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.