There was a time when sandals were reserved for the beach or the public shower. Blessedly, those days are long gone. Outdoor-oriented companies have taken the same core DNA of your standard flip-flops and leveled it up with features like a beefier sole, more secure webbing, greater arch support or some combination of all three. All that adds up to a sandal that’s just as at home on the trail as it is the pool—but which is best for you?
We enlisted the feet of 19 testers across the country to put this year’s top hiking sandals through their paces. Our testers scaled peaks, crossed rivers and suffered more than a few blisters to bring you the seven best technical sandals available at REI.
Find our quick recommendations here or read on for the full breakdown of our field test of the best hiking sandals.
- Best All-Around Hiking Sandal: Bedrock Sandals Cairn Adventure
- Best Hiking Sandal for Backpacking: Chaco Z/Cloud
- Best Hiking Sandal for Everyday Wear: Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal
Other Top Performers
- Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV Sandal
- Teva Hurricane XLT2
- KEEN Newport H2
- KEEN Newport H2 Kids’ and Toddlers’
- HOKA ORA Recovery 3 Slides
Best All-Around Hiking Sandal
Bedrock Sandals Cairn Adventure Sandals
Weight (pair) 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: The pluses of hiking sandals—chiefly breathability, low weight, simpler water crossings, sweet tan lines—only register if the fit is perfect. Every strap and buckle needs to hit your foot just so, and if a contour in the footbed is an iota off, you’re in for a world of hurt. That's where Bedrock Sandals come in.
The not-so-secret sauce is in the unique harness system. A flip-flop-style Y-strap crosses the forefoot, and an adjustable band wraps around the back to keep tootsies secure. (Think of it like a flip-flop with a heel strap—providing the airiest feel in the test.) The design ensures that there are no points of contact on your forefoot or across your toes. Our five testers unanimously praised this REI Editors' Choice Awared Winner's comfort both out of the box and after long trail days when grime or foot swell can make other shoes fit differently. In fact, we were so chuffed that we began distributing our testing samples to any and all parties who'd try them on, even if the numerical size wasn't perfect—not one negative comment. We did persuade a couple of holdouts that the sandal way of life has potential, however.
We'd forgive you for thinking that the airy design of the Cairn Adventure might make it loosey-goosey, but that's simply not the case. With a three-point adjustment system, the Cairn Adventure is plenty secure for more technical hiking. Our testers ticked off a handful of StairMaster hikes like Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado, and the slog up to Spade Lake in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness while wearing Bedrocks. Credit the geometrically patterned footbed for its noticeable skin traction and purchase: “I could almost feel the soft patterning holding my foot in place during river crossings,” said one tester after a 4-mile hike in Colorado’s Brainard Lake Recreation Area. To fit the Cairn Adventure initially, slide your first and second toes around the nylon webbing “toe post,” then adjust the hook strap on the inside of the Y and the Velcro heel strap. Once those are set to your liking, use the buckle on the outside of the Y to loosen and tighten the sandal for everyday wear thereafter.
At just a pound for a pair, the Cairn Adventure likely weighs less than your trail lunch, and it showed: “I don’t ever want my feet to feel weighed down while crossing a sketchy river, and I never felt burdened,” said our Montana-based tester. The XS Trek rubber outsole isn’t the stickiest in the Vibram® lineup, but it offers a great blend of traction and durability. (Typically, the stickier the rubber, the quicker it breaks down.) The Cairn Adventure held fine during river crossings and gripped well on dry-and-steep terrain. Note that the minimalist design (0mm heel-to-toe drop) of the Cairn Adventure doesn’t offer any support (Bedrock Sandals doesn’t claim as much), so if you plan on backpacking in your sandals you may want to look for a more traditional ride. But for folks who are accustomed to the more natural, midfoot gait required of minimalist shoes, there is no better vehicle for freeing your feet. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Comfort and tech come together in the versatile Bedrock Sandals Cairn Adventure, the top performer in our test.
- Total mileage: 257 (230 on trail, 27 in water)
- Testing states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana and Washington
- Vertical gain: 66,800 feet
Best Hiking Sandal for Backpacking
Chaco Z/Cloud Sandals
Weight (pair) 1 lb. 5 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 14 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: Hiking sandals and backpacking have a reputation like oil and water, but Chaco Nation likely has something to say on the matter. The Z/Cloud has a cushioned footbed, contoured arch and dual-density polyurethane (PU) midsole—the same sort of formula used in your favorite hiking boots. Not only can it support tired feet much like a traditional boot, but it can withstand miles of abuse under a heavy load without breaking down. Most folks who swear by Chacos will lose their sandals before they need to replace them.
The profile of the Z/Cloud supports a more traditional, heel-striking gait, which is perfect for longer hikes and overnights. “I covered 6 miles trekking the Nuuanu-Judd Trail while carrying my son, and my feet never felt fatigued,” said our Hawaii-based tester after a day hike with her 2-year-old. Another tester wore the Z/Cloud for a 30-mile backpacking trip in Washington’s Alpine Lakes Wilderness with lots of up-down-up-down and noted the lateral security of the foot harness. Thick webbing crosses the midfoot twice, offering more torsional support than expected. (The Z/Cloud 2 also loops around the big toe, which can feel even more secure if it hits you right.) That all makes the Z/Cloud the most supportive hiking sandal in our test.
Chaco moved to a proprietary rubber for the outsole in 2016, and our testers claim that it works well on wet and steep terrain. The sandals gripped slippery rocks fine after an afternoon squall left the trail to Blue Lake in Colorado's Indian Peaks sloppy: “I felt confident stepping from rock to rock on a creek crossing without a trekking-pole assist,” a tester affirms. Still, the shallow (3mm) lugs faltered on loose gravel and dust near Alaska’s Little O’Malley Peak.
There are other drawbacks to the Z/Cloud, too. For starters, the oversize sole does make it one of the heaviest shoes in our test. Second, the webbing can rub or create hot spots if it’s wet (say, after a river crossing). Finally, as with most hiking sandals, it has to fit you well to be effective, and that’s not always a matter of simply breaking it in, either. But if the Z/Cloud fits your foot, welcome to Chaco Nation.
Bottom Line: Ample arch support and a durable midsole make the Chaco Z/Cloud the only sandal in the test built for high-mileage pursuits and heavy packs.
- Total mileage: 271 (242 on trail, 29 in water)
- Testing states: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas, Utah and Washington
- Vertical gain: 31,000 feet
Best Hiking Sandal for Everyday Wear
Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal Sandals
Weight (pair) 1 lb. 4 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 10 oz. (men’s 9), 1 lb. 12 oz. (men’s leather 9)
Test Results: It’s rare for testers to unanimously agree on anything, so we took note when they all praised the Teva Terra Fi’s unmatched comfort. “These sandals cradle my foot like it’s a baby,” one said. “I felt like I was walking on memory foam,” said another. The secret: lots of cushioning. It starts with a soft molded polyurethane (PU) midsole that’s, well, foot-shaped. With contours that accomodate the heel and ball of the foot, plus the arch, the Terra Fi feels great out of the box. The leather version even has a delightfully plush footbed. But it doesn’t end there. Teva lines each of the strap posts with cushy EVA foam—a pillow-like barrier against any friction.
Three adjustable hook-and-loop straps (one each at the forefoot, instep and heel) move well and conform to a variety of foot shapes. Quick adjustments are no problem, should you want to ratchet the straps down for hiking or loosen them for more casual wear. One tester noted that the Terra Fi was just as comfortable at the end of a long travel day, after his feet had swelled.
The Terra Fi has a TPU shank inside the PU midsole, which offers up more support than the majority of sandals in the test. We felt solid under loads up to 40 pounds and even when hefting our tired kiddos. Teva places its most versatile rubber compound on the outsole, so it holds fast to dry rock and dirt. The flatter pattern on the bottom of the shoe isn’t suited well for mud or slick terrain, however. (Also, though the water-friendly leather holds up OK in wet conditions, we’d recommend the synthetic version of this sandal for folks who plan on frequenting sloppy and sloshy trails; it dries faster.)
“I call these my do-it-all sandals,” says one Colorado-based tester. “I travel in them, do everyday chores in them, hike in them and even wear them to the office.” (Editor’s note: This is Boulder we’re talking about.) “They’re my daily drivers.” That’s versatility we can all get behind. Trade-off: The aesthetics aren’t for everyone. Buy here.
Bottom Line: Out-of-the-box comfort and a firm, supportive midsole lend the Teva Terra Fi 5 to everyday wear.
- Total mileage: 58 (54 on trail, 4 in water)
- Testing states: California, Colorado and Texas
- Vertical gain: 8,200 feet
Other Top Performers
Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV Sandals
Weight (pair) 8.6 oz. (women’s 7), 10.8 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: Ounce-counters looking for an ultralight setup down to their feet will love the minimalist design (and weight) of the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV. Not only do the Z-Trails sport a 0mm drop from heel to toe, but there’s only 10mm of shoe between your foot and the ground: a sandwich of a rubber outsole, a firmer foam midsole and a comfy foam footbed. “They are so flexible that you can literally twist them in a spiral,” said one Montana-based tester. That creates unparalleled ground feel—the closest thing to actually being barefoot in the test. (Hikers who use minimalist shoes like the Z-Trail tend to prefer the balance and agility that come with such a natural, barely-there fit.) In this EV version, Xero subbed in soft, tubular webbing—no sharp edges!—made from recycled plastic bottles. And, the redesigned chevron tread added even more grip in wet conditions, as our Montana tester noted after fishing the North Fork of the Flathead River. (Tip: Transition to barefoot shoes slowly to save yourself from achy muscles.) Buy here.
Teva Hurricane XLT2 Sandals
Weight (pair) 15.6 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 4 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: New to hiking in sandals? Meet your new best friends. An EVA midsole in the Teva Hurricane XLT 2 offers just enough bounce for a comfortable ride and a nylon shank ups the stiffness factor, a can’t-go-wrong recipe that made it easy for our Alaska-based tester to carry loads of 25 pounds. Neoprene cushion on the heel strap keeps the shoe in place, even while wet, and the rubber outsole uses a mix of rectangular and triangular lugs for Super Glue-like stickiness on dry terrain. (They were, however, “slicker than snot” on wet, mossy logs and rocks, one tester pointed out.) Best part: The Hurricanes are the most affordable shoe in test. Buy here.
KEEN Newport H2 Sandals
Weight (pair) 1 lb. 6.7 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 12 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: What would a gear guide about hiking sandals be without the venerable Newport? Like a low hiking shoe with cutouts, the KEEN classic is as at home on hiking trails as it is in the water. It has a cushy, running shoe-like molded EVA midsole that’s coupled with a burly outsole. That big ol’ toe bumper protects tootsies from rogue rocks and brambles, and the canvas harness serves up more security than other sandals on this list. The whole bundle supported our testers well under loads up to 30 pounds. “I crossed rocky terrain with jagged stones and rolling boulders and never felt unstable or sore,” said one Colorado tester after a 7-mile hike on the Roaring Creek Trail in Roosevelt National Forest. And though this somewhat timeless silhouette is dad-approved, note that the aesthetics aren’t for everyone. Buy here.
KEEN Newport H2 Sandals
Test Results: They’re not just for grown-ups. Like its adult counterpart (above), the KEEN Newport H2 for kids and tots is reliable on land and in water thanks to a burly outsole coupled with a sturdy synthetic webbing. But in the kiddos’ version, the toe bumper is even more appreciated: “Our 5-year-old has worn the Newports ever since she could walk, and I swear they’ve saved us a few busted toes,” says one mama. The wider-than-usual toe box allows for natural splay, and the hook-and-loop closure is navigable for little fingers. (Nice touch for parents with little ones in the “I-can-do-it-myself!” phase.) Trade-off: Sand and grit can get lodged inside, so be prepared for a few trailside pit stops for emptying. Buy here.
HOKA ORA Recovery Slides
Weight (pair) 13.2 oz. (women’s 11/men’s 9)
Test Results: Will you hike far in these puppies? Probably not. But after a long hike, there may be nothing better. HOKA designers took the same oversize midsole their maximalist running shoes are known for and inserted it into a slide for the ultimate cushion. They also added a rockered geometry—meaning the profile of the sandal is upturned like a smile—to give you a more natural, easy gait when walking. All that reduces strain on already-sore joints. "It was like my feet got their own little recovery session,” reports one tester. Reading between the lines: The ORA Rrevocery 3s are comfortable and our choice for a great après-hike shoe at camp or the parking lot. (We wouldn’t recommend any actual hiking in these sandals.) Buy here.
In general, hiking sandals are open, often-airier shoes that enable you to hit the trail sans socks. But depending on your preferred type of trail time, you may opt for different features. Traditional hiking and backpacking sandals like the Chaco Z/Cloud boast firmer outsoles and midsoles for underfoot support, which allows you to carry heavier loads. Comfortable webbing (or straps) is paramount for long-haul comfort.
If you anticipate hiking on slippery terrain, look for a sportier sandal with above-average traction like the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV. (Careful: The stickier the outsole rubber, the quicker it will break down. That means the lifespan for an amphibious shoe will often be shorter than that of a traditional hiking sandal.) Of course, if you’re planning to actually sluice through creeks and waterways, you’ll need more than good traction. Look for a water shoe or sandal with ample drainage ports (for comfort and quick-drying capability) and a patterned footbed (to prevent your foot from slipping around) like the KEEN Newport H2.
Finally, travel sandals like the Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal Leather may be less technical than the other types here, but if your hiking is light, you’ll appreciate the comfort. Travel sandals highlight cushion over performance, and their firm-yet-squishy midsoles provide comfy support for walking, but not necessarily hefting big loads. (They also won’t dry nearly as quickly as the other types here.)
Hiking sandals are different than regular sandals thanks to three components: the midsoles, the outsoles and the lacing systems.
The support of a hiking sandal depends on its midsole. The midsole is the layer of material sandwiched between the outsole and the insole. Typically, the midsole is constructed from one of two materials: ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) or polyurethane (PU). EVA foam tends to be lighter and softer, but not as durable. PU is firmer and more supportive, but it is less squishy. Hikers carrying lighter loads (less than 30 pounds) will be fine with an EVA midsole, but hikers and backpackers with heavier packs (more than 30 pounds) should consider PU midsoles for added support. (Read more about hiking shoe components here.)
The outsole (commonly just referred to as “the sole”) is the bottommost layer of the shoe. Since it’s what makes contact with the ground, the outsole is usually made from a sticky rubber compound. As with your running shoes or hiking boots, you want a technical, sticky outsole on your hiking sandal for traction. The knobs or shapes in the outsole—lugs—vary in size and shape. In general, deeper lugs offer more traction. Pointy shapes are great for toeing off, while flat and blunt lugs are for braking. Most sandals and amphibious shoes will also have some sort of siping, or channels in the outsole that let water escape.
Traditional laces are only found in hybrid sandals like the KEEN Newport H2. These sandals use lacing like traditional hiking footwear for added security, which makes them great for higher-mileage pursuits. (They also tend to have uppers like traditional hiking footwear.) The majority of hiking sandals, however, use webbing instead of lacing. There are usually three main straps: two that cross the foot and a third to secure the heel. Some brands (like Chaco) offer a fourth strap that runs diagonally for added security. Toe straps are entirely dependent on user comfort. Some hikers prefer a circular strap to isolate the big toe while others opt for a flip-flop-style toe bar like the style of the Bedrock Sandals Cairn Adventure.
Our 19 testers tallied more than a thousand miles, putting 14 top-selling and top-rated hiking sandals at REI through the gauntlet. After a two-month period, each tester rated the sandals they tried on a 100-point scale for support, traction and overall comfort. Total scores listed above are a cumulative average.
Photography by Andrew Bydlon