Fashion trends ebb and flow.
And while this blog probably isn’t the place to discuss the ins and outs of skinny jeans or no-show socks, there is one clothing debate we can settle once and for all.
It’s a question that’s been asked since at least the 1990s, when I first joined Scouting: Should Scouts wear open-toe shoes or closed-toe shoes?
The question hasn’t gone away in the decades since. Just this month, we heard from a volunteer named Kari Grantham, who writes: “We have lived in several states while Scouting, and every unit has said no open-toe shoes — only closed-toe shoes. So we just kind of went with that. I have never seen this in writing as a BSA policy, so I am curious what the truth is.”
The answer, unlike the world’s tolerance for tracksuits, hasn’t changed. Closed-toe shoes are the footwear of choice for campouts, summer camp and all other Scouting excursions.
This goes way beyond comfort or fashion choices and into the realm of health and safety.
Put simply, “closed-toe shoes protect your feet from weather conditions and environmental stressors,” says Tracie Turner, the BSA’s environmental, health and safety specialist.
There’s no formal policy, and no “BSA shoe police” on alert for exposed toes. But as volunteers, we should remind our Scouts to wear the right gear — from head to toe — for the activities they’re about to enjoy.
Also, we should note that some council camps do prohibit open-toe shoes, so be sure to check the official packing list before sliding those sandals into your Scout’s duffel.
The dangers of open-toe shoes
Turner admits that open-toe shoes have their appeal — in certain settings.
“They are breathable, reduce blisters, are easier to take off and on, and you can wear them around water,” Turner says. “But the drawback is the lack of protection they provide.”
Turner, who reviews reports about injuries in Scouting, says that the vast majority of these incidents involve slips, trips and falls.
“Having suitable closed-toe footwear to protect your feet is a preventive measure that works,” Turner says.
Think about the terrain you’ll encounter, and closed-toe shoes make even more sense.
“Children today have less experience navigating in the outdoors, and the landscapes at many camps will be novel for many campers,” the American Camp Association writes. “Does your camp have steep, uneven or slippery terrain? Closed-toed shoes are often the best choice.”
What the handbook says
Flip to page 245 of the latest edition of the Scouts BSA Handbook for more guidance about footwear.
“Taking care of your feet begins with choosing your footwear,” the section begins.
The page (embedded below) covers both long and short hikes, but pay particular attention to the box about camp shoes.
Many hikers like to switch out of their heavy hiking boots and into some lightweight, breathable camp shoes. Even here, closed-toe is the best bet.
“Choose closed-toe shoes that will help protect you from injury,” the Handbook suggests. “A pair of running shoes might be just right.”
Are all closed-toe shoes created equal?
“Footwear manufacturers put much thought into developing a product for a particular purpose,” Turner says. “For example, are you trail running in the summer or hiking through snowy terrain in the winter? Not all shoes are created equal.”
Turner offers these tips for finding closed-toe shoes that will work well and prevent injury:
- Get advice from a specialized retailer.
- Choose a shoe designed for your activity.
- Break your shoes in prior to prolonged use.
Speaking of advice, here’s one more: be sure to use the SAFE checklist when participating in any Scouting activity.
It’s the fashionable — and smart — thing to do.