How to choose the best shoes for hiking in Fiji
Trekking in Fiji gets you off the beaten track, and in amongst a rich and varied scenery of at times rolling hills, craggy outcrops, cloud forest, and crystal clear rivers.
But, with river crossings, steep hills, the prospect of mud, humidity, uncertainty about dangerous wildlife, and the possibility of a tropical shower, we’re often asked what footwear is best to bring for our treks. Boots, river shoes, sandals, or runners? Flip-flops?? Barefoot???
They’re all options, except for the last two… unless you grew up in a Fijian village in the hills, and cross the terrain barefoot every day!
The simple answer to the question is a comfortable pair of hiking shoes that are not fresh out of the box, but not so old that they’re at risk of falling apart. However, this glosses over a host of factors that can make hiking in Fiji a little bit more or a little bit less comfortable.
What to consider
You are very likely to get your feet (and your shoes) wet. Most of our walks include river crossings. Usually the water is slow moving and around ankle deep, but the river bed is unfortunately not nice and sandy-smooth.
The tracks we follow are old village tracks that connected communities before the roads were built. They are still used by people to get to their small farm holdings, to go fishing or hunting, and sometimes to reach the next village for a function when road transport is not available. The important consideration is that they’re not built or maintained beyond regular cutting back of vegetation. This means they can be muddy and they are rough in places. The guides are always there to help, but you really don’t want to be wearing a flimsy sandal.
The wildlife in Fiji is generally pretty friendly and not something to worry about. Apart from the mosquito, the only irritation is a type of stinging plant (the salato) which we very rarely encounter and the guides are quick to point out, so easy to avoid. This means you don’t need to think about protecting yourself from leeches or spiders or snakes or other creatures that can be a hazard in other countries.
From our experience over the years in Fiji, by far the best kind of footwear is a trail shoe, and preferably one that is not waterproof. Thanks to the increasing popularity of running, including trail running, there are quite a few options available for high quality, lightweight, but robust trail shoes. Ideally, you want to be looking for something that has a good grip and offers protection for your toes, as well as being comfortable to wear. Also, remember it’s often worth going up half a size, so your toes don’t bruise when you are walking long downhills.
Why non-waterproof? Well, non-waterproof shoes let the water in and out. You don’t end up walking with soggy feet and they dry much more quickly. If you are coming from a cold country, not worrying about getting your feet wet can be a bit counter-intuitive, but there’s no need to worry about getting cold during walks in Fiji, and getting your feet (and the rest of you) wet in the rivers is fantastically refreshing!
I’ve been using the Salomon XA Pro 3D for quite a few years, and haven’t found anything better for Fiji conditions. There are plenty of other brands out there, but this is one has the major benefit of usually being available in Fiji*.
How do other options stack up?
What if you’ve got a trusty pair of hiking boots and you’re keen to wear them? Comfort is probably the biggest factor, so always best to go with what you know. The only downside to waterproof boots is deciding what to do at the river crossings. You can plow on through the river and not worry about it in true Fijian style. We can stuff them with newspaper overnight to help dry them out. Or you can carry a second pair of shoes, just to cross the river, but these can’t just be flip-flops, and you might need to switch three or four times during a walk. That’s a lot of tying and untying of laces!
If trail runners are best, what about normal running shoes? This can be a good compromise, but you need to make sure the grip is good enough – you don’t want to be slip-and-sliding everywhere – and that there’s decent cushioning on the sole. It is pretty tough going in modern minimalist running shoes.
What about Tevas and walking sandals? These can often seem like a good idea when you think about river crossings, and you could carry them to change into from hiking boots, but our experience is that they’re not ideal for longer stretches of walking. Many sandals don’t have enough strapping to securely hold your foot which can lead to rubbing and blisters, they also give your foot minimal protection from the undergrowth and if it’s muddy they can become quite treacherous as your foot slides around on top of the sandal!
Having said all of this, it’s also the case that all our walks are different, and so what’s true for climbing Fiji’s highest mountain or our longer walks, is not necessarily the case for the visit to Nabalesere’s waterfall, where the 3km walk to the falls and back can be done in sandals and trainers and you should think twice before spending money on expensive footwear for this short walk alone!
*For Fiji residents – SportsWorld usually have these in stock. You can also get Hi-Tec equivalents at a cheaper price from Deluxe, but it’s a bit of a compromise on quality and durability as you’d expect for the price.