Shoes | November 1, 2019 1:46 pm

Review: This Travel Sneaker Raised $2.3M on Kickstarter. Should You Buy It?

Tropicfeel touts the Monsoon and Canyon as “the ultimate travel shoes”

The Canyon Tropicfeel Travel Shoe
Tropicfeel raised over $2 million for both its Monsoon and Canyon "travel shoes." Are they worth it?

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Now that Kickstarter has been around for over 10 years, and we have 10 years worth of crowdfunding campaigns to look back on, what sorts of products are worth backing? A quick look at the list of most funded projects offers a few insights. The top two campaigns are a $20.3 million smartwatch that flamed out and the $13.3 million “Coolest Cooler” which spectacularly flamed out. On the other hand, the list also includes the Veronica Mars film which did end up being made (and getting good reviews), and the game Exploding Kittens, which is now most likely stocked in your local Target. 

From that small sample, it would seem simpler ideas (like a card game) and creative projects backed by professionals (like a Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell project) are safer bets than technologically complex products that are more or less starting from scratch. But all of these projects also illustrate the one fundamental truth about crowdfunding that most people can’t seem to grasp: Kickstarter is not a store. When you back a project, you’re not buying an item, you’re investing in an idea.

With all that in mind, where does a shoe fall on the Kickstarter spectrum? It seems relatively simple compared to a smartwatch, but it’s also a hard market to gain consumer trust. (When was the last time you bought a pair of sneakers from a startup?) If you’re not a Nike or a New Balance looking to crowdfund a limited-edition sneaker — if you’re just a group of people who want to make a better shoe, can it even be done? 

Tropicfeel proved that it can, at least, be funded.

The Ultimate Kickstarter Shoe

The two most successful shoes in the history of Kickstarter are both from the Barcelona-based, nonsensically named brand Tropicfeel. Their first shoe, which is now called the Monsoon, raised about $2.4 million in June 2018. Their second, the Canyon, raised about $2.3 million a year later. And their third campaign, which is raising funds for a documentary about avocado farming through a special-edition Canyon (seriously), has met its goal of $83K with weeks to go.

The real question is: can it be any good? I got my hands on both the Monsoon and Canyon, and after testing both of the shoes for over a month, the answer is very clear.

Before we get to the results, you might be wondering how exactly a shoe startup raised over $2 million not once, but twice. The Kickstarter videos (like the one above) make it eminently clear. Tropicfeel touts its footwear as “the ultimate travel shoe,” the ridiculous superlative there being pretty much par for the course for Kickstarter. The video for the Monsoon describes the shoe as “the only shoe you need to pack” and “a mesh of a comfy urban shoe with a rugged technical outdoor boot,” touting things like water-friendliness and style. The Canyon kicks it up a notch, the video saying Tropicfeel has “created a new category of shoes,” but that the new model is even more comfortable and more durable. (Plus, they’ve got drone shots of waterfalls and Instagram models swimming in the shoes underwater. Noice!)

In essence, it sounds too good to be true, but the videos show the shoes. There they are — ready to swim and hike and gallivant and cavort! Who wouldn’t want a pair?

The Monsoon Tropicfeel Travel Shoe
The Monsoon travel shoe is also available in colors like opal blue and chive green. (Tropicfeel)

The Monsoon, Reviewed 

For my test of Tropicfeel’s first shoe, which I received about a month before the Canyon, I did what the company told me to do: I went on a trip and only packed the Monsoon. (Well, I wore them, I didn’t pack them.) But when I first pulled them out of the box, my girlfriend commented that they looked cheap, which is true. And they certainly look cheaper than the $99.50 price tag would have you believe (and cheaper than the version shown in the Kickstarter video). But they are very light, and part of Tropicfeel’s selling point is that they’re both vegan and made out of some sustainable materials (the website says each pair uses three recycled plastic bottles), so I was willing to overlook that aspect.

My trip consisted of a long weekend on an island on Lake Superior, which I figured would be a perfect place to test the quick drying, breathability and odorless claims. But after those four days, and a couple weeks on either side wearing them in the city, they disappointed on just about every front.

They can be worn in water, but they don’t dry quickly unless you take them off (and even then, it’s not a miraculous process). You’re supposed to be able to wear them with or without socks, but the insole would slide out every time I tried to take the shoes off when I was barefoot. And worst of all, after less than a month of wear, both of the soles started to peel back from the front of the shoe. The plus side? Well, they don’t smell bad.

Tropicfeel Monsoon Travel Shoes
My pair started coming apart after a couple weeks. (Alex Lauer)

The Canyon Tropicfeel Travel Shoe
The Canyon travel shoe also comes in colors like sage green and foggy sand. (Tropicfeel)

The Canyon, Reviewed 

When I got a pair of the Canyons, I immediately breathed a sigh of relief. They’re sturdier, with more reinforcement around the toe and laces, and a tougher treaded sole (there was nary a whisper of a boot in the Monsoon, but here was something). But according to Tropicfeel’s website, both weigh the same at seven ounces. Despite the brand’s assertion that it had invented a whole new category of shoe, this one looked much more like your standard sneaker than the first, and I was glad of that.

In testing, the quick-drying technology behaved on par with the Monsoon, drying faster (and smelling better) than your average sneaker, but I still wouldn’t say they’re a swimming-to-shopping shoe.

Tropicfeel Canyon and Monsoon Travel Shoes
The differences between the Monsoon (left) and the Canyon (right) are obvious. (Alex Lauer)

But the pairing of a mesh upper amenable to water activities makes it a tough sell for hiking or even a long day in the city — there’s just not enough support there. Although, if you really can only pack one shoe on a trip, and you’re going to be doing exclusively casual activities, like kayaking, e-scootering, eating tacos, shopping at outdoor markets, etc. then this would certainly do the job.

Should You Buy Tropicfeel Shoes?

In the end, I probably won’t be wearing Tropicfeel’s shoes much (I do, however, like the Canyon’s slip-on style for running down the stairs in my apartment building to let guests in because we don’t have a buzzer). But despite the disappointing results, the brand is actually a perfect test case showing how Kickstarter really works.

Tropicfeel, a completely unknown company, promised “the ultimate travel shoe” in its first campaign. If you backed it, you did not receive “the ultimate travel shoe.” In fact, you received a pretty poor shoe that, for all its talk of sustainability, deteriorates fast and is made in China. But once again, Kickstarter is not a store. What backers really did was fund a company with an intriguing idea for a shoe.

All that funding allowed Tropicfeel to grow, learn and then make a much better shoe in the Canyon. It’s still not the ultimate travel shoe, but maybe they will eventually get there with a little more funding under their belt. And maybe this time, they’ll get it from some place other than Kickstarter.