Shoes and boots are some of the heaviest, bulkiest items to pack. Accordingly, it’s important to choose lightweight travel shoes and to pack them so they save space—and don’t soil an entire trip’s worth of outfits. Figuring out how to pack boots and shoes is a challenge, sure, but there are strategies for doing it better.
Whether you’re heading to the beach, the mountains, or the city on your next trip, follow these tips for how to pack boots and shoes to maximize your space, plus see our picks for the best foldable, lightweight, and otherwise malleable footwear.
Tip 1: Narrow Down Your Number
How many shoes you should pack on your vacation depends on where you’re going and what you plan to do. For example, if you’re planning on staying at the beach for a week, a pair of sandals and a pair of shoes for dinners may suffice. But if you’re going to Paris in October, you may want individual options for sightseeing, dinner, and rainy weather.
To help cut down on the number of shoes you’ll need, pack footwear that goes with multiple outfits. Think neutral colors and one shoe per category: casual, formal, athletic, etc.
Favorites: Packable Shoes
For women, foldable flats are at the top of the packable-shoes list. Flat-folding styles come in almost every color and in versions that are appropriate for virtually every budget. At the economical end of the scale are Silky Toes. The pricier Tieks might last a bit longer, though, as the brand handcrafts each flat using Italian leather. Consider it an investment, as you can use them beyond travel, carrying them in your purse as “emergency shoes” when heels get too painful.
Flats and sneakers that pack nearly flat are another great option for travel. Rothy’s, which come in five silhouettes—round-toed flat, pointed-toe flat, loafer, sneaker, and slip-on high-top—are a traveler favorite, as they’re packable, comfortable, and easy to clean. And the classic Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top easily fits into even the thinnest spaces. Since they’re primarily canvas, you mostly have to account for the rubber sole in your packing.
Nike’s Free RN Flyknit shoes for men and women are perfect if you want a shoe to play double duty. It’s made for a workout, but in the right color, like black or grey, can easily blend in with your outfit as you’re walking around town. The bendable soles and stretchy upper fabric make them a packer’s dream.
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Tip 2: Wear Your Bulkiest Pair
Wear your bulkiest, heaviest shoes on the plane—that is, as long as they’ll be comfortable enough during the long hours in transit. While wearing slip-on shoes through the airport security line can be handy, if your primary goal is packing efficiently, it’s best to sport those heavy hiking shoes or knee-high boots instead of trying to find room for them in your suitcase.
If you need or want to pack boots, look for pairs that are lightweight and made of bendable materials (rubber and nylon, for example). And, if you happen to be traveling with shoe spikes or crampons for a better grip on snow and ice, make sure you put them in your checked bag rather than trying to carry them on.
Favorites: Packable Boots
The original Hunter Tour boots (also available for men) are a classic, stylish rain and snow boot option that are designed for easy packing with foldable natural rubber material. During winter, wear your Hunters with thick boot socks for extra insulation.
L.L.Bean, while best known for its classic leather boots, also makes a lightweight option with breathable, waterproof nylon.
Fashion-conscious travelers might prefer a desert boot’s signature look. Another bonus of the desert boot: they are easier to pack than most boots, since the suede construction makes them more malleable. Try the Unisex 1990 MacAlister boot from J.Crew.
Hikers may have the hardest time finding the right shoe to pack. The Danner Jag was designed as a lightweight alternative to the brand’s classic hiking boot. Several styles are available for men and women.
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Tip 4: Keep It Clean
Remove dirt from your shoes and freshen them up before packing them. You’ll want to do this before you leave for vacation, but you may even consider packing some cleaning items, such as a small brush, if you’re expecting inclement weather. Another easy way to keep shoes fresh is to pack dryer sheets: a dryer sheet stuffed in a shoe overnight can help neutralize unwanted odors.
Favorites: Shoe Cleaners
The natural shoe deodorizer from Lumi Outdoors helps you eliminate shoe odors with a combination of essential oils, including lemongrass, mint, and tea tree. Spray your shoes before leaving and when you return.
Consider adding a layer of protection to non-waterproof shoes with a waterproof spray, like the one from KIWI.
For an overall cleaner that you can even fit in a carry-on, try the Jason Markk Premium Shoe Cleaner. And for suede shoes, you can opt for a gentler approach like the brush and shoe eraser kit from Shacke.
Tip 5: Bag ’Em
The last thing you want is to arrive at your destination to discover that the soles of your shoes have streaked clothing with dirt. Separate your shoes from the rest of your items with a reusable bag. Even if your shoes start out clean, it’s a good idea to bring shoe bags. Water-resistant bags are helpful if you get caught in a downpour or have trekked through muddy areas and need to pack before your shoes have had time to fully dry.
If you’re caught at your destination without a shoe bag, never fear: a plastic bag or shower cap snapped over the soles will help you keep dirt off clothes until you’re home.
Favorites: Shoe Bags
Eagle Creek Shoe Sacs are lightweight and water-resistant, and keep your shoes separate from the other contents of your bag. Plus, because they’re washable, you can wash them and reuse them for organizing other items (like making sure toiletries don’t leak on electronics) when they’re not storing your shoes.
If you want to put your shoes directly in your bag to maximize your configuration options, consider packing cubes to keep the rest of your items organized and clean. Eagle Creek makes lightweight, water-resistant cubes that help compress clothing to save space.
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Tip 6: Put Shoes in a Layer
The TSA recommends placing items in layers to “help TSA officers get a clear look at your bag and reduce the need for additional screening.” For example, you could pack shoes as one layer of your bag, clothing as another, and electronics as a third. Whether or not you’re flying, you may want to place heavier items like hiking boots at the bottom of your bag, closer to the wheels, so your suitcase doesn’t tip over.
Remember: Just because shoes are worn as a pair doesn’t mean you have to pack them as a pair. If your packing configuration isn’t working with your shoes kept together, even heel to toe, split them up. They won’t mind.
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Tip 7: Stuff Every Corner
If your shoes are relatively clean, and you can’t compress or bend them in your suitcase, don’t let that empty space go to waste. Fill your footwear with socks, jewelry, belts, chargers, adapters, makeup, and other smaller items. Packing items inside your shoes has another benefit as well: it can help them maintain their shape.
Packing shoes is one of the trickiest parts of packing well. By thinking strategically about your shoe choices and packing carefully, you can make the most of every square inch of suitcase and have the shoes you need on your adventures.