way, and so glad you actually still reply to stuff even though the article is older. That is really nice to see. :-)

    1. Always happy to help. Recently I’ve started looking into those fancy shmancy boots that have replaceable soles, mostly because I want to keep the shoes for a long time, but they can work amazingly well. They’ve got ankle support, they look absolutely amazing, and if you get a heavy-duty sole, you can go hiking with them (although some of the rougher, more rugged leathers will hold up better in those cases). They’re breathable, too. Pretty great all around. They’re heavy, so I’d only bring them on a trip where I’d be wearing them the entire time (so I didn’t have to pack them, because they’re huge), but they’ll certainly work. I prefer some of the lighter options, though, as some of them get crazily heavy.

      1. Which fancy schmancy ones? I just got some Danner Forest Height II boots/chukkas. They’re unlined so I’m hoping they’ll work for summer. The leather is amazing. I’m also looking at the Timberland West Haven Chukkas. Waterproof, stylish, with good support. A good choice if you also doing business travel…..I guess chukkas might be a good format to straddle multiple needs.

        1. I think chukkas are a good choice, although the comfort-to-ankle-support ratio is a little off for me, so I mostly just use them for style reasons. Maybe better-fitting ones are out there, though. I don’t know which brands are best, but r/goodyearwelt is a good place to learn about these sorts of things. Everyone loves Red Wings, although they’re work boots much more so than dress boots, so they’re more rugged-looking than most others. That could be good, though.

      2. Thanks, I was thinking maybe you were not coming back to reply to these anymore.

        What shmancy boots are you talking about? Can you list a few brands? Overall those I do not like heavy shoes. Mine are around 400-500g each, it is heavy enough for city walking. If the ones you are talking about are significantly heavier it will be dredging through cities tiring out feet VERY quickly. So for me what shoes and brands would you specifically recommend? Yes, lighter is better. I don’t need huge stuff. This is for city, but should have at least ankle support. So far, I cannot find anything really nice. I have some very comfortable police boots, but they too look like boots and are probably not so fantastic to solely wear on trips.

        1. I’m not sure if weight is going to work out all that well, but some highly regarded brands are Red Wings, Chippewa, and Allen Edmonds. I’m not too much of an expert here, so check out r/goodyearwelt to get started (they focus on some of the dressier options, but there’s a lot to learn there). Work/dress boots can look just like dress shoes if you’re wearing long pants, which is great. Some of them are lighter, but they’re not built the same, so they’re not going to be a lifetime investment like the heavy-duty ones. I’m not sure if there’s a really lightweight option out there when it comes to serious work boots, so they’re only for people who are used to that kind of weight.

  7. If you want to go down the road of boots, then here is a suggestion:
    Panama jack, handmade in Spain, replaceable soles, huge choice of colours and styles (especially for the ladies)
    I can personally vouch for these as I have a pair of the Panama 03 boots that i specifically use for winter travel.
    They may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are another option.

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