Hiking with sandals is slowly becoming a more popular alternative to hiking with shoes or boots. And for good reason hiking with sandals has many pros to it when compared to your typical hiking footwear.
If you have thought about hiking in sandals but are just a little unsure about it. You are not alone; I and many others have been there also. In this guide we are going to cover the pros and cons of hiking sandals. We will also compare them to other types of footwear available.
By the time you get to the end you’ll know all you need to know about hiking sandals, why they are becoming popular, and if they will work for you.
Pros of Hiking with Sandals
Weight is a big factor when it comes to hiking or backpacking. The more weight you carry the more energy you have to use during your hike. Most boots and hiking shoes weigh more than hiking sandals.
It isn’t uncommon to see hiking boots weighing around 2 – 3 pounds and hiking shoes at 1-2 pounds. Majority of hiking sandals will weigh a pound or less due to less materials.
Another benefit of hiking with sandals is having fewer blisters. This is because of many reasons. When we get blisters, it is usually the cause of friction rubbing on contact points.
Sandals have less friction points where the feet and sandals make contact in comparison to when wearing hiking shoes or boots. This reduces the chances of your feet to rub.
While getting blisters where straps touch can happen. It’s easier to adjust hiking sandals before it becomes a blister. Sandals also keep your feet cooler in comparison to boots and shoes which is another important factor in blister prevention.
Your feet will stay dry and are less likely to slide in sandals than boots or shoes.
Keep Feet Cool
As we mentioned above hiking sandals will leave your feet cooler than shoes or boots. During the warmer months this is a huge advantage because your feet will stay drier and will not slide as much.
This also prevents your feet from smelling as bad and from bacteria developing causing things like athlete’s feet. Plus, it just feels nice to have the air on the toes during a hike.
Multi – Use
The biggest benefit of hiking sandals is how multi use they are. You can easily get hiking sandals wet without much worry because they will dry out quickly.
This is highly useful for cross streams, creeks, and taking for hot springs. Hiking shoes and boots are not as versatile and when wet stay wet and increase in weight. A pair of wet shoes can feel like having two heavy bricks strapped to your feet. And that’s no fun when you have a long hike.
Hiking sandals are also highly useful in that they can be worn for casual lounge wear, hiking, and water sports. In a sense they can be used for many things which makes them so useful.
Hiking sandals are super easy to make quick adjustments in comparison to hiking boots or shoes. It isn’t uncommon in the trails for twigs, rocks, and pebbles to get stuck in your shoes on a hike.
When this happens, you’re only left with a couple choices: just keep going through or stop and take it out. With sandals this job is a lot easier and quicker.
You can simply shake your foot and it usually falls out or give it a quick swipe with your finger. With boots and shoes, you need to actually unlace, loosen, pull your foot out, and dump out your shoe, and then tie the shoe back up.
Though hiking with sandals will often lead to less chances for blisters. You’ll need to make sure the fit is proper, and the straps are just right. Sometimes when the straps are too loose it will cause friction and blisters will form.
Also, be sure to keep your feet dry especially when going through different terrains. Wet sandals can sometimes cause rubbing around the straps which can lead to blisters.
Bringing blister protection, ensuring a good fit, and being proactive is a great way to prevent any blister from forming
Exposed to the Sun
However, hiking in sandals allows the freedom of moving your toes more freely. Unfortunately, the toes are completely exposed to the elements. Such as cold, sun, and rocks. Good thing there is a way to prevent a lot of that.
For sun exposure make sure you wear sunscreen to protect your feet. I usually recommend a natural SPF 50 based sunscreen, applied to the tops of the feet and the toes. To protect your feet from too much sun exposure.
Rocks, twigs, and debris
When hiking in sandals rocks are going to be one of your worst enemies. Getting a small rock under your feet isn’t much fun nor is stubbing your toe.
If you’re afraid of stubbing your toe, then you might want a hiking sandal with toe protection to provide more of a shield. Or layer up with a pair of toe socks to at least provide a little more protection.
Other than that, when it comes to rocks getting under your feet. I find that it’s almost inevitable and it will happen at some time or another.
Exposed to Cold
The biggest downside to hiking with sandals is the cold. There is really only one thing you can do, and it is not very fashionable…wear hiking socks.
I know hiking socks and sandals are a bad look. But for the cold adding another layer helps tremendously for insulation and also protection. There are a lot of good socks out there.
I personally like the Injinji toe socks. I have found them to work the best. If you’re looking for more insulative wear, then try Darn Toughs heavyweight socks.
Otherwise, I would just hike in boots or shoes. Really about 45F is the coldest I would ever go, and by then most times I opt for trail shoes or boots just because in the cold boots and shoes are more insulative.
Snakes and Bugs
This really isn’t a big downside as snake sightings are usually very rare. Though it can happen, wearing sandals will leave your feet more exposed than boots or trail shoes. The one thing to remember is that wildlife encounters with snakes are fairly uncommon. Most snakes and other wildlife will be doing their own thing unless we go up to them and engage with them.
More common will be bugs like mosquitos and biting flies. Though still this depends on where you are hiking at. This can usually be mitigated by using bug spray or wearing socks.
This doesn’t happen very often because most hiking sandal straps are made with sturdy materials like nylon. However, in a situation when a strap does break then the sandal may become unusable. Most hiking sandals straps are how you adjust the sandal, so the straps are kind of an Achilles heel.
Hiking boots and trail shoes don’t share this problem and are easier to repair, a shoelace can be easily replaced with paracord if needed. A repair plan for hiking sandals could include duct tape and a sewing kit. Again, this is usually uncommon, and strap don’t tend to break so easily but, out in the backcountry we always want to be prepared.
Hiking Sandals Considerations
When looking for hiking sandals you want to consider the style and design, closed toe vs open toe, minimalist vs regular, between the toe or over toe straps, and amount of arch support. When picking a sandal think about how you want the sandal to feel when wearing them. Sometimes it helps to go in store and try them on prior to purchasing them
Closed Toe vs Open Toe
When thinking about closed vs open toe you are looking at whether you want additional protection for the toes in the sacrifice of a little less breathability. Most closed toe hiking sandals are built similar to hiking shoes with openings on the side and back for air flow. A lot of closed toe sandals don’t rely on sandals but alternative systems like bungees or lacing.
The biggest benefit to consider when choosing closed toe vs open toe sandals are the protection of your toes. Closed toe sandals will most definitely be better at protecting the toes in comparison to open toe sandals due to having more material wrapped around the front.
There is only one small drawback to closed toe sandals and it is that they tend to be a little less breathable, heavier, and less fashionable. If you are planning to only use your sandals for hiking and less multi use, then this really isn’t that big of a deal
Minimalist vs Regular
When it comes to minimalist sandals and regular sandals the minimalist will have less weight due to less material. This is nice if you are looking at minimizing the weight you have to carry on your feet and want to be able to move more freely.
The only tradeoff is longevity of the sandal will be reduced some due to the lighter and smaller soled and thinner straps. Overall, a minimalist sandal isn’t a bad choice for anyone wanting to carry sandals for dedicated river or stream crossing during a hike or wanting to have the option to hike in sandals. Minimalist sandals pack down well and don’t weigh a ton making them okay for hiking trips and when at base camp.
Regular sandals will weigh more but will have better tread, arch support, and longevity due to the sturdier material. The traction of a regular hiking sandal will be better equipped for various terrains that may be encountered and they will offer a little more protection.
Between the Toe vs Over Toe Straps
Sandal strap designs can vary based on the company and model of the shoe. Some straps will wrap over your toes or in between in different patterns. When it comes to strap designs the two most popular ones are between the toes and over the toes.
Between the toe straps offer many advantages in comparison to over the toe straps. The benefit of having between the toe straps is that it gives you more control and foot stability on unstable terrains. The big toe is held in place and doesn’t slide around as much in the sandal.
The downsides of a toe strap are that it can make putting the sandal on more difficult due to having to slide a toe in an extra strap. Also, it can be another added strap that can cause a blister if not watched. And finally, if you are going to wear hiking socks with your hiking sandals a toe strap will make it much more difficult to do so. If you are planning to wear hiking socks with sandals that have a toe strap, you’ll have to opt for toe socks like the Injini Crew hiking socks.
Overall, it just comes down to personal preference. If you are going to be doing more technical rocky type hikes where your foot may slide around more than a toe strap and or toe protected sandal would probably be a better idea.
More or Less Arch Support
When it comes to picking out a hiking sandal, you’ll need to try them out to get a feel of how much arch support is present. Various types of hiking sandals will have more or less support than others. In general, compared to standard floppy sandals a hiking support will have a bit more due to the purpose of the sandal. If you favor a little more support, I encourage you to take a look at the sole and compare the upward curvature in the inside of the sole. But, also to try them on to get a feel for the sandal. For example, I find the Chaco z1 to be a bit more supportive than the Teva Hurricane but both are more supportive than the traditional flops you’d wear to the beach.
Our Top Picks for Hiking Sandals
Whether you’re looking for a hiking sandal with more support, closed toe or open, specific strapping, or just want the most minimalist hiking sandal. Below are our top hiking sandal picks.
Our favorite hiking sandal this classic hiking sandal provides more support than most of the hiking sandals we have tried. The sole of the sandal is durable and lightweight and should last for a long time. The tread of the Chaco Z1 is thick for a hiking sandal which excels at gripping various terrains, I was pleasantly surprised how the 3.5mm ChacoGrip lugs handled the wet terrain.
Basically, offers the same advantages and all the same features of the original Chaco z1 with one major difference. The Z/Cloud 2 has a loop that goes around the big toe. So, you can have all the benefits of the original classic Chaco with a more secure fit on more technical terrain
Teva Hurricane XLT2
The Hurricane is a great hiking sandal a little cheaper than the Chaco’s above. It is a good sandal for various terrains and has a good deal of support. One downside is that the Hurricane strap design sometimes allows the foot to slide a bit more than the Chaco z strap. Also, the Velcro straps can be prone to coming undone. But overall, still a great hiking sandal pick and for a good price.
Keen Newport H2
One of the best closed toe hiking sandals on the market. The Keen Newport is a great waterproof sandal with rubber soles and a significant amount of traction to conquer various terrains. Closed toe sandals are a great pick for people who don’t really dig wearing sandals but want a lighter more waterproof option for hiking. Also, the added toe protection is a definite plus to preventing toe stubs on rough terrain.
Xero Z Trail EV
The most lightweight hiking sandal on this list. This minimalist hiking sandal is great for giving the user that barefoot type of feeling. Overall, the Xero Z trail is a great lighter and packable hiking sandal which makes it handy to begin on more wet hikes. Also, another great feature is that these hiking sandals float, which comes in handy during stream crossing or water sports.
Hiking Sandal Tips and Considerations
- If planning to use hiking sandals for hiking trips. Make sure the fit of your sandals allows for the use of socks. Socks while not always being the most stylish allow for added warmth and protection against the elements.
- Bringing a pair of hiking sandals is a good idea if you know there will be river crossing and waterways on the trail.
- Hiking in just sandals is a good way to conserve energy during a hike. Because most sandals are only about a 1lb or so in weight. Much lighter than hiking shoes and boots.
- Be sure to break in Hiking sandals before going on full out hikes. This just maximizes comfort and will help minimize blisters.
Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Hiking Sandals
Hiking sandals offer many benefits to hikers over boots and shoes. They aren’t perfect in every situation however, they certainly excel in some areas especially when it pertains to weight, staying dry, and crossing water.
While hiking sandals aren’t the most durable and grippy hiking footwear option. They are worth carrying and using as a camp shoe and alternative to shoes or boots when approaching a water way.
We hope you found this article about the pros and cons of hiking sandals helpful. Share your thoughts on hiking sandals down below! As always, hike more and worry less.