Good footwear for Costa Rica's wet or "green" season
May 8, 2005 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Soon to be travelling in Costa Rica during rainy June, I've got my quick-drying clothing, but are hiking boots practical/needed for light hiking and a lot of walking?

I'm planning to bring comfy running shoes and Teva-type sport sandals (dorky looking but functional), but the real sticking point is whether we need boots. And if we do, what sort? Gore-tex lined boots for light hiking aren't cheap, and a hundred bucks would easily pay for an extra day or two of travel.

My friends and I will be spending a month tramping around Costa Rica (probably starting in the southeast and moving in a vaguely counter-clockwise direction), staying at hostels and low-end hotels, packing everything on our backs, and probably doing a good amount of walking. We're not going to be camping or doing any overnight hikes, but we're definitely going to see as much of that nation's natural splendors as we can (Tortuguero, cloud forests, volcano-climbing, jungle tours) in the form of day-hikes. I'm given to understand that it'll be humid with at least a little rain everyday. Something that will protect from mud and puddles but that will also (semi-paradoxically) dry quick seems to make sense.

Generally speaking, I'm in good shape, but I mostly run in the city rather than hike in the woods so I lack both the well broken-in boots and iron feet of seasoned hikers. I figure I should buy soon so I can give any boots some walking time before the trip.

Obligatory research trail: These guys don't really provide a final answer. The Lonely Planet guide is of the opinion that one is better served by the rubber boots found in-country, rather than fancy hiking boots. And a search of (quite useful) also pulls up mixed results. A lot of advice seems oriented towards the dry season rather than the wet.

Bottom line: Looking for footwear advice from those who've travelled CR in the wet season, and those who know hiking boots for recommendations.
posted by Mercaptan to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't been in CR during the rainy season, but I have travelled in hot, humid, rainy countries. I wouldn't recommend Gore-tex lined hiking boots - they are HOT! Your feet will be covered in a heat rash. I know, I know, Gore-tex breathes. But that means it breathes more than other waterproof stuff, like thick rubber. It doesn't breathe all that well, in hot, humid conditions, I've found - YMMV though.

But when it's hot and humid, I really think you'd be fine with trail running shoes. Some of those are water resistant or even have some Gore-tex, but full-on waterproof hiking boots seems to be overkill for me. At least during *most* tropical places, it rains at a fairly predictable time, around 3-5pm. If you figure out what the rain schedule is, you can work around it. Of course, that doesn't mean that you won't still get rained on a few times, or step in puddles, but it takes out the massive everything-is-soaked-in-5-minutes feeling. Hiking boots won't help you even in situations like that, for the most part, because the sky just opens up and then it's like you're swimming. Plus, since it's so humid, it's even harder to get real hiking boots dried out at night. They're just soggy the next the next day, and heavy as hell.

Some people really like the Keen sandals. They have toe protection, different kinds of straps, arch support (more than Tevas), and are waterproof. Those and thick socks might be your best bet for soggy hikes. Trail running shoes are good as well, and they tend to dry out a bit faster than real hiking boots.
posted by fionab at 10:24 AM on May 8, 2005

I've worn Chaco sandals on some pretty rough camping trips. They're great and you can walk in and out of water with no problems.
posted by bonheur at 11:01 AM on May 8, 2005

My two cents from doing a bit of hiking in Costa Rica about a year ago:

Sneakers are lighter, cheaper, and quicker to dry than boots. Boots, waterproof or not, may get waterlogged (if you step into deep mud or have to ford a stream, for example) and then pretty much never dry because of the humidity. They'll also be hot and heavy. You could wear sandals (Michael Fay walked 2000 miles across the African rainforest in Tevas), but you might get all sorts of scratches, ticks, and bug bites on your feet.

I'd say light, quick-drying sneakers with gaiters would be a good choice. Sport sandals if bugs aren't a problem.
posted by driveler at 11:41 AM on May 8, 2005

I got some of the Goretex sneaker/boot type things from EMS, for about $90, this winter. They did wonderful things for me in the rainy season in central Brazil, and everytime I wear them now in New England rain I still think "damn, I'm glad I got these." They're not too boot-like that they can't be worn to, say, the gym, and not too sneaker-like as to be useless outside. I never had problems with waterlogging/drying. The particular model I have is the "Dry River GTX," but they come in all kinds of flavors.
posted by whatzit at 1:46 PM on May 8, 2005


make sure you do the zip line tour through the jungle. Better than jumping out of a plane.
posted by slapshot57 at 2:15 PM on May 8, 2005

Another vote for just sneakers, boots will be so damn hot and soggy. Find sneakers with grippy soles, like trail running shoes, and take lots of quick-drying socks. And have fun!
posted by LarryC at 3:45 PM on May 8, 2005

Sweet. This is all great advice.

Speaking of quick-drying socks. Is there any way not to pay a trillion dollars per pair of socks?
posted by Mercaptan at 3:47 PM on May 8, 2005

ok, i know nothing about costa rica, but i always thought that you wore boots to protect your ankles, not to keep your feet warm. so i'm wondering what it is about this place that protects your ankles so that you suddenly don't need boots.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:59 PM on May 8, 2005

By protection, I presume you mean snakes and bugs and such, yes? I was thinking of wearing gaiters over whatever footwear I go with. Though I have to wonder about wearing sport sandals.
posted by Mercaptan at 6:29 PM on May 8, 2005

Hiking boots do provide a moderate amount of ankle protection from not only bugs/snakes/critters, but from twisting, random rocks, sticks, etc. Having said that, I can't tell you how many people I meet while travelling in various parts that start off with the works: hiking boots that could scale Everest, poles, expensive gaitors, random clippy things. The first day has everything on, the second day without one or two things, and by the end of the trip, they're wearing the least amount possible. Only you will know how intensive these hikes are going to be, and how necessary hiking boots vs. grippy trail runners will be. They do make 3/4 length hiking boots that are light and breathable: if you want ankle support, go for those versus full-blown weatherproof.
posted by fionab at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2005

On a side note, when staying in cheap hotels in Costa Rica, do not leave anything of value in your unattended room, EVER. I learned this the hard way.
posted by trbrts at 7:51 PM on May 8, 2005

For cheap, quick-drying socks, just go to a department store and buy some men's dress socks. Make sure they're nylon/polyester with no cotton in them. They're basically the same as the expensive 'liners' you see in outdoor shops, though perhaps less sturdy. They're all you need - there's no point in wearing thick wool socks in the tropics.
posted by driveler at 5:02 AM on May 9, 2005

I went down ther elast August and aside from flip-flops and a pair of obligatory pumas, I had these.

Didn't wear'em much, as they'd fill full of sand/mud pretty quick.

I'd go with the open Teva sandals (everyone wears then down there, so no need to feel dorky) and also a pair of cheap flip flops.

I'd have to recommend multi-person minibuses over passenger taxis and buses. The buses are super cheap and will get you where you're going, but take forever and were mostly packed.

Stay out of Jaco. Nothing to see there, keep moving. have fun!
posted by jsavimbi at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2005

So as a follow-up, my Costa Rica trip was amazing. After a day there (in San Jose) I made the wise decision of buying a pair of Tevas.

I had bought a pair of light-weight Merrell hiking shoes ($80) with me as well, but these proved a poor choice for actually hiking in. The primary problem was that they took forever to dry. Once wet and muddy, they stayed wet and smelled bad for quite a while. They actually proved to be most useful for when we were transiting from city to city via bus, as they provided a lot more support than the Tevas did. Still they were heavy and, had I the chance, I would probably leave them at home next time, especially if I were wearing a Teva with better support.

The Tevas ($30) I wore all the freaking time and on most of the day hikes we did too, over all types of terrain. They were far more comfortable than I imagined, although they did also start to smell a little from the constant dampness. Even in the relative cool of Monteverde, they proved useful when it started to downpour during a hike. Yes I did get some bug-bites, but having cool and dry feet were worth it.

For future readers, I spent a total of 28 days in Costa Rica, and took a large loop around the entire country, travelling through all different types of climates along beaches, rivers, cloud forests, rain forests, and volcanos. We stayed in hostels and rode the big crowded busses most of the time. It was a blast and I recommend it heartily to anyone. Just bring the Tevas.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:38 PM on January 13, 2006 [3 favorites]

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