We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Written By
Published Aug 29, 2022 7:00 AM

Sandals may not be the first type of footwear that comes to mind when folks think about hiking, but rugged hiking sandals have a growing niche among the adventure-minded. Sandals are great for staying cool during hot weather, shrug off water and dry faster during watersports or river crossings, and are lightweight enough to pack as an extra pair for around the campsite after a long day on the trail. With another year of hot temperatures projected around the world, more and more experienced hikers are switching to sandals as their go-to foot protectors.

Obviously, not just your everyday flip-flops will do for a proper hike, and cheap sandals will fall apart or give you nasty blisters in less than a mile. To prevent such suboptimal outcomes, here’s a list of the best hiking sandals for everyone from beginners to hardcore hikers.

Best Overall

Keen bills the Newport H2 as a “hybrid sandal,” and it’s easy to see why. Keen’s design offers almost as much foot protection as a full hiking shoe while having the ventilation and easy on/off simplicity of a sandal, making this the perfect all-around hiking sandal. The Newport H2 feels right at home both on the trail as well as around town as the shoe-like appearance is actually quite fashionable. Being designed for the outdoors, the H2 has excellent traction, doesn’t mind getting wet, and provides excellent arch support. Of particular note is the large bumper on the closed-toe design at the front that prevents scuffed or stubbed toes, which are among the most common complaints for sandal-wearers.

I found the bungee-style cinch system to be very easy to use and it adjusts to a 10-point fit around the entire foot. I still would’ve liked to see a secondary type of adjustment at the heel like most hiking sandals have, but it proved a non-issue for me. The hybrid sandal design makes it harder for dirt and debris to get into the shoe, but anything that does manage to get inside can be a little tricker to shake out compared to other styles of sandals. Using the above-mentioned bungee closure, I thought it was very easy to get the shoe off and back on again to clear any stubborn rocks or twigs, so I don’t really consider that a major drawback.

The Newport H2 also has non-marking outsoles, so combined with their waterproofing, they are perfect for boaters as well as hikers. That versatility along with all-day comfort and foot protection is what made me choose the Newport H2 as the Best Overall hiking sandal.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 12 ounces
  • Materials: Polyester webbing, non-marking rubber outsoles, EVA midsole and insole, quick-drying liner
  • Closure style: Lace-lock bungee
Why It Made The Cut
  • The protection of a shoe with the ventilation of a sandal, the Keen Newport H2 is functional, durable, and stylish in any environment.
PROS

Fantastic toe and foot protection

Expansive toe box

Easy lacing system

Odor control lining

CONS

Limited adjustability (though very stretchy)

Heavier than more minimalist designs

Best for Water

While almost all of the sandals on this list are waterproof, Teva started off as a company building sport footwear especially for kayakers, rafters, and river hikers, so it comes as no surprise that its sandals rise above the competition for water adventures. The Hurricane XLT2 simply had the best traction while wet, and the lightweight cushioning keeps you comfortable when trekking across the rocks lining a riverbed or shoreline. A neoprene-lined heel strap also takes the pressure off your heel when heading up steep slopes, something that can be a particular problem with extra-sensitive pruny skin.

I found the injection-molded tabs much easier to grab with wet fingers or while making quick adjustments underwater than similar designs I’ve tried. This proved a useful feature as it’s very easy to over-tighten the straps while sitting down, then realize the problem after a couple minutes of walking. The smooth footbed can result in your foot shifting a bit within the sandal, but I did not list this as a con since sandals with more textured footbeds were liable to give the soles of my feet blisters and hot spots when wet. I also found their arch support to be a bit low, but your mileage on that may vary depending on how your feet are shaped.

In addition to being sandals for water, the Teva Hurricanes are great for walking around, short hikes, and letting your feet dry after a long trek to a campsite. They’re lightweight and store flat, so it’s easy to pack them in your bag for a quick switch when it’s time to ford any streams or rivers.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 4 ounces
  • Materials: Recycled polyester straps, rubber outsole, EVA mid and top soles
  • Closure style: Hook-and-loop
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Teva Hurricane XLT2 is an open construction design with grippy soles and proper heel cushioning, which makes this the ideal sandal for getting wet.
PROS

Outstanding traction even when wet

All straps are fully adjustable

Great cushioning

Lightweight

CONS

Low arch support

Very easy to over-tighten straps

Best for Men

Keen’s Rialto lineup starts off very similar to its best-selling Newport H2, adding a rugged yet classy flair of water-resistant leather and a modified footbed for even more cushioning. A prominent American Built flag patch on the tongue also gives the shoe a distinctive patriotic look that sets it apart from other selections.

I’ve owned my pair of Rialtos for years and they’ve proven themselves adept at hiking across the California Channel Islands, and have been the perfect quick-drying shoes for many scuba expeditions. They do tend to squelch a bit when soaked, but otherwise were not impacted by water, heat, or dust. I particularly love the wide toe box that Keens are famous for, letting the foot splay out more naturally than narrower designs, and the adjustable heel strap is a thoughtful inclusion. I just wish the heel strap had a tad more cushioning as the top ridge could make an annoying hotspot at the tendon on very long hikes. Fortunately, it never progressed to more than an annoyance as the hook-and-loop fastener at the rear makes it easy to make an adjustment and keep on trekking.

Keen’s go-anywhere style of hybrid shoes and sandals are great in themselves, but for those seeking more of a masculine look or just some added ruggedness, the Rialto is an easy recommendation.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 14.8 ounces
  • Materials: Water-resistant leather upper, high-traction rubber outsole, PU foam midsole and footbed
  • Closure style: Lace-lock bungee, hook-and-loop heel strap
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Keen Rialto is even more rugged than the Newport H2 with extra adjustment and a microfiber footbed cover for extra comfort, along with a more distinct masculine style.
PROS

Extra-rugged styling

Excellent foot and toe protection

Superb versatility

Great adjustability

CONS

Stiff heel strap

Foam midsole can be noisy when wet

Best for Women

While offered in men’s sizes, as well — and I find my pair to be quite comfy — women especially love Chacos. I’m an avid scuba diver, so I hang around a lot of hardcore scuba chicks who all seem to have Chacos and can’t stop raving about them. It’s not hard to see why when you first get them fitted just right. Chacos use a very unique adjustment system that threads their webbing through the midsole, meaning tugging them in a certain sequence cinches each strap to your foot perfectly. They really do feel like they’re made for your foot individually, and combined with excellent cushioning and an open design, the Z/Cloud is a very apt name indeed.

That “open and free” feeling is what all of my female friends cited as their number one reason for buying their Chacos. After jamming their feet into tight women’s shoes and heels all day at work and around town, the Z/Cloud and related models were a real treat for their feet. It helps that the Z/Cloud is no slouch when it comes to hiking or water sports either, providing all the traction, support, and water worthiness an experienced outdoorswoman would expect from a serious shoe. Options for a toe strap or just the primary webbing gives buyers even more choice in customizing their fit.

The only drawback I could really identify in the design is that the loose end of the final adjustment strap doesn’t have a dedicated spot to go. It’s easy enough to wrap and tuck it away anywhere you like, but it seemed to come loose unless I wrapped it in a very particular way. The first fitting is also a bit unintuitive, as I had to follow a guide to get the tugging sequence right or I’d end up with one really tight strap and two super loose ones. Styling took a little getting used to on my end, but it did end up growing on me, and there’s plenty of color options to choose from, too.

All in all, the Chaco Z/Cloud is a fantastic choice for anyone seeking a supremely comfortable adventure sandal, with true stand-out potential for women out there who want a uniquely liberated walking experience.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 1 pound 5 ounces
  • Materials: Polyester webbing, non-marking rubber outsole, dual-density polyurethane midsole, polyurethane insole
  • Closure style: Webbing straps
Why It Made The Cut
  • The Chaco Z/Cloud offers a unique webbing adjustment system that makes for a perfect custom fit that also really gives your feet some much deserved freedom.
PROS

Cloud-like cushioning

Adjusts well to normal and odd-shaped feet

Webbing design feels especially open and free

Non-marking soles are great for boating, kayaking, or paddle boarding

CONS

First fitting can take some time

Final adjustment strap has no dedicated place to tuck away

Best for Walking

Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics. Birkenstock has been around as a company since 1774, famous for its contoured cork footbeds and humble German styling. When it comes to long walks in urban environments or traveling, Birkenstock lives up to its fame.

The secret is their lightweight cork construction and orthopedic design — a deep heel cup, multi-direction arch support, raised toe bars for added traction, and a protective wall contribute to optimal positioning for your foot. The cork material also forms on your foot over time, in addition to being naturally porous for excellent breathability. There is some debate in the podiatrist community about whether more or less support is good for long-term foot strengthening. Still, for those on the “more support” side of the argument, Birkenstock shoes are top recommendations for alleviating most types of foot pain. For those seeking the advantages of a “less is more” approach, check out my Best Barefoot-Style recommendation below.

I have very high arches, yet I was still surprised by the level of arch support in the Milanos. I had to reposition my foot a bit as the arches were digging in too much, but once properly positioned, the multi-direction arch support felt like a foot massage in every step. The orthopedic focus of Birkenstock shoes can require an adjustment period for some users too, ironing out issues imposed by lesser shoes.

Birkenstock shoes are also well-known for their high-quality materials, so they last incredibly well. One of my friends has owned his pair for over 10 years and they’re still going strong. Their unique cork breathability is also a key selling point, making them feel not just supportive, but cool and lightweight, too. I found them best for walking along paved surfaces or relatively flat terrain, though they aren’t bad for light hikes once broken in. And, while I find their humble styling quite charming, just don’t wear them with socks unless you want a visit from the fashion police.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 9 ounces
  • Materials: Leather and suede upper, EVA outsole, cork midsole
  • Closure style: Buckle
Why It Made The Cut
  • Birkenstock has been around since 1774 for a reason, and its orthopedics give second-to-none support. The Milano’s corkscrew sole and buckle design create optimal comfort.
PROS

Orthopedic design with incredible support

Cork footbed molds to your foot over time

Three adjustment buckles give ample adjustment

Lots of options and models to choose from

CONS

European measurements make sizing tricky

Very high arch support can require an adjustment period

Water-resistant with special care, not waterproof

Ugly, in a charming sort of way

Best Barefoot-Style

Barefoot-style shoes and sandals have been gaining popularity for years now, with the infamous “toe shoes” being some of the most visible signs of their rise. The arguments for their health benefits make sense: We were born with feet meant to flex, grip, splay, and bounce freely, so the highly supportive shoes we’ve grown accustomed to in civilized society actually serve to weaken the feet over time. Barefoot-style shoes aim to replicate the natural position and movement of the foot while giving them the protection and comfort of a shoe or sandal. I’m a marine biologist (and Gunner’s Mate) by training, not a podiatrist, so I can’t be authoritative one way or the other, but of all the barefoot-style sandals I’ve tried, the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EVs have the approach I’ve loved best.

They feel very cushiony, and the soft straps often made me forget I was wearing anything at all on my feet. There’s lots of room for toes to splay out naturally, but the toe box can also adjust inward to accommodate those with more narrow metatarsals. The sole is very flexible without being floppy, a problem I’ve encountered on other barefoot-style sandals before. The Z-Trails also felt surprisingly protective for what they were trying to achieve, with a great tread pattern that smooths out the pressure from sharp rocks underfoot and a heel cup that kept scuffs to a minimum.

I liked their styling too, feeling like a Roman Legionnaire off on a campaign. I still haven’t worked up my foot strength to more than a few miles in barefoot-style shoes, but I found my feet less achy and fatigued in the Xero Shoes offerings than in similar brands and designs. The soft foam cushioning on the footbed can attract dust and dirt, but a quick rinse was usually all it took to clean them up after a day on the trail.

While I’m still a beginner to barefoot-style hiking, I didn’t have much trouble adjusting to the Z-Trail EVs, and I see them consistently recommended by experienced barefooters, as well. If you’re looking to start your own barefoot-style journey or try out a new take on the movement, give Xero Shoes a look.

Product Specs
  • Weight: 10.8 ounces
  • Materials: Polyester straps, FeelLite rubber outsole, foam mid and top soles
  • Closure style: Strap
Why It Made The Cut
  • Perfect for beginners and experienced barefoot-stylers alike, the Z-Trail EV masters simplicity. They will help your feet do what they were naturally designed to do.
PROS

Simple yet well-built

Flexible yet secure fit, not floppy

Great adjustability

CONS

Barefoot-style shoes require getting used to

Foam footbed can attract dirt

Things to consider before buying hiking sandals

Terrain

The most obvious thing to think about when buying a pair of hiking sandals is what kind of terrain you’ll be encountering the most. Dusty trails with lots of small pebbles and rocks might demand more foot protection. Water sports and river crossings might call for a more open design with a priority on waterproofing. If you expect a lot of different terrain types, then more versatile do-it-all designs exist, too.

Distance and elevation

Quality hiking sandals are well-suited to the task, but some are better at long distances than others. Sandals that feel fine on short hikes might have shortcomings that don’t appear until you really crank up the mileage, so keep that in mind when trying them on. Also, if you expect a lot of elevation changes on your hikes, a heel strap is a must.

Blisters

Feet are sensitive bits of anatomy so if you’re used to hiking in full shoes or boots, be aware that hiking sandals are going to fit differently and make contact with different parts of your foot. Hiking with sandals is a real joy, but ease into it and pay attention to where the hot spots are for quick treatment. Both your feet and your sandals will adjust over time, so make sure you take those first baby steps to ensure long-term comfort.

Sunscreen

It might come as a surprise that you might need to put sunscreen on your feet, but they’re covered in the same skin as the rest of you. Hiking in sandals exposes them to the sun and the elements, so protect them with sunscreen as necessary. Remember that the UV index at altitude tends to be higher too, so even if you wear flip-flops all the time, that may not translate well to tromping through the mountains.

FAQ about hiking sandals

Q: How long can you walk in hiking sandals?

A: Hiking in sandals is a very fun and liberating experience, but it can take some easing into. Start out with some short hikes to get your feet used to the different experience. Once the sandals are broken in and your feet are adjusted, I’ve seen people hike just as far in sandals as I have in proper boots.

Q: How long do hiking sandals last?

A: Just like any hiking gear, your mileage may vary depending on the type of hiking you do. A good quality pair of hiking sandals will last just as long as good hiking boots with proper care and treatment. A lot of manufacturers also offer very affordable strap replacements or resoling services, so check out what different brands offer.

Q: Do you wear socks with hiking sandals?

A: Don’t let the fashion police stop you from wearing socks with sandals if you need to. Socks increase the thermal range of hiking sandals and can also extend the range of your sandals by cutting down on hot spots on a long hike. The only rule is to use what makes you feel the most comfortable on your hike.

Final thoughts

Hiking sandals are a very competitive market with a lot of great brands, innovative designs, and just as many campfire stories to tell. With versatile all-rounders like the Keen Newport H2 or Rialto, it’s easy to use the same sandals you use around town during your outdoor adventures, too. For more waterborne treks, Teva’s Hurricane XLT2 sandals provide superb waterproof performance. Women have a unique comfort experience awaiting them in the Chaco Z/Cloud, while barefooters can march like the Spartans with the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV

Methodology 

I’m an experienced hiker, backpacker, scuba diver, and camper, so I’ve had a lot of experience and interactions over the years with a wide variety of outdoor footwear. Hiking sandals especially became relevant to me when I picked up scuba diving, as they make a lot of sense for walking around boats or beaches while carrying heavy gear, plus drying off and disembarking after a day of diving. So I started off on this article with a lot of research already done through personal experience.

From that initial knowledge, I selected the most representative or innovative models to test from top hiking brands. I happened to have a trip scheduled to Catalina Island off the coast of California, particularly the less populated Two Harbors area which was the perfect test bed for each model. I swapped sandals regularly to try out nature hikes, dusty trails, snorkeling, and scuba dives, plus just staying cool during the hot and humid island summer.

Naturally, comfort was a key feature, as well as durability on the rugged island terrain. I also made sure each sandal maintained traction and protection while wet, and dried quickly. Fortunately, only one model gave me blisters — which did not make the list of course — while all the rest kept my feet quite happy.