This is a September 2023 version of a post periodically updated since it was originally published in 2016.
One of the most frequent travel and packing questions I get is about shoes. Women especially want to know what are the best walking shoes, what are the most comfortable shoes, and how do I decide which shoes to pack for travel?
Women over 50 who’ve weathered foot problems for decades are always on the lookout for solutions to sore feet. Even my doctor asked about my footwear choices, wanting to pass on the information to her inquiring traveling patients.
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Of course, not all travel is the same, and not all feet are the same. But travel is demanding and involves a lot of walking no matter what. So even if you aren’t planning a hiking holiday, it’s best to choose comfortable walking shoes that will go the distance.
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Why I Travel with Three Pairs of Shoes
Because travel involves shoes for day and night and shoes for comfort and style, I’m always ready with a spare pair of my best walking shoes and another comfy pair for relaxation.
My outlook on the best travel shoes for women was defined early on. My mother regularly reminded my sister and me not to skimp on shoes. Cheap shoes would hurt and not last, she warned us as she displayed her bunions. She also told us that shoes would last longer if you didn’t wear them every day, but alternated to give them a rest. (I guessed they would last twice as long, hmm.) But I internalized that my feet, too, required an alternating set of footwear.
My feet are admittedly weird. My super bendy ankles and loose joints mean crooked toes. I’ve had two foot surgeries, spent a small fortune on Dr. Scholl's aids and orthotics, and have moved up a half shoe size about every decade since I had children. Recently, I've discovered you can get arthritis on the top of your foot.
But enough about my feet. I know whereof I speak. When you are deciding what shoes to pack, forget about the specific shoe that you want to wear with a certain dress. Travel shoes are all about comfort and range of use. Don’t overthink it: style will follow if comfort comes first.
Three Types of Women's Shoes to Pack for Every Trip
Of course you get bonus points if you actually hold it to these three types. But I'm not naive: there are exceptions to every rule. That's why the headline says “four” best travel shoes for women! Read on.
Best Walking Shoes for Women: Trails to Towns
Your most serious shoes for walking and hiking: a substantial shoe or boot or both.
This is for active wear, so don’t get hung up on the look or color options. Just add good socks, and wear for lengthy city walks, hiking in rough terrain, and even jogging and running. Maybe your everyday pair of sneakers is sufficient, but you'll want to be sure your hiking shoes offer good support and arches.
The newest shoe in my arsenal for long days on my feet are the delicious Xero shoes. The main attraction is their natural fit, with non-elevated heel and a wide toe box, sort of like a barefoot experience combined with the technology behind sports shoes. My first miles in the lightweight road runner HFS style have resulted in feeling good posture and less stress on my lower back. Xero's shoe finder tab on their website (to date that's the only way to purchase them) guides you through finding the shoe for your intended use: fitness, walking, running, water, everyday, etc. Check 'em out!
The low waterproof Oboz trail shoe, shown at the top of this post, is my current favorite. Besides being a great fit with good support and substance, I like the shoes' hooks for the upper laces. That and the roomy toe box make it easy to slip these on and off during flights or entering shoe-free zones. This is the rare shoe that has the technology and fit for all sorts of terrain, but they aren't gaudy or too sporty looking, so they can double for long days of city walking, too.
Also in my hiking/trail shoe arsenal are another pair of trail shoes and a pair of hiking boots. The La Sportiva Ultra Raptor GTX Trail Running Shoe has excellent traction and stability, like a low boot. It feels cooler to me than the Oboz shoe, so I prefer it in summer.
In winter, or to alternate with a lower shoe, I don Keen's indestructible boot, similar to this Voyageur Mid Hiking Boot.
In the past, Adidas running shoes were my favorite for backup knockabouts. I still wear them around town for casual wear and to the gym. When they wear out, I go to the outlet store and buy two more pair. Choose the brand that works best for your foot, considering your width at toe and heel and your arch. Over the years I've worn New Balance and Brooks, too.
I've also enjoyed Hoka shoes, made in the U.S.A. I like the height the deep rocker sole gives me, but over time I felt some uneven wear and a bit less comfort. My Hokas, though, worked great for our bike ride through Puglia and Matera Italy. And I even got a compliment on them as I wore them around Paris! Apparently Hokas were the invention of Frenchman and mountain runner Nicolas Mermoud.
Note: For serious hiking holidays, I choose to pack two pairs for hiking. I recommend alternating a substantial boot with a lower, breathable trail shoe. Brands are personal. See more brand suggestions below.
On the Camino de Santiago, I was glad to have my La Sportiva hiking boots (pictured below for posterity), great for rocky or uneven trails. I literally alternated these with my Adidas every other day, and loved how thankful my feet were for the new treads each morning.
Read all about our Camino de Santiago footwear suggestions here.
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Comfortable and Versatile Walking Shoes: City Travel
An attractive yet comfortable city shoe, suitable for day and night.
I always pack what I call my city shoes, the shoes that are versatile around town, fine with jeans or skirts, OK for going out to dinner when you want to shed the hiker look, but still substantial enough for walking all day on concrete or cobblestones. Bonus points go to shoes you can wear with or without socks.
For many years, my favorites were these Bernie Mev shoes. They are easy to slip on without socks, offer great comfort in all temperatures, are super lightweight–and they get the most compliments. (Fun Fact: they are washable and in a pinch I used them as water shoes, too.)
Now at the top of my city shoe arsenal are Pikolinos, made in Spain. I'm wearing these especially in summer, since no socks are required. These “elegant sneakers”, like Pikolinos' sandals, clogs, wedges, and loafers, feature soft leather and good support.
Other favorites include a Mary Jane style NAOT shoe (featured in an earlier post here) and the AHNU brand. For colder climes, these are both fine with socks, have sufficient arch support, but pack small.
In summer or when traveling to warm climates, my city walking shoes might be good leather sandals instead of closed shoes. I spent many travel days in these Dansko sandals. They are heavier to pack than most of my shoes, but are good for standing all day, and look decent.
Lately, I've abandoned the Danskos for a great pair of Haflinger's “Jackie” sandal.
Sometimes stylish trail shoes (from the first category) or sturdy sandals (from the following category) can double as city shoes. The whole idea is to have a good comfort walker that is stylish enough for the city and evenings.
Do avoid the cute little flats that aren’t all that comfortable and have thin soles and no arch. They are worse than worthless.
Sandals or Slip-Ons for Travel
Comfy footwear that makes your feet and legs happy, and can be worn around the hotel and to the pool or beach.
Both Tom and I have delighted in the cushy-soled flip-flops and OOmg styles by Oofos. Billed as “recovery” shoes, these are exactly that: a great relief for the feet after hikes or runs, and a nice casual shoe for rest days. The OOmg style makes a great boat shoe, too. Runs generous.
Of the black sandals I've packed over the years (from heavy leather to airy flip-flops), the Crocs have probably served me best. They are super lightweight,decent enough for the hotel restaurant, and transferable to the beach or pool, into a shower, or through the driving rain for that matter. The nubby footbed offers a mini foot massage.
Oofos and Oboz flip-flops
My trusty FitFlops, long-time favorites because they feel great, stay on the foot, and go into evening without embarrassment, are now looking their age. The style I've worn isn't available anymore, but the iQushion line is similar and all their flip-flops have a nice foot bed.
So my updated picks for best sandal wear include Oofos flip flops for cushion (think beach, boat or standing around) or these Oboz flip flops with great sturdy soles (think all terrain or city walkabouts). Both are highly recommended.
For dressier sandals I'll go to the Haflinger mentioned above, or Pikolinos I'm just beginning to love.
Specialty and Seasonal Footwear for Travel
Water shoes are finally part of my travel wardrobe. They are handy–almost necessary–when snorkeling from shore, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking or canoeing. After walking the Virgin River in Zion National park in my trail shoes, I vowed I'd never wade again without proper water footwear. I found a pair of Jambu brand shoes at REI, but they took on a lot of sand. So I've upgraded to something with more coverage and support, the Sea Dogs by Bzees. I love that they are washable and could double as a summer city shoe.
For winter, I'm now smitten with my Bionica boots, a lightweight boot with rubber sole that looks great for city wear and holds up for hiking and in wet or cold weather. What sold me on this style, the Bionica Everson boot, is that it zips on the inside for easy on/off (sort of like the classic Chelsea boot), yet laces in the front to fine tune the fit. Size up for wider feet.
Comfort Footwear for Problem Feet
Pandere and Therafit
Perfectly suitable in the ‘city shoes' category and excellent to wear on long flights are these super comfortable Shoes by Pandere. They are designed to expand in width and heel fit as needed for swelling feet. For those with bunion issues, plantar fasciitis, ankle swelling, wide sizes or any other pedi-oddities, this is worth checking out.
Therafit shoes are designed with focus on healthy feet and good posture. At home I enjoy comfortable slip-on Therafit clogs. They are great for standing in the kitchen or running errands. While these might not go around the world with me (I’m going to try the Therafit trail shoes for that), these will be nice for road trips. The Therafit Shoe website addresses common foot and heel problems as well as associated knee and back issues to make your shopping easier.
FitMyFoot Insoles: There’s an app for that!
But here’s a new experience: ordering custom insoles without the hassle and expense of prescription foot devices. I've used these in casual sneakers in order to upgrade their support. Consider custom insoles to refresh older sneakers or turn those nice looking city shoes into something you can actually be comfortable in all day. FitMyFoot uses an app which, in turn, uses your phone camera to build an image of your foot. I completed the simple process and am now using my custom insoles, making my favorite shoes like new again. True to promise, the precise fit boasts a deep heel cushion, custom arch, and durable footbed with breathable fabric and lots of fun designs to choose from. The foot imagery is saved in the app. So now that I’ve tried out the insoles, it will take me just a few seconds to order up another set or try the custom flip-flops. Who doesn’t want a pair of flip-flops that have enough support to wear all day? Use TRAVELPAST50 for a discount of 20%!
We regularly find good quality socks for all seasons and uses, for men and women, at REI. Great gifts!
More Shoe Brands for Comfort, Walking, and Travel
Our Travel Past 50 Community keeps us informed of the various brands they find best for travel, for long days of walking and for comfort. In recent threads, these were recommended:
- Allbirds. Both lace-ups and slip-ons.
- Altra Lone Peak Hiker. This will be my next hiker boot purchase. Available at REI.
- Vionic Shoes. “Great arches.”
- Asics. Best for low arches.
- Hoka. One of the plush cushioned ones is recommended, such as Bondi. Also see Hoka hiking boots, news to us.
- Skechers. The deck shoe version with memory insole is good with jeans, reports one reader. Another swears by the Go Walk slip-on. Also steel-toe work boots by Skecher!
- Rothy's. Like the others listed here, we have not sampled. Will they stand the test of hours spent slow-walking and standing in a museum?
One stylin' reader suggests: “I never wear sneakers. Ever. It's not even open for discussion. Allbirds or Rothy's that look like shoes only.” We say, if the shoe is comfortable and can carry you through long distances and days on your feet, there's nothing wrong with their looking great, too. So far, I'm not convinced these shoes would be my primary hikers or walkers, but they're light and washable and suitable to tuck into your bag at the last minute; the spare pair for your pleasure wear.
How to pack your travel shoes
Assuming you are wearing shoes on your flight, that means you only have to pack two pairs, right?
First, wear the biggest/sturdiest walking or hiking shoes on your travel days so you don't have to pack them. I pack shoes at the bottom of my bag, not even stuffed with socks, but surrounded by the lounge wear, swimsuit, and packing cubes I use for small items like socks and underwear.
That leaves the little lightweight sandals, which you can toss on top or even pack in your carry-on.
I place each pair in a cloth or plastic bag before packing – both to protect the shoes and to prevent dirty shoes from spoiling my other clothes. Savvy travelers use hotel-provided shower caps to cover their shoes for packing.
If you're back-packing, consider carrying spare shoes on the outside of your pack so they can air out and thoroughly dry between wearings.
In summary, find the shoes that fit and feel the best. I get it: shoes are the ultimate accessory. But they literally influence how we carry ourselves, how we project ourselves, how we feel. Color, heel, and profile are secondary features–just for outside observers. Only you are walking in your shoes, so don’t hesitate to grant yourself something that keeps your feet and posture healthy. It's a long road.
Here are some more tips for hiking locations, routes, preparation and equipment, all in one spot.