How To Buy Sandals

Sandals give you the comfort of being barefoot and the confidence of a bit of protection. Once reserved for post-hike fires and lazy days at the beach, sandals have earned a reputation as versatile footwear that are as perfect for burly trails as they are for the office (at least if you work at The Clymb!) and scrambling down bluffs in search of the next break.

Types: The primary factor to consider when choosing a sandal is activity. Will you be scrambling along mountain passes? Fording rivers? Kicking back at camp? Whatever your activity, there’s a sandal to match.

Flips: If lying low is the goal, a standard pair of flip flops, or thongs, can’t be beat. A pair slips on and off in seconds, packs easy and weighs little. In terms of comfort, leather flips are tough to beat after some breaking in but they can become slick when wet. Rubber top soles don’t compare comfort-wise, but are more utilitarian.

Hiking: Going big in sandals require some strapping for security. Teva and Chaco are the most common technical hiking or trekking sandals. Unlike flips, hiking sandals have straps that wrap around the heel and typically incorporate a cinch buckle for a snug fit on all types of terrain. Usually equipped with a more rugged, hiking-shoe-style outsole, such as Vibram rubber, hiking sandals also have a stiffer midsole that makes difficult tasks like scrambling or launching canoes safer. The toe on hikers is usually more robust and some people prefer sizing up a half-size for a bigger buffer between their little piggies and obstacles. The “Hiking” style sandal has been widely adopted by kayakers and rafters after years of losing flip flops in rapids and twisting ankles during portages.

Huaraches: A recent arrival to the mainstream market but tried-and-true for centuries is the huarache sandal. A mix between a flip and a hiking sandal, these ultra-light sandals are composed of a simple rubber sole (typically Vibram) and narrow webbing that splits the big toe like a flip and hugs the heel and cinches like a hiker. The simplicity of these sandals, with the omission of top and midsoles, makes huaraches the closest option to going barefoot. Some folks run 100-mile endurance races in these, but the weight and design also makes them great as a packable and versatile sandal.

Closed Toe: Sandal manufacturers such as KEEN have heeded the cries of stubbed toes by extending the sandal outsole up and around the front portion of the foot to create a rubber shield for ultimate toe protection. Closed toe sandals are ideal for hiking and fording fast rivers where there is a higher likelihood that you will bash your feet on a rock. Closed toe sandals offer superior toe protection with the only downside being that debris can collect in the toe area.

Materials: Sandals feature state-of-the-art materials that separate your feet from sharp rocks, debris, and other obstacles. Here are some tips on what materials to look for when shopping for your next pair of sandals:      

Hiking, River, and Surfing Sandals: If you’ll be playing in the mud and muck, look for a sole made of hard rubber compounds. Choose sandals with a deep tread, which will serve you well when you’re going up the face of a steep mountain or balancing precariously on wet river rocks. The upper portion of your sandal, including any straps, should be made of breathable and durable material such as nylon webbing or polyurethane. For the top sole, memory foam allows for supportive cushioning and comfortable wear. Moreover, these materials are water-resistant, whichmeans they won’t become saturated when you stomp through a creek and won’t rot away after a few wet wears.

Midsole: For the midsole of your sandal, we suggest EVA or ethylene-vinyl acetate. This spongy material that ensures arch support is often used in orthodics and top-of-the-line soccer cleats for its cushion-like qualities. Also, it has little or no smell and won’t make your feet sweat.

Outer Sole: Specialized rubber manufacturers like Vibram offer durable treads for hiking and portaging over rough terrain. Stealth Rubber, featured in Five Ten climbing shoes and Astral river shoes, is designed to stick to rocks to keep you on your feet in the current. You can spend days researching rubbers but at the end of the day, reputable brands use excellent proprietary sole materials.

Pro Tip: If you plan on doing anything where a few broken toes could put you in a dangerous situation, such as running Class IV+ rapids, canyoneering, distance-portaging a Royalex canoe, or extended backpacking trips that involve a lot of fording, closed-toe sandals are the way to go.