The (Extremely) Long Search for the Perfect Pair of Shoes
No matter what you’re doing, the right pair of shoes can make all the difference in your comfort. A bad pair of shoes can make you miserable right not, and they can affect you alignment from the foot up, causing long-term issues.
Shoes for Long Term Continuous Travel Abroad
We’re traveling long-term with just a carry-on back pack, so we don’t have the luxury of a closet full of shoes to cycle through. Instead, the single pair of shoes we take with us will need to serve us well through hikes, sightseeing, city walks, jogs, and long travel days. So, our expectations for a perfect pair of shoes is high and it turns out the search for them is long.
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In practice, packing lighter generally means packing less. Carrying a 36-litter backpack (Our Choice: Osprey Manta AG 36 and our review) and keeping it at 20-pounds or less means packing extremely minimal. Everything we have with us is well thought-out, essential, and preferably multi-purpose.
The Importance of a Good Pair of Shoes
Now, considering how important shoes are, and since most of our waking moments are spent in them, it’s no surprise that a lot of thought went into picking the right shoes for this trip.
We’ll be traveling through extremely varying climates and undertaking many different activities. For most people this means having shoes for running, shoes for hiking, shoes for summer, shoes for rain, shoes for going out, etc. But for us our minimalistic lifestyle already narrows this down to only a couple of pairs each that check 80% of the boxes (the Pareto Principle).
However, because of our choice to travel long-term with just a carry-on backpack, our space and weight limited. Frankly, we could probably use our entire volume and weight limit just in shoes if we packed for all of the events we’ll likely face over the next year.
Not to mention, Sergio has beastly feet at a size 14/15!
It goes without saying that his shoes don’t fall into our definition of light-weight or compact!
The End-All Be-All Shoe
The Perfect Pair of Shoes
We thought we could find the end-all, be-all shoe. The shoe that would do it all for us and keep us from having to carry multiple pairs in our carry-on bag.
On the search for the perfect pair of shoes, we made our way to REI and headed to the shoe section. We explained our travel plans and our need for the ultimate pair of shoes and we got a very thoughtful, pondering pause in return.
Low key (neutral colors)
Dress them up or down
Zero Drop (Zero Heel-to-Toe Differential)
We quickly learned this wasn’t only not simple, but probably not possible.
Waterproof is not breathable and therefore not good for running.
Trail running shoes come with a spike like tread that isn’t good on pavement and feels odd when just walking around town.
Hiking shoes are supportive, not allowing your foot to bend, which is the opposite of what you need for running.
Shoes in the United States are often brightly colored.
A shoe that goes from a casual shoe to a dress shoe is very limited.
The Next Best Thing to the Perfect Pair of Shoes
We needed to re-group and re-think at this point. An end-all, be-all shoe just wasn’t going to happen.
We now needed to consider taking multiple pairs of shoes or use a hiking shoe for running or a running shoe for hiking.
We came to the conclusion that we could do without a designated hiking shoe, since in our day to day life we’ve always made do without a hiking shoe. So a running and walking shoe would be the 80/20 and would have to suffice for all needs.
But Wait… A Second Pair of Shoes?
To complicate things a bit more (but not too much), we ran across a minimalist sandal that’s light weight, flexible, and durable. We decided to add a pair to our packing list. It ended up being simple enough since we (relatively) quickly settled on the hand- and US-made Bedrock Carin Sandals. So far, we love these sandals!
Update: A year later we decided to remove our Bedrock Sandals from our gear (don’t worry, they both have new homes!). We found that we didn’t use them often enough to justify the weight and space in our bags. If we decide to carry sandals at some point in the future (a very real possibility for Shannon), we’d opt for Xero’s Cloud Barefoot Sandal. We don’t hike or go on long walks in our sandals, so the minimal structure, ultra lightweight, and ability to ‘roll them up’, would work well for us.
The Search Was Now On...
Finding A Running Shoe that Meets Our Comfort and Fit Needs
We both switched over to ‘natural’ shoes years ago because of physical pain we experienced with exercising and everyday walking in traditional shoes. It’s worth clarifying that we aren’t talking about barefoot hippies (no offense meant to hippies!) or rocking the full-on toe shoes (if this is you, no offense intended, we actually admire you!). We’re talking about shoes that don’t have a raised heel, meaning they have a zero millimeter drop from the heel to the toe.
When we started our search for shoes, Sergio was wearing Altra’s and was very happy with them. Altra’s are zero drop, have moderate to ultra-cushioning and are designed to fit feet, so they have a wide toe box.
It was a no-brainer for Sergio; he bought a new pair off the REI website and called it a day. However, the shoe saga had only just begun for Shannon.
The Shoe Saga (Think Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Extended Versions)
Shannon was wearing a pair of minimalist shoes that were designed to feel very close to being barefoot (4 mm thickness) and had a webbed sole.
It’s a great concept, but not right for us. The lack of padding is rough on jogs and long distance walks. The thin layer between your feet and the ground make it so that you feel every pebble and drop of water.
Finding a Replacement
Shannon was simply finishing up these shoes and then planned to change to Altra’s or something similar. She tried one model of Altra’s and found that they made her drastically over-pronate. Another model left her with blisters on the top of her toes.
We tried several other brands and styles but they were all too narrow, pinched, or just didn’t feel right. We even switched to men’s shoes to accommodate her extremely wide feet and still found every one she tried to be too narrow! (Shannon’s feet have earned their nickname ‘Bear Claws’.)
The topic of shoes became a tense one. The stress and time constraints started to become real. Neither of us could believe that after a lifetime of wearing shoes, that this one pair was causing so many issues. We wanted it done with.
It All Came Down to Three Pairs
We ordered three final pairs, with the understanding, that no matter what, one of these would be the pair. No ifs, ands, or buts!
When they arrived one pair was quickly deemed a return and the other two were just okay. But a deal is a deal, and Shannon was going to get one of them.
After going back and forth we finally settled on a pair of Saucony Kinvara’s. They weren’t perfect, but they would have to do. They had a 4 mm drop, were bright blue and were a tad on the narrow side. But without blisters and close to a zero drop, we considered the compromise acceptable.
The Light At The End of The Tunnel
Then something amazing happened. After two-dozen plus pairs of shoes and over two-months of searching we just happened to find the perfect pair.
We walked into an REI for something unrelated and Sergio looked over the clearance section out of habit.
And… there they were! A pair of black Altras in the correct men’s size and in a model (Paradigm 1.5) we hadn't seen or tried before. They were half the cost of her other shoes and they fit Shannon better than any other shoe she'd tried. After laps around the store there were no signs of rubbing or discomfort.
Finally! These were the pair, game over!
We hope our shoe saga was a bit more entertaining for you than it was for us!
We’re glad to both have happy feet for our travels, even if the condensed version, given here, of the journey to get there took up over 1,100 words to tell.
At least, if you haven’t already, take note of how important shoes are. They're nothing to skimp on! As the old saying goes ‘don’t skimp on that which keeps you close to the ground/floor”, e.g., shoes, mattress, tires.