The Best Men's Sandals
What's the best men's sandal? With the number of crazy designs coming out seemingly every year, it's hard to keep tabs on our beloved "mandals," the utility shoe of the outdoors. From hiking around rivers and waterfalls to blasting down dusty trails, we took the industry's best eight shoes and put them through the gauntlet, leaving us with busted toes, blisters and bloody knees, all so you don't have to. Based off of each models stability, traction, comfort, fit and design, and durability, we selected the best products available on the market. Take a look and figure out which model is going to work best for you.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Analysis and Test Results
Generally, there are two main categories: open design and closed design.
Open Design: Open design shoes, such as the Chaco Yampa or the Teva Terra-Fi, are simplistic designs that resemble a glorified flip-flop. These designs are great for use in the water, light hiking, casual wear and really any sort of adventure that doesn't get too burly. In addition to being extremely lightweight, this design also dries quicker and are more packable than their closed design counterparts.
Closed Design: Closed designs resemble shoes with vented areas and drainage opportunities throughout, and offer protection similar to a light-hiking shoe. Some of these shoes are even supportive enough to use for light backpacking and heavier hiking, unlike the open design shoes. If this sounds like your ticket, take a look at our award-winning Keen Newport H2.
Criteria for Evaluation
Obviously, a shoe isn't going to be great to wear if it's uncomfortable. With most traditional shoes and boots, there's a relatively level playing field of comfort. However, with such a wide range of designs and styles, sometimes sandals fall short in the comfort category.
Through our brutalization of these shoes (and consequently, our feet) we found out for you. On the open design side of things, the Teva Hurricane XLT gave our feet the exact right amount of squish in the sole. The basic webbing design surprised us in how good it feels. Despite a few plastic pieces and hardly any padding on the straps, the shoes almost felt invisible on our feet (also thanks to their ultra-low weight). Teva's signature strapping and adjustment system gave us total control over the fit, which helped break in this shoe exactly the way we wanted.
Bringing the award home for the closed designs, we grew to love our Keen Newport H2. The shoe keeps a core construction by ditching the shoe-like fabric footbed found in the Keen Arroyo, which helps the shoe stay comfortable even when wet. While there hasn't been a metric imperial measurement created yet for the amount of debris let into this type of footwear, this shoe seemed to stay more free of rocks, sticks and other nature trash that could prevent you from having a fun day.
For open design shoes, we found the Chaco Yampa z/2 was a spectacular choice. The addition of a toe loop adds a new level of stability over its competition by eliminating any foot slip from front to back. Additionally, the appropriately named "z" shaped z/2 system wraps around your foot by having extremely well placed connection points that hold your foot in a firm and strong area on your foot. In addition to the iconic strapping method, the Chaco Yampa z/2's sole is second only to its big brother, the Chaco z/1 Unaweep, which is also available with a toe loop, giving it the z/2 designation. The sole shared by the entire Chaco line is thick, supportive and firm. While it may not have the plushness liked by some wearers, the Chaco sole is unparalleled in terms of support and thickness — its only downside being a totally disproportionate complete shoe weight.
Bringing home the bacon in the closed shoe category was the Teva Dozer, which was surprising for its lightweight construction. Though the sole didn't bring the stiffness to the table that we saw in the Keen Arroyo, the Dozer's subframe throughout the uppers added an amazing amount of stability, including a nicely designed heel cup that held our foot in place.
Fit and Design
The fit and design can be drastically different. Every single hiking shoe you look at seems to look pretty similar. They've got laces and a sole and an upper and a midsole, and then some proprietary other "stuff" tacked on. But when talking about this kind of footwear, all rules are out. Every company seems to bring their own flavor of straps and fastening, in addition to more classical shoe elements such as sole designs and materials.
Finding the right design for your foot is crucial. Some shoes we tested work fine with most feet, but they may not work for "problem feet." For example, any shoes in the Chaco z/2 line (with the toe loop) have a dictated back-of-heel to space-between-your-toes…a highly technical and reasonably unheard of measurement that really translates to: try before you buy. That said, the entire line of Chacos has been endorsed by the American Podiatric Medical Association for their design to help problem feet through pronation control and well-designed arch support.
The fit and design of the Teva Dozer really got us psyched. Teva's unique lacing system mixed with a Velcro strap over the instep creates a cradling lock that held our foot in place, even on burly trails and moderate trail runs.
In the open shoe category, Teva again impressed us with the Teva Terra-Fi Lite, which had a perfect balance between features and simplicity. Although the shoe looks deprived of fancy features, it has everything you need to get the job done.
Who wants to buy a shoe that isn't going to last? Nobody. Durability is probably the easiest factor to consider, yet the most difficult to test. That's why here at OutdoorGearLab we've done that for you.
On minimalistic models, the main failing points come in the rings or connection with the sole to the straps. Additionally, some have issues with the sole separating from the midsole. With added features, potential failure points are introduced with shoe-like closed designs. Frequently, we hear complaints about exterior stitching, toe caps, and other critical parts falling apart.
We were fortunate enough to test these shoes for a long time, and for some of them, we still can't even tell. Both pairs of Chacos that were tested, the Chaco Zampa z/2 and the Chaco Unaweep z/1 blew us away with their durability. With a no-frills construction, a low-profile Vibram tread pattern, and plenty or rubber to go around, it's no surprise that these things are bombproof. Additionally, if you manage to wreck your Chacos, the company will re-strap or re-sole your footwear for a reasonable fee. However, we had to ask around for a while to find someone who had been forced to do this. He was going on ten years of almost daily wear, excepting only to when it was snowing.
The good folks at Teva have clearly figured out a great solution. While some might scoff at their proprietary rubber compared to big name brands found on our other shoes, Teva's rubber compound and their tread design far out-performed the competition. In the closed shoe category, we found the Teva Dozer to have the best traction, and without surprise we found the Teva Terra-Fi Lite to have the best traction of the entire category. Take a look at the sole of this bad boy; there's no doubt this thing will stick to almost anything you'll throw at it, and the traction will continue to serve over the lifetime of the shoe. Even as the aggressive tread pattern breaks down over time, the rubber compound acts like glue under even the most treacherous conditions.
- Written by Andy Wellman
Pieces of material such as wood, woven plant material, or animal hides fastened to the bottom of the foot with cord or thongs–are the oldest form of footwear known to humans. They have been used in every corner of the world by virtually every culture, and as such have an extensive history. In fact, they even predate closed toe shoes and boots, which historians believe originated when humans started adding animal hide stockings for warmth.
The oldest archeological record was found in Fort Rock Cave in Oregon. Radio-carbon dating has identified it as being around 10,000 years old, and it was made out of woven sagebrush bark. Although there are very few physical examples as evidence, it is believed that most if not all pre-civilized cultures used some form of this footwear; the skills used to make them were similar to those used in basket weaving.
All of the ancient civilized cultures worldwide used this footwear as well. Interestingly, they were most often used as status symbols delineating hierarchy within each culture. The Egyptian Pharaohs wore them and had a special sandal bearer that would follow them about carrying their pair when they were not being worn. In ancient Middle-Eastern cultures the lay-people were not allowed to wear them by decree of the rulers. In Greece, there were clearly stated laws that described what kind and what color could be worn by each profession or social class. The Romans adopted the Greeks love of them. While their hobnail-soled sandals allowed centurions to march all over the world in conquest, their leaders became very fond of richly adorning their pairs. The Emperor Nero's love of wealth led him to plate the soles of his with gold and inlay the straps with diamonds. Historians claim he nearly bankrupted the Republic with such opulent antics. The Romans campaigns in the frigid north eventually inspired them to adopt closed-toe footwear for their soldiers, and apparently in the seventh century the Christian Roman Empire decreed that open-toed shoes were immodest and thus banned. This footwear started becoming fashionable in the United States in the early 20th century when silent cinema was dominated by biblical epics. Costume designers for these films produced sandals which were not historically accurate, but which millions of people saw on movie screens nation wide. Many of the actresses apparently grew fond of wearing theirs outside of the film studios, and this, combined with the rising hemline in women's clothing, made them very fashionable. Later, American troops stationed in the South Pacific during WWII brought home beach style thongs, which combined with the new plastics industry were very cheaply mass produced.
The sport models that are ubiquitous in the adventure community today owe their genesis to Mark Thatcher, a whitewater rafting guide, who invented the first version of the Teva in 1982. He found that there were very few footwear options that worked well on the river, and so added a heel strap to a pair of flip-flops. Thatcher began working with the Deckers Corporation in 1985 to manufacture Tevas, and in 1988 the strapping was redesigned and released as the Hurricane model, which all current Tevas are derived from. They became fashionable around that same time, and sales took off. In 1989, Mark Paigen started making Gecko footwear out of his home in Paonia, Colorado. Paigen was also inspired by the river and aimed to produce the most comfortable and durable water footwear he could. He teamed up with orthopedist Dr. Gerhard Rill to produce the most comfortable footbeds, which led to the 1994 release of the Z/1 model coined from the Dr.'s German-accented exclamation, "That's ze one!" A year later Gecko changed its name to Chaco, and is now a part of the Wolverine Worldwide Brand. Teva and Chaco now dominate the market, along with Keen Footwear, a relatively recent upstart in 2004. Since its inception, Keen aimed to produce closed-toe designs that would provide more foot protection than its industry counterparts. Based on their innovative designs, the company has grown continuously since its beginnings, and now calls Portland, Oregon, home.
— Tommy Penick
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