Updates to the Cairn
Since our testing period, Bedrock has given the Cairn a few minor updates, notably to the toe post and buckles. You can also see that the logo has been moved. Below is a comparison photo of the two, with the newest version on the right.
- Plugless Toe Post — The new version features a plugless toe post. If you look closely at the right-hand photo above, you can see the plug on the tread of the sandal, whereas the left photo is lacking that plug.
- Metal Buckles — The new version has metal buckles in place of the plastic buckles on the older model.
We have tested this updated version in our Men's Sandal Review, and it took home our Editors' Choice award as well, so it's safe to say that these updates have only added to our love of this sandal.
Hands-On Review of the Cairn
When the 11 models in our test arrived on the doorstep, it seemed a daunting task to pick only one winner… at first. Then the Bedrock Cairn Adventure came out of the gate foaming at the mouth and ready for adventure. Our testers were continually surprised by this model's strong performance across our rating metrics. On each outing, despite variable terrain, heavy packs, snowy sections of trail, days that demanded quick transitions from crag to bar, and high-intensity days at the lake, the Cairn performed. Below, we detail the many ways in which this contender blew our testers' minds.
The Cairn Sandals in action.
Thanks to the Cairn's unique strap design, this model scored well in the comfort metric, receiving an 8 out of 10. The thong and ankle strap combo relieve pressure points, while also minimizing the amount of debris that can get trapped between your foot and the shoe in a normal sandal. The polyester and nylon webbing straps are 3/4-inch thick, which means they are plenty wide enough to avoid bothersome rubbing. What came as the biggest surprise in this metric from the Cairn's strap system, though, was the comfort of the toe strap. The looped webbing wasn't so wide that it caused unnecessary rubbing, and testers rarely, if ever, noticed it.
The comfort of a sandal is also impacted by the footbed of the shoe. Constructed from an 8mm Go Far midsole that Bedrock claims is more durable than EVA, this midsole was minimalist. While for some this can be a gripe (especially those with very high arches who require support), our testers found the midsole's bells-and-whistles-free design to be favorable. A textured pattern on the footbed is designed to provide extra shoe-to-foot traction, an area that we felt the Cairn excelled in. The Teva Tirra is a good option if you're looking for a cushier sandal, and the KEEN Clearwater provides more around-the-foot comfort.
The adjustment of the Tirra vs the Bedrock
The Cairn does not come in women's sizing. This doesn't need to be a dealbreaker though. Because of the minimalist design, the Cairn easily adapts to the differences in men's and women's foot shapes.
The Cairn lost some comfort points because of its minimal support (which we discuss in detail below), as well as the possibility of the textured footbed's bottom-of-foot irritation on long back-to-back days.
The Cairn is, admittedly, not the best option for those with soaring arches. Because of this, it received an 8 out of 10 in the stability metric. With that said, our lead tester has pronounced high arches, and the Cairn was her favorite model, which goes to show that there can be no replacement for trying a shoe on and seeing how it fits your foot.
Despite failing to meet the needs of the very high-arched, the Cairn is stable and supportive for most foot types, and the minimalist footbed design eliminates hot spots from ill-fitting arch support. Additionally, the 14mm stack height is the perfect barrier between you and the ground. This model was a favorite for rugged terrain, allowing the wearer to feel the ground beneath them without allowing pain when stepping on particularly sharp rocks. Some testers favored the KEEN Clearwater in terms of stability, while others liked the ruggedness of the Chaco ZX/2.
A Chaco sole vs the Bedrock sole.
The Cairn was the only shoe in our test that employed a Vibram sole. This almost immediately won over our testers, as Vibram is a rubber most of us have come to know and trust over years of scrambling on, around, and through some of the slickest rock around. Bedrock describes the lug design as "aggressive and angular," and our testing proved this to be correct. The large lugs lent this model bite-like traction on slick rock while going both up and down.
Despite our testers' faith in the shoe's rubber and lug design, the thong design of the sandal made it difficult to avoid that lurching feeling when heading down a steep slope in flip flops. Although the Cairn Adventure never slipped off anyone's feet on the way down (and it likely never will), we couldn't shake the feeling, which prompted us to go a little slower. If you don't need as much traction, see the Teva Verra.
The tread pattern of the contestant.
The Cairn's adjustment system is definitely the most unique, with three independent adjustment points. A Velcro heel strap adjust front to back, while two adjustment points on the top of the foot adjust the width (and, to some extent, the toe connection). A hook on the inside of the foot allows for rarely needed larger adjustments, while a strap system on the outside of the foot allows you to quickly pull the sandal tight. All of these points might seem confusing, but we found that they worked perfectly in concert together to hug the foot.
Bedrock recommends that users employ the Velcro heel strap for rarely needed adjustments, instead of using the strap system for quick on-and-off. Our testers used this method, finding it to be intuitive and much faster than fiddling with the Velcro. Plus, this allows you to extend the lifespan of the Velcro itself. Another high-scorer in adjustability was the Chaco Z/Cloud2, with the Teva Tirra also receiving a high score in this category.
With its low weight and supportive strap system, the Cairn Adventure was one of the most adaptable models reviewed. This model hung on through hot, pebbly approaches to the crag, long SUP tours, steep terrain, and many trips into town. Plus, it packs nearly flat, making it a good travel option. The KEEN Clearwater was another favorite for its adaptability, as well as the Chaco Z/Cloud 2.
One gripe comes from our sock-loving testers, who were frustrated that they couldn't convert the Cairn into the classic California Snowshoe (sandals with socks). This is crucial for breezy nights around the campfire after a long day of hiking when keeping your feet warm is imperative to your comfort. Some testers worked around this with toe socks, while others felt that it was a deal-breaker.
The award-winning Cairn taking on rocky terrain.
Simple lines, low bulk, and a unique design profile all lend the Cairn style points. Our testers received compliments from strangers almost every time they wore this model in almost any setting, from a biology classroom to the boulder fields to the supermarket. For a shoe with more style points than function points, see the Teva Verra
The Editors' Choice winning Cairn is simple and effective.
The Cairn can handle almost anything. This shoe excels on the trail, scrambling to the crag, during watersports, or while running errands in town. For some, this shoe can be used as a running shoe alternative (although you should be well-versed in the pros and cons of minimalist running footwear).
At $105, the Cairn reaches a happy medium between the bargain sandals (that may not last as long) and the higher end models whose higher price tags might be too hard to swallow. For what you get out of this model, we feel that this price is reasonable.
Combining a lightweight design with a trustworthy sole, comprehensive adjustments, and a sleek, stylish profile, the Cairn Adventure is hard to turn down. Overall, this sandal wins in nearly every category. Plus, the Bedrock factory is local to Richmond, California, and all of the sandals are manufactured there. The founders are outdoor enthusiasts who know the demands an outdoor sandal must meet. And they've designed a product that excels.