Whether packing your bag to head to the hills, walk around the museums, or hit up the beach, we scoured the market, tested, and compiled the best travel shoes of 2019.
Not all shoes are created equal. The editors at GearJunkie travel countless miles each year, researching stories, tackling adventures, and strategically packing our gear to make it all happen.
With permitted carry-on sizes getting smaller and smaller, we’re often parsing what to bring and what to leave behind. And nowhere does this become more relevant than when deciding which shoes to bring while traveling.
We’ve asked our editors what they look for in a travel shoe and compiled a short list of what we like this year in the travel shoe category.
The Right Stuff
Selecting the right shoe often starts by looking at your itinerary. Sure, running shoes are light and comfy, but they can flag you as a tourist (and potentially an easy target for theft). And because blisters are never stylish, a good travel shoe needs to provide all-day comfort, day after day.
Because form often follows function, we’ve listed the shoes we like best this season and categorized them by use. Here’s a look at some of our top picks.
Best Travel Walking Shoes
Breathable walker – Merrell Zoe Sojourn Lace Knit: $100
At just 4.5 ounces, these shoes are light. Add in the stretch knit upper and quickdraw elastic laces, and you’ve got a shoe built for travel. We found them comfortable right out of the box and happily wore them without socks. Feet will stay cool and supported whether taking in the city sights or hitting the trail.
Pros: Light, breathable, and built for summer travel.
Cons: Depending on your travel plans and personal style, they may be a bit too “athletic sneaker.” Especially for the fashionistas out there.
Bottom line: A solid choice for warm-weather travel, especially if you enjoy going sockless.
Slip-on sneaker – Bucketfeet: $65
Startup shoe brand Bucketfeet is wearable art that engages a community of 40,000 artists to license designs on canvas sneakers. Releases are small and rotate often, ensuring fresh designs are always available. The shoes are handmade to order, with designs printed on a poly-blend canvas, manufactured and shipped directly from the factory. Bonus: They are surprisingly comfortable. One editor wore them while touring Ecuador and found them up to the task, whether exploring the city, hiking the mountains, or heading to the beach.
Pros: Walking art; you’ll be wearing designs that nobody else is likely wearing.
Cons: Lack durable support. Recommended hand-wash only.
Bottom line: If the world is your oyster, these shoes might be your canvas.
Urban approach – Scarpa Margarita: $120
Scarpa has deep roots in Italian alpine cobblery and was one of the first to release an approach shoe, a shoe that walks comfortably but with sticky rubber for mild climbs. The Margarita bridges the gap in the other direction, bringing a walking shoe that’s “approachable” for city life. The suede outer rides comfortably over a cushioning EVA midsole, and the entire shoe is washed in a DWR coating, making it easy to clean off evidence of your excursions.
Pros: Distinct styling and fun colors bring a splash to your travel kit with out-of-the-box comfort.
Cons: The suede material doesn’t breathe well and may cause your feet to sweat in warmer climates.
Bottom line: Capably stylish, the Margaritas are versatile shoes capable of hitting the alps during the day and cooling their heels over a glass of sauvignon blanc in the evening.
Best Travel Running Shoes
Lightweight runner – Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG: $150
Like the idea of a barefoot shoe but can’t get into the 10-finger thing? A few brands follow the minimal moniker, but with a more mainstream vibe. We brought Vivobarefoot’s Primus Trail FG to Nicaragua this spring as our pedestrian shoe on a bikepacking trip.
The shallow silhouette of the of the shoe is constructed from heat-treated synthetic mesh, which is then treated with a DWR coating, making it tough, breathable, and water resistant. The Primus Trail is cinched tight with a drawcord, keeping it snug on the run but still allowing easy on and off for airport security.
Pros: Minimal design with reasonable traction toes the line between a trail runner and a city walker. And it rolls up into a small package to stow away as a backup adventure shoe.
Cons: A removable padded insole takes the edge off the street (and chilly ground), but don’t expect this shoe to guard against rocky terrain. It’s minimalist, after all. Racking up miles immediately out of the box could lead you down a sorry road.
Bottom line: The wide toe box, paired with a low-to-the-ground profile, gives you a protracted grip on variable terrain.
Midweight runner – Altra Vali: $110
Our friends at BikeRumor.com lay track all over the world to get their stories. Tyler Benedict weighed in on his favorite travel shoe, from Altra.
Knit uppers are taking over the lightweight running shoe category, but where the concept really shines is everyday use. It’s light, breathable, and stretchy, which makes it great on hot days. The real benefit for travelers, though, is that they stay snug enough for a morning jog but slip off (and back on) quickly when going through airport security.
Altra’s foot-shaped last means a wide toe box. It’s an aesthetic that can take a little getting used to, but that combined with their zero-drop outsole and adequate cushioning means lower back pain is a thing of the past. We used them for all-day walks around Rome, parking deck parkour sessions, and pretty much every flight we’ve been on since they arrived.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to get on and off without untying them, comfortable for long days of walking, good grip for pretending your an urban ninja, and very durable. And they dry quicker than most.
Cons: If you’re not used to a zero-drop shoe, transition slowly into running in them. And some people don’t care for the big footprint … until they try them on.
Bottom line: Altra’s foot shape, lack of arch support, and zero drop take a couple days to get used to. But we’ve converted everyone we’ve ever recommended them to, bar none. The stretchy knit upper and nearly an inch of padding makes them a great, comfy travel partner.
Stylish runner – Allbirds Wool Runners: $95
Gone are the days of itchy wool. With the use of New Zealand merino wool, Allbirds presents the temperature-regulating, odor-minimizing awesomeness of wool in a soft, flexible, and outrageously comfortable package.
These lightweight shoes will easily pack into your carry-on and will quickly become your favorite adventure shoe. I’ve worn a pair for well over a year — as hikers in the woods, as end-of-day camp slippers, and as daily around-town sneakers. They’re still going strong and look just as good as they did on day one. And their flexible, form-fitting design makes them especially great driving shoes and an excellent choice for epic road trips.
Pros: Wool regulates temperature, breathes, and minimizes odors. Wear these with or without socks and enjoy all-day comfort.
Cons: If you’re used to extra cushion and extreme arch support, the Allibird’s more casual design might not work for you.
Bottom line: It’s a long-lasting, uber-comfortable sneaker that stays stink-free and easily transitions from the gym to a night on the town.
Ultra-packable runner – Xero Prio Running Shoe: $89.99
This minimalist shoe could easily become your new favorite for running, walking, lifting, and traveling. The wide toe box gives your feet plenty of room to spread out, and the 5.5-mm rubber sole gives just enough cushion while still remaining outrageously light and packable. And if you need a bit more, you can always add in the optional 2-mm insole. The Prio does seem to run small, so consider ordering a half-size up.
Pros: Breathable, lightweight, and versatile.
Cons: If you prefer an extremely cushioned running shoe, this might not be for you.
Bottom line: It’s a lightweight, minimalist shoe that packs down impressively small.
Best Travel Hiking Shoes
Retro hiker – Danner Jag: $160
Growing up in Portland in the ’80s, a pair of lightweight Cordura-slash-leather hikers from Danner was the de rigueur gear of every student. That, and a JanSport backpack. Times have changed, but the old is renewed in Danner’s venerable lightweight hiker. With new leather, lighter materials, and better traction, it’s back and better than ever. Just like “Star Wars” — excluding Episode I.
Pros: The flexible sole and lighter materials won’t weigh you down after a long day in the city. The Jags are completely waterproof to boot.
Cons: Being a boot, the Jag takes a little while to break in. (But once that’s done, it’s a trusted trail companion.) They’re on the lighter side for pure backpacking.
Bottom line: Pull the pastel collars up and bring out the Ray Bans! The Jags will rock your wet-weather travels.
Lightweight hiker – Topo Athletic Terraventure: $110
Whether logging miles on the trail, seeing the sights, or running on rugged terrain, the Terraventure will get you there comfortably. The cushioning on the heel prevents slippage while still allowing for agile movement. And the wide toe box gives plenty of room for feet to spread out. Add in the flexible rock plate, and you’ve got a shoe ready to tackle nearly any adventure you can dream up.
Pros: Good traction, comfortable padding in toe and heel, and enough style to easily transition from backcountry trail to city tour.
Cons: Can hold water and dries slowly if submerged.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a do-all shoe, the Terraventure is a strong contender. Tackle the trail and head out on the town without ever changing your shoes.
Urban Travel Shoes
Hightop – Chaco Thompson Chukka: $135
The brand that defined the river sandal is all grown up now, with a line of refined, city-wise shoes. Not straying too far from the sandy shoals, the Thompson is Chaco’s interpretation of the venerable desert boot. We like the look of the soft, buttery leather riding over the whitewall and airy soles found on the Thompson Chukka.
Pros: Lightweight and supportive, the Thompson’s simple lines bring an element of subtle class to your travel kit. It’s the little things, like the stitching and the Achilles notch on the cuff, that class this shoe up like it was sewn by hand.
Cons: The Thompson is a fair-weather boot. Wet weather and snow? You’ll want to look elsewhere.
Bottom line: Lawrence of Arabia would have proudly rocked these kicks at any teahouse.
Roll-up boot – Lems Boulder Boot: $125
If you’re after a light and fashionable minimalist boot that rolls up to the size of a water bottle, fits like a glove, and still offers plenty of wiggle room in the toe box, then look no further. The Boulder Boot has a zero drop and is a barefoot design. The outer material is made out of full-grain leather, and the inner liner is 100 percent cotton. Previously, traveling light meant foregoing boots, but the Boulder Boot has changed that. Check out our full review here.
Pros: Oh so packable.
Cons: The minimalist design might not offer the support you’re after.
Bottom line: Boots that roll up to the size of a water bottle. It’s like magic for your feet.
Best Travel Sandals
Versatile flip-flop – Astral Filipe & Rosa: $75
Looking for a flip-flop that can easily transition into a full sandal? Let us introduce you to the Rosa. Known for making paddle-friendly gear, North Carolina-based Astral knows how to make a shoe that provides all-day comfort, traction, and durability. The dual density rubber pods on the bottom will keep you from slipping in even the wettest conditions, and the varied color options match any style.
Pros: Light, comfortable, and easy to slide on and off.
Cons: Rocks can get underfoot, and the open design doesn’t provide a lot of toe protection.
Bottom line: If you want the ease of a flip-flop and the utility of a sandal, this shoe could become your favorite travel companion.
Updated classic – Teva Voya Infinity: $40
These sandals have a pillowy-soft topsole and just enough style to comfortably wear wherever your travels may take you. The webbing is extremely durable and dries quickly. And our editors found the adjustable webbing design provided plenty of support while easily adjusting to a variety of foot shapes.
Pros: Adjustable webbing allows for a custom fit. Extreme comfort paired with a hefty dose of style.
Cons: May not stand up to heavy hikes or extreme wear.
Bottom line: Choose these if you’re looking for the classic comfort of a Teva with fashion-forward design, all for less than 50 bucks.
Durable style – Pikolinos Antillas Walking Sandal: $195
Sure, these look way too nice for adventure travel. But hear us out. Our editor swears by them and has worn a pair for years on end — living out of an old VW van, hiking in Ecuador, traveling across Cyprus. You name it, these sandals have done it. (The pictured pair is going on two years’ constant daily use and has never lost a single bead). Made by Spanish brand Pikolinos and hand-beaded by the Massai tribe of East Africa, these leather sandals are built to last.
Pros: Comfortable enough for hiking, stylish enough for any city pursuit.
Cons: The leather can dry out if worn in water often.
Bottom line: If you want an all-day sandal but don’t want to give up on style, this is a winner.
Lightweight comfort – Merrell Around Town Sunvue Thong: $70
Complete with a cork footbed and air cushion pillow in the heel, your feet will thank you for traveling with these sandals. The adjustable strap allows for a snug fit over your arch, and the grip technology on the sole provides plenty of traction. And at just 5.9 ounces, we can’t believe how light and comfortable these are.
Pros: Soft, padded sole provides all-day comfort.
Cons: Some people simply dislike “big toe loops” on their sandals.
Bottom line: From beach excursions to around-town adventures, these sandals are soft, easy to clean, and super cute.
Have a favorite travel shoe we didn’t include? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates.
And now that you’re feet are covered, make sure you’re ready to head abroad safely: