How to Choose the Best Sandals for Women

The Original in its natural habitat.
Article By:
Shey Kiester

Last Updated:
Saturday

The best advice for buying a new pair of sandals (and shoes in general for that matter) is that no amount of advice can take the place of actually trying shoes on. We can tell which shoes work best for what kinds of activities, and our testers give a scope of foot types that will find comfort in the models we've tested, but this information cannot take the place of trying on the shoe yourself. Unlike Camping Stoves or Water Filters, footwear is dependent on your specific foot shape and desired comfort level. The arch support some reviewers rave about can be a nuisance or even painful for others. So stop by your neighborhood outdoor retail store, because while we can do most of your sandal homework for you, we still recommended you try before you buy.

Another good tip for finding your perfect sandal is to narrow down what you're looking for before you even start shopping. Consider if you are going to wear these shoes off-road or on-road more. Will these shoes be used in the water? Are you planning on carrying a heavy pack? If you want a sandal primarily for hiking, you may have to trade out fashion for function. Alternatively, if you're looking for a model that can cruise the streets but isn't as dialed on technical terrain, you should look for a more fashion-forward contender. The next portion of this article will walk you through choosing the right sandals for the activities you do most.

Choosing Your Activity


After dedicating two months to evaluating the products in this review, our testers agreed that selecting summer footwear based upon activity is the surest way to achieve sandal satisfaction. Almost all of the products tested shared many common features. They were relatively light weight, water compatible, well ventilated, and had sticky tread. However, some models far outperformed others in certain metrics, making them much more adept at certain activities. It would be wise to decide which metrics are relevant to you and your activity and focus on the models that performed best in these areas.

What kind of shoes do you have now, and what specific qualities do you wish to participate in?


In addition, we have assigned each product to one of three use categories to help you find your most appropriate fit. They all fit into at least one of these three activity categories: urban use, water activities, and hiking. Some of the models we wore fit into more than one category, and one rare breed of sandal (our Editors' Choice winner) fit in all of the above.

The award-winning Cairn taking on rocky terrain.
The award-winning Cairn taking on rocky terrain.

Urban Use


The urban category includes folks who live in their sandals all day every day, primarily on paved surfaces. These ladies do everything, from grocery shopping to gardening to international travel, in these shoes. They want something comfortable, attractive, and lightweight. Since stability is inherently less important on smooth, paved terrain, a women's flip-flop might be another appropriate option for women who fit into this use category. If a little more control is preferred, then we recommend opting for one of the products in this review instead.

Several products we tested are good choices for people in this category. The Merrell Enoki and Chaco ZX/2, for example, were some of our best looking models and come in a variety of fun colors. If you have a high arch, you may like the ZX/2, while most of our testers found the Enoki to be a little less comfortable due to its thin straps. The Teva Verra was another that had a comfortable footbed and had an airy, lightweight feel. It wouldn't be our first choice for any sort of venture that required lots of trail miles, rock hopping, or water crossings because of its uncomfortable heel strap, but it was one of our go-to shoes for urban travel.

This model earns its style points.
This model earns its style points.

Last but not least, the Bedrock Cairn and the winner of our Editors' Choice Award was a high-performed in the fashion metric. It comes in neutral colors with flattering, low-profile straps that make this shoe not only useful, but attractive as well. Its elegant looks are matched by its minimalist footbed. Add in easy adjustability and you have a shoe that is comfortable in any environment.

Our Editors' Choice winner was the only model that didn't trade its fashionable looks for functional performance.

Water Activities


Those searching for a water performing shoe should prioritize traction and water resistance. This includes beach goers, boaters, rafters, and those hiking in warm, wet environments. Improved performance means increased safety and confidence on wet surfaces. For increased comfort, a shoe that dries faster is appreciated. The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 has good traction and the hearty straps feel secure. However, our testers almost all favored the KEEN Clearwater as an option for a water shoe. Although this shoe did not dry as quickly as the Chacos, it outperformed them in comfort, and the full coverage derived from the closed-toe design was a big benefit.

Off-roading.
Off-roading.

Again, we highly recommend the Bedrock Cairn in this category. Because of the minimalist design, the cairn dried quickly, and when wading in water with a sandy bed surface, the Cairn's open design allows you to easily allowed users to work pesky pebbles out from between their shoe and foot, unlike the KEEN model. Although the KEEN Newport H2 is another great water shoe, this is a bulkier model, and we recommend this version mostly for rafters, as the wider design can more easily accommodate dry and wetsuit booties.

Hiking


Women looking for a sandal primarily for trail use demand slightly different performance characteristics. Ideally, a sandal would have the performance capabilities of a hiking shoe, but would also offer more versatility at a lighter weight. It should excel on all kinds of terrain and be packable. No surprise, the Bedrock Cairn fits into this use group. It feels incredibly secure not only because it has such good traction, but because its straps are so ergonomic and sturdy. Users didn't notice any chafing or sliding when wearing the Cairn on steep surfaces, and despite some reservations, the toe strap did not cause any testers discomfort. What's more is that its open-toed design means that debris can fall more easily out of the shoe instead of collect beneath your foot. The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 is also recommended, particularly because it is so beefy, allowing it to hold up to a lot of miles while maintaining its supportive design. The only downside to the Z/Cloud 2 is its weight. It's a heavy model, but this is to be expected from a beefier contender.

Although not the "standard" summer footwear look, close-toed models like our Top Pick for Adventure Travel, the KEEN Clearwater, can be particularly useful for individuals who want to hike a lot in their sandals. The following section provides more information on the pros and cons of close-toed construction.

Foot Protection & Close-Toed Construction


In addition to considering what activities you'll do when wearing your sandals, you may want to think about how much protection you'll need. Rocky terrain increases the need for coverage, but so does individual clumsiness and/or confidence on steep and rocky terrain. Sun protection is another perk to having a shoe with more coverage. Unsightly toes or an unfortunate foot tattoo could be other acceptable reasons. Whatever the need, close-toed models are the best option for people who want more coverage. The KEEN Clearwater and Newport H2 were the only close-toed options we tested (although the KEEN Uneek is also technically a closed-toe model, we are excluding it here, because its flimsy webbing does little to protect the user's feet, so you might as well be in an open-toe version). The added security of the additional fabric in a closed-toe model made some of our less agile testers more comfortable off-road, whereas others simply enjoyed their hiking shoe functionality that boasted increased ventilation. The Newport and Clearwater come with Keen's foot bumper technology; which protects against stubbed toes, but also means that you have a particularly bulky toe box. The Newport was significantly bulkier than the Clearwater, however.

Exploring in the Keen Newport.
Exploring in the Keen Newport.

The biggest downside to close-toed products is that they are open enough to allow debris to enter the footbed, but closed enough to not let this detritus get out. This means frequent breaks to stop and clear out the amazing amount of pebbles and twigs that seem to collect between your foot and the footbed. The open-toed models are even worse at keeping out debris than the close-toed versions, however, their open construction is such that the debris can just as easily fall out. The extra fabric on the Keens also made them significantly heavier than the open-toe models when wet. The only other possible downside to these shoes is that they are deceptively protective. They are a more protective option than open-toed models but are definitely no substitute for hiking boots or shoes.

The Clearwater provides security  even on wet surfaces.
The Clearwater provides security, even on wet surfaces.

Once again, even a spectacularly exhaustive review cannot possibly tell you which shoe will fit your foot the best. But it can tell you everything else. So check our our full review and let us help you find your perfect shoe!


 
 

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