Hiking sandals are one of the latest trends in outdoor footwear, but if you are feeling skeptical about the idea of trekking through the woods in sandals, you aren’t alone. In this guide, we’re going to look at every angle to cover the pros and cons of hiking in sandals. We’ll compare hiking sandals to other types of footwear, describe some of the reasons fans of this new trend love it so much and cover some of the possible hazards of hiking with exposed feet.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the facts so you can make an informed decision about hitting the trails in sandals. If hiking in sandals interests you, we’ll also share recommendations for the most highly rated hiking sandals you can buy.
Benefits of Hiking In Sandals
First thing’s first: let’s cover why fans of hiking sandals love them so much! Here are some of the pros of hiking in sandals:
Blisters happen for a few reasons, but excessive friction is always part of the problem. Sandals have fewer points of contact with your feet, reducing rubbing and preventing your feet from getting sweaty and sticky – the perfect combination for chafing and blisters. While hot spots and minor rubbing from straps can occur, a quick adjustment can give you relief. Other types of hiking footwear, like boots, put pressure on every part of the foot, a problem that can’t easily be fixed. Especially in hot weather or wet conditions, wearing boots can cause extreme pain, discomfort, and blistering. Some individuals will be able to reduce blisters by wearing sandals, whereas others may not.
Enjoyable Cool Breeze
Even if your feet don’t blister, who likes having overheated feet? If you’ve ever pushed through a long hike with red-hot feet, you know just how uncomfortable it can be, and how refreshing a cool breeze feels after that kind of ordeal. Hiking in sandals gives your feet access to cool breezes the entire time, so you don’t have to worry about overheating.
Small sticks, rocks, or bits of debris can get caught in any type of footwear, but adjusting a hiking boot on the go isn’t an easy task. With hiking boots, you need to sit down, unlace, loosen, and pull your foot free before you can begin to try to find the pebble in your shoe. Once you find it, you’ll have to go through the process of retying your boots – and you’ll never get them to feel quite right the second time! With hiking sandals, irritating rocks and debris can quickly be dislodged with a kick or a swipe of the finger, allowing you to spend more time hiking and less time adjusting your footwear.
Improved Foot Health
Boots and trail runners can trap hot air and moisture around your feet, causing excessive sweating and possible health side effects. Broken or weakened toenails, fungal infections, deformed toes, and other uncomfortable conditions are not uncommon for dedicated hikers, since their feet take on the brunt of the labor. Sandals allow your feet to breathe, preventing the growth of bacteria and wicking away moisture. Best of all, sandals are open, so you don’t have to worry about your toes slamming into the fronts of your shoes every time you take a step.
Light Weight & Efficient
When it comes to hiking: the lighter your shoes the better. Weight on the feet requires far more energy to carry than weight on the back or hips, which is why wearing lightweight shoes is so important for energy conservation. Hiking sandals are far lighter than hiking boots, and often lighter than trail runners specifically designed to be low-weight.
Getting your feet wet in hiking boots or trail runners can mean the end of your hike since these types of shoes can’t easily be dried. Wet hiking boots can cause blistering, fungal infections, and general discomfort, and often warp as they dry. Sandals can be fully submerged in water without compromising their integrity or making the rest of your hiking miserable. Simply walk through whatever water you’ve come across, get to the other side, and keep walking – the air and your movement will have your feet dry in no time.
Hiking boots aren’t great for doing things like going sightseeing or visiting a restaurant, but sandals are! Sandals are a super adaptable footwear option that can take you from day to night or trail to restaurant. Hiking sandals can even be worn casually to run errands, meet up with friends, or just hang out around the house.
Cons of Hiking In Sandals
Of course, as with all things, there are downsides to hiking in sandals, too. Some reasons you might want to avoid hiking in sandals include:
Sandal straps can cause hotspots, especially after several miles of hiking or in sandy conditions. Sweat, humidity, sand, and dirt can make the straps of your sandals feel extremely rough against the skin, and sandals that are strapped too tightly may cause friction burns. To combat potential hotspots, many hikers wear medical or athletic tape on their feet or carry breathable hiking socks.
Exposure to Cold
Cold weather, rain, and snow may instantly render sandals unusable, since they do not protect from the cold. In cold terrain, sandals are often not the right choice.
Many sandals do not have the same traction as hiking boots, making them less optimal for activities like rock climbing, hiking on loose ground, or covering slippery surfaces like wet rock. Some sandals may have additional sole traction, especially those designed for use as water shoes.
Poor Ankle Support
Sandals have no upper structure and provide no support to the upper foot or ankle. Because of this, wearing hiking sandals may increase the risk of rolling an ankle or sustaining a sprain. You can read our guide on low vs mid vs high ankle boots for hiking as well.
With only straps covering the tops of your feet, sandals leave you exposed to sunburn – and some sick tan lines! Be sure to bring hiking sunscreen when venturing out!
When wearing sandals, your feet are more exposed to pointed rocks, pine needles, sticks, and other sharp objects along the trail. With no toe covering or sides to stop bits of debris from getting between your foot and the soles of your sandals, there is an increased risk of injury.
Snakes & Insects
If you are hiking somewhere with venomous snakes or biting insects, sandals aren’t a great choice. Sandals won’t stop a snake bite or keep mosquitoes from feasting on your toes – so stick to boots or trail runners if this is a concern.
Although the risk of stubbing your toe wearing hiking sandals is relatively low, this can happen – and it’s really painful. Stubbing your toe on a coffee table is one thing, but ramming it into a boulder you are trying to scale is another. If there is a risk of injury to your toes, stick to close-toed options.
Hiking Sandals vs. Boots vs. Trail Runners
Now that we’ve covered all the pros and cons of hiking in sandals, let’s compare how these open-toed shoes perform against other popular types of hiking footwear:
|Sandals||$||Lightest||Low||Low||Low||High||1 – 5 yrs||Hiking most trails except sandy beaches, rock climbing, extreme cold, or hikes requiring excellent traction|
|Boots||$$$||Heaviest||High||High||High||Low||2 – 10 yrs||Hiking in almost any type of condition. There are boots designed for summer or winter. See our boot insulation guide.|
|Trail Runners||$$||Mid Weight||Medium||Medium||Medium||Medium||1 – 5 yrs||Hiking most trails except where additional ankle support is required. Winter may require the use of boots over trail runners.|
Choosing the Right Hiking Sandals
So, now you want a pair of hiking sandals of your very own and aren’t sure what exactly to look for. Here are some of the considerations you’ll want to make when choosing a pair of hiking sandals, and advice for making the right choice:
One of the main benefits of wearing hiking sandals versus wearing a more traditional hiking shoe is to be able to enter bodies of water without taking off your footwear. Most hiking sandals are perfectly safe to get wet and are designed not to absorb water for fast drying. When buying hiking sandals, be sure they are advertised for their use in water.
Sandals should be lightweight – end of story. There is no reason to choose a pair of heavy sandals since you’ll want to expend as little energy as possible while on the trail. Look for pairs that way around 1-1.25 lbs – any more than this is a sign that they won’t be good for hiking and that you won’t be saving weight.
Strap style is something to consider for your personal preference. Some people prefer an over-the-foot sandal, while others like a between the toes thong-style option. No matter what you prefer, choose an option that will be comfortable for you. If you are new to the sandal game, you’ll simple want to test this out.
Hiking is still a strenuous activity, even if you aren’t wearing heavy-duty hiking boots. Your feet need support while you hike, which is why it is so important to choose sandals that provide enough arch support. Flat sandals will leave you with achy feet, so look for an option designed for comfort and support. Remember, the sole of a sandal provides all the support for this type of shoe, so choosing a comfortable option is vital.
Sole traction is important for preventing slips and falls on the trail. Some sandals are designed with extremely flat, slick bottoms, which don’t work well even on simple dirt trails. When selecting a pair of hiking sandals, look for an option with a thick rubber sole with plenty of texture and traction on the bottom.
Never buy a pair of shoes that is out of your budget just because you think you have to. There are lots of affordable options that perform just as well as more expensive ones, so feel free to stick within a budget that feels comfortable. Great hiking sandals start at around $30, so there are options for everyone. With this in mind, there are sandals out there that won’t be durable, so a reputable brand with quality reviews and support is recommended.
Tips for Hiking in Sandals
Before you set out on your first hike in your snazzy new sandals, let’s talk about safety and best practices. Here are some tips for safe, comfortable, successful hiking in sandals:
Avoid sunburn by always applying sunscreen before you put on your sandals! If you are really dedicated to skin health, carry a small bottle of sunscreen with you on the trail, then reapply after exposure to water or every two hours.
While most hiking sandals are made from synthetic materials, some companies advertise their leather sandals as good options for the outdoors. While leather might be durable and long-lasting, it can cause serious chafing when wet and can dry in such a way that it changes the fit of your shoes. To keep your feet comfortable, stick to rubber and nylon.
Break-In Before You Hike
Sandals are like any other shoe and need to be broken in. Wearing your sandals for a few short outings is a good way to start getting them ready for a hike – just be sure to start small and work your way up as you feel comfortable. If you find that your sandals never become comfortable, even after weeks of breaking them in, try another pair!
Bring Athletic Tape & Socks
As mentioned before, many hikers like to use athletic tape to prevent chafing and hotspots. A simple strip of tape under the straps of your sandals gives just enough separation to prevent friction from happening. If you want something to give even more separation, or just prefer not to be barefoot, try a pair of lightweight hiking socks. You’ll often see hikers wearing socks with sandals! Especially during colder weather. This may lead you to want to purchase sandals that don’t go between the toes.
Carry a Small Towel
Even though sandals can get wet, it’s always a good idea to carry a small towel or microfiber cloth to remove excess moisture. After you make your way across a river or stream, take a moment to give your feet and sandals a quick wipe just to speed up the drying process.
Choose Simple Trails to Start
People have hiked tremendous distances and some of the world’s most difficult trails in sandals, but if you are new to hiking in sandals, start small. Choose short, familiar trails with few obstacles to get started, then work your way up as you become more comfortable. It’s okay to experiment with different trails and different terrain, but be aware that no shoe can do everything perfectly.
Because sandals provide less support than hiking boots and some trail runners, it is important not to weigh yourself down with too much. Packing light will help you to avoid straining yourself on the trail and keep you from getting tired too quickly. Once you get used to sandals, you can likely up the weight!
Leave Toe Room
The best protection against a stubbed toe is extra toe room. When buying sandals, be sure your toes have plenty of clearance at the top to avoid scraping them or getting them caught while you hike. A good rubber sole can help deflect possible stubbing opportunities, so you’ll be able to hike freely without worrying about your exposed toes.
The Best Hiking Sandals
We don’t have a ton of experience yet trying various sandals. We therefore want to simply point out some of the most popular brands that we’ve heard great things about.
If you say the word “sandal” in a public place, you’ll likely see Chaco owner’s heads pop up. They love to talk about them, and for good reason. Chacos are super comfortable, versatile, and last a long time.
Teva customers have a similar following to Chaco lovers. You’ll may even hear some heated battles over whether to go with Tevas or Chacos. The truth is, both are great companies with great products. Simply find what works for you.
Keen is known for making “sandals” that are much closer to shoes than other style sandals. With more protection and more fabric, some find these sandals more versatile and comfortable for long distances.
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and sharing experiences with others. Max is a published author for various outdoor websites and digital marketing websites. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about