The seafoam river was beautiful. The mountain goats were entertaining. The terrain was exhilarating. But my blisters were brutal. And we still had nine more miles until we arrived at our cars. Do you know what saved me from disaster? Hiking sandals.
Whether you are backpacking in the San Juans or rafting New River Gorge, a pair of quality adventure sandals are essential.
When buying the best hiking sandals for you, here is what to look for:
Most (looking at you climbing shoes) shoes should be comfortable if you are romping around the outdoors. During the fitting process, be aware of any hot spots or areas that immediately cause friction or discomfort – chances are those hot spots won’t break in no matter how cute the sandal. Try different types of heel drops, straps between your toes, and how adding socks change the fit. Socks and sandals are the perfect camp slipper for any season.
Durability is a factor to consider when purchasing hiking sandals because of the wear and tear of the outdoors. Buy a shoe that will last through creek crossings and scree scrambles. Vibram soles indicate a reliable shoe that will maintain its tread longer than other hikers.
What kind of support do you need? The hiking sandal market provides minimal ultralight options for sandals with a closed-toe, back-strap, toe-strap, and extra cushioning.
What separates hiking sandals from regular sandals? Traction. Hiking sandals incorporate soles that can handle wet conditions, unstable terrain, and grippy rubber.
Hiking sandals can be an alternative to hiking boots, approach shoes, and trail runners. Some minimal thru-hikers only use hiking sandals for their weight or lack thereof. Hiking sandals are typically lighter than other outdoor shoes, especially models of Bedrock and Xero sandals.
Although a relatively new brand, Bedrock is a leader in the hiking sandal space. The company launched in 2011 from northern California after its founders found a need for river sandals while working towards river restoration. In 2016, the Cairn line evolved with lightweight and minimal in mind. Look out for the mountain clog, a sandal alternative, in 2023.
Like other outdoor sandal brands, Chaco began from the mind of a river rat. In 1989, Mark Paigen, a Colorado raft guide, wanted a sandal that would dry quickly and support his outdoor pursuits. So began Chaco, the footwear brand known for its z-strap design. The gecko evolved as Chaco’s symbol because of the brand and animal’s shared ability to “adapt and thrive in nearly any environment,” according to Chaco.
Keen is a footwear and accessories company based out of Portland, Oregon. Although the company officially began in 2003, the Newport sandal was conceived in 1999 by Martin Keen. The adventure company is known for its durable closed-toe sandals for water-based activities. It also manufactures boots, shoes, slip-ons, and accessories.
In 1963, the Toosbury family left their steady jobs for southwest Denmark to pursue a dream of making footwear. Ecco now operates in 99 countries and makes footwear for all walks of life, including outdoor pursuits. Ecco is also known for its eco-friendly fabrics, ethical practices, and water-saving DriTan technology. The goal is to be zero waste by 2030.
Tevas’s origin story began on the banks of the Grand Canyon in 1984. “Born out of necessity to prevent sandals from floating downstream, a resourceful river guide strapped two Velcro watchbands to a pair of old flip-flops,’ according to Teva. “And just like that, Teva was born.”
Teva created its TevaForever recycling program that welcomes any style of used Teva sandals to be recycled and avoid landfills. The company also supports initiatives like the Conservation Alliance, Human Rights Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, and The Trevor Project.
Xero began in 2009 with husband and wife duo, Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix. Thanks to Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, these outdoor enthusiasts in Colorado saw a need for minimal and barefoot hiking and running sandals. So, they created Xero on a whim. Xero provides sandals, boots, and starter kits where you can create your own sandals for what you need. Xero also donates to the Tarahumara, an indigenous tribe in northern New Mexico known for long-distance running that was featured in Born to Run.
Best Hiking Sandals of 2023
Best Overall Hiking Sandal: Chaco Z/Cloud
Best For: Trail, Everyday
Weight: 1.81 lbs (M9)
Pros: Durability, Support, Traction, Lifespan, Adjustability
There is a 100 percent chance you have seen a crisscrossing tan on people’s feet at the crag or on the river. It’s known as the Chaco tan. Chaco Z/Cloud are the go-to sandals for outdoor pursuits, like backpacking and thru-hiking. The adjustable strap system, ChacoGrip rubber outsole, and the podiatrist-certified footbed for comfort and support makes it the best hiking sandal on the market.
Best Lightweight Hiking Sandal: Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandal
Best For: Trail, Approach, Everyday
Weight: 7.5 oz (M9)
Pros: Vibram sole, Weight, Adjustability
Cons: Y Strap, Support
Are you looking for a lightweight alternative to the Chaco? The Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandal is your ticket to the best lightweight hiking sandal. It is low-profile with a Vibram sole that is the standard across outdoor footwear. The sole provides superior grip in dry conditions. Adjusting the fit is also easier than Chaco’s and just as form-fitting. Before purchasing, try on the sandal and get used to the Y Strap and zero drop feel. Cairns are USA made and can be resoled.
Best Ultralight Hiking Sandal: Xero Z-Trail EV
Best For: Everyday, Water, Trail, Secondary Shoe
Weight: 4.3 oz (W7)
Pros: Weight, Flexibility, Sustainability
Cons: Support, Durability, Loose-fitting
Xero’s Z-Trail EV were made with Christopher McDougall’s minimal-shoe philosophy in mind. Similar to Bedrock’s Cairn Adventure Sandal, the Z-Trail EV is a zero-drop sandal that’s lighter and more flexible. The rubber and foam outsole holds up well in most dry conditions. It’s also the most eco-friendly option on this list with soft, tubular quick-dry webbing made from recycled water bottles. These sandals are best for ultralight hikers and backpackers or as a secondary shoe to slip into at camp.
Best Closed-Toe Hiking Sandal: Keen Newport H2
Best For: Water, Trail, Bike
Weight: 11.36 oz (W6)
Pros: Toe Coverage
Cons: Smaller Sizing, Bulky
Protect your toes with the Keen Newport H2 sandal. These shoes are comfortable, stable, and durable. The soft insole, polyester webbing, and wide toe box keeps your toes and feet comfortable, the enclosed rubber design offers protection from rocks, branches, and other hazards, and the traction rivals a true hiking boot. Although a bulkier shoe, the hydrophobic mesh lining helps keep the shoe from feeling too heavy when immersed in water. Try these on before purchasing, the sizing runs small!
Best Backpacking Sandal: Teva Hurricane XLT2
Best For: Trail, Everyday
Weight: 7.75 oz (W7)
Pros: Support, Adjustability, Lifespan, Price, Tread
Cons: Mid-foot Exposure
The Teva Hurricane XLT2’s are similar to Chaco’s Z/Cloud Series and a viable backpacking sandal at a better price. The Hurrican offers a cushioned insole, an outsole with a durable tread for variable terrain, and soft fabric inside the heel strap to help avoid blisters and hot spots during long treks. If Teva creates a version of the Hurricane with a similar Z strap design to Chacos, these would be a serious contender for the overall best hiking sandal on the market.
Best River Sandal: Bedrock Cairn Pro II Adventure
Best For: Water, Trail, Approach, Everyday
Weight: 7.8 oz (M9)
Pros: Vibram Sole, Minimal, Packable, Adjustability
Cons: Y-Strap, No Arch Support
Bedrock’s Cairn Pro II Adventure sandals are the best river sandals. Why? The USA-based brand created a G-hook-and-loop heal with a front strap system that creates an extra foothold to avoid getting stuck in mud or pulling off in the rush of whitewater. Like the classic Cairn Adventure Sandal, the Pro II version also offers a minimalist footbed and Vibram sole. Although the Vibram sole is Megagrip that helps performance in wet and slippery conditions.
Best High-End Hiking Sandal: Ecco Yucatan
Best For: Trail
Weight: 1.51 (M9)
Pros: Support, Comfort, Footbed, Adjustability
Cons: Price, Design
At 140 USD, the Yucatan is one of the most comfortable hiking footwear options on the market. The EVA molded footbed covered in soft microfibers lets your foot sink and enjoy the trek. The midsole is constructed with Fluidform foam Receptor technology, which means the midsole is built with extra comfort in mind. To make matters even more comfortable, the straps are made with a soft nubuck leather and lined with neoprene to avoid hot spots and blisters. The rubber sole and aggressive tread uphold in most conditions. Although you can find hiking sandals with similar positives and a better price, the Ecco Yucatan is worth the splurge.
Best Budget Hiking Sandal: Teva Original Universe
Best For: Everyday, Light Trail, Secondary Shoe
Weight: 5.5 oz (W7)
Pros: Comfortable, Fashionable, Budget-friendly
Cons: Lacking Durability, and Tread
The Teva Original Universe was one of the first hiking sandals ever created. To this day, Teva creates a solid product in the Original Universe sandal. It’s not as technical as the other options on this list, but it’s perfect for everyday wear, light adventures, and as a camp shoe. Although I pushed my pair to its limits, this was the model of shoe that saved me from the backpacking blister disaster previously mentioned. The Teva Original Universe sandal features recycled and vegan webbing, easy hook-and-loop closures for fit, anti-odor properties, and a lightweight design.
Madeleine is a freelance writer and social media manager in the outdoor, gear, and travel space. She loves being buried in the snow, running single-track, and eating gummies next to high alpine lakes. When she’s not writing or traveling, you can find Madeleine in Telluride, Colorado romping around in the San Juans.