It started with a simple idea and one that any jet-lagged surfer can sympathize with. Riders on Vans surf team needed something that looked like a shoe but could perform like a light hiker, taking them from the airport to the city to the small, remote island where the break is happening. That solution is the UltraRange Rapidweld, which has a classic Vans silhouette but is packed with features that make it more suited for handling demanding terrain. After wearing a pair all summer, I think that this is the most versatile travel shoe on the market.
Slip them on—with or without socks—and a seamless, bootie-like design eliminates friction zones reducing the possibility of blisters. A lightweight, airy mesh upper, minimally structured with welded overlays instead of stitched seams to reduce potential rubbing spots, similar to your favorite ultralight running shoe, is breezy on hot days and long walks. I admit they’re not as casual as a flip-flop, but the UltraRange are way sturdier and don’t have me worried they’ll blow out after an off-balance foot plant on a cobblestone.
So why not just pick up a pair of trail runners? Besides the hardcore aesthetics—something I’m not channeling during a vacation—there’s the weight. Cruise Outside’s Summer Buyer’s Guide and you’ll see even the lightest on the list is nearly nine ounces. At 8 ounces, the UltraRange Rapidweld’s are noticeably lighter and have a much more casual look.
But it’s the outsole that makes these essential for me. Unobtrusive lugs, the likes of which you won’t find on a traditional water shoe like the Sperry Shock Light Boat, provide decent off-road traction but aren't so pronounced that you feel them walking down a sidewalk. Think of these as a skate shoe with off-road chops.
For serious, scree-scampering or multi-day treks, these aren't going to be your go-to shoes, and heavier-duty hikers and trail runners with more aggressive outsoles, like the Dynafit Feline Vertical or the New Balance Vazee Summit V2, are better suited to take you far into the wilderness. But unless you’re staying in a remote village at the end of a five-mile long hiking trail, trail-specific footwear is overkill for the average seaside village and looks dorky in a major metropolis.
The longer the trip, the more important it is for me to carefully consider what I’m lugging around. Versatility is key. Whether it’s a long walk from the parking lot to Lower Trestles or the train ride into Paris, the Vans UltraRange Rapidweld performed well without making me look like I was headed for base camp.