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Hands-on Gear Review
Merrell Around Town Thong Review
Cons: Shows wear and tear quickly, toe post edges sharp when new
Bottom line: Stylish yet rugged, the Around Town provides better traction than many fully enclosed shoes, making it a great choice for unpredictable summer adventures.
The Merrell Around Town is a rugged and burly sandal that made playing outside fun and secure. We awarded this shoe our Top Pick for Hiking and Scrambling because, over and over again, we were struck with how solid we felt wearing it on all manner of terrain. With excellent traction, wide supportive straps, and materials we weren't afraid to get dirty, this is a sandal for the adventure-minded individual. The design decisions in a couple of areas outlined below left a bit to be desired, but overall we really enjoyed this shoe and felt it was impressive enough to be shown some extra recognition. If find yourself playing in nature like a kid during the warm weather months, the Around Town might be a smart addition to your closet.
RELATED REVIEW: The 11 Best Flip Flop Sandals For Women
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Around Town, with its outdoorsy design and rugged materials, somehow inspires getting a bit dirty and messy. And when you realize what great traction the bottom sole provides, then you can't help but want to play on rocks and run up hiking trails - hence our awarding it a Top Pick for Hiking and Scrambling! Read on to see just how this sandal measured up against the rest of the competition.
The Around Town Thong was decently comfortable, though it's not a plush shoe by any means. The straps have hard stiff edges that don't soften quickly or easily. A lot of customers in online reviews complain about the sharp edges of the leather toe post. The footbed is smooth and cork-lined which is pleasant enough, but again, not what you would call luxurious like the fancy ICEVA footbed of the OluKai Ohana, our most comfortable shoe.
However, a plush cushioned shoe isn't always the most appropriate choice when you want to get out hiking or exploring. We think the Around Town strikes a pretty good balance of comfort and practicality. The graceful contours of the footbed and the spring of the rubber sole provided us with enough comfort to be happy without sacrificing stability or support. The wide leather straps, while quite a bit stiffer than those on the Birkenstock Gizeh or OluKai Lala, are still well placed and become more pliable as you break them in. Overall this adept shoe is an excellent partnership of ruggedness and smart design that gave us enough comfort to feel carefree while not sacrificing its integrity to do so.
Support & Stability
This sandal was one of the best in our test group for support and stability. A lot of that has to do with the fantastic traction it provides, but it's also the result of a well-designed footbed shape and wide adjustable straps. Only our Editors' Choice and most supportive sandal, the Birkenstock Gizeh and this one had a buckle on the strap allowing for very personalized adjustments. This can make all the difference when you're trying to maneuver on slippery or steep topography.
The one thing that temporarily affected our ability to feel comfortable and stable when scrambling around was, as mentioned above (and confirmed in many online reviews), the sharp edges of the toe post. Though they started to soften the longer we wore the Around Town, it's still something to be aware of when factoring in additional time you may need for breaking this model in. And, honestly, the toe post was mostly a non-issue until we got completely covered in slick mud, rendering the footbed much less secure and causing our feet to slide into the toe post more aggressively when on hills.
The only two models that we found to be more supportive than the Around Town were our Editors' Choice, the Gizeh, and the Tide II. The Gizeh has excellent footbed traction and strap support and the Tide II has orthotics built into the footbed. Neither of these sandals were quite as well suited to scrambling and hiking as the Around Town though, which is why we awarded it a Top Pick award. This sandal regularly made us feel as though we were wearing full-on hiking shoes instead of flip-flops.
The Around Town lost a few points in this category primarily because the cork lining on the footbed started to peel away after very little use. This seems to be something Merrell did simply for looks, as it serves no practical purpose that we are aware of. Instead, it made the footbed slippery, which would have been preventable had Merrell used a different material. This sign of wear didn't lessen the performance of the shoe in any way, but it did sadly make it look a bit prematurely ragged.
Outside of the footbed lining issue, this sandal held up to our abuse quite well. Somehow the Around Town ended up covered in the most mud of all the pairs during a very muddy spring hike and, while it took some time and effort to get all the mud off, the shoe came out looking fine, though noticeably more broken in.
The straps on the Around Town are leather, but they're lined with pigskin and coated - making them more durable than they would be otherwise. If you are looking to stay away from leather, or just want something a bit easier to care for the long term, we recommend reading about the Chaco Flip EcoTread with its simple rubber sole and polyester webbing straps. Cleaning up the Flip EcoTread after a muddy hike required no more thought than spraying them with a hose, and they didn't look like they'd been through anything. Other highly durable models we tested were the Vionic Tide II and the Birkenstock Gizeh, though the suede and cork of the Gizeh require more care than the rubber and fabric of the EcoTread and Tide II.
The Around Town, despite its leather components, did well with all of our water tests. With a small amount of water, the footbed felt slimy for maybe 10-20 seconds, but the water wicked away quickly, and we went back to feeling dry and secure. After a full dousing in the river, the footbed was dry in about 4 minutes and the straps in 24 minutes except for a bit of dampness on their undersides. Awe-inspiring times.
Other flips that performed similarly to the Around Town, with footbeds that dried very fast and straps that lagged behind a bit, were the Flip EcoTread, Tide II, and OluKai Lala. The best performances in this category were from the minimal and beach ready Reef Leather Uptown, and the fun and friendly Rainbow Single Layer. Both of these simple summer-esque flips were completely dry, straps and all, in 20 minutes flat.
The Around Town was our top performer for this metric. While it had a smoother and slicker footbed than some of the other models, the combination of supportive straps and outstanding bottom sole traction meant that we could walk up and down steep hills without worrying one bit about our feet.
The only reason the Around Town didn't receive a perfect 10 here is because the footbed was prone to being a bit slippery when overly wet or muddy. Other models, like our Editors' Choice, the Gizeh, had better footbed traction, but no other shoe provided the sheer bottom sole stickiness of the Around Town. The Vionic Tide II came close, but its narrower straps meant that we didn't feel quite as secure when on steep hills.
The women we had rate our tested flip-flops in regards to style really took to this sandal. While opinions varied pretty wildly from person to person, the Around Town still ended up near the top of the pack overall.
The main complaint we heard in regards to this model was a dislike of the bright white sole. There are other color combinations available that have a darker, more camouflaged bottom if you feel the same way. A darker color would also hide dirt far more effectively. All of that aside, in our time with this particular white-soled Around Town we found that most people were attracted to it and we received numerous compliments while wearing it.
For a less rugged, more overtly feminine look, be sure to check out the winner for this category and our Top Pick for Stylish Adventures, the OluKai Lala. The other two models that people loved were the Gizeh and our Best Buy winner, the Teva Olowahu.
Being our Top Pick for Hiking and Scrambling, we obviously feel that this shoe is a great fit for traipsing around in nature. We found the Around Town to have the most impressive traction of all our tested models, so it's a solid choice for anyone who needs their summer footwear to be able to keep up with an active and perhaps unpredictable lifestyle. It's stylish enough to pair with a sporty dress, but not so delicate as to cause concern about getting it dirty.
This shoe retails for $80, which means they are not cheap. While we think it's mostly worth the price tag if you know that you will be hiking a lot we might steer you towards a sandal with a heel strap instead of a flip-flop with an open back. Both Bedrock and Chaco make some impressive sandals specifically meant for heavy hiking. However, if you want something rugged for the crag that's also easy to take on and off, this might be the perfect hybrid and totally worth the price.
The Merrell Around Town is a fun and outdoorsy sandal that wowed us with its traction and stability. We were happily able to scramble up rocks and down steep hills without second guessing our feet. The shoe is on the stiff side, especially when new, but still adequately comfortable despite this. It strikes a great balance of ruggedness, support, and style that we appreciated and think you will too.
— Penney Garrett
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