Gear Guides & Tips

Failing their Feet – The Traveler’s Big Mistake

Failing their Feet – The Traveler’s Big Mistake February 24, 20156 Comments

I’ve seen so many travelers like her she’s almost an archetype.  She is youth in all its glory, long blonde hair, radiant tan. Her face beams with life, excitement, curiosity. Looking at her I feel a mix of emotions:  happiness to see a young person out traveling the world, nostalgia because I was young once too, and a tinge of jealousy because I wasn’t that cute even when I was young.  But most of all, I feel an almost irresistible urge to grab her by the shoulders and yell, “What are you doing? Are you crazy? Trust me, you’ll regret this!”

What is it that has my ire so stirred? Not that her pack appears to weigh as much as she does, nor the fact that she is sporting an awful lot of skin for this conservative town.  While I think those maybe ill-advised, I doubt they will matter to her a year from now, not to mention twenty or thirty years from now.  No, the thing that has my hackles up is at the bottom of it all- at the bottom of her- under her feet.  Flip flops.

She has so much life ahead of her.  Why doesn’t she respect her feet?

Let’s think for a minute about everything your feet have to support if you’re an able-bodied person: 154 bones (not counting the 52 bones in the feet), 600 muscles (again- foot muscles not included), your respiratory, cardio-vascular, endocrine, digestive, reproductive, nervous (and many other) systems.  The sense organs which allow you to experience the world around you.  All the fat you carry. All the gear you carry.  Everything you are, and if you’re a backpacker everything you have. Considering that, don’t they deserve a little more support than a half inch of cheap foam?

After awhile hiking boots can feel hot, heavy and cumbersome.  However, these days there are many options which allow your feet to feel light and supported at the same time.  Tevas and Keens are excellent examples. I’m a big believer in traveling light (two months in Central America with only a day pack), but if you like to spend a lot of time walking/hiking, most trips require two pairs of shoes.  The first pair should be light-weight hiking boots or good, solid tennis shoes.  These are coming on the trip solely for the purpose of walking.   The second pair have to serve more than one function.  Here are some of the things I look for:

Foot support – This is the whole point.  Your shoes should take care of your feet.  They should provide support for your arches, padding between you and the ground, traction so you don’t slip. And they need to be comfortable.

Easy on and off – For airport security, entering a SE Asian temple, or crossing a disgusting floor to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Ready for water – This could mean hiking in a river or just wearing them into the shower to have something between you and a funky floor.  Your shoes should be able to get wet, and then dry quickly.  I sometimes wear mine into the shower just to wash them.

Packs well – With all due respect to the fashionistas, I like my sandals to be “strappy” for a different reason.  It means I can hang them off the side of my pack.  This is a great way to carry them when they are wet or filthy.  I’ve even strung them onto the waist-strap of my fanny pack when I was zip-lining.  All good travel gear has to be easy to carry.

Shoes, by cathyse97.


I’m very fond of my Keens.  In addition to meeting the above mentioned criteria, they have a closed toe, which is good if you happen to be klutz like me.

When you’re blessed with youth and health it’s hard to imagine that you’re not invincible.  The fact is that many people in middle age and beyond report that their feet hurt all of the time.  Some of this may be preventable! Plantar fasciitis, fallen arches, turf toe, metatarsalgia…these are words I hope you never have to know.  Increase your chances by supporting your feet now.