The subtle differences between shoes can lead to considerable amounts of confusion. Although this isn’t usually catastrophic, it’s no secret that the features of some shoes do make them more suitable for certain occasions than others.
Understanding the differences between them is the key to getting it right.
It’s more difficult when it comes to very similar types of shoes – today we’re talking about four in particular.
Boat shoes, camp mocs, espadrilles, and top-siders.
Is there really even a difference between them? We’ll be using boat shoes as the focus and comparing each of the others to them to find out whether or not there is.
Let’s get to it.
Boat Shoes Vs Camp Mocs
The main difference between boat shoes and camp mocs (a.k.a camp moccasins) is that boat shoes have separate quarters for the lacing while camp mocs do not. Camp mocs also have pebbled soles while boat shoes have siped soles.
Let’s discuss the key differences between these two warm-weather staples in a little more detail.
To the untrained eye, boat shoes and moccasins can look pretty much identical. But the quarters and the sole are the giveaways.
1. The Quarters
The quarter is the section on either side at the back of the shoe.
In boat shoes, the quarter is made from a separate piece of leather on top and wrapped around the back. The eyelets for the lacing are in these separate quarters.
Here’s a classic pair of Sperry boat shoes on
It’s unclear why they’re called “quarters”, considering there are technically two of them, but that’s beside the point.
Camp mocs, on the other hand, do not have a separate piece of leather on the top to act as the quarters for the lacing.
Here’s a pair of camp moccasins on
The vamp (front of the shoe) and the quarters (back of the shoe) are made from the same piece of material, in typical moccasin fashion.
2. The Sole Surface
While the boat shoe has its classic, razor-cut, siped rubber sole to allow for added traction and grip, the camp moccasin usually has a pebbled sole similar to that of a driving moccasin.
The sole of a camp moc isn’t usually siped. In addition, it has less of a heel than the sole of a boat shoe.
Instead, it usually has a brown, rubber, coarsely textured, and often pebble grain appearance to it.
The sole may not have the same sort of grip as that of the boat shoe but was still tough and did well on the rough surfaces of a campsite – hence the name.
There are plenty of similarities between the boat shoe and the camp moc, to the point where most would be forgiven for confusing the two.
1. 360-Degree Lacing
This refers to the fact that the lacing is tunneled around the back and throat (ankle opening) before coming full circle to the eyelets at the front.
It’s a classic feature of the boat shoe and isn’t seen on regular pairs of moccasins.
However, it is seen on camp moccasins. It’s a crucial feature that separates the camp moccasins from other pairs of moccasins.
2. The Sole Thickness
Traditional moccasins didn’t feature any sole whatsoever. Modern moccasins do have separate outsoles but are minimal, soft, flexible, and so-called “soft soles”.
It makes for exceptionally comfortable wearing but makes them pretty ineffective in wet weather or for walking long distances.
They wouldn’t work well on the rough surfaces of a campsite.
The camp moccasin, on the other hand, does have a thick and tough rubber sole. It’s similar to that of a boat shoe in this respect, despite the surfaces of the soles being different.
3. Moc Toe
Both boat shoes and camp mocs have that classic “moc toe” where there is a piece of leather that extends across the vamp just short of the toes.
It’s then stitched into place with that typical seam along the top.
The stitched upper seam is present on boat shoes, camp mocs, and regular mocs.
How To Choose
When choosing between a pair of boat shoes and a pair of camp mocs, consider the following points.
Boat shoes are ideal for wet weather because the additional grip on the siped sole works very effectively.
In fact, the siped, “herringbone pattern” that’s often found on the sole of boat shoes was designed to prevent slipping on the wet deck of a boat.
Hence the other word for them – “deck shoes”.
But it’s important to note that the tough, pebbled, rubber soles of camp mocs also serve pretty well in wet weather, but perhaps not quite as well.
Ultimately, you’d probably be fine with either.
Both boat shoes and camp mocs fall within the category of “casual” shoes, ideal for spring and summer outdoor occasions.
But the separate quarters and the slightly more prominent heel make boat shoes look a little more formal than camp mocs.
The “one-piece” appearance of camp mocs (just like most mocs) does come across as more casual and slipper-like.
While boat shoes work quite well for smart-casual occasions, camp mocs fall into more dubious territory here.
Boat Shoes Vs Espadrilles
The main differences between boat shoes and espadrilles are that boat shoes are laced, have separate quarters, and have rubber soles. Espadrilles are usually not laced and traditionally have rope soles.
Let’s discuss the key differences between boat shoes and espadrilles in more detail.
1. The Sole
Espadrilles famously have rope soles, traditionally made from the “esparto” grass of Spain. Jute rope is more commonly used nowadays.
The shoes are a staple of Spanish summer footwear but have become popular globally.
The rope soles are very comfortable to wear and breathable as well, just like the canvas fabric the uppers are usually made from.
These days, the soles are often made from thin rubber with jute-capped toes.
Here’s an example of espadrilles on
They’re very different to the siped, razor-cut, thick rubber sole of the boat shoe which prioritizes durability and grip over comfort.
In addition, the sole of a traditional pair of espadrilles typically has no heel. Boat shoes usually do have a small heel.
2. The Lacing
Most espadrilles you’ll find will not have any lacing at all. It’s what gives it that typical slipper-like appearance.
Although boat shoes are still considered “slip-on” shoes, they will always have lacing. In addition, the lacing will tunnel around the throat of the shoe (the back) before slipping through the eyelets at the front.
The shoe may be “slip-on”, but the lacing is still functional and can be used to tighten the shoe if necessary.
Espadrilles can occasionally be found with lacing these days, although it still is rare. It isn’t the absence of lacing that makes an espadrille an espadrille. It’s the rope sole.
3. The Quarters
Unlike espadrilles, boat shoes will have separate quarters around the back – an additional piece of leather wrapped around and on top for the laces to go through.
Espadrilles don’t have this – it’s a “one-piece” design.
Boat shoes and espadrilles don’t have much in common at all.
The one thing they could be said to have in common would be the fact that they’re both slip-on staples of summer casual wear.
But overall, the designs are extremely different and quite difficult to confuse once you know why.
How To Choose
Here are some points to consider when choosing between boat shoes and espadrilles.
The soft, slipper-like, one-piece appearance of espadrilles looks extremely casual. It makes them ideal for lounging around the house, beach or pool events, and barbeques.
The absence of lacing makes them look more like slippers than actual shoes.
Boat shoes, on the other hand, do have a slightly more formal appearance despite still being considered a staple of casual summer wear.
You’d be able to pull off a pair of boat shoes for a smart-casual summer event if you combined them with chinos and an OCBD shirt.
You wouldn’t be able to do the same with a pair of espadrilles.
Although boat shoes are comfortable, they aren’t as comfortable as espadrilles.
The soft canvas fabric uppers and the rope sole are very breathable and ideal for summer wear.
Boat shoes are breathable thanks to the abbreviated tongue and exposed upper foot. But overall, the durability of boat shoes and the tough rubber sole prioritize practicality over comfort.
Espadrilles aren’t meant for long walks or anything that requires any sort of grip. They aren’t great for wet weather.
Boat shoes are a lot more suitable given the thick and siped rubber soles.
Boat Shoes Vs Top-Siders
There is no difference between boat shoes and top-siders. The Top-Sider is a type of boat shoe. It was the first boat shoe introduced to the footwear market in 1935 by Paul Sperry.
The Top-Sider was designed with one thing in mind – boating.
The designer wanted a shoe that would be able to withstand the slippery deck of a boat without leaving marks on it.
After plenty of experimentation, the result was ingenious.
The Top-Siders were the first boat shoes to feature the (now classic) grooved patterns on the thick rubber sole. This process was named siping and is now the hallmark of the modern-day boat shoe.
The Top-Sider also featured a white outsole to prevent marks from being left on the deck of the boat. In the present day, boat shoes can be found with soles in a variety of colors.
Ultimately, the Top-Sider has all of the features you’d expect from any other boat shoe:
- Functional lacing with 360-degree tunneling around the throat
- Separate quarters for the eyelets
- A siped rubber sole
But the beauty of owning a pair of Sperry’s is that you know you’re paying homage to the original.
Here’s a pair of Sperry boat shoes on
Yes, they’re exceptionally effective on the slippery deck of a boat.
But boat shoes have come a long way since Sperry released those original Top-Siders.
They’re now a staple of casual and smart-casual summer wear. Comfortable, stylish, and durable.
Nowadays, the term “top-siders” is used to refer to any pair of boat shoes, but more specifically – Sperry boat shoes.
There you have it.
Hopefully, any confusion you may have had has now been cleared up very emphatically.
Timeless shoes that aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.