What Makes Up a Shoe

Shoes are made up of an upper, midsole and outsole. Each type of shoe provides varying degrees of support and comfort for either urban or wilderness exploration.

Most shoes have a midsole made from ethyl vinyl acetate, polyurethane or a combination of both. EVA is lighter and softer than polyurethane, but also compresses faster and becomes less effective for cushioning. Polyurethane is heavier, firmer and more durable.

Hiking boots and other rugged shoes are often constructed with a shank for rigid support on rough terrain. This is typically a narrow piece of steel or hard plastic embedded in the midsole.

Decide on a Basic Type of Shoe

For nearly every trip, you'll have to bring at least two pairs of shoes—sturdy shoes for walking and everyday use, and a pair of sandals for warm weather or yucky showers in budget hotels. To find what's best for you, think about how you usually travel (by foot, public transportation or by car?) and your anticipated activities (low-key/sedentary events or active urban and wilderness exploration?).

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Casual Footwear

  • Casual shoes are classic styles that pair well with slacks or skirts. These shoes have leather uppers and smooth outsoles. Some also feature heel counters for stability, as well as arch supports or anatomically contoured footbeds and padded collars. They're best for travelers who primarily stay in urban environments and want a shoe that combines style and comfort.
  • Rugged walking shoes have more support and stability than casual shoes, but are too lightweight to handle extended hiking or trekking. Rugged walking shoes are well-suited for most adventure travel since many styles feature watertight construction and outsoles with good traction. Some feature midsole shanks to provide extra stability. Free of mud and grit, they're also appropriate for casual attire.

Active Footwear

  • Outdoor cross-trainers have the fit and feel of an athletic shoe with a rugged outsole. Most have gel, air bladders or other structures to provide extra cushioning. Uppers are constructed with synthetic leather and breathable mesh for ventilation. These shoes are good for walking, light hiking and all-around use, but lack sufficient stability for heavy-duty hiking or trekking.
  • Running shoes also feature additional cushioning. Some styles provide motion control with heel counters or medial posts (on the side of the shoe) made from rigid materials for extra support. Running shoes will make you stand out as a tourist in many countries, but they are comfortable for long days on your feet. If you're a runner and plan on bringing running shoes when you travel, they can also work for everyday use.
  • Walking shoes are athletic-looking shoes that feature cushion and support for heavy-duty fitness walking. These shoes are a good choice for those who plan to be on their feet a lot when traveling and won't be going off-road. They don't have enough support or stability for hiking on trails.

Hiking Boots

  • Day-hiking boots offer more support than outdoor cross-trainers, and are designed for walking and light hiking without a heavy pack. They're usually constructed with all leather or a nylon mesh and leather combination for breathability and comfort. This makes them less supportive than the options below, but better suited for light-on-your-feet adventure travel.
  • Backpacking boots are best for on- and off-trail hiking with light to moderate backpacking loads. They're usually constructed with leather or fabric/leather uppers for durability and water protection. Many also feature moisture-wicking linings to keep feet dry, and durable Vibram® or carbon rubber lug outsoles for traction. Backpacking boots are perhaps the most versatile for travelers who will be doing equal amounts of trekking and city touring. They are more supportive than day-hiking boots and lighter than extended-backpacking boots.
  • Extended-backpacking boots are all-leather boots made for multi-day hiking trips with moderate to heavy backpacking loads. They provide a high degree of ankle and foot protection, and are designed specifically for rough terrain with stiff and supportive midsoles and often, steel or plastic shanks. Because these boots are so heavy, they are not suited for casual travel or for someone who would be staying mostly in urban areas. If you'll be backpacking or trekking with a heavy pack for an extended amount of time, though, these boots offer the best support.

Sandals

  • Casual sandals focus on comfort and style with leather uppers. These sandals are well-suited for urban travel.
  • Land sandals are designed for more rugged use. Some feature compression-molded rubber outsoles for durability. They're less stylish than casual sandals, but work well for nearly any travel situation.
  • Water-sport sandals are sporty styles that feature nylon straps and durable, rugged outsoles. Some have additional cushioning for shock absorption in the heel. Extra features may include antimicrobial treatments or neoprene pads on the straps. These sandals are good for any water-related activities or use in grungy showers.

The Extras

Insoles

Whatever type of shoe you choose, added insoles will provide better cushioning and support. Cushioning insoles from Sof Sole and Spenco absorb shock. For extra stability, Superfeet insoles feature a contoured profile with deep heel beds and raised arch support.

Waterproof Conditioners

Waterproof conditioners protect leather, suede and nylon shoes. Nikwax brushes on shoes and protects leather without oversoftening or changing the fit. REI Ultra Seal comes in either a spray or paste and leaves no sticky residue, allowing leather to breathe.

Test for Fit

If you purchase online, test the fit of your shoes once you receive them. Shopping at an REI store? Compare several shoes to find the best fit. Read more about getting the right fit.