If you want to rock your socks off at the hut, you may need to brace yourself to wear the ugliest footwear known to humankind.
In 2005, I travelled to Annapolis in the US as team manager of the New Zealand women’s lacrosse team for the world cup. On arrival, looking at how the other teams were kitted out, I saw something horrific, something I’d never seen before: Crocs.
The entire US team wore Crocs as their uniform shoes – blue-red-white with the American flag made especially for them. We Kiwis stared in shock. It almost felt like suitable retribution when the Aussie team smashed them in the final, 14-7.
I swallowed my disgust and paid more than I will ever publicly admit for a pair of candy pink Crocs, thinking of them as a curious souvenir, one I’d need to show to my friends and family, unaware that they’d become a global phenomenon. I never wore them. I just couldn’t bring myself to defile my feet by sliding into that cheap-looking, butt-ugly foam creation. Even that pretty pink hue couldn’t save the day.
Ten years later, I tramped with a friend in the Kawekas for five days and he lost his rag with the blisters caused by his boots. He elected to tramp in his Crocs instead. I have clung, stubbornly, to my practise of wearing jandals (sometimes with socks) as hut footwear. But recently, on the cusp of a serious, several-month-long adventure bender, I decided to cave and once again bow at the consumerist altar of a pair of Crocs.
It cost me $90, my self-respect and 10-minutes on the Crocs website. I am now the owner of a pair of Classic Dream Clogs. They’re blue, purple, pink and white, best described as ‘unicorn’. That they are now sold out is clearly a marker of my exceptional taste and my ability to set a trend.
And I am now in love with my Crocs, as hut footwear only (I am yet to wear them in a public setting). They’re soft and mould to my feet. They have little nibs on the sole that is the closest you’ll get to a foot massage at the end of a long day’s tramp. They’ve saved my toes from being stubbed on evil-doing hut benches, while others have screamed and cursed in pain. They’re warmer than jandals, as they cover the full foot, and I no longer suffer from Sock Rage™ or Jandal Blowout™, both high risks in the backcountry. The unicorn appearance is a talking point with other hut users.
But not everybody loves Crocs and there are plenty of other options to consider.
The weight argument mostly stacks up, although I’ll admit Crocs can be on the bulky side – but because they take a fair amount of abuse they can be attached to the outside of the pack. Crocs weigh 365g, while jandals can be anywhere near 300-400g.
Tevas are popular, particularly for use in river crossings if you want to keep your boots dry, but if you’re the sort to do that, you’ll probably use up the extra weight allowance to pack your cuddly toy for bedtime.
A new outlier worth paying attention to is the EVA Birkenstock – waterproof, extremely durable and just 263g. They’ll set you back around $100.
I’ve also noticed a trend – mostly driven by blonde teenage girls called Kelsey who go to private schools – for slides, a domain dominated by Nike and Adidas. Worn with socks, if you’re male, they make for effective contraception.
For the winter lovers, my badass climbing friend Tanja recommends down booties and I concur. I have a pair of Exped booties ($70) and can report they are also a crucial item for keeping cold feet warm inside a sleeping bag on ski touring missions to huts with no heating (hello, Kelman Hut). A reinforced sole and a layer of insulating material in the base make them ideal for kicking around inside in cold environments, as well as bivvy footwear.
For now, I’m sticking with my unicorn Crocs. These shoes may have been cemented in the list of Satan’s top deeds and as one of Time magazine’s 50 worst inventions, but I remain an evangelistic convert.