Shoes can be the heaviest and biggest space-consuming items we pack in our travel bags. They take up so much room. Rather than just tossing in 10 pairs and hoping we've got everything we need, this article will teach you how to pick the best shoes for your trip that won't weigh you down.
With these four easy rules, you'll be packing the best shoes for your travel wardrobe in no time at all.
I mention a few shoe brands in here that I use - None of these are affiliates. These are simply the shoes I love to travel in.
There are some absolute must-do's when selecting the shoes that go in your bag. So let's get packing...
1. Comfortable travel shoes are a must.
If there is one thing every traveller agrees on …
Your travel shoes MUST BE COMFORTABLE
There is simply nothing worse than being on your feet all day and having blisters, aching arches, or planter fasciitis.
I remember my plantar fasciitis flaring up after some long hikes in Yosemite National Park. By the time we got to Las Vegas, I was in agony. The only shoes I could wear without making it worse were my hiking shoes, and that's what I wore walking down the strip! Not at all high fashion, but the other option was staying in our hotel room. And that wasn't going to happen.
I now take much better care of my feet. I do regular strengthening exercises and I don't travel with anything other than flat shoes. I just can't risk it.
Pack shoes you wear at home
The shoes you wear at home are your tried and true shoes. You've broken them in. Travelling is not the time to be breaking in new shoes.
You know how your shoes feel after a long day in them, so it's easy to imagine walking around a hilltop village in France, or a day of sightseeing in New York.
2. Pack shoes that mix and match with your travel clothes.
The same rules for packing a mix and match travel capsule wardrobe apply to shoes - Make sure everything mixes and matches. You'll get so many more wardrobe combinations when your clothes and shoes work well together.
Stick to neutral coloured shoes
Neutral coloured shoes go easily with clothes of all colours. If you've gone to the effort of packing a travel wardrobe, then the next step is to extend the capsule to your shoes.
Great neutral colours are tan, navy, and black.
One of my favourite neutral colours are metallic-finish shoes. These can be sneakers, sandals, or ballet flats - but the metallic colour just lifts them to the next level. Neutral doesn't have to be boring.
Pack shoes that go with most of your travel capsule outfits
A shoe that goes with jeans, a dress, skirt and shorts makes for a very versatile travel wardrobe. The shoe could be casual for day wear, or a smarter shoe that dresses casual clothing up.
Again, pack shoes you wear at home
You know what your shoes go with, because you wear them all the time. The normal shoes you wear at home, you love. You know what outfits they suit, and the ones they don't.
Love my Ecco leather sneakers that can be worn with multiple outfits and are perfect in a travel capsule wardrobe.
3. Pack travel shoes that match your planned activities.
What do you plan to do on your trip?
The activities you plan to do on your trip will dictate what shoes you pack. If you are on a beach holiday, you'll pack sandals. If you are going on day walks you'll need hiking shoes or trainers depending on the condition of the paths or trails you are walking on.
Maybe you're going to a wedding, so you might want some strappy evening sandals. Or you may have a conference for part of your trip, in which case you might want a more suitable shoe.
Are your shoes versatile and multi-tasking?
- Could those strappy wedding sandals also dress up a casual outfit for dining out day or night?
- Could those hiking shoes also be used when you've got full-on walking days in Tuscan villages?
- Could the trainers be a pair of white sneakers that can be worn with dresses, jeans, shorts, trousers, or leggings? Or could they also be your running shoes?
- Could the beach sandals be waterproof and used as aqua shoes on stony beaches, or for walking through streams, or for using in a a shared bathroom/shower?
Do you need to pack shoes for every activity?
Some footwear can be rented. Diving booties, flippers for snorkelling don't need to come on your entire trip. You could easily hire them at your location.
You can also borrow shoes. If visiting a farm you can borrow outdoor boots. I've been on excursions where wet weather gear, including waterproof over-trousers and boots, have been provided. There's no way I'm going to lug those around the world "just in case" I need them.
There is no ONE travel capsule wardrobe
Your shoes for each trip you plan to do. Each trip is unique in what activities you are doing, the season, and the weather.
Don't be afraid to mix things up. Swap out your sandals for ballet flats, your flip flops for hiking sandals, your hiking boots for trail shoes.
And always remember... THE SHOES YOU PACK MUST WORK FOR YOU!
So many options, but which ones will work best?
4. Pack lighter and compactable travel shoes.
All shoes are not created equal.
Some are heavier than others. Some can be easily flattened and take up very little space in your bag. Some are so bulky they almost need their own bag!
Do you have lighter options?
Take a look at the shoes you are thinking of taking on your trip, and see whether you have a lighter pair, or a pair that compact down more? You'll be surprised what the difference in weight between pairs of shoes.
On my first light trip in 2017, I packed a pair of black leather sneakers - they were so heavy! 200g (7oz) heavier than my current white sneakers.
Weigh your shoes!
Okay, so this might be going too far - but unless you weigh things, you've really got no idea of the weight differences.
The two hiking shoes below look and feel close in weight. But the ones on the left weigh 500g (18oz) and the black one on the right weigh 450g (16oz) . That extra 50g (2oz) is one less tee shirt. Or don't replace that weight. Those small weight deductions start to add up to something bigger.
Pack compactable shoes.
So 50g (2 oz) difference might not be much, but the black shoes win hands-down when it comes to space saving. They take up half the space of the bigger ones.
Shoes that are not bulky can fit in small spaces in your bag.
Hiking shoes or trail shoes? The black Vivo Barefoot shoes are lighter and take up less space.
Here's what shoes I pack and why.
I travel with these three pairs of shoes
Sometimes I swap something out, or add in a fourth pair. But here's why these shoes get into my bag.
My Havaiana flip flops are great for a number of reasons.
- I wear them if staying in places with shared bathroom and shower facilities
- The ankle strap means I can wear them as aqua shoes. They stay on.
- I love the metallic finish - a nicer look than a plain flip flop.
I have another pair of flip-flops, that weigh 100g (3.5oz) less, but they aren't as dressy. Yes, I just used flip flops and dressy in the same sentence! They also don't have an ankle strap, so I'd need to pack aqua shoes otherwise.
My Vivobarefoot trail shoes are brilliant. They are barefoot shoes, so you need to look into what this might mean for you. For different reasons, some people need arch support or a higher heel to walk comfortably. But I love how my feet engage with the ground underneath.
These shoes are great for all of my day hikes that are on well formed trails.
My absolute favourite are my Ecco leather sneakers. I'm not sure how I'll cope when this fashion style stops, but for now I'm loving it. These shoes are super comfortable, waterproof, easy cleaning, and go with everything in my travel wardrobe.
If I was only allowed one pair of shoes it would be these - or this style of shoe.
Spend time observing your shoes with your travel wardrobe.
In my 3 fabulous reasons to pack a travel capsule wardrobe blog, I talk about observing your travel wardrobe. This is equally true and important with shoes.
Hang your travel wardrobe and have your shoes underneath so you can see them whenever you pass. Think about the activities you might do, whether you would really wear things together. On a hot, rainy or cold day at home, ask yourself, do I have an outfit and shoe that would cover this weather?
Time spent observing your travel capsule wardrobe will have you feeling a lot more confident on what you are packing.
How many shoes should I pack?
The answer is different for everyone. Packing less has to work for you. For some people it might be about packing 10 shoes instead of the usual 15 pairs.
A lot of lighter travellers aim for the magical number of three pairs. While others aim for just two pairs.
It really is what works for you. But if you've followed the rules above, hopefully you'll see where you can pack less.
One last shoe packing tip...
Wear your heaviest shoes on travel days
This shoe packing tip is a trick of all light travellers. When I was in Europe for 4 weeks and moving location every three to five days, my hiking shoes were on my feet.
In my bag they would have taken up so much room, as they didn't compress down at all. But it was also great to be wearing sturdy shoes for catching local transport, walking to my accommodation, and keeping my feet safe and comfortable on these travel days.
My shoes for winter in New York. I lived in my Teva boots - so warm. The flip flops were for the shared bathroom in our accommodation, and my sneakers were smart enough for our music theatre marathon!
I have lots of evening events to go to?
Think about packing a pair of shoes that matches all your evening outfits. This is where metallic evening shoes really shine (hehe!)
Won't I get bored with only a few pairs of shoes?
If your shoes go with most of your outfits, you'll be mixing things up and looking a little different each day. Plus, you'll be so busy looking up at all the sights, you'll hardly give your shoes a second thought.
Keen to learn more about travelling light?
If you want to learn more about packing light check out these other feature posts.
Here's a few topics to inspire you more...
- Top travelling light tips - a great blog covering the principles of packing less.
- How to travel light with style. I don't prescribe to what's in-fashion style. Style is individual, fun, and whatever you are comfortable in.
- Why packing light is the best way to travel - I'm convinced that travelling light is the best way to travel. But a warning...it can be addictive once you start!
You can also follow me on Instagram @the5kilotraveller and over on Facebook.
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Happy travels and travel planning,