Jungle footwear is an important consideration for extended jungle expedition trips. What is a suitable shoe for the jungle? A pair of Adidas kampong or gum buts? Or should it be something made of waterproof material to keep the water out? These are some questions I started asking myself since I started jungle camping. Over time, through self experiments and reading resources on the internet, I have come to the following conclusion.
The shoes we choose as jungle footwear must suit the environment and terrain we will travel on. It is wet, wet and wet. There is no way of keeping dry. Anyone that goes into the jungle thinking that he/she will be able to keep the feet dry always will be very disappointed. In the jungle, there will be river crossings, treading through mud & puddles and even the occasional rain running down your body into your feet. Even your feet will perspire and this is going to moist your socks. Anyone who has been on extended jungle trip can testify that your feet will get wet. There is no way around it.
When your feet are exposed to prolonged damp conditions, they are susceptible to any of the three immersion foot syndrome. Being the warm and humid tropical jungles of Malaysia, you are most likely be develop either ‘warm water’ or ‘tropical’ (also known as paddy feet) immersion foot medical condition. Both can be bad if left unattended for long periods of time. See this for more information on immersion foot syndrome.
With that said, I find no logic in wearing waterproof footwear in the jungle. Be it goretex lined shoes or gum boots. If there is a barrier that keeps water out, chances are water that enters the inside of the shoe will have no way to get out as well. There is no exchange of air or water between the inside and outside of your shoe and this can only spell disaster if it was left for prolonged period of time. Waterproof footwear is utter rubbish for long term use in the jungle.
The Adidas kampong shoes has been the main staple for folks who live in the jungle, namely the Orang Asli (indigenous people). I can see the practicality of the shoe. It is made entirely of rubber, cheap and available anywhere. A pair costs less than RM10 but sizes are limited. The largest, if I remember correctly is size 11. These are waterproof but it is common for locals to cut a hole at the back of the shoe to allow water drainage. I did try a pair of them in the past. They do the job but lacks the support a modern, city slicker’s feet are usually accustomed to. The soles too do not offer much grip and I have experienced the entire shoe roll around my feet, especially when descending steep terrain.
While the locals swear by them, they may not be suitable for newbies like me for longer extended walks in the jungle. One really need to get some used to Adidas Kampung before attempting them on long trips. Until my feet are absolutely accustomed to them, I will wear Adidas Kampong only for short and easy terrains.
I love the modern amphibious shoes like this one by Merrell. The mesh sides allow water to enter and drain naturally. Water gets in and helps to rinse my feet and then drains away the same way they entered. This shoe is super ‘airy’, which means they dry faster too. There are not many models of Merrell brand shoes in Malaysia. A majority are actually ankle high boots with waterproofing lining. Perhaps they are targeted for those planning to trek in cold climates. Other brands which I believe carry similar ‘amphibious’ shoes include Inov8 and Salomon.
Of all the shoes I have tried, I would say that the jungle boot is by far the best shoe for jungle footwear. Tried and tested by the military, they have drain holes that allows water in and out and the soles. They work extremely well on the wet and often muddy and sticky soil. Not all jungle boots are equal though. I manage to get a pair of Altama jungle boots with Panama soles. They are good but needs some serious wearing in. The design of the Panama soles gives really good traction in the jungle and mud does not stick and cover over them.
On top of that, the high sleeve of the boots gives extra protection from sharp thorns and even potential snake bites. IMHO, the overall build of the boots is excellent for use as extended jungle footwear. The only set back is that they are not readily available in Malaysia. I got this pair through a friend travelling to USA. The jungle boots is also heavier and takes more time to break in. A friend suggested soaking them for 24hours in water, then wear them gradually on short trips. Now the jungle boot is most comfortable for me and I am very confident they are the best shoe for jungle camping.
I am planning an extended jungle camping trip, 4 nights with walks on a daily basis and I think it will be a perfect opportunity to fully try this jungle boots out. I am very confident they will be my best choice for jungle footwear.