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Always Carry a City Knife

Shoes are one of the biggest hassles of travel. They take up a ton of space, don’t bend without damage, and you generally need multiple pairs for any trip of a decent length. It’s time to let you in on my secret to always having a second pair of shoes, the City Knife.

Many years ago in 1998, Nike developed the City Knife as a way for modern nomads to always have a second pair of shoes in style. They came in a wide variety of colors, from zebra striped to lilac to classy black. They are designed to fold in half, shrinking so small they can slide into your back pocket. They even have an arch, so they look and feel like sneakers, not slippers.

The design is pure genius. It’s essentially a flexible sole (that was surely the basis for their later Nike Free models) with a thin, breathable neoprene shell for warmth and carefully formed leather pieces that form the shape of the shoe. It all comes together in a way that is lightweight, stylish, comfortable, and extremely functional. Everything a traveler needs, all in what is normally one of the most cumbersome elements of packing.

Black Beauty

Nike didn’t stop there, upping the ante by releasing boots that were just as sleek, but could handle more rugged terrain while still being pocketable.

In 2004, they went on to release the City Knife II. They dropped the sleek curves of the original for an origami-inspired design full of triangles. The new angular style was less sleek, but allowed the shoes to fold up even smaller. While more functional, the new version lost a lot of the smooth, covert feel of the original.

The Volvo of City Knives

Unfortunately, now it’s time to move on to the bad news. The City Knife is hard to find in any form, anywhere in the world. I first found out about them in 2005, and it took me three years of hunting and waiting before I finally came across a warehouse in the UK that unearthed an old shipment of them. After double checking the size conversion, I had a pair sent to my house. When they arrived, I eagerly opened them up and slid them on, and I was amazed at how comfortable they were.

That night, I wore them out to meet a friend. As I was sitting there, exceedingly happy about finally finding these shoes after years of anticipation, my friend walks up and says “Hey! Nice shoes! I designed those years ago; I still have a ton back at my place.” I was deflated, to say the least. (Thankfully, all of the shoes were too small for me, so I still have some level of victory.)

I have worn these shoes through dozens of cities, hikes, and festivals. They have waded through the sludge in the streets during Mardi Gras in New Orleans and had fistfuls of paint thrown on them at Holi in Delhi. After a quick scrub with some water, they always look as sleek as the day I opened them.

Every so often a pair appears on Amazon, or someone decides to sell theirs on eBay. I wish you luck in your hunt, as I had in mine. If you succeed and decide to show them off to a designer friend, you are on your own.

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  2. Rich says:

    The first pair shown… I would wear those. The second two pairs would prevent my girlfriend from allowing any hanky panky between us, and the first pair is still a certain risk. Though, if we were on a moon base she would let it slide. And maybe also Japan.

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