When you’re getting ready for your first camping trip, all of your attention is taken up with matters like whether your tent is big enough, how to inflate your sleeping pad and if your sleeping bag will be warm enough at night. There’s so much to pack to make sure you’re not too hot or cold, you’ve got protection from the rain and bugs, and in all the preparations and advice, one thing that your friends might forget to tell you is that you also need camp shoes.
Camp shoes? Can’t you just wear your hiking boots or trail running shoes? Well, yes, definitely, those might be the shoes that you’ll wear to get to camp anyway, if you’re backpacking or fastpacking, and even if you’re not, they’re a good choice for the outdoors because they’re sturdy and grippy. But after a long day of playing outdoors or if it’s hot, the last thing you’re going to want to do is sit around wearing sweaty boots. And it's rarely a good idea to walk around barefoot when there are sharp objects hiding in the grass. That’s when you need camp shoes.
What are camp shoes?
Camp shoes are essentially like slippers that you wear at home, but for the outdoors. You can’t actually wear your pink fluffy Peppa Pig house slippers because they’d quickly get ruined in the mud or soggy from the morning dew and the soles won’t be tough enough for walking on sharp pebbles and prickly burs.
At camp, you need a shoe that’s super comfortable, but has a little protection against the elements. When your feet are hot and swollen at the end of the day, pull on your camp shoes. Need to get up in the middle of the night for a pee? You don’t want to spend five minutes lacing up your boots, so you pull your camp shoes on. Crawling out of your tent for morning coffee? Camp shoes.
Whether you’re thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail or just going on a weekend backpacking adventure, you’re going to want to free your feet from the sweaty torture chambers you’ve been keeping them in all day, and still keep them protected from sharp hazards, so you’ll need to pack a pair of camp shoes.
What kind of camp shoes do you need?
Camp shoes are definitely an essential item for backpacking, but they’re not actually a specific designation of shoe. What kind of camp shoes you find more comfortable, practical and convenient is really a personal choice, though they’re usually a slip-on shoe that doesn’t require laces, and comfortable. Here are some ideas to consider for your camping adventures this year:
Flip flops or slides
Flip flops or slides are an obvious choice for a lot of campers for several reasons. First, you almost definitely already own a pair, and they’re really lightweight and can be attached to your backpack using a carabiner. Flip flops and slides are usually made from rubbery materials and have no problem dealing with moisture and dirt.
The main downside to this choice, however, is that the foot protection is really minimal so they’re not a great choice for really toe stubby terrain and they’re no good if you want to go in the water wearing them. They can also get a bit slippery when wet and aren't the most secure or stable shoe. If it’s going to be cool out, you might choose slides over flip flops since they’re easier to wear with socks.
Sandals offer a bit more security than flip flops, since they encircle the back of your heel, but they’re otherwise open-toed for good breathability and the straps are usually easy-to-fasten Velcro. A good pair of hiking sandals like the Keen Newport H2 can make a great option for camp shoes. They’re perhaps not quite as comfortable as your beach flip flops, but they’ll have sturdier soles and you can wear them in the water if you want to do some paddling and the bottom is rocky.
Furthermore, hiking sandals can of course couple as your walking shoes, so for warm camping trips where you want to do some hiking, your camp shoes could actually be the only shoes you bring.
We don’t mean wooden clogs hand carved in the Netherlands here, but rather those sartorially divisive rubber clogs, otherwise known as Crocs. Crocs and similar designs make great camp shoes for a number of reasons. They’re comfortable, durable, slip-on and secure and you can wear them in water or on land. You can wear them with or without socks. They’re another shoe that can be clipped to your backpack (though they’re heavier than flip flops) and if you don’t mind being the butt of a few jokes, you’ll be the happiest person at camp in them.
This is a bit of an unconventional suggestion for camp shoes, but if you own a pair of water shoes, they might be a good choice. After all, they’re always really breathable because of the mesh uppers. Some water shoes have too flimsy of a sole to be comfortable walking around on gravel, but a pair of shoes that work on both water and land like the Olukai Ki’ihele could be comfortable enough for camp, and great for paddling. These types of shoes pull on, so there’s no messing with laces, and they’re always lightweight and often easy to fold or slip into a backpack, plus they’re usually quick drying.
For cold weather camping, you obviously can’t pad around in your flip flops, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep your winter hiking boots on either. Some winter campers are choosing to pull on snug down booties that are super cozy and keep out the winter chill. This is sure to be a pricier and bulkier option and is perhaps best-suited to the winter glamper. You can’t walk far in these types of boots, but your feet will be happy while you’re huddled round the campfire.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.