One of the more common questions we get from guests preparing for their upcoming Grand Canyon river trips is some variation of, “What should I wear on my feet?” You’ll need to be prepared for walking on sandy beaches, wet rubber boat surfaces, and rocky trails, AND you’ll want to be comfortable and warm, so we understand why choosing the right footwear can be daunting.

Here is what we recommend for most of our guests:

A Comfortable Pair of Hiking Sandals

What we mean by this is a pair of sandals that strap to your feet, have a thick sole with treads, and are able to withstand being wet for the better part of most days. Most guests choose to wear their sandals on the boats each day and on many of the hikes (particularly those that involve frequent creek crossings or that go right up the creek beds themselves) as well.

Things to consider:

  • Fit - You’ll want sandals that strap down tightly and contour well to your feet without any areas that rub against your skin and could cause you blisters.
  • Durability - Given the heavy amount of use your shoes are likely to get on this trip, you’ll want to make sure that whatever you bring is sturdy enough to be worn for a week in the backcountry.
  • Style - We don’t just mean how they look. There are a variety of styles/brands of hiking sandals out there that might be more or less comfortable for you. For example, a style with a strap that goes between your toes might work great for some guests, but be uncomfortable for others. A closed toe style can help protect your toes or keep some sand and gravel from getting into your shoes when hiking up creek beds (but could also trap sand and gravel inside the shoe if it does get in).

Popular brands: Chaco, Teva, Keen, Bedrock

Alternative: If hiking sandals aren’t your thing, you can easily swap them for a pair of lightweight tennis shoes, hiking shoes, or water shoes as long as you don’t mind getting them wet! If you decide to go the non-sandal route, we still recommend bringing two pairs of shoes (aside from your comfortable camp footwear) so that you can always change into a dry pair and so that you have a backup in case a shoe is lost or broken during your adventure.

What to avoid: flip flops or slip ons that can easily slip off your feet with a rush of water; flimsy shoes that won’t hold up to the hiking and other adventuring you’ll be doing

A Comfortable Pair of Lightweight Tennis Shoes or Hiking Shoes

These are for when your hiking sandals just aren’t quite cutting it. Some hikes on your trip are completely dry and can be up the steep sides of the canyon or over rocky unmaintained trails. In these instances, many of our guests choose to switch from sandals to tennis shoes or hiking shoes.

Things to consider:

  • Fit - You’ll want shoes that are the right width for your feet, support your arches properly, and don’t slip or rub in ways that might cause blisters. A pair of well-worn tennis shoes or hiking shoes that you already own would be perfect!
  • Durability - Since these shoes are more likely to be something you change into for specific hikes rather than wearing them all day everyday, durability is less of a concern. As long as your shoes are comfortable with good soles for hiking on rocky, sandy trails you’ll be fine--there’s no need to break the bank buying the latest high-tech style for this trip.
  • Style - Think about your own needs here--if you tend to roll your ankles on hikes, you may want a higher profile shoe that can provide you with more support. If you get exhausted with heavy hiking shoes on your feet, go for something much lighter weight. Basically anything that fits well and that you are comfortable in will be appropriate for this trip.

Popular brands: Whatever you already own will probably work great!

Alternative: If you are generally more comfortable with more ankle support or if you are hiking the Bright Angel Trail at the start or end of your trip, you may want to consider bringing a pair of high profile hiking boots instead of tennis shoes or hiking shoes. Boots are typically heavier, but can provide your feet and ankles with more support on longer hikes.

What to avoid: shoes marketed as “waterproof” or that have been treated with a waterproof coating—typically waterproof(ed) shoes have exterior coatings that repel water, but if water gets inside them, they take longer to dry than shoes not designed to keep water out

Comfortable Camp Shoes

When you’ve finished a long day of rafting and adventuring, it can be nice to kick off your shoes and give your feet some room to breathe. There’s just one problem... the campsites in Grand Canyon are still in the backcountry, meaning that they are likely to have sticks, rocks, ants, and other elements of nature that can cause injuries to bare feet. For that reason, we recommend that even as you walk around camp you keep something on your feet.

  • Fit - Since these are basically lounging around shoes, a good fit is not that important as long as you are comfortable.
  • Durability - The shoes that you wear around camp don’t need to hold up to the harsher conditions of your everyday shoes or your hiking shoes. Even your oldest, cheapest pair of flip flops can meet your needs for camp shoes.
  • Style - Comfortable, casual shoes come in all shapes and sizes whether they be slippers, crocs, flip flops, or an old pair of tennis shoes. You’ll likely want something that is easy to slip on and off so you can quickly get something on your feet for a trip to the bathroom or the kitchen.

Popular brands: Whatever is hanging out in the back of your closet

Alternative: Wear your river shoes or tennis shoes. Camp shoes are among those non-essential items that are nice to have, but easy to go without. If you’d prefer to pack as lightly as possible, simply use your hiking sandals or your tennis shoes to walk around camp.

What to avoid: fuzzy slippers or other materials that will hold onto sand no matter how much you try to shake them out

Don’t forget socks!

As important as wearing the right shoes on the river is wearing the right socks. Here are some of our sock recommendations:

  • Neoprene socks: These are bootie-like socks made from the same material as wetsuits. If you are sensitive to cold or traveling during a cold time of year, they can be great to wear under your sandals while you’re on the boats to provide extra insulation for your feet even when they are wet.
  • Wool socks: Wool is another great insulating material that maintains its warmth when wet. You can wear them under your sandals on the boats to keep your feet warm or put on a dry pair before donning your tennis/hiking shoes for a dry hike. There are many brands of performance wool socks designed for use in the outdoors.
  • Cotton socks: Particularly if you are traveling in the middle of summer and not worried about warmth, cotton socks are a great option for wearing on all your dry hikes. You might also like to change into cotton socks in camp in the evening.

Bonus: For VERY Cold Weather

Most guests travelling with us will be perfectly warm with the shoe/sock combinations described through the rest of this article, but if you are on one of our earliest April trips you might benefit from, bringing an inexpensive pair of rubber boots. You can wear these on the boats with warm socks underneath and your rain gear over top to keep your feet toasty warm. You’ll even be able to jump in the shallow water without getting your feet wet and cold.

General Footwear and Foot Care Tips:

  • Make sure your shoes fit comfortably with no pinching or rubbing. If they are uncomfortable in the store, imagine how they’ll feel on the river!
  • Break in your shoes before your trip to avoid blisters. Some shoes need to be worn in or loosened up a little before they can perform optimally. Likewise, sometimes your feet need to adjust to your shoes. Make sure to wear any new shoes you’ve bought for your trip a few times before you head out on the river.
  • If you do discover a “hot spot” (a painful or warm area where a blister is about to form) once you’re already on the trip, take care of it early to keep the problem from getting worse. You can use bandaids or mole skin to cover the skin that is being rubbed by your shoes and prevent further damage.)

If you want to discuss your particular needs and what types of footwear would best serve you on the river, feel free to call our office. We know that if your feet are happy on the river, the rest of you will follow!

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