Last year, while preparing for our travels, I wondered which shoes would work best in Costa Rica, or any other tropical country. Quite some contradictory demands came to my mind:
- They should be water tight – because of all the rain
- They should be light – because of all the heat
- They should be open – to prevent moldy feet and shoes
- They should be closed – to prevent the endless bugs and stones to haunt my feet, not to mention snakes and scorpions
- They should be low – again, so as to not get hot feet
- They should be high – against water, for good support in the mountain trails and to protect against snake bites and scorpion stings.
Desert shoes – for the rain forest
At my favorite outdoor shop, I talked to the the guy who had advised me very well for our trip to Southern Africa, was a bit puzzled. He did not get much further than ‘well, the shoes should definitely not have Gore-Text or similar’. Because, once the water gets in the shoes – and it definitely will – it will be hard to get it out. When I reminded him of the desert shoes he advised me for the Africa trip, he thought it could work. They are high hiking boots without anti-water layer and lots of suede. Very airy, for hiking boots and they served me well in Namibia and Botswana.
I can now report to you, that they do quite well in the tropics, but they still take days to dry once they are soaking wet. The thing with drying hiking boots is that you should not put them in the sun because it will ruin the leather parts. So, you need to dry them on the air. However in tropical countries the air is not much drier than water, i.e. air humidity is super high and hence drying on the air goes slow.
When it comes to the other requirements, obviously, the trick is to bring different kinds of shoes for different occasions. So besides the desert shoes, I brought full-rubber-and-nylon (that is, no leather) hiking sandals. They are airy, they cope really well with water and hikes. But of course, the bugs (ants especially) and stones do get in and they offer little protection against bites and stings.
When in Rome …
In cases like this, the best thing to do is not to ask the guy from the outdoor shop in your country, but the people in the country where you will be going. Or observe what they do.
And what do they do? Well, when it is not raining and they are at home or in town, they wear just shoes or sneakers or, mostly … wait for it … flip-flops. They are light and airy and they deal really well with water – if you don’t mind to get your feet wet. They are like my rubber hiking sandals, but even lighter and they dry even faster. Besides that, they are dirt cheap compared to my luxury outdoor-branded sandals.
What about the bugs, the bites and the stings? Well, I assume that the locals are not too worried about them. Even though we saw a poisonous snake and a scorpion or two in the North, in Puerto Jiménez our home care taker had not had one single encounter in our garden and neither had we.
When outside Rome …
Okay, but what when they go to work in the fields, or go hiking in the rain-forest, do they still go on flip-flops? No, they use rubber boots. Everybody that we see, but literally everybody that we see working in the fields, or going through the forest uses rubber boots.
It makes a lot of sense when you think of it. Rubber boots are extremely good at keeping the water out. Perhaps a lot better than outdoor hiking boots do. Rubber boots are also about twice as high as outdoor hiking boots, which means you can walk through deeper water. Thirdly, rubber boots dry a lot faster than hiking boots because they don’t have so many layers of fabrics and materials.
You may wonder about the grip of rubber boots on slippery rocks or concrete. Well, Cristina was quite happy with her candy rubber boots’ grip on slippery concrete when we left Drake. It may have been a lucky purchase, or it may hold for most rubber boots. Most models that we saw here have a sole profile similar to that of hiking boots. However the quality of the rubber boots’ rubber may or may not be designed particularly for slippery rocks or concrete. So, I am not sure how that would work out in general.
When it comes to scorpions and snakes, I have no experience to compare the rubber boots to the hiking boots. So far, neither has tried to bite or sting me. In fact, in half a year, we have seen a few scorpions, one poisonous snake (delivered dead on the terrace of our home by the local cat) and one non-poisonous snake but not while we were hiking. I guess that scorpions can not sting through either a rubber boot or a hiking boot. When it comes to snakes bites, I would not guess the same, simply because a snake’s fangs are longer than the scorpions’ stings. One advantage of the rubber boot over the hiking boot is that they are higher, so if the rubber does resist enough, it also covers more of the leg.
The remaining and obvious advantages of hiking boots that they are less sweaty and more comfortable to wear, to the Costa Ricans, clearly do not weigh up against the disadvantages that I mentioned plus the fact that they are ten times (or more) more expensive than rubber boots. Moreover, outdoor hiking boots are probably only available in a few shops in San José, whereas the rubber boots are for sale in supermarkets and hardware stores, i.e. virtually everywhere.
So, the hands down winner is rubber boots. Don’t bring them, just buy them here. Cheaper for you and better for the local economy.