Photo by Wasabi

In Kaua`i's beautiful but fragile environment, explorers need to tread lightly with a firm grip. The shoes that traverse Kaua`i's trails are as diverse as the people who wear them. Here's a summary of some of the more common types of footwear you may sidestep along the trail. Remember, leave only footprints.


Many local residents only wear these lightweight rubber thongs. They're easy to slip on and off, they keep your tootsies cool and they can weather the wet, no problem. Those who spend their island days in nothing but these shoes are often seen flip flopping through the jungle in them, but for most, hiking in slippers is best reserved for the experts.

Pros: Lightweight, waterproof and easy on and off. Inexpensive. Provide the most basic covering for the bottom of your feet. The next best thing to barefoot.

Cons: No arch support, little protection from underbrush and sun. Soles usually fair poorly in slippery mud and on wet rocks. Prone to "blowouts". Thorns can easily pierce bottom.


These island staples are meant to keep a grip while walking and fishing on wet rocks. Their felt bottoms and ninja-style thong toe help the foot to hold on slippery surfaces.

Pros: Great for river crossings, rock hopping and clinging to muddy and slippery trails. Meant to get wet. Sock covers ankles, offering protection from underbrush.

Cons: Once wet, these water socks need some strong sun to dry out completely. Long hikes in wet tabis lead to soft, soggy feet and blister farms. No arch support.


Next to slippers, Crocs seem to be the next most common shoe seen around the island. Their popularity over the past few years has spawned a following of users who appreciate their water resistance and no-skid soles.

Pros: Water and mold resistant construction shapes to the foot for cruising comfort. Some arch support and relative protection from sun and underbrush, depending on the style.

Cons: Material could tear under stress of rocky terrains or thick brush. Arch support may not be sufficient enough for long trails. This shoe is designed more for beach and pathways than Kaua`i back country. Thorns can easily pierce bottom.


These hiking sandals and other brands like them, are meant to offer the airflow of slippers with a greater support for the foot. Though its not at the level of a trail runner in its structure, it does provide a happy medium for those that want to hop through streams and truck over bumpy terrain.

Pros: Decent arch support with ability to get wet and dry quickly. Foot stays well-ventilated.

Cons: Some may find the arch support is not sufficient for long hikes. Not much protection from underbrush and sun (watch for criss cross tan lines). Break these in before long hikes to avoid blisters.

Trail Runners:

Specialized to handle diverse terrain, these glorified running shoes are like four-wheel drives for your feet. They're built to travel through land and water while keeping your feet supported and protected. If you're looking for a lighter version of hiking boot comfort, this shoe may be your best bet.

Pros: Great support and construction designed with the avid hiker in mind. Created to handle diverse terrain, including water.

Cons: Some potential for slipping on wet surfaces. For those used to a lot of airflow, shoe may still be too hot for tropical climate.

Heavy Hikers:

These mainland imports are solid boots designed for the long haul. They usually offer great support for the arches and carry a pretty hefty tread, but they're often out of place in Hawai`i's tropical clime.

Pros: Good support for the foot. Covered ankles are protected from underbrush.

Cons: Wearing a thick, cushioned boot in the tropics makes a sweatbox for your feet. Tread may slip on wet surfaces. Not good for river crossings.

White Tennies:

These are the shoes meant for cruising through jungles of the concrete variety. Made for pounding pavement more than puddles, at the very least expect your styley whities to get down and dirty.

Pros: Offer arch support and protection from sun and underbrush.

Cons: This footwear is typically unequipped for gripping uneven ground or wet surfaces (which you almost always encounter on Kaua`i trails). White shoes will not remain unmarred.


You'll generally see those opting to hoof it a natural, having one of two kinds of experiences. The seasoned barefoot hiker may breeze past you with a huge smile, trotting through loose rocks whistling along in easy harmony with nature. The other, less experienced trekker, may be seen wincing through a slow hobble back to the car, their soft white feet cut and bruised. Hiking barefoot is recommended only for habituated soles.

Pros: You can feel that Kaua`i mud squish between your toes! Oneness with nature! You can really feel your feet wrap around surfaces.

Cons: You can really feel your feet wrap around surfaces. Hiking barefoot leaves no protection from rocks, roots, underbrush or sun. Your feet are your most valuable asset when hiking, if you injure them you can be in for a trail of pain.

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Now you're in the know... are you ready to go?

Trail Comments (25 comments)   View all comments   

lisa sebelle | Mar 30, 2008 3:02AM

what do you mean by trail runners? Can you be more specific. I have two pairs of hiking sneakers but they are not designed for water use. I have a pair of ecco mary jane style water shoes that have [...] view more

Kauai Explorer Staff | Mar 30, 2008 5:58PM

Trail runners are a class of shoes with more support and off-road treads. They are not designed to be worn wet but some have Gore Tex water resistance. I love my Solomans (on my third [...] view more

Stacey | Apr 01, 2008 9:57PM

How much is the cab ride from the Princeville Airport?

Kauai Explorer Staff | Apr 03, 2008 5:58PM

Stacey - I think you are inquiring about a cab ride to the trailhead at Kee. The total distance is about 15 miles but I do not know the rate. W

Adrian | May 11, 2009 5:15AM

We are planning on doing easy - moderate hikes. Should we buy hiking shoes or are a good pair of sneakers/running shoes enough? Thanks.

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