Hiking sandals are a great minimalist option when hiking outdoors, especially during the hotter and dryer seasons. Unlike hiking boots and hiking shoes, hiking sandals are designed to give you maximum breathability and lightness.
Additionally, they also function as water shoes, and lightweight fashion accessories, and can even be worn for everyday use. Overall, hiking sandals are multi-purpose footwear with a specialty for sandy environments, but can they really be used on the trail?
Based on our 10+ years of hiking, we’re going to talk a little about where hiking sandals perform best, which products are rated as popular among consumers, and whether or not they’re reliable for summer excursions.
What Are Hiking Sandals?
Hiking sandals are ultralight footwear made to be used on summer hikes and for beach traveling.
Despite weighing less than hiking boots, hiking shoes, and trail runners, sandals provide significant arch support, grippy outsoles, durability, and great toe protection, on the closed-toe models at least.
Due to their exposed and minimalist designs, hiking sandals dry very quickly when exposed to water, practically making them waterproof. However, they also have the benefit of allowing debris, such as pebbles, to quickly dislodge without getting stuck.
Many people think that hiking sandals and flip-flops are the same, but this isn’t true. While they do have similarities, flip flops are minimalist sandals with a strap that goes between the big toe and the second toe, and that’s it.
They lack the features that most hiking sandals have, like firm rubber outsoles and adjustable heel or ankle straps.
If you love the minimalist style please see our selection of the best minimalist hiking shoes where we review and compare the top models in 2023.
Are Hiking Sandals Good for Hiking?
Wearing sandals for hiking is good, as long as they’re not being used on technical trails in place of other appropriate hiking footwear.
The utility of a hiking sandal depends on the terrain and weather you intend to travel in.
For example, your feet would be poorly protected in cold conditions or on trails that have a lot of jagged debris and downed branches.
However, despite its seemingly frail design, a hiking sandal usually has a tough polyester upper and a thick rubber outsole.
Both of these increase the sandal’s lifespan and allow you to firmly plant yourself on slippery surfaces.
Hiking in sandals also comes with the benefit of having natural waterproofing. Whether you’re wearing closed-toe hiking sandals or open-toe hiking sandals, wet feet won’t make the footwear uncomfortable or decrease their effectiveness.
This is a huge advantage over hiking boots and trail runners, which become almost unbearable to wear after water gets inside.
Are Hiking Sandals Comfortable?
Hiking sandals are very comfortable. As far as cushioning goes, hiking sandals are usually made with EVA foam footbeds, PU midsoles, and heel cups. These features combined provide softness comparable to a pillow, allowing you to wear them all day without discomfort.
Even while wearing socks, a hiking sandal is accommodating enough to be worn without causing sweaty feet. Although, socks are really only necessary in cool fall conditions and mild winter climates, and even then, thick hiking socks can be worn without constriction.
Lastly, the closure system that a hiking sandal uses, whether it’s a heel strap or bungee lace, fits around the foot perfectly and causes zero rubbing or blistering.
What Are the Best Hiking Sandals?
Teva Terra Fi 5 Universal
The Teva Terra Fi 5 Universals are a pair of lightweight hiking sandals with an open-toe design.
The uppers are made with durable polyester webbing, which features a hook and loop closure system for an adjustable fit.
The molded PU midsole provides good arch support, and the nylon shank gives great stability to the foot. When paired with the rubber outsole, which has a surefooted grip on slippery surfaces, these sandals are comfortable and reliable for up to several miles.
With a weight of 1lb. 10oz. per pair, the Fi 5 is great for casual outdoor activities and watersports.
Read More: Are Tevas Good for Hiking
KEEN Newport H2
The KEEN Newport H2s are closed toe sandals with more of a rugged build. Since the design of the uppers provides more coverage than some other sandals, your feet have more protection.
However, the enclosed design also makes it more likely that debris will become lodged.
Despite that, the Newport H2 is made with more of a focus on comfort and protection, so it has features like the KEEN toe bumper, EVA insoles, and quick-drying capabilities.
Overall, its performance is excellent both on land and water. The lace-lock bungee system, which uses elastic straps, has three adjustment points, making it customizable for people with larger or narrower feet.
Learn more about this product by checking the Keen Newport H2 review.
Chaco Z/Cloud Sandal
The Chaco Z/Clouds are lightweight sandals and probably one of the outdoor community’s favorite hiking sandals.
The Z/Cloud has a customizable strap system, a LUVSEAT PU midsole with deep heel cups and support for high arches, and a non-marking ChacoGrip rubber outsole.
These sandals are tear-resistant and versatile for many outdoor activities, such as camping, kayaking, and light trail walks. While not as protective as hiking boots, the Z/Cloud sandals have comfort comparable to some hiking shoes and trail runners.
Even though they’re open-toe sandals, if you use these on well-maintained trails and for beach activities, they’re probably the softest and most accommodating set of sandals on the market.
Read More: Are Chacos Good for Hiking
Advantages of Using Hiking Sandals
Sandals can be used for various outdoor activities, but they’re commonly seen during the warmer spring and summer seasons.
However, it’s also common to see hikers with socks on while wearing hiking sandals, particularly in the fall and winter.
Even though they’re commonly marketed as footwear for hot weather, sandals can be worn with socks to provide a superficial layer of insulation in the colder seasons, making these perfect to be worn all year round.
Unlike a hiking boot, which is bulked up with thick padding and other dense materials, a sandal gives up more than half of those features for decreased weight, convenience, and comfort.
The decreased weight reduces the amount of energy you’d spend hauling around most hiking boots. Additionally, just like a good water shoe for hiking, the lightness of a sandal makes it easier to store with other items you might actually need on a hike.
The polyester uppers that sandals are made with don’t tear easily, but the footbeds and outsoles are also built to last, assuming they’re not used on technical hiking trails.
For example, with regular use for casual activities, the Z/Cloud sandals can last for up to 5+ years before showing any significant signs of wear. Sandals made with premium materials tend to be more expensive, but they make up for it with their long lifespans.
Disadvantages of Using Hiking Sandals
Sandals aren’t as enclosed as other types of hiking shoes. Consequently, this means that your feet will be more exposed to the trail.
Your toes, which are more likely to be slammed against rocks or stubbed on other kinds of trail debris, will be the most vulnerable, particularly in sandals without toe guards.
Even though sandals can be worn with socks, the protection wouldn’t be enough to properly shield your feet from blunt objects.
Even though some sandals have great traction, many outsole designs lack the firm grip of a traditional hiking boot or shoe.
This can be problematic on steep surfaces and wet rocks, where you’d need the extra adhesion to increase your stability and limit the risk of falling.
Unfortunately, even the best sandals don’t have the same surefootedness as heavy-duty hiking boots.
Since sandals lack collars, they provide zero stability or support to the ankles. That said, even if you used this type of footwear for camping or light trail walks, there would be a limit to the amount of material you could carry in a pack, and possibly even to the amount of time you could stay on your feet for moderate hikes.
Also, the absence of ankle support means that you’re more likely to injure yourself if you misstep.
Do We Recommend Sandals for Hiking in the Summer?
We highly recommend sandals for hiking in the summer. The waterproof and breathable style of a sandal makes it perfect for sandy beach-like terrains and camping adventures.
High-quality sandals have straps that are strong enough to stand up to most tasks, and the ultralight design makes them convenient to slip on and off at a moment’s notice.
Despite not having adequate protection or ankle support, sandals hardly require any of those features if they’re used in the appropriate settings.