Feet appreciate a rest at the end of the day. Relief from walking, relief from being stood on, relief from the confines of footwear, relieved of sweat and grime. If backpacking, there is a decision to be made, whether to carry camp shoes. Following decades of including them, Three Points of the Compass doesn’t use them any more.
“second-line shoes can be as simple as a sculptured wooden platform, ‘flip-flops’ made in Hong Kong, sandals, tennis shoes or moccasins. I use soled moccasins- genuine Canadian raw-hide, thong tied moccasins. They weigh under one-pound, dry super soft even after being soaked in morning dew, and slip on like gloves”Derrick Booth, The Backpacker’s Hand Book, 1972
What are camp shoes for? They fulfil a number of purposes. An opportunity for the boots or shoes worn during the day to air and dry. A period of time for feet to expand and rest. Protection from pine needles, thorns, sharp stones, stubbed toes and sheep shit when walking around camp. An acceptable foot covering if visiting a pub of an evening. A barrier from other peoples fungal issues when walking in communal areas and showers. To keep feet clean and warm on stone and concrete bothy floors. Some camp shoes are also suitable for use on river crossings. The list goes on.
“search the shops for the lightest flip-flops you can find, then leave them out of your pack at the last moment”Andy Robinson, The End to End Trail, 2007
Despite Andy Robinson’s sage advice to not take camp shoes at all, I used to include a pair of flip-flops in my pack but have always loathed those detestable creations, that also tended to launch themselves off my feet when walking, unless I adopted a claw-toed gait. Three Points of the Compass has been backpacking long enough that I once took considerable guidance from Derrick Booth’s seminal 1970’s work- The Backpacker’s Handbook. I followed his advice on including a pair of moccasins for camp wear and carried them for a few years. With inclusions like those moccasins, it was never the lightest of packs I carried back then and eventually wearying of that frequently monstrous weight, I began the continuous move to lighter weight gear.
My camp shoe moccasins were one of the first pieces of gear to get the heave-ho. They still had plenty of life in them so moved to house wear and they became like old friends. Replaced by an identical pair after a decade, I have been patching that second pair up for the past twenty years, re-stitching, glueing and persisting with them ever since. The linings wore out, half the soles fell off. I confess that it is only this last month that I eventually gave in and bought a replacement pair. Sadly, those old backpacking type moccasins are finally going to the tip. At 511g a pair, I will not be returning to moccasins as camp wear though I note that if I did unstick and remove the heavy synthetic sole, it would reduce the weight by at least half.
And what camp shoes followed those moccasins? I still wore boots for hiking at the time and my feet always appreciated a change into something a little lighter and less restrictive at the end of the day. Not only that, but this gave a chance for boots to air and dry for a few hours.
“I will carry dedicated camp footwear in one circumstance: If I expect to spend a considerable time in camp and I expect my hiking shoes to be wet”Andrew Skurka, The Ultimate hiker’s gearguide, 2nd ed., 2017
I tried various types of footwear that might suit for just a few hours in the evening, or for longer on zero days. My Merrell Kahuna sandals were comfortable but weighed a staggering 750g. I pretty much loathe those awful Crocs that so many hikers carry. Not least because they are horrible to wear and bulky, bulky, bulky, while again being surprisingly heavy.
Vivo Barefoots were also too heavy to consider for just a few hours use over a week or more hike. I tried using a pair of cotton deck shoes with synthetic soles for a whole summer season. Those took forever to dry, were uncomfortable, had no support and were again, heavy. The synthetic mesh surf shoes that followed those were amongst the best of the bunch but despite being half the weight of my Merrell sandals, I still felt 306g for the pair too heavy, and the synthetic material could stink a bit.
A pair of 108g Polartec fleece booties were suitable for bothie or YHA wear and also rolled up small for carrying, but they were too warm most of the time and once wet, stayed wet. I even tried flip flops again but, nope, disaster. The search continued.
I did try not taking a pair of camp shoes for quite a few years but a change in my backpacking forced me to revisit the issue. I made the change to wearing trail shoes instead of boots on almost all backpacking trips, I never looked back as regards foot health. My feet are now in a better state after a day on trail and I have no need to return to the clumpy leaden feet days of yore, unless occasionally for fourth season walking. But this style of ‘wet feet walking’ brings with it a requirement for studious foot care regime. Feet must be cleaned (to a degree) and allowed to properly dry at the end of a days hike. They might also require a foot balm or cream rubbing in of an evening, and possibly in the morning too. I felt there may be a need to return to the question of camp shoes to better protect feet rather than return them to potentially damp, and certainly funky, trail shoes of an evening.
I tried out a few more possible solutions that might suit lightweight backpacking. Yep, I said it, lightweight backpacking, and here I was, yet again looking for an additional piece of gear to add to the pack. I looked at how other seasoned long distance backpackers were addressing the issue. Most had tried the same types of footwear I had already cast aside.
I refused to pay the inflated prices being asked to import what seemed to be little more than thin cords strung through foot shaped correx and attempted to fashion my own. After faffing around attempting to thread cordage through a pair of Superfeet insoles and use them, I looked again at what was on the market. Some backpackers were enthusiastic about zero drop, minimalist sandals and I purchased a quite expensive pair of well made Amuri Cloud sandals from Xero Shoes.
Minimalist they might be, but even these are still 322g for a pair of size UK 11, I felt the pack weight was creeping up again. But if they worked, then they were worth persisting with. I tried them out as camp shoes on a handful of 100 mile trails. They were thin and slipped into a pack easily but I found that the sandal toes often and annoyingly got caught and bent under themselves while walking. Despite this, I was convinced I needed something to slip on of an evening and set off to cross Britain in 2018 with these in my pack as camp ‘shoes’. Two weeks later, I had thought long and hard and decided they were simply dead weight for too much of my hike and posted them home and wore no camp shoes for the remainder of that 2500 mile hike. It didn’t help that I find this type of footwear too slippery between foot and sole when worn for river crossings, just when reassuring stability is a desirable. Since that hike I have not carried dedicated camp shoes on any trail and continue to manage quite well without. It all comes down to what is an acceptable personal compromise. What is acceptable to one backpacker, might not be to another. I could possibly return to something like Crocs on a trail where carried primarily for river crossings, but that is unlikely as I tend to just plough through in trail shoes or go barefoot. I do still carry something lightweight for evening wear but not shoes, more on that in another blog…
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