The Most Viable Types of Camp Shoes: Crocs, Flip Flops, and More

It’s the end of a long day on the trail; you’ve put in many miles, and your body is tired and sore. Your legs feel every inch of elevation you climbed over the previous miles, your knees ache from continuously bearing the weight of your pack with every downhill step, and perhaps worst of all, your feet feel as though they were repeatedly smashed into a rigid boulder (which there is a decent chance they were). What would be better than kicking off your boots (or trail runners), and spending the rest of the evening airing out your feet, without having to walk around barefoot? This encompasses the usefulness of camp shoes. However, deciding which shoes are going to provide your feet with much needed releif at the end of the day is not so cut-and-dry, and a thorough analysis of each option must be considered:

Crocs

(photo courtesy of Emran Kassim)

(photo courtesy of Emran Kassim)

Crocs are one of the most common types of camp shoe that hikers bring into the wilderness with them. They provide many advantages, due to their unique design and versatility. Perhaps one of the most important advantages of Crocs is how strong and resilient they are. They are constructed from a patented closed-cell resin, which gives them durability, without sacrificing comfort. Even though walking around a campsite does not require the same amount of foot protection that hiking does, every campsite is still full of rocks, roots, and other obstacles that could potentially cause an injury to a weary hiker. Because Crocs are created with such strong material, the risk of a stubbed toe, cut foot, or full on face-plant is greatly reduced. In addition, the closed-toe protection provided by Crocs render them a viable back-up shoe, should a pair of boots or trail runners malfunction so badly that they cannot be used safely. And believe it or not, some people actually choose to hike in Crocs. 

The strength and durability of Crocs does not come without a price, unfortunately. Depending on the pair’s size, Crocs can weigh anywhere from 11 ounces, to just shy of 16 ounces. This means that the average pair of Crocs weighs almost a pound, which is a lot of weight to justify packing. Additionally, the shape of Crocs makes them incredibly bulky. Though this certainly can be accounted for, in my experience the best way to pack them is to attach them to the outside of your pack, which can be awkward and difficult if you have a smaller, frameless pack.

(photo courtesy of fdecomite)

(photo courtesy of fdecomite)

But hey, at least Crocs allow you to make a stunning fashion statement while on the trail.

Flip Flops or Sandals

(photo courtesy of Monik Markus)

(photo courtesy of Monik Markus)

Flip flops and sandals aren’t only reserved for the beach; they are becoming very popular camp shoes among hikers and long distance backpackers. Flip flops are produced in many different kinds of material, so finding a pair that works for each individual hiker is not difficult. The main advantage of bringing along a pair of flip flops to serve as camp shoes is that they are exceptionally lightweight when compared to many other camp shoe options. Additionally, they cost a fraction of what Crocs, and other less popular camp shoes usually go for. You can walk into just about any Walmart, grocery store, or drugstore, and find a cheap pair of flip flops that will do a more than adequate job of airing out your feet at the end of a long day.

Using flip flops or sandals as camp shoes also has a few important downsides, the biggest being their durability. Many pairs of cheap flip flops provide little stability, and won’t do a hiker any favors in terms of preventing falls around camp. Additionally, the open-toe nature of flip flops can be an invitation for stubbed toes, especially when camping in rocky areas, and if the material of the flip flops is weak, the bottoms may puncture easily, leading to a foot injury.

Other Options For Camp Shoes

(photo courtesy of Vivobarefoot)

(photo courtesy of Vivobarefoot)

Despite the fact that a majority of hikers use either Crocs or sandals/flip flops as camp shoes, there are other options available that function just as effectively. One option that is discussed fairly often is using a water-shoe as a camp shoe. Water-shoes are primarily made for moving around in rocky and sandy areas near lakes or oceans. Water-shoes are fairly light, and have the additional benefit of being an effective alternative to a hiker’s normal footwear when crossing streams or rivers. A popular water-shoe/sport-shoe hybrid is the Vivobarefoot Ultra II‘s. Another type of water-shoe that is occasionally used is a sock based water-shoe, such as the Sockwa G4 or the Zemgear O2 Oxygen.

As the trend of ultralight, DIY gear continues to grow among modern-day backpacker’s, an alternative to purchasing camp shoes has emerged. Many ultralight hiker’s actually create their own camp shoes, by using closed cell foam padding (i.e the blue foam pad’s you can purchase inexpensively at Walmart). Hiker’s will trace their foot on the pad, trace out some room for a strap on each side of the outline, and then cut the pad according to their measurements. After the strap is taped together at the top of the foot, the DIY shoe is ready to go. The main advantage creating a DIY shoe is that they are much lighter than even the lightest camp shoe available for purchase. However, a DIY camp shoe will not last long, and is much more prone to failure that a normal camp shoe.

But… Are Camp Shoes Really Necessary?

(photo courtesy of Stacia Bennett)

Many hikers who use trail runners instead of hiking boots decide not to bring camp shoes (photo courtesy of Stacia Bennett).

There are many hikers who opt not to bring camp shoes entirely. This is especially common among hikers who use trail runners instead of traditional hiking boots. I happen to fall into this category, although it does depend on the time of year that I’m hiking, as well as the specific location. Because trail runners are so light and comfortable, they virtually eliminate the need to bring an extra set of camp shoes to wear after the day has ended. I simply just loosen up my laces to the point where I can slide my trail runners on and off with ease. Wearing trail runners around camp also gives a hiker much more traction and foot protection compared to Crocs or flip flops. However, a sacrifice must sometimes be made, should trail runners serve the double purpose of camp shoes.

One of the most prominent advantages of carrying a pair of camp shoes, is that no matter the conditions that mother nature throws at you, a pair of dry shoes will always be available to wear once the day’s hike has ended. However, if trail runners double as a hiker’s camp shoes, and the hiker trudged through rain and/or river crossings before getting to camp, chances are those shoes are going to be soaking wet (*shudders*). This means that the hiker will either have to pitch a shelter, and remain there for the rest of the night, or suck it up and deal with the less-than-ideal situation of wet feet around camp. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can also result in blisters, if the feet are not allowed to dry out during an extended period of time.

Just like with any other gear decision, it is up to each individual hiker to research, test, and ultimately choose which camp shoe is right for them. Clumsy hiker’s may prefer the closed-toe protection of Crocs, hiker’s on a budget may prefer the affordability of flip flops or sandals, and ultralight hikers may prefer to not bring camp shoes at all. All options are valid, as they can all be integrated into a gear-system which maximizes their effectiveness, all while minimizing their impact on the overall weight of the system.

What do you use for camp shoes? Did I miss a plausible option? Leave a comment below! 

(header photo courtesy of Kate Brady)

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Comments 28

  • Patrick : May 14th

    I am sure you already know this, but the plastic bag on the feet then into wet shoes trick works great and STILL more fashionable than crocs.

    Reply
    • Kyle O'Grady : May 14th

      I’m pretty sure just about anything is more fashionable than Crocs 😉 I actually have not tried to the plastic bag trick, I will keep it in mind next time I’m in the backcountry, thanks for chiming in!

      Reply
  • Miroslav Vanek : May 14th

    tewa sandals

    Reply
    • Miroslav Vanek : May 14th

      Teva

      Reply
  • Vandresko : May 18th

    I definitely prefer using the water shoes or other light shoes over the crocs.

    Reply
    • Kyle O'Grady : May 18th

      This is a good method; do you have the exact weight of the water shoes you use? I’m always curious to see how light other forms of camp shoes can be.

      Reply
      • Zuko : Nov 26th

        My Xero shoes are 5 oz. a pair. I’m a big fan. I also have a pair of dedicated camp socks that I wear only with the sandals and in my sleeping bag. They’re older style knit wool with no elastic to add warmth but not constrict my feet while I sleep.

        Reply
  • Chris : May 20th

    Barefoot running shoes work for me. Sure couldn’t run in them, but they’re light and packable, and great for around camp. Bonus, if you get the toe kind they’re even uglier than Crocs!

    Reply
    • Kyle O'Grady : May 20th

      Sounds awesome! Do you have a specific brand in mind that you usually use?

      Reply
      • Chris : May 20th

        I have old Merrells. My kid has Vibrams I think. Wouldn’t buy new, but they’re cheap on ebay.

        Reply
  • Mark : May 20th

    I’ve used water shoes and also use barefoot running shoes; as an added bonus, they are fun on some of the more groomed sections of Virginia, my home State.

    Reply
    • Kyle O'Grady : May 20th

      I’ll have to give barefoot running shoes a look!

      Reply
  • Uriah Hon : May 20th

    So the past couple of years ive been wearing Huarache’s for my camp shoe. They weigh in at about 3oz’s each, fold up as a pair smaller than a neo air trekker, are super comfortable and for minimalist or barefooters are an extremely reliable and durable option. Not for everyone naturally, but anyone that is into ultralight, minimalism, barefoot hiking etc. these can work. You can definitely DIY or purchase them pre manned. Xeroshoes has been my go to and I recently became an affiliate after hundreds of miles considering their products. They have a 5000 mile warranty!!!! Thats the biggest reason i considered them. check them out here if you want to learn how to build a pair or just purchase a set. https://xeroshoes.com/go/Mainerrisms

    Reply
    • Kyle O'Grady : May 20th

      I’ve seen these before! Only problem is that I can’t justify paying up for a camp shoe that weighs 6 ounces. Not saying that 6 ounces is incredibly heavy, but a DIY pair of foam shoes can weigh under 2 ounces, and are practically free (assuming you’ve got multiple foam pads laying around at home like I do). I’m still in search of the perfect camp shoe that is closed toe, and weighs under 6 ounces for the pair.

      Reply
      • Uriah Hon : May 20th

        A great point Kyle. Personally i got the $25 dollar pair of DIY. But your right closed toe is nice. If you are a barefooter, I have seen these swiss socks? I have not used them. I would love to talk to someone who has first hand as i truly know nothing about them other than i know im super curious to try them. I just recall seeing them in a pop up ad but might be worth looking into? Not sure how much padding or comfort they provide. Here is the site https://fyf.io/

        Reply
  • Ron Kerley : May 20th

    At the end of the hike, I take off my Salomon Speedcross 3s wet or dry,take out my insoles and remove my socks,then put the trailrunners back on. Plenty of wggle room.Works for me.

    Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : May 21st

    In winter months I use down booties from Feathered Friends. They have a nylon shell with a tough sole. When it’s time to slip into my hammock, I take the outer shell off and have the booties to keep feet warm. Great for mornings when boots frozen solid. The other three seasons, watershoes do the trick. I can hike in them and embrace the wet and wear my boots after the storms have passed.

    Reply
  • Lane : May 22nd

    The solution to ugly Crocs are Crocs that don’t look like Crocs. I have Crocs Swiftwater Sandals for camp shoes and fording streams or creeks.

    Reply
  • David Desmond : May 23rd

    I wear my crocs with pride! They are the most comfortable and most versatile option I’ve seen. I also got them for free; they were floating in Boston harbor!

    Reply
  • Bill : May 24th

    FILA velcro strap sandals are my choice . Flip flops offer NO traction going up or down hills near camp ( i.e. getting water)

    The feet slide right out of them . I just can’t use Crocs , they are uncomfortable and provide much less airing out than sandals./

    Reply
  • Trillium 2014 : May 26th

    Used my incredibly lightweight bright pink croc-knock-offs, bought for $3 at a thrift shop, my entire thru. Never cared about fashion when we all smelled like death warmed over! I’d pack loose or crushable items inside them, in my pack. Very comfy, esp with socks, and useful for stream crossings… except they want to float and will fall off your feet and float away, if you’re not careful!

    Reply
  • Foco Kid : May 30th

    Chacos are pretty good shoes. They’re not viable in terms of backpacking trips or anything but if you’re car camping, they’re pretty great.

    You can hike in them if you choose, but I wouldn’t go in a long backpacking trip in it. They’re super comfortable, but are a bit heavy.

    Reply
  • Mark Dickinson : Sep 14th

    Crocks actually made a sandal that has the same quality as the traditional Crock. The Sandals are much lighter yet still provide a great cushioning and quality.

    Reply
  • Anastasia : Sep 14th

    My camp shoes are keen hiking sandles, they are lightweight, durable, and waterproof.

    Reply
  • Paul Boulay : Nov 28th

    I used the down filled nylon booties with a synthetic heavier corduroy sole. I added a drawstring and tensioner to snug up the heal for stability around camp. It doubled as insulation to keep my feet warm & comfy in the sleeping bag in the winter.

    Reply
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    Reply
  • Jerry : Feb 13th

    Sanuk Vice- warm weather (unbelievably lightweight) and the North Face Thermoball- winter (heavier but really warm with a solid sole).

    Reply
  • Eric : Apr 4th

    Try Birkenstock Arizona EVA sandals, lighter than Crocs, waterproof and have the same shape foot bed as traditional cork Birkenstocks to help with plantar and offer great foot support at camp.

    Reply

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