Like any explorer, a good travel shoe must be flexible and able to handle a variety of situations. First, it should offer plenty of support and cushioning for hours of walking and standing, whether you’re strolling city sidewalks or negotiating airports. Adventure travelers also want something that’s rugged enough to handle excursions off the beaten path, and it should protect feet from the elements. As is the case with travel clothing, it also helps if a shoe can be a bit of a chameleon, blending in with a variety of environments, from an outdoor walk to a restaurant dinner. To a great degree, Ex Officio’s new Caravan shoe passes the test as a worthy travel shoe.
Our testers covered a wide variety of terrain in the Caravan, from all-day walks on city sidewalks, long waits in airports and day hikes on dirt trails and wet, grassy fields. They were even put to the test on the muddy shoulder of a road as one unfortunate tester changed a flat tire. (Hey, you never know what curve-balls will be thrown at you when traveling.) In each case, the shoes excelled by offering great support—especially considering the fact that they’re lightweight. While the Caravan has an upper of waterproof leather, its weight is more akin to that of a multi-sport shoe, and it’s much less bulky and heavy than many of the typical brown shoes for travel. Right out of the box, the leather is supple, so the shoes require no break-in time.
Key to the shoe’s comfort is the removable footbed, which is contoured like an aftermarket footbed, and not the flimsy wafer often supplied by manufacturers. The footbed is primarily made of soft foam, but rigid plastic strips lie along on the edges, from the mid-foot to the heel, to add some rigid support. At the arch area, there are slits in the rigid strip to allow the shoe to flex. Also, the footbed has soft rubber at the ball of the foot to absorb shock as you stride. At the toe and mid-foot areas, the footbed is perforated, which allows heat to escape the shoe and keep feet cooler. To complement this, there are small web windows on the sides of the shoe upper to allow air to flow around the foot. In addition, the interior of the shoe is lined with a soft, perforated fabric that allows heat and moisture to escape – important with a waterproof leather shoe that would not breathe as well otherwise.
We used these shoes in a wide variety of climates, including warm and sunny weather with temperatures in the 70s where one tester who tends to have warm feet said that his feet did not stay as cool as they do when traveling in sneakers, even with the venting. Keep in mind, hardly any shoe masters every function, and there’s always a trade-off.
The Caravan’s greatest trait is its comfort. We liked that its collar is padded, so the shoe never cuts into the ankle. There’s also padding surrounding the Achilles, as well as a small notch to ease pressure against the Achilles tendon.
The shoe definitely holds up the punishment of all-day travel, partly due to materials that bear weight and stabilize the foot. We noticed that the heel area of the midsole and outsole is particularly wide, which allows the foot to land on a stable platform. Also, a TPU plate at the heel guides the foot to keep it in a stable position with each step. In the midsole there is a shank that bears some of the weight and pressure usually carried the bones of your feet, plus the midsole includes a generous amount of EVA foam for cushioning. Of course, EVA foam can break down over time and “bag out.” We’ve tested the shoes for two solid months—still too early to see a great amount of wear to the EVA—but so far, so good.
We did notice that EVA placed at the toe bumper got gouged and cut during our travels, and it might be a good idea for Ex Officio to place rubber or some other abrasion-resistant material over areas where the foam suffers frequent abrasion. As for the durability of the shoe, one tester noticed some frayed stitching on the upper at the toe area. During a day hike on a rocky path with scree, we nearly cut a hole through the leather just below the stitching on the side of the toe area. But this terrain was more suited to a light-hiking shoe, and many travelers may not encounter these conditions. Still, it’s worth noting that you do compromise some toughness for a shoe that is lightweight.
As for the styling of the Caravan, it’s pretty basic—a brown, conservative look that doesn’t draw attention, but allows a traveler to blend in pretty much anywhere. The Caravan looks fine with jeans as well as khakis, and it has low-profile lugs on the outsole, so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing the footwear version of a Hummer SUV.
While the Caravan did show some signs of wear and tear, we submitted it to a high level of abuse on rough ground. The comfort and stability of the shoe still make it a good choice for travelers, particularly those who face long days of walking on hard surfaces. If your travels primarily involve sidewalks and streets, with brief detours on the occasional dirt path, this shoe will carry you far.
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $110