Hiking Sandals: Should You Wear Them & How To Choose The Right Pair
If you’re going hiking where it’s really hot, or where you’ll have to cross some water, then you might be considering trading in your hiking boots for a pair of hiking sandals. I don’t blame you! I did the exact same thing last summer before visiting some national parks.
Choosing the right pair is important because you need a good grip so you aren’t slipping on the trail, a footbed that doesn’t have your feet sliding around or feeling slimy when you get wet, and they need to be comfortable and offer good support.
To help you find a good pair of hiking sandals for your adventures, we’ll give some tips on what to look for and share what we think are the best hiking sandals for men and women based on our first-hand experience testing these on the trails.
- What Are The Best Hiking Sandals For The Money In 2018?
- Is It Safe To Hike In Sandals?
- What To Consider Before Buying
- How We Tested These Sandals
- Overall Winner: Best Hiking Sandals for Men and Women
- Best Hiking Sandals for Wide Feet
- Best Hiking Sandals for Narrow Feet
- Best Hiking Sandals for Toddlers (+ Little Kids and Big Kids)
What Are The Best Hiking Sandals For The Money In 2018?
After months of testing, we’ve come up with our list of the top sandals for hiking right now. Not interested in reading our reviews or buying tips? Then check out our recommended shoes:
Is It Safe To Hike In Sandals?
Whenever I hike in the summer in my Keen boots, I end up with sweaty feet due to the warmth outside. And sometimes that summer heat and sweating leads to painful blisters. This got me to wondering if I should trade in my well-loved hiking boots for a pair of hiking sandals when I’m on trails in the warmer weather. Plus, I liked the idea of a quick-drying pair of sandals that would allow me to easily cross streams without worrying about a soggy foot.
Before making the switch though, I had some concerns. You see, I use a pair of the taller Keen hiking boots so that my ankles are protected from any sprains, strains or twists (because I’m clumsy). Obviously, this sort of protection would not be there with a pair of sandals. And, I wasn’t even sure that you should wear hiking sandals on long hikes. It got me to wondering if it is unsafe to wear hiking sandals for long or strenuous hikes, so I asked a few experts at my local REI outdoors store about my concerns.
Based on what I’ve learned, it just so happens that there are zero safety concerns when it comes to wearing hiking sandals out on the trail. Like I had already speculated, you do give up that ankle support and protection, but if you are not accident prone, then you should be fine wearing them.
Other things to consider when preparing to choose sandals over boots for your hiking is if you have a reason to worry about snake encounters or toe bashing on your hikes. Other than that, it is supposed to be perfectly safe to go with a good hiking sandal over a pair of boots. Plus, they are lighter and dry quickly if you want to wear them in a creek!
With that in mind, I spent last summer testing out some sandals from a few different brands like Keen and Chacos to determine if a clumsy hiker like me could use hiking sandals. Spoiler alert, I’ve come to LOVE wearing hiking sandals in the warmer months and I practically lived in my Keen’s all summer long last year!
And who knows, you might even end up doing a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail with a pair of lightweight hiking sandals, just like the woman in the video below.
What To Consider Before Buying
Instead of popping into your local REI and picking up the first pair of Chacos that you see, take a moment to consider your hiking needs. Those Chacos might not end up being the best option for you. When we bought some sandals to test out, here are the things that we considered:
- Do you need closed-toe or open toe? Only go with open-toe hiking sandals if you don’t expect to do any serious hiking on trails with rocks and other debris when you might injure your toes.
- Do you need good arch support or average? Some brands offer better arch support than others, so be sure to know what your foot needs to stay comfortable.
- Do you need shock resistance? For an easier hike where you don’t feel every shock of the trail with each step, look for a pair of sandals with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), or foam midsoles.
- Pay attention to the fit! If your feet swell, or if you plan on alternating between socks and no socks, then you need to make sure your sandals can accommodate those foot changes without being too tight on your feet.
- How is the sole? You need a sandal with thick soles so you won’t feel every pebble on the trail. We’re big fans of Vibram soles, like in the Keen sandals.
- How quickly do you need them to dry? If you plan on doing a lot of trekking through creeks, then opt for a pair with rubber soles and synthetic uppers for the quickest drying.
How We Tested These Sandals
We bought several pairs of hiking sandals before setting out on a two month national parks trip last summer. We were going to be in some different temperature zones, from the Grand Canyon to Rocky Mountain National Park, so we were looking for something comfortable and versatile. After wearing them around the house for a few days, we narrowed it down to our top picks and set out to give them the hiking trails test on our trip.
The brands we ended up with were: Keen, Chaco, Teva, and Ahnu. As you can see in the image above, we ended up with a pair of Mary Janes from Chaco as one of our contenders, but we quickly decided that it did not meet our hiking needs.
On some of our hikes, we ended up wearing socks and on others we did not, so we ended with a pretty good idea of which pairs were more versatile than the others. If you’re interested in our reviews, keep reading!
Overall Winner: Best Hiking Sandals for Men and Women
Hands down our overall favorite options for both men and women are made by Keen. Overall, we found Keen to be the brand that offered the most comfort out on the trail, and they dried pretty quickly too.
Women’s Pick – KEEN Whisper
While these are technically considered to be more watersport sandals than multi-sport, I can tell you that I hiked in these all over the place – the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Badlands National Parks. I also took these to Hawaii this year so that I could get in some hiking on the islands!
Overall, I find them to be very comfortable on long hikes and they have a good amount of arch support. As someone with flat feet, who occasionally suffers from plantar fasciitis, these are my go-to hiking sandals. I even bought another pair to wear as my everyday sandals since it’s warm most of the year here in Las Vegas.
These sandals are also pictured in the image that the top of the page where we went hiking at the Grand Canyon in them with socks.
Some of the things that we really like about these:
- Rubber toe guards keep your feet protected
- Dries quickly when wet
- Feet don’t slip around inside the shoe when you get wet
- Drawstring system makes it easy to expand or tighten shoe as needed
- Footbed is very comfortable and shock absoring
- Sole grips well on lose gravel paths
- Very lightweight hiking sandal, so your feet/legs don’t fatigue on the trail
That being said, we do have a minor gripe about these:
- In our experiences, you can’t wear thick socks with them because the top of the shoes cannot expand any. Obviously this isn’t an issue in the hot summer months, but if (like me) you want to continue wearing these in the colder months, you can’t do so with thicker socks.
- Sizing seems to run a bit small, like most KEEN shoes – I had to go up a half size for a proper fit.
Men’s Pick – KEEN Newport
For a lot of the same reasons why we loved the KEEN Whisper for the ladies, our tester Bryan fell in love with the KEEN Newport hiking sandals.
Overall, Bryan found that he basically lived in these sandals – both off the trail and on the trail. The footbed is incredibly comfortable and the sandals look great with shorts and pants.
Though he spent 95% of the time wearing these without socks, he did try them out with socks a few times and found them to be just as comfortable as without them.
Personally, I was skeptical of how these sandals would do since they are made of leather, which makes me think they would be too warm or uncomfortable in the warmer temperatures. But, Bryan thinks they are the perfect summer hiking sandal for guys!
Here are some of the best features of these:
- Bungee system makes it easy to change how tight they are
- Footbed is very comfortable on long hikes
- Leather dries quicker than you’d expect
- Sole offers good grip on treacherous trails
- Toes are protected by the rubber toe guards
- Looks great with outdoor attire or casual attire
When pressed for what is not-so-great about these, Bryan does admit to a couple of small quibbles:
- that they leather does not dry as fast as his Chacos do
- that they are sized slightly small – he suggest buying a half size up for the best fit
Best Hiking Sandals for Wide Feet
If you have wide feet, then you already know how challenging it is to find any type of shoe that not only meets your needs, but actually comfortably fits your wider foot. Sometimes you can find a Merrell or a KEEN option, but lately it seems like Chaco is who has been making the most options for hikers with wide feet.
Men & Women’s Pick – Chaco Z/Cloud Sandals
Despite offering no protection for your toes, these Chaco sandals function surprisingly well out on the trail. But there’s one thing you need to know about Chacos – some people love them, and some people hate them.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of Chacos, but Bryan really loves them and has a pair that he uses for white water rafting and kayaking.
What there is to like about these Chacos:
- Z/Cloud means super comfortable footbed – and it is!
- Very lightweight sandal
- Dries the fastest of any sandal we reviewed (except other Chacos)
- The grip you get from the outsoles is as good as the best hiking boots
- Good arch support
- Available in wide widths!
Here’s what you might not like about these Chacos:
- Strap system can take a while to break-in and be comfortable
- Some people get blisters from the straps before they break in
- If the strap end is too long, there’s no pretty way to fix it up
One thing to keep in mind with these is that that the sizing seems to run a bit on the large end. We suggest buying these a full size below what you normally wear.
Best Hiking Sandals for Narrow Feet
While we haven’t managed to find any brands that specifically make something for narrow feet, we did notice that most of the pairs from Teva fit a narrow foot quite well. And in the course of our reviewing, we managed to select some good options for men and women. Keep in mind that if you don’t like the pairs that we’ve selected below, most of the Teva options will likely work out for you.
Men’s & Women’s Pick – Teva Terra Fi 4 Multisport Sandals
This pair does have the open toe, which isn’t ideal for serious hiking, but for most people it should do just fine. Plus, it’s a super comfortable sandal that isn’t too large on most narrow feet.
Personally, I own a couple of pairs of Tevas, though they are the more casual styles, and I find them to be incredibly comfortable shoes.
What there is to like about these Tevas:
- Narrow footbed in the medium width works well for most narrow feet
- Good shock absorption and comfortable footbed
- Strap system is easy to use and helps you get the perfect fit
- No breaking-in period needed for most hikers
- Quick drying when wet
Here’s what you might not like about these Tevas:
- Open-toe design means no protection for those toes on rough trails
Overall, there’s a lot to like about these if you don’t mind the open-toe design for your hiking.
Best Hiking Sandals for Toddlers (+ Little Kids and Big Kids)
Looking to share your love of the outdoors with your little ones? Well, as soon as they’re old enough to walk on their own for a while, you can lace up a pair of these and set out on the trail with the kiddos.
Top Pick – KEEN Seacamp II CNX Sandals for Kids
I’m sure it’s no surprise to see another pair of KEENs make our list here, but the truth is that we believe these are truly the best option for your children right now. They are made with the KEEN quality that you expect, and they are durable enough for even the toughest kiddo.
You can order these in a variety of colors and a wide variety of colors to fit your little ones.
What there is to like about these KEENs for kids:
- The same quality that you trust from KEEN
- Velcro and bungee system to get the perfect fit
- Quick drying if they get wet
- Comfortable foot bed for your little ones feet
- Rubber toe guard to prevent any ouchies
- Good for the beach, the trail, or a trip into town!
- Good for girls and boys
What you might not like about these KEENs for kids:
- Just like with the adult models, these might not fit wider feet
Overall, these are an awesome choice for your children since they are a quality shoes that is built to last. Plus, they can be worn in pretty much any situation.