Danielle Vilaplana is an Airstream-dwelling writer and photographer in Utah and Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram here.
We’ll be frank: there’s no such thing as the perfect hiking sandal. Your foot shape is as unique and special as you are and there’s just no such thing as a universal shoe that we (or anyone) can deem “the best” for all. But, there are a few shared features most people look for in a performance sandal that's good for hiking, and for this comprehensive list, we’ve considered them all.
Whether you have flat-feet or ballerina arches, whether you’re hitting the trail for a day hike or a backpacking trip or spending a day in the water, you can rock the deep strappy tan lines that indicate a summer well-lived.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty up front then get to our top picks, selected from experience and many miles hiked in lightweight open toe sandals.
What Makes a Good Hiking Sandal?
The primary advantage of sandals is breathability. Traditional hiking footwear can be a heavy, sweaty mess, and even trail runners can feel claustrophobic when the temps kick up. Sandals keep the air flowing and the moisture wicking, so you’ll never have to apologize for your stinky feet again.
Unlike with hiking shoes, sandals offer maximum airflow to keep your toes dry, which is a huge benefit on swampy hikes or trails with many river crossings. Wet feet are uncomfortable and can quickly lead to blisters, and over time moisture can cause larger issues like immersion foot. The ability to splash in and out of water is freeing, and you won’t miss stepping from slippery rocks to precarious logs in order to keep your shoes dry.
Airflow can be found in your standard flip flops though, so the true test of a sandal’s hiking aptitude is traction and stability. Some rubber is stickier than others and some lug patterns offer better grip. Many companies have stuck with tried-and-true Vibram rubber soles, which offer the tackiness of your favorite hiking boots, but most brands have created their own proprietary grip technology with impressive performance.
Stability is a subjective issue. Take, for example, how die-hard minimalist hikers balk at the heavy sole of Chacos. Experienced sandal hikers may opt for more flexible soles that offer better ground feel and conform to uneven terrain, but this does require a bit of balance and care. For most people, a thicker sole equals better stability, and often comes with better arch support for those who want it.
Hot spots are definitely still possible, but many sandals come with fine adjustments to dial in your fit. It’s easy to predict where these hot spots may occur with sandals given the obvious straps, so you can break them in beforehand or carry athletic tape to prevent blisters. You’re also less-likely to experience the painful rubbing of debris in your shoes, as it’s easy to flick sticks and pebbles out of your sandals without stopping.
The 10 Best Hiking Sandals of 2023
Best All-Around Hiking Sandals: Bedrock Cairn Sandals
Some variation of the Bedrock Cairn tops nearly every list of hiking sandals, this one included. So why do we like the Cairn PRO II the most? Their grippy gray Andesite sole excels in wet conditions, whether you’re rigging rafts or stepping around slippery, wet roots. The contact between your foot and the footbed is stellar and only slips in the muddiest of terrain. They also come stock with Bedrock's G-hook-and-loop heel strap as an alternative to the typical velcro strap, which can break down in sandy or wet terrain.
Some people can’t stomach the thought of toe socks, others detest the feeling of a thong between their toes. Similarly, the Cairn Pro II's toe strap does require break-in time to build up a callus, but after that it’s smooth sailing. This difference is perhaps the biggest divide in the sandal world, and one reason we say there’s no perfect sandal.
For those of us who are open to the flip-flop feel, the Cairn Pro II offers unparalleled performance and weighs in at a respectably ultralight nine ounces per sandal. They can be both re-strapped and re-soled at Bedrock’s HQ in Missoula, Montana, too, but it’ll take enormous mileage to even get to that point because these sandals are in it for the long haul. (For a little extra support, Bedrock's Cairn 3D PRO II is the same shoe but with a contoured footbed.)
Price: $130 SHOP NOW
Best Budget Hiking Sandals: Teva Hurricane XLT 2
Tevas are generally more budget-friendly than the other sandals, and the Hurricane XLT 2 sandals pair that approachable price point with impressive quality. The Hurricane XLT 2 sandals feature a classic design with three adjustable straps that provide solid stability while trekking through the backcountry, albeit not quite as much as the Chaco Z-straps. The EVA footbed and tough rubber outsole are comfortable day after day without feeling clunky and provide great traction for watery endeavors too.
The XLT 2's straps are made from Repreve recycled plastic webbing and adjust via simple velcro straps, and the entire package is vegan and recyclable. There’s also a nifty neoprene heel pad that protects your achilles from painful rubbing, which is just the kind of detail you can expect after nearly 40 years in the business. The aesthetic itself feels a little dated, but Teva’s sustainability initiatives prove that they’re just as committed to progress as they are to their comfortable, functional heritage.
Best Sandals with Arch Support: Chaco Z/1
A list of top sandals isn’t complete without the Chaco Z/1 classic, though they have some serious old school heft (they weigh nearly two pounds) compared to the more svelte options on this list. That bulk does add up to major gains in durability and anatomical support though, and Chaco's proprietary Luvseat midsole and heel cup have even been certified by podiatrists. These beefcakes have absolutely zero finesse, but they make up for it in their ability to plod through anything in their path.
The high arch support is serious and can be too much for some, but many folks swear by it, and it's complemented by the brand's ChacoGrip outsole, which holds well on slippery surfaces. The Z-shaped strap design keeps your feet from slipping against the footbed and the sandals can be re-strapped, which ensures these sandals will last nearly forever and adds points for sustainability. The straps do have a bit of a learning curve (an adjustment guide can be found on Chaco's website) but they offer respite for those who can’t stand the feeling of a toe loop.
Best Closed-Toe Sandals: Keen Clearwater CNX
Closed-toed sandals are in a class of their own. Keen's Newport is an old-school favorite, but we’ve found that many sandal wearers want lighter footwear options, which pushes the Clearwater CNX past them in the running. A water sandal first, they excel both on the river thanks to a foot bumper that provides toe protection from underwater obstacles and on the trail with quick-drying liners and straps.
The Clearwater's EVA midsole has plenty of arch support but the outsole is not quite as grippy as other sandals. There isn't a lot of space for the toes to spread out either, and the Clearwaters use a lace-lock bungee system that isn’t particularly adjustable. Close-toed sandals certainly aren’t our number one pick, but they offer necessary versatility for those venturing into uncharted terrain.
Best Sandals for Water Sports: Chaco Z/Cloud
Chaco's Z/Cloud is a little more sleek than its Z/1 counterpart. They are lighter than they look at 1.8 pounds per pair, and five millimeters of soft polyurethane cushioning tops the Luvseat midsoles and provides their namesake feel. The diamond footbed pattern is grippy when wet and still features a higher arch for all-day support.
The Z/Cloud's chunky Vibram sole is stiff and heavy, as expected from Chacos, but it’s forgiving enough to bend a little on uneven watery floors. The Z-strap design is particularly handy in the water as it keeps your feet from sliding sideways against the footbed, something that can happen in less-supportive sandals. Watery endeavors like rafting, kayaking, and canyoneering can be hard on your gear and the Z/Clouds aren’t quite as durable as the Z/1s, but the re-strapping services are cheaper than a new pair of sandals, making the Z/Clouds a functional and sustainable option for those who abuse their footwear.
Best Shoe-Sandals Hybrid: Teva Outflow Universal
The just-released Outflow Universal is a major departure from the brand's Original Universal sandal so many of us wore as kids, but it keeps the spirit of that model—and the Velcro strap system—in this sandal-shoe hybrid. The Outflow's design provides loads of versatile functionality; it's like a Teva with a comfy mesh liner, which makes it ideal as either a water shoe or a hiking sandal, and it makes for a pretty darn good camp shoe after a long day too. The mesh is breathable (which, remember, is the main benefit of sandals) and the straps make it easy to adjust the fit. The biggest difference from other hiking sandals is a sole that's far more sneaker-like, which makes the Outflow heavier but also plenty stable and comfy.
Best Ultralight Sandals: Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV
On the flip side of the sandal spectrum, the Xero Z-Trail sandals are super flexible and wildly light, with the comfort of a sportier sandal and lightweight packability of your old flip flops. Xero's FeelLight sole allows excellent ground feel and coverage and the TrailFoam layer provides a bit of cushion. The dual-direction chevron tread has a solid grip, albeit not as much as most of the other sandals here. Ultimately, the Z-Trails are in their own class, and at 5.4 ounces each, it’s hard to argue with that summertime barefoot feel.
Best Old-School Hiking Sandals: ECCO Yucatan
The ECCO Yucatans are the sandals to buy your dad for his Caribbean cruise. Or yourself, if that's the vibe you're going for. They are downright cozy, but that plush feel comes with a chunky aesthetic and monetary—the Yucatans are the priciest sandals on this list at $140.
That price comes from the premium materials ECCO used to make them. Soft nubuck leather straps with a neoprene liner keep your foot firmly planted and a microfiber footbed prevents slippage in wet conditions. The three straps are relatively stable but not very adjustable, and the contoured EVA footbed cradles and pampers your feet. It takes the opposite approach of barefoot sandals by supporting your foot through its natural movements with a slightly rockered outsole, rather than leaving your arches to fend for themselves.
Best Sandals for Trail Running: Luna Mono Winged
The Luna Mono Winged Sandals are definitely niche; the brand was founded by the natural ultrarunner Barefoot Ted after his famous Copper Canyon races with the idea of creating true sport sandals. The Luna's Vibram Moreflex sole is thin and flexible yet durable for natural running movement over countless miles. Winged nylon webbing laces adjust easily, though they do require attention to get the fit right.
The Mono Winged Sandals are suited for a very particular audience, as they are similar to Bedrock's Cairn but provide a much different feel. The outsole is thin to maximize ground feel and the footbed is not quite as grippy as that of the Cairn PRO II. They are solid outdoor adventure sandals to be sure, but only those looking for a seriously minimal feel will appreciate the Lunas over the Bedrocks. They’re made in the USA as well, and there’s definitely something to be said for USA-made products.
Most Unique Style: Hoka Hopara
It was a tough call between the Hoka Hoparas and the Keen Uneeks for weirdest active sandal, but the Hoparas (available in men's and women's styles) are a bit more functional outdoors. Hoka is known for their plush feel and the Hoparas bring the best of trail running shoes and sandals together into one. The half-sneaker-half-sandal features plenty of arch support and uses a firm, neutral cushion bed to provide excellent stability without the gait-corrections of many other trail runners.
The Hopara's wide, multidirectional lugs provide adequate grip and the quick-lace system is easy to adjust, albeit not as dialed as most other sandals on this list. Minimalist hikers will revile the Hoparas, but die-hard Hoka fans looking for a little more versatility will be stoked on the freedom they offer.