I’ve been traveling in a carry on backpack for so long that I sometimes forget about some of the obstacles that keep people from shrinking down their bag. Keeping it light and tight are second nature—even for long trips to crazy places. However, there’s one piece of gear that’s still tough to fit into carry on bag, and not packing it can be a deal breaker for a lot of people. I’m talking about that second (or even third!) pair of shoes, sandals, or other footwear.
Running shoes, hiking shoes, sandals for the beach, slip-ons for lounging around, or even an extra stylish pair of “going out shoes”—all of these super useful items take up precious real estate in a carry on bag. If you need a pair of shoes to explore the city, meet potential clients, hit the dance floor, take a hike, stroll on the beach, or play the occasional game of basketball, one pair of shoes probably won’t cut it. At least not all of that.
However, you can get a stylish, lightweight, versatile shoe that can handle almost all of the variables that matter to you while still providing the support you need for hitting the bricks in your favorite town. A great multi-purpose travel shoe can let you supplement your packing list with one—and I do mean one—pair of shoes for the things this super shoe can’t cover.
That often means a pair of waterproof lightweight (shower) sandals, but it can be rock climbing shoes, dance shoes, cozy slippers, flat packing Tom’s, or some other must-have single use shoe. We all have our hobbies, and traveling with a carry on shouldn’t limit you.
To help you get the most bang for your buck for that essential pair of kicks, here are some of my favorite multi-use travel shoes for urban exploring, hiking, and travel to places all over the world. Almost all of these shoes are versatile enough to wear in conditions ranging from remote trails to Manhattan boardrooms. Here are the best travel shoes that you’ll actually want to wear.
14 Best Travel Shoes
Approach Shoes: Best Everyday Travel Shoes
Honestly, this entire list could be a rundown of my 10 favorite approach shoes. I love these things, and it’s easy to see why. They can do it all, hiking, urban exploring, and nightlife.
Originally designed with rock climbers in mind, approach shoes are built to be comfortable, yet tough enough to scramble over the trails that lead to the steepest climbing routes. The toe boxes are strong, the material is high quality, the lacing systems go down all the way to the toe for rigid support and infinite customization, and they’re made to be light enough to clip to your climbing harness and climb up a mountain with. Tough enough for the trail, and light enough for the climb. Sounds good to me.
What’s interesting about approach shoes is how fashionable they’ve gotten over the past five years. They don’t have the same bulky sole and high-top ankle “support” of traditional (aka terrible hiking boots). That also means they don’t have the same look or silhouette that screams “tourist.”
At home on the trail, and good looking enough for a pint or apres ski, approach shoes are amazing for the experienced traveler that’s up for anything. Now let’s dive into a few of my favorite kind of travel shoes—approach shoes.
I absolutely hate hiking boots. They’re heavy, ugly, expensive, and all around bad shoes. They’re especially bad for carry on travelers because they’re too big to put in a fully packed bag, which means you have to wear them all the time. Which sucks, because they’re terrible travel shoes for just about everything—even hiking.
That’s why when I hiked across Spain last fall on the Camino de Santiago (it’s over 500 miles), I did my research to avoid buying a (stupid worthless) pair of hiking boots. And I’m glad I did.
I ordered the Scarpa Crux Approach shoes online without even trying them on (I know, crazy but true), and I wore them every single day for over two months. These shoes handled wet, rocky trails, mud, rain, cobblestones, and city streets in stride.
The kevlar material took a beating, the Vibram sole outperformed any hiking boot I’ve ever worn. Even better, the climbing inspired lacing system (it goes all the way down to the to box) let me dial in the fit and tightness for a long day on the trail. Best part—they only weigh 1 lb 11 oz. (that’s light for hiking shoes). But what’s even crazier is that I still wear them nearly everyday. In New York City.
I wear them when I bike, when I go out to meet friends, I even wear them to work at my office (I have an office job these days). The point is, these aren’t just travel shoes or hiking shoes. They’re awesome everyday shoes. They look at home on the streets of Manhattan, but still perform on the trails of rural Spain. That’s what you’re looking for in a great travel shoe, and honestly I think the Scarpa line of approach shoes is a great place to start.
Even after 500+ miles and nearly an entire year of regular use, I notice very little wear and tear on the tread, top, lining, or interior. Heck, the laces are still pristine. Scarpa makes a great travel shoe. 10 out of 10 for me. Plus it doesn’t hurt that they’re one of the cheapest travel shoes on the market. I would have gladly paid double for these shoes.
You should know: I am not being compensated by Scarpa for these endorsements. They’ve never sent me any gear, and I paid full price for my Scarpa shoes. They just rule, and I want everyone to know about them.
Scarpa Gecko Air Flip ($125)
The Vibram sole, low profile, snazzy colors, and single piece construction (that means it’s lightweight and durable since there’s no stitching to fray) all make this stripped down approach shoe one of the lightest travel shoes you can take on a good long hike. But the absolute best part is how this shoe turns into a slipper. No, seriously.
The single piece construction is so flexible that you can depress the heel area flat and slide into it like a clog. As a hiker and rock climber, I appreciate the ability to take the stress off my heel for a bit and still get around a hostel. The ability to slip in and out for quick trips to the corner or even just out into the hall without lacing up makes these shoes a great all around city shoe with the ability to handle the toughest trails (it’s an approach shoe from Scarpa) and still work for the simple stuff like a walk to the corner store. Big fan. Love Scarpa.
Scarpa Gecko Lite ($125)
If you want something a little more sturdy but hate hiking boots as much as I do, the Gecko Lite might work for you. This shoe has a more sturdy look and feel than the Gecko Air thanks to a few major differences in construction.
This shoe has the same industry standard Vibram sole but the laces go right down to the toe box for fully customizable lacing (nice for longer hikes). Add that to the abrasion resistant, water-resistant technical suede leather and mesh material you’ve got a shoe that’s built to be used.
A cross between a trail shoe and a climbing shoe, it has a crazy good grip, and looks the part. If you’re trying to look like you’re not a tourist, this shoe might give you away, but if you want to hit the trails then grab a beer at happy hour without stopping back home to change, these shoes are perfect for you.
Best Ultralight Trail Runner Travel Shoes
Evolv Cruzer Psyche ($79)
Technically, this is an approach shoe (and a great one), but the lightweight feel (just 13 oz for a pair!) and the pricetag make the Evolv Cruzer the standout star of the ultralight travel shoe category. Keep in mind, this shoe isn’t designed for the kind of miles I put on the Scarpa Crux approach shoes, but it can handle practically any short hike you can throw at it, and it looks great doing it.
Perfect for a few weeks on the road with some city mingling mixed in. Plus, Evolv is a trusted name in the shoe world, so take that to the bank.
The flymesh upper sole and lightweight construction make this trail runner a great choice for active urban explorers. Go with a brighter color for increased visibility on those morning runs, or tone it down a tad to blend in while you sight see.
A fantastic primary or even secondary pair of travel shoes with the breathability, grip, and comfort you expect from a quality performance shoe.
Remember water socks? Yeah, those things were pretty sweet, but looked ridiculous and felt terrible. Well, they’ve gotten a lot better. The Primus Trail Swim Runners (yeah that’s a thing) is built for anything ultra runners can throw at it, which means it can handle your 10 day trip to Prague.
Designed for wet and dry trail running, these ultra durable, super lightweight shoes practically disappear on your feet and in your bag (they roll up like a pair of socks!). If you’re gonna go beast mode on your next trip, wear a nice pair of shoes for the plane and roll these up and stuff em in that side pocket that you never ever use. You’ll be glad you did.
Xero’s flagship shoe, the Prio trail runner was a fan favorite for the past few years because it delivers on what it promises. Lightweight, balanced, durable, provides great traction, and it’s comfortable on cobblestones, and craggy trails.
These budget friendly travel shoes look awesome and can also roll up or squish flat to make packing them a breeze.
Ultra 3 Trail Runners ($80)
If ultralight shoes are really your priority, the Ultra 3 trail runner from VivoBarefoot is your best bet. At just 190 grams each (that’s 6.7 oz) these shoes are absurdly light for something billed to take on wet and dry trail runs.
The hexagon open shaped EVA construction lets your feet breathe on the trail while sweat and water get wicked away. These shoes don’t look normal, because they aren’t. But lightweight shoes always have a tradeoff.
Best Stylish Travel Shoes
This vegan friendly (no leather) travel shoe is the height of function and fashion. Modeled on the durable travel friendly Gobi boot, this chukka looking travel shoe will let you ditch the fanny pack look and see a city from a local’s perspective.
Packed with all the same featherweight craftsmanship you’d expect from VivoBarefoot shoes, the barefoot inspired sole lets you roll these shoes up just like a ball of socks to stash in your bag for your next big night out.
Even if you’re not a fan, you have to mention Toms on any travel shoe list—especially because they’re affordable, lightweight, and fashionable as all heck. I picked up a hand painted pair a few years back, and I still get compliments on them when I travel. The sole isn’t up to my usually tough standards (I hike a lot), but they’re perfect for visiting home, or when I go to dance trips (my girlfriend is a BIG swing dancer) as an extra pair of shoes for hotels or just walking down to the corner store.
I don’t want to like these shoes, but they’re just so dang useful, comfy, and yes, stylish. If you don’t like the classic Toms look (or want to upgrade), there are plenty of options from chukka boots to boat shoes. Or you can upgrade to the Spannos slip on from People.
I dig People Footwear for five reasons: price, lightweight thoughtful construction, and style, style, style. These shoes just look and feel awesome, and that’s because they’re so well made. Constructed from one piece of “digitally knit upper” material, these slip ons feature memory foam sock liners and compression molded “Skylite EVA soles.
I’ve worn People shoes for a while, and I can say that they are lightweight as heck and stylish as hell.
Slip ons make a great travel shoe because they’re so easy to wear (and they’re perfect for breezing through airport security). The Vienna leather slip on travel sneakers from Dr. Scholl’s feel like they should cost more than $100. Luckily they don’t. If you want to look sophisticated at the local co-working space, try these on for size. You’ll like the way you look.
If you like the look of Converse All Stars but hate how heavy they are and how slow they are to dry, and how uncomfortable they are when you wear them all day… dang. Converse shoes aren’t really great for travel. Well, if you like the look, you’ll dig the Stanley shoes from People Footwear.
I got a pair about 4 years ago, and they’re still going strong. Which is unexpected considering how insanely light they are. I’ve taken these shoes off at a party at made people hold them to see how light they are. Seriously. It’s nuts. And the reason is the space age construction.
These shoes are partially 3D printed—with an “Ezy-Brzy™ upper layer and breathable mesh below. Top it off with a slip in vented sock liner, SkyLite™ EVA outsole, and you’ve got a travel shoe that can handle the sweat of a long day of taking selfies. I’m a big fan of the look, fit, feel, and all weather, all activity function of these awesome shoes. I still wear them when I play tennis. So that’s cool.
Ultralight Travel Sandals: Best Secondary Travel Shoes
A couple of Tortuganauts swear by Chacos, Tevas, and other great travel sandals. And while I definitely think these solid brands have a place in the conversation, I wouldn’t consider packing these sandals for any trip where I planned to spend time exploring a city for one simple reason.
Sure they perform pretty well—on the trail. But these sandals instantly mark you out as a backpacker, which always irks me. I know I don’t fit in for a million other reasons (like language, culture, skin tone etc), but wearing clunky “travel shoes” always bugged me. And that’s not even addressing the biggest problem with these “travel sandals.”
They’re too bulky.
Chacos and Tevas are built for trails, so the sole is sturdy and tough. It doesn’t bend, and the padding in the heel is often intense. Rolling these sandals or squishing them down into your bag isn’t an option. They have heft. And if there’s one thing I’m not looking for in a pair of travel sandals, it’s heft.
I want something lightweight, soft, comfy, and ultimately forgettable. Really. I want to toss a pair of sandals in my bag and hit the beach. I want a lightweight pair of sandals I can change into at the end of a long day in the city or at the campsite. I don’t want another pair of shoes. And ugly ones. That’s why I’m all about the Xero Cloud travel sandals.
Xero Cloud ($50)
The Amuri Cloud travel sandals from Xero are just insane. At just 4.6 oz each these sandals are the lightest and most comfy sandals on the market. They roll up to nothing when they’re in your bag, and put up with anything you’ll encounter when they’re on your feet.
Designed for trail running, city exploration, and more, these lightweight sandals are actually the lighter version of the already insanely lightweight Xero Venture sandals ($40).
They look great, have an adjustable fit to get them perfectly on your foot, weigh nothing, roll into a ball, and cost less than $50. What’s not to love?
Toss these into your bag, and you’re ready for any off road (or on road) adventure.
Travel shoes need to do as much as possible while still looking good enough to get into the local watering hole for a pint with new friends. Pack for your interests with a great versatile do everything approach shoe and add one extra pair of specialized sandals or other lightweight shoes like trail runners to finish off your digital nomad shoe kit. Packing shoes in a carry on bag isn’t that hard—if they’re the right shoes.
- Approach shoes are amazing for hiking, urban exploring, or just living your life at home
- Ultra lightweight sandals should be able to roll up into a ball. It’s a thing.
- Travel shoes can be stylish too
- Slip ons are awesome for airport security, lounging in your hotel, or hitting the town
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