Of all the pieces of clothing you will wear, what you decide to put on your feet is one of the most important decisions you will make. Choose your footwear carefully as you will be spending plenty of time walking, whether you plan to or not. Your choices of shoes will most likely depend on what part of the world you are traveling in (particularly weather and terrain) and what activities you intend to partake in.
We have found that taking two pairs of shoes - one pair of approach shoes and one pair of sandals - offered us the flexibility and comfort for almost everything we wanted to do, whether it was exploring forests, hiking the Masada, hanging out or going to a dance club at night. Or you may want to just go barefoot and forget shoes all together, like the people over at the Dirty Sole Society. However, as tempting as it may be, we suggest avoiding going barefoot when in a developing (or just plain dirty) country. Lack of decent foot protection leaves you more susceptible to many problems, including injury, insect bites, cuts or punctures (which could give you tetanus, requiring a shot which leads to a whole new batch of risks) and acquiring bacteria and infections from direct skin contact with contaminated sand and soils. Keep your shoes or sandals on and save your soles.
It is important to buy high quality shoes that are going to last you a while so you don’t get stuck paying double for a new pair in another country. Shoes may be the cheapest thing you can buy at home (in North America, at least) that are really expensive in many other countries. As well make sure you wear new shoes for a while before you leave on your trip. You need to break your shoes in before you leave, not when you get there.
Approach shoes are essentially light hiking shoes, a cross between hiking boots and running shoes. They are called ‘approach’ shoes because they were originally used to approach mountain-climbing areas. Now they are sold everywhere, having the name ‘all-conditions’ shoes or ‘outdoor’ shoes. They are often made of split grain leather and cloth (like denier nylon), the fabric being used in conjunction with leather to make footwear that achieves a balance between support, light weight, and breathability. The soles provide the necessary traction for natural terrain while keeping the shoe light and comfortable.
Approach shoes are so versatile that they should get you everywhere you want to go. They are durable enough for plenty of walking and light hiking, yet can be worn to the local club or restaurant if need be. These types of shoes are often easier to break in as well.
Hiking boots are defined by their strength and durability. They are usually made of full grain leather and offer fantastic support, water-proofness and protection for your feet. Their soles have deep lugs for traction. They are designed for longer trips, heavy loads and rough terrain. However, this style of boot tends to be heavy and does not Merrell hiking bootallow your feet to breathe very well. Some hiking boots have material panels in them to provide some ventilation, but usually not as much breathability as approach shoes. Be aware that hiking boots will definitely take longer to break in.
If you are traveling in a warmer climate, there is nothing more comfortable than a good pair of sandals. They let your feet breathe, and if they are of good quality, provide your feet with enough support for most activities. My personal favourite sandals Teva sandalare made by Teva. They make many different styles depending on how much support you need. As well, they have an added touch to their sandals that make them extremely durable. The most common problem with most sandals is that the straps may pull out of the sole, an un-repairable pain in the butt. Teva sandals, however, have unique straps that go into the sole, continue below your foot, and then come back out on the other side of your foot. The strap is sandwiched within the sole, so there is no strap end to come out. I have had several pairs of Tevas and worn them all over the world without any problems.
Key “Footwear” Terms
Full Grain Leather: The outer surface of the leather. Usually the strongest, most expensive part of the hide. Can be smooth, shiny or textured. Its general thickness and tight knit fibers give it durability and makes it water resistant. Also referred to as top grain leather.
Split Grain Leather: Slightly looser fibers than full grain for softer feel but less reistant to water. Generally less abrasion resistant, more prone to stretching and less stiff; it can also absorb water more easily. Although split leather is less appropriate for heavy-duty applications, its flexibility, breathability, and lower price make it a good choice for lighter duty uses.
Nubuck Leather: Full grain leather that has been buffed to reduce irregularities in the hide. Responds well to various waterproofing agents, although waterproofing will usually result in a darker appearance.
Soles: The rubber bottom of shoes. The thicker the rubber sole and the deeper the treads or “lugs,” the greater the traction but the heavier the boot. Likewise, the stiffer the “mid-sole” layer above the rubber sole, the stronger but less pliable and comfortable the boot.