Put simply, the right travel shoes can make or break your trip. If you want to be safe, comfortable and happy while exploring, choosing the right footwear should be the first thing on your mind.
On my first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, I was adamant I needed a pair of hiking boots – but I was wrong. My boots were sweltering, heavy and a chore to pack. They proved overkill for the hikes I did and were completely useless on the soft sand of Southeast Asia’s beaches.
I learnt very quickly that the best shoes for backpacking in Southeast Asia are lightweight, breathable and easy to take on and off – everything my boots weren’t.
To save you making the same mistakes as me, I’ve drawn on my years of travel, as well as the knowledge of our Southeast Asia Facebook community, to put together this list of the most popular shoes for backpacking!
What Footwear is Best for Travel – Summary:
– 1 x Flip flops/sandals
– 1 x Sneakers/trainers
– 1 x Walking shoes
– Pick lightweight shoes that are easy to pack
– Make sure your travel shoes are comfortable and properly broken in
– You probably don’t need hiking boots or waterproof shoes
– Flip flops and sandals are often available for budget-friendly prices at your destination
Related: (links open in a new tab)
The links to online stores (like Amazon) on this page are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate South East Asia Backpacker earns from qualifying purchases. We always write our reviews before checking whether affiliate links are available.
The Best Shoes for Travel
- Can be used as water shoes
- Comfortable with or without socks
- Comfortable footbed
- Customisable for a unique look
You’ll require different shoes depending on the length of your trip and your chosen activities. If you’re on an extended backpacking trip, chances are you’ll need multiple pairs.
Most travellers opt for three:
- Flip Flops/sandals
- Walking shoes
This range of footwear will cover you for most activities, terrain and climates.
The Best Travel Sneakers
Sneakers made specifically for travel are typically lightweight, quick-drying, supportive and super comfy. They can be used in a variety of situations from running and hiking to swimming or lazing on the beach.
They’re mostly made from sustainable materials and use eco-friendly methods. Some are waterproof while others are made of super lightweight mesh.
- Range — Tropicfeel’s range of shoes has grown from a single pair of lightweight travel trainers to a range of sneakers and travel shoes to suit any style or trip. From the classic Canyon sneakers to newer models such as the waterproof Geyser Litli, you’ll find an excellent pair of versatile travel shoes in Tropicfeel’s range!
- Versatile – Tropicfeel travel sneakers can be used in an array of landscapes and locations. No matter whether you’re hiking to the beach, swimming or exploring towns and cities – you can use your Tropicfeels for it all – reducing the shoes you need to pack!
- Comfort — With a dual-density footbed, the Tropicfeel Canyons offer comfort and support. The top layer is soft and squishy while the bottom layer is more rigid, improving stability. The upper is stretchy and super lightweight. It grips your foot, creating a sock-like feel – plus, they can be slipped on and off, so you don’t need to mess about with laces every day.
- Packable — At just 200g per pair, the Tropicfeel Canyons are some of the lightest shoes on our list. You’ll barely notice them in your bag! The upper compresses down well too, so they’re easy to pack!
- Made from recycled bottles
- No ankle support
- Very little protection
- Merino Wool — Loom use the highest quality Merino wool in their shoes. It offers excellent temperature regulation, is moisture wicking, quick drying and naturally odour resistant – sounds like the dream material, right?!
- Waterproof — While the inner layer of Loom Shoes is Merino wool, the outer layer is made from proprietary H2-Go technology. It allows air to flow in and out of the shoes while repelling all water.
- Sustainable — Although Loom use animal products in their shoes, the Merino wool is sourced from eco-friendly farms that adhere to strict cruelty-free practices. By working with innovative farms, Loom have reduced the carbon footprint of their shoes by over 500%!
- Price — Loom Shoes’ questionable pricing practices mean the sneakers officially retail at $250USD, although we’ve never actually seen them sold at this price. They always seem to have a 60% sale which means you can pick the shoes up for less than $100USD.
- They look great
- Unethical pricing practices
- The sizing is a little out (refer to size chart)
- Eucalyptus — The All Birds Tree Dasher 2 features a one-piece knit upper made from eucalyptus fibre. As it’s made from a single piece of fabric, the upper has no seams to rub and cause blisters.
- SweetFoam Midsole — Made from sugarcane, All Birds’ proprietary SweetFoam midsole is the world’s first carbon-negative EVA foam. It’s comfortable, offering excellent cushioning, support and fantastic energy return with each step!
- Lightweight — At less than 300g per shoe, the Tree Dasher 2 trainers are easy to pack. They compress down well, taking up only a small amount of space in your travel bag!
- Sustainability Practices — All Birds have sustainability at their core. The Tree Dashers feature a TENCEL Lyocell upper (made from eucalyptus trees), insoles made from castor bean oil and laces made from recycled plastic bottles. The outsole is made from natural rubber and the midsole from sugarcane. All Birds are fully transparent about the environmental cost of each item made and offset their emissions to make each shoe carbon-neutral.
- Comfortable out of the box
- Sustainably made
- Excellent traction and support
- Not water-resistant
- Sizing is inconsistent
- Stylish – Things don’t get much more classic than Converse All Stars. They’ve been gracing the feet of athletes, celebrities, counterculture icons, rebellious teenagers and everyone else in between for over a century! If you’re looking for a travel shoe that makes a statement while still blending in, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Chucks!
- Variations – From the classic All-Stars to chunky trainers, Converse come in a wide range of styles and designs. No matter what you’re looking for from your travel shoes, you’re bound to find a pair to suit!
- Comfort – Converse aren’t only well-known thanks to their iconic silhouette. They’re comfortable and offer good traction in day-to-day situations.
- Support – The most common complaint levelled at Converse is their lack of support. Spend an entire day walking around a city wearing Converse and your feet will know about it!
- You may already have a pair
- Not the most supportive shoes
- Take an age to dry when they get wet
- Offer very little protection
- Difficult to get on/off quickly
The Best Flip Flops for Travel
When travelling in hot climates, flip-flops quickly become your best friend. They’re easy to slip on and off, they keep your feet cool and are easy to pack. They’re perfect for days on the beach or just for use in dodgy hostel showers.
It usually works out cheapest to buy flip flops when you get to your destination, not only do they cost a pittance compared to back home, but it saves you needing to pack and transport them too! Just make sure you get a comfy pair that won’t tear your feet apart!
- Comfort — Ideal for short walks to the beach or long days perusing the sights, the Pajaro flip-flop from Teva is an ultra-comfortable choice. The leather/fabric combination means the strap is tough but kind to your feet. The footbed is contoured for support and has an anti-microbial treatment to reduce odours.
- Traction — The rubber outsole features a chunky lug pattern that delivers excellent grip, even in damp conditions. A nylon shank running through the sole offers excellent protection over rocky, or uneven terrain.
- A Word of Caution — Teva note that these flip-flops are not designed to handle extreme temperatures. We noticed the sole shrinking from exposure to direct sunlight!
- Great traction
- Take up a lot of room in your bag
- Memory Foam — Merrell’s Terran Post 2 Sandal features a Remember Me memory foam footbed. It cradles your feet, reducing pressure and strain while offering a good level of arch support.
- Protection — The air-cushioned heel works in conjunction with the footbed to absorb impacts and limit the strain of repeated footfalls on your body. The wide, neoprene strap and fabric toe post ensure the sandals stay on your feet, even over more difficult terrain.
- Grip — Initially, we were a little dubious about the traction offered by these sandals. The tread pattern appears more aesthetic than practical. But its defined edges and deep siping perform better than we expected!
- Sizing is out
- Prone to causing sweaty feet
The Best Walking Sandals for Travel
- Footbed — Chacho’s Z/Cloud Sandals have a podiatrist-approved footbed. It’s contoured to match the natural shape of your foot. Plus, over time it moulds to the exact shape of your foot for maximum support. If you have high arches, these are the sandals for you but those with flat feet might find them a bit too much.
- Sole — The outsole is made from Chaco’s own rubber compound and tread pattern. It delivers reliable grip across a range of surfaces and flexes in all the right places. The dual-density midsole absorbs impacts and creates a stable base for your feet – protecting you from injuries and allowing you to walk long distances.
- Weight — At 400g per shoe, these sandals are heavier than most travel sandals. In fact, they’re heavier than most of the travel shoes on this list. However, along with the weight, you get a supportive, breathable sandal that can be your everyday shoe for most trips.
- Good arch support
- Podiatrist approved
- Straps can initially be confusing
- Not suitable for all foot types
- Yucatan vs Off Road — These sandals are sold in Europe as Off Road Sandals. In the USA they’re sold as the Yucatan Sandals. Both models are the same!
- Straps — The three neoprene-lined straps offer a huge amount of adjustability. Each features a Velcro closure system, allowing for a custom fit. Once adjusted, they hug your feet well, limiting movement and preventing you from sliding too much inside the shoes.
- Outsole — The Yucatan Sandals feature a rocker sole. It subtly guides your feet through each step, making for a more efficient gait – allowing you to walk further with less effort. It also features an aggressive tread pattern that delivers excellent grip in a range of conditions!
- Plenty of grip
- Take ages to dry
- Microfibre footbed harbours bed smells
- Lightweight — At just 250g per shoe, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals are easy to store in your backpack. They take up very little of your weight allowance and thanks to their minimalist design, can slip into just about any gap!
- Flat footbed — The zero-drop footbed is completely flat. It allows your feet to flex and move naturally, which improves their strength and dexterity over time. Gentle siping on the insole (the diamond pattern) prevents your feet sliding around.
- Strap Design — Bedrock’s strap design takes some getting used to but once you’ve got the hang of it, it offers unrivalled levels of customisation. No matter the shape of your feet, you’ll get a pair of Bed Rock Cairn Adventure Sandals to fit!
- Different Models Available — Bedrock also sell sandals more suited to specific requirements. The Classic is their most minimal offering, delivering more sensory feedback with the same strap system. The Cairn Pro models are a little chunkier and are made for tougher terrain. The 3D models have a contoured footbed and are the most supportive Bedrock sandals available.
- Vibram outsole
- Built for hikers
- Excellent strap system
- Look weird
- Straps can take some time to learn
The Best Walking Shoes for Travel
- Barefoot — Vivobarefoot specialise in minimalist shoes for all walks of life. Their barefoot design means you really feel the ground beneath your feet – there’s essentially no cushioning or support, forcing your feet to work the way evolution intended. Barefoot shoes deliver incredible sensory feedback which can improve balance and dramatically alter your gait.
- Traction — Even though the sole on the Primus Trail II FG is only 2.5mm thick, the well-defined tread pattern extends an extra 4mm for maximum traction. The lugs bite well into all but the softest ground and the sole flexes well, allowing your feet to curl over rocks for maximum grip. There’s also a textured tread pattern around the inside of your arch for efficient grip on even the most technical trails.
- Durability — The lightweight mesh upper and hardcore outsole can take a real beating before showing any signs of wear. This is a large improvement on the Primus Trail I model which I destroyed after around 400 miles of hiking. My Primus Trail II shoes are still going strong after almost double that!
- Easy To Pack — All VivoBarefoot shoes can be rolled and compressed for easy packing. You can comfortably fit two pairs of Vivos in the same space as one normal pair of travel shoes!
- Other Models — If you’re looking for a barefoot shoe more suited to city life than a trail shoe, the Primus Lite III features a much softer, less aggressive tread pattern that delivers even more ground feel!
- Wide toe box
- Excellent traction
- Amazing ground feel
- Supportive — In stark contrast to barefoot shoes, the Merrell Nova and Antora shoes are heavily built-up – they house a ton of cushioning and support features.
- Gender-Specific — The Nova is the model built for men while the Antora is built around the female foot form. Aside from this difference, all the features are the same.
- Breathable vs Waterproof — The lightweight mesh upper is ultra-breathable in the standard Nova and Antora models but both are available in Gore-Tex versions if you need a waterproof shoe.
- Sole — The Vibram outsole provides excellent traction, even in wet, rocky terrain. It’s durable too, so you don’t need to worry about the tread pattern wearing away too fast. The EVA midsole is well cushioned, providing plenty of comfort and support. It absorbs the repetitive impact of your footfalls to protect your feet, ankles and knees from long-term injuries. The shoes also feature a rock plate between the outsole and midsole, protecting you from rocks and other trail hazards.
- Easy to walk in
- Very wide
- Minimalist but Cushioned – While it sounds like a juxtaposition, Altra has successfully created a range of footwear that delivers a minimalist feel with more cushion and protection than true barefoot shoes. The Lone Peak shoes are a prime example of this wizardry in action!
- Zero Drop – When wearing the Lone Peak shoes, your heel and toes are on the same level, unlike in other walking shoes which raise your heel slightly. While it can take your feet and legs a little while to adjust to zero-drop shoes, the long-term benefits for most people easily outweigh the short-term discomfort. By walking in zero-drop shoes you train the muscles in your feet and legs to work as nature intended, improving your overall strength and reducing the risk of injuries over the long run.
- Breathable – Built for trail running and long-distance hiking, the Altra Lone Peaks feature a breathable, seamless upper which grips the top of your foot and prevents you sliding around inside the shoes – you’ll appreciate this when hiking in hot climates!
- Wide Toe Box – The wide toe box on Altra’s shoes encourages your toes to spread and splay as you walk. This helps improve your balance, build strength and reduces the chance of blisters between your tootsies!
- Wide toe box
- Zero drop
- Can take some getting used to
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Shoe for Travel
Where You’ll Be Travelling
The region you’re travelling in will play a big part in deciding the best travel shoes for you.
If you’re expecting cold weather, leave the sandals at home. Likewise, if it’s going to be super hot, big chunky shoes will be unbearable!
You should also be aware of local customs when it comes to footwear.
Across much of Southeast Asia, it’s common practice to remove your shoes before entering temples, massage parlours and people’s homes. The practice literally and metaphorically keeps dirt out, preventing it from contaminating clean, safe spaces. Opt for shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
In some countries, you may be asked to remove your shoes on overnight buses. Again, it’s a good idea to have shoes that are easy to slip on and off. My chunky old hiking boots made jumping off the bus for a midnight pee a massive hassle!
Finally, high-end bars and restaurants across the world usually have a dress code. If you plan on visiting the fancier establishments, you’ll need to bear in mind that men must be in closed-toe shoes.
You probably don’t need waterproof shoes. They’re big and heavy. Plus, they take an age to dry when they do get wet. I’ve had waterproof shoes that took days to dry out whereas my lightweight trail runners are dry in a matter of hours.
Waterproof shoes will protect your feet from any grossness floating in puddles, streams or floodwaters but the average backpacker is unlikely to use them often enough to warrant bringing a pair. That said, if you’re travelling somewhere cold and snowy, waterproof shoes are an important bit of kit!
Your travel activities play a big role in choosing the best shoes.
If you plan to hike through a lot of rough terrain, sturdy walking shoes will probably be the most suitable choice. But if your trip is going to be spent exploring cities and chilling in beach bars, a pair of sandals or trainers are a better idea!
For water sports like rafting, kayaking or tubing, a pair of quick-drying shoes are ideal. Trail runners, minimalist hiking shoes and travel sneakers are all good options.
Think about what you need from your shoes for each activity you undertake while travelling!
Shoe Weight and Packability
Remember, every pair of shoes you’re not wearing will need to go in your backpack.
If you’re travelling with just a carry-on bag, you’re going to be limited on space. And even if you’re travelling with a huge backpack, you don’t want an extra 4kg of shoes weighing you down everywhere you go. Lightweight shoes are a backpacker’s best friend, especially if they can be squashed or compressed!
When it comes to packing, keep an eye out for backpacks built to carry shoes. The Shell Backpack by Tropicfeel has a specific shoe compartment which can be zipped away when not in use!
Comfort vs Fashion
We all want to look good while travelling – especially in the world of Instagram and social media.
But feeling good is always better.
Having sore feet and blisters is guaranteed to drop your mood. Avoid this by choosing the most comfortable travel shoes you can find.
Thankfully, most shoes designed for travel are made to look as good as they feel!
The more uses you get out of your shoes, the fewer pairs you’ll need to take.
If your water shoes are the same as your hiking and relaxing shoes, you’re onto a winner!
When it comes to avoiding blisters and keeping your feet happy, good-quality socks are as important as shoes.
Look for socks with good thermal regulating properties. Merino wool or synthetic socks are best. Cotton socks hold too much moisture and take an age to dry. When wet, they’re prone to rubbing which causes blisters.
It’s usually worth opting for a couple of different styles of socks. Eg, normal length, quarter crew and ankle socks. Compression socks are great if you’re concerned about the effect of long flights on your body.
Darn Tough socks are pricey but come with a no-questions-asked lifetime guarantee – wear them out and Darn Tough will replace them free of charge!
Injinji make Merino wool toe socks which prevent blisters, allow your toes to splay and wick moisture away from your feet. These are the best socks to wear with barefoot shoes!
Good travel shoes aren’t cheap but they don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars either.
For $50-150USD you can expect to buy a durable pair of shoes with great travel features. Any less than this and you’re either getting a great deal or you’re going to regret the purchase.
Spending more than $150USD on shoes for travel is overkill.
Break-In Shoes Before Leaving
As with all footwear, make sure to wear your travel shoes at home before taking them abroad. This gives you an idea of how they’re going to feel, plus it begins to mould them to your feet.
By breaking shoes in slowly, you reduce the odds of getting a painful blister!
From barefoot shoes to built-up hiking boots, the level of support offered varies from shoe to shoe. Know what you need from your shoes before you choose which to buy. If you use orthotics, make sure the shoes you’re looking at have enough space to accommodate them. Sometimes you may need to go up a size to get the best fit!
How to Carry Shoes When Backpacking
You’ve only got enough feet to wear a single pair of shoes at a time, so if you’re travelling with a few pairs, you’ll need to keep them in your backpack!
Some bags come with specially created shoe compartments but in most cases, you’ll just need to cram your shoes into the main pocket of the bag. In an ideal world, you’ll want to place your shoes around the middle of your pack, close to your back when wearing the bag. This ensures even weight distribution and stops your bag feeling unwieldy.
It’s worth using a shoe pouch to protect the rest of your stuff from your shoes but you don’t need to go and spend a fortune buying one. Any decent plastic bag will do the job – grab one from your local supermarket before you leave!
If you’re travelling with a pair of nice shoes you’re worried about squashing, consider stuffing them with pants, socks or other small clothing items. This not only maximises the amount of usable space in your bag but also prevents your shoes being crushed!
Travel Shoes FAQs
Do I need waterproof shoes for Southeast Asia?
Most travellers don’t need waterproof shoes for Southeast Asia. Waterproof shoes tend to be heavy and bulkier than their non-waterproof counterparts. This makes them difficult to pack and means they’re impractical in warm conditions as your feet can easily overheat.
How many pairs of shoes should I take travelling?
Most backpackers say you should take two to three pairs of shoes when travelling. One pair of flip flops/sandals, one pair of trainers/sneakers and one pair of walking shoes/boots.
Should I bring hiking boots to Southeast Asia?
Hiking boots aren’t a necessity for travelling in Southeast Asia unless you’re planning some serious jungle or mountain trekking while in the region. For the majority of travellers, a decent pair of walking shoes will more than suffice for most hikes!
Round Up of the Best Shoes for Travelling
Choosing the best shoes for travel will depend on where you’re going and what you’re doing, as well as what style or type of shoe you prefer to wear!
Versatility, weight and comfort are the most important things to consider and for that reason, the Tropicfeel Canyon is our top pick. However, it’s not the only option. Both Loom Shoes and All Birds make excellent everyday travel shoes.
If you’re already hooked on barefoot shoes, the Primus Trail II FG is an excellent hiking shoe while the Primus Lite III is a great choice for stomping around towns and cities. For a more supportive but still minimalist walking shoe, the Lone Peak shoes from Altra are hard to beat!
For those needing travel sandals, we recommend the supportive Chaco Z/Cloud and the more minimalist Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals. However, our all-around favourite sandals that perform well in all conditions is the Ecco Yucatan!
As for flip flops, the best option is generally to buy them when you arrive at your destination. They’ll usually be cheaper and it saves you having to carry them. However, if you want a more premium pair, we recommend the Teva Pajero Flip Flops for men and the Merrel Terran Post 2 for women!