The Olukai Upena is one of this beloved brand's few options with a heel strap, so we decided to see how it stacks up to the rugged options in our sandal test group. While it doesn't have the traction, adjustability, or stability needed to maneuver technical trails, it's an extremely comfortable and stylish option to enjoy around the house and town. The leather straps are comfortable against the skin right out of the box, and its pared-down look complements a wide range of outfits. If you want high-quality sandals that will last for years, this is a great option — just steer clear of the trails.Editor's Note: We updated this gear review on March 23, 2022, with sections that provide more information buying advice.
Olukai Upena Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable, pared-down, stylish
Cons: Poor traction, not adjustable, not suitable for trails
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$105.00 at REI
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|$68.55 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Comfortable, pared-down, stylish||Comfortable, versatile, lightweight, fits many foot types||Stable and supportive, stylish, durable||Great traction, stable, stylish||Comfortable, good traction, stylish|
|Cons||Poor traction, not adjustable, not suitable for trails||Not as cushioned as other models, can't be worn with socks||Annoying to adjust, uncomfortable for the flat-footed, heavy||Short straps, difficult to adjust, can't be worn with socks||Very floppy sole, not suitable for rugged use|
|Bottom Line||This sandal will keep you comfortable and looking great around town, but it can't hack it on the trails||This is a minimalist workhorse sandal that can take on nearly anything||Whether you're hiking or rafting or hanging out, this classic design plays well for the long haul||This pared-down sandal delivers the performance wearers expect from a classic Chaco, but with less weight and bulk||This classic option can't hack it on super rugged terrain, but it's a great value pick for casual outdoor use|
|Rating Categories||Olukai Upena||Bedrock Cairn Adven...||Chaco Z/Cloud 2||Chaco Z/Volv X2 - W...||Teva Original Unive...|
|Specs||Olukai Upena||Bedrock Cairn Adven...||Chaco Z/Cloud 2||Chaco Z/Volv X2 - W...||Teva Original Unive...|
|Weight (pounds per pair)||1.07 lbs (size 11)||1.06 lbs (size 9/10)||1.44 lbs (size 9)||1.23 lbs (size 10)||0.73 lbs (size 10)|
|Footbed Material||Polyurethane||Granite Grip||LUVSEAT PU with textured grooves||LUVSEAT PU with textured grooves||EVA|
|Midsole Material||Polyurethane||Cairn Vibram||Women's specific LUVSEAT dual-density PU||Women's specific LUVSEAT PU midsole||EVA|
|Sole Material||Non-marking rubber||Vibram XS Trek Regolith||Non-marking ChacoGrip||Non-marking EcoTread rubber compound (25% recycled)||Rubber|
|Upper Material||Full-grain leather||Polyester and nylon webbing||Polyester jacquard webbing||Polyester jacquard webbing||REPREVE recycled polyester webbing|
|Width Options||Medium||Medium||Medium, Wide||Medium||Medium|
Our Analysis and Test Results
When we're hanging out at home, wearing leggings or worn-in jeans, this is the sandal we reach for again and again. The Upena is extremely comfortable, with materials that feel great against the skin, and this model looks good enough that you can pop out for coffee or lunch without changing shoes. It's definitely not designed for anything more rugged than a light nature walk, but if you're looking for a high-quality pair of sandals for casual use, these might be the ones for you.
This sandal is deliciously comfortable. Its leather straps and PU footbed feel great against the skin right out of the box, and they only get more comfortable with time. The slightly molded footbed is supportive while still minimal enough to accommodate those with flatter feet. Wearing the Upena around the house feels like the summer version of padding around in your most comfortable slippers. This model is also comfortable and supportive enough to wear on light nature walks.
The Upena is not a technical performer, which really shows in the traction category. The sole is relatively smooth with almost no lugs, so while it's grippy enough on smooth rock, it's very slippery going up or downhill on loose rock or dirt trails. The footbed is also smooth and slippery, even with dry feet. Those looking for superior traction should choose a more technical model, like the Bedrock or Chaco options.
The Upena has a series of leather cross straps fixed in place and one heel strap that adjusts with a metal buckle. This single point of adjustment means that this sandal is simple and sleek, making it impossible to dial in the fit. If your feet are narrow (like our lead tester), you'll slosh around a bit on the footbed, and if your feet are wide, this sandal might pinch (though the leather straps should stretch a bit over time). This lack of precision adjustment is one of many reasons we recommend the Upena for casual home wear rather than technical adventures.
The sole of the Upena is relatively stiff. Its non-adjustable straps can be loose (depending on your foot shape), leading to a feeling of instability on uneven trails as the foot slides around in the sandal. When wearing a heavy pack, this instability, combined with the lack of traction on loose dirt, can make hiking pretty unpleasant. This sandal is ideal for moving around the smooth surfaces of your house and city more than in the backcountry.
As long as things don't get too technical, the Upena can handle a decent variety of activities. It's grippy and supportive enough to be comfortable on a light nature walk, and its relatively stiff sole makes it ideal for casual bike rides. It looks good enough to wear with a wide variety of outfits, from workout clothes to jeans to casual dresses, and it's a great option for urban walks.
As always, style is truly subjective, and your best bet is to check out the photos in this review and decide for yourself if you'd be happy to look down and see these on your feet. Our trusted style advisory board (read: friends and family) were surprisingly mixed on this model, with some totally hating them and others finding them the prettiest of the bunch. Overall, we think these have a minimal, feminine feel that complements lots of outfits and elevates our schlubbing-it-at-home style in a way no flip flop can.
Should You Buy the Olukai Upena?
While the Olukai Upena can't hack it on technical trails, this extremely comfortable model is ideal for hanging out in style at home or around town. If you're looking for a high-quality footwear option that's comfortable enough to wear in the house but stylish enough for the restaurant patio, you'll get a lot of use out of this sandal. Given that we're recommending these for non-technical use, their retail price seems pretty high. That said, the Upena are made with beautiful, high-quality materials that are hardy enough to withstand many urban jaunts, so you'll get years of use out of these sandals around the house and around town. If you don't care about technical performance and you want a really high-quality casual sandal, these are a good value.
What Other Sandal Should You Consider?
If you like the look of the Olukai Upena but hope for something more rugged and trail-ready, the Chaco Z/Volv X2 - Women's has a similar toe strap design that looks similar, but the design allows to work for trail and water fun without a hiccup. The Chaco is a great alternative if you want sandals that do more than feel and look good. If you want the best while keeping your toes free, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's is a thong-style sandal that looks nice and is at home on the trail or out to brunch on the terrace.
— Joanna Trieger
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