Particular care needs to be taken with footwear for travelling. Each pair of shoes should be comfortable enough to wear over extended periods but versatile in their suitability for a variety of different situations. Due to their awkward shape and material composition, shoes are not easily compressed and they tend to weigh more than clothing. For this reason it is important to be selective about the type and quantity of footwear taken.
For our summer/autumn trip to the Mediterranean and Middle East, I’m planning to take just two pairs of footwear. One pair will be fully enclosed, comfortable to wear in warm weather for the whole day, good for walking or hiking while carrying a rucksack and appropriate for more strenuous activities like running. They have to be durable, breathable, light-weight and relatively easy to pack. The other pair will be a type of sandal. Something light and airy but also secure and supportive. Appropriate to wear on pebbly beaches as well as city streets.
Taking only two pairs of shoes means only one pair will be in my luggage at any one time. This of course means accepting that there will be times when I am going to look like a traveller or a tourist. Wearing shoes that look like trainers for a night on the town, or walking the streets in travel sandals, is going to make me stand out from the local culture. This is somewhat unavoidable and may not be something everyone will find acceptable.
If I was to take an extra pair shoes for casual wear and going out, it would be my Geox Respira shoes. These Italian-designed shoes are fully enclosed and very comfortable to wear in warm weather. They go well with a variety of different clothing options and have the advantage of being relatively light and easy to pack.
For the fully enclosed footwear, I originally looked at a pair of trainer-style hiking shoes called Merrell Moab Ventilators. I had discovered them online while researching shoes for summer travel. When I tried them on in a store, they immediately felt comfortable and their neutral colours allow them to blend in well with most other travel clothing. Much of the upper part of the shoe is made of mesh which breathes well and incorporates a special treatment designed to prevent odour. The shoes have a good amount of cushioning and support and they come with a Vibram (an Italian company specialising in soles of outdooor/adventure shoes) sole for good traction.
The Merrells also come in a Gore-Tex lined model but the salesperson indicated these would be too hot and uncomfortable in warm weather. I found similar reasoning online. Gore-Tex is designed to keep water out, but it certainly doesn’t breath as well as mesh. A Gore-Tex running shoe will always let some water in at the top or through the socks and they will take longer to dry than a shoe without the lining.
As an alternative, the salesperson suggested I might try a pair of La Sportiva Bushidos. They are a light trail-running shoe, that immediately felt comfortable to wear. They have a fine mesh upper that breathes well and extremely good traction on the sole.
I ended up purchasing the Bushidos to take on the trip because I think they will be more versatile than the Merrells. As well as getting me around from day to day, I think they will provide better traction on unstable terrain and will certainly be better for running. I went for a half size larger than the size I would normally get as the Bushidos are a snug fit and in hot weather your feet are prone to swelling. They are lighter and less bulky than the Merrells but also a bit more expensive. I think their added versatility will justify the additional cost. The only downside with the Bushidos is that they come in very strong colours and for that reason won’t blend as well with some of my other clothes or even perhaps certain cultural contexts.
The other pair of footwear I intend to take are a pair of Keen Clearwater sandals. I have had these now for a number of years (an older model) and last summer used them for several weeks over August on the dusty gravel tracks and pebbly beaches of a small Greek island. I have taken them hiking, travelling through Spain and in recent years have even made good use of them getting around London during the summer months.
They offer excellent protection for the feet, particularly the toes, and the quick-adjust lacing system provides a similar feeling of security one might experience from a regular shoe. Their open design allows good ventilation around the feet, they are quick drying and suitable for use in water. I have found these sandals particularly useful for swimming at beaches where not only the beach itself but the sea floor is covered with pebbles or rocks that are very hard on bare feet.
One downside of the sandals is that because they are not fully enclosed small stones can get caught between your feet and the sole, which can be annoying. They will also need washing from time to time otherwise they can start to smell. This is most easily done by throwing them in the washing machine.
Regardless of the shoe or the situation, over time shoes are going to accumulate dirt and odours. For this reason I will pack them head to tail inside a shoe bag. This way they are kept separate from clothing and other items. Wearing appropriate socks will help reduce the accumulation of odours in shoes. As previously mentioned, merino blends are the best option for socks due to their inherent anti-microbial properties.
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