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Olukai Upena Review

This sandal will keep you comfortable and looking great around town, but it can't hack it on the trails
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Price:  $90 List | $89.95 at Amazon
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Pros:  Comfortable, pared-down, stylish
Cons:  Poor traction, not adjustable, not suitable for trails
Manufacturer:   Olukai
By Joanna Trieger ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 16, 2020
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 14
  • Comfort - 20% 10
  • Traction - 20% 4
  • Adjustability - 20% 4
  • Stability - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 15% 6
  • Style - 10% 9

Our Verdict

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 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 around 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 a high-quality sandal that will last for years, this is a great option — just steer clear of the trails.

Compare to Similar Products

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.

Performance Comparison


Lounging: the highest and best use of the OluKai Upena.
Lounging: the highest and best use of the OluKai Upena.

Comfort


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 being 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, and this model is also comfortable and supportive enough to wear on light nature walks.

This model's leather straps and PU footbed are comfortable enough for light nature walks.
This model's leather straps and PU footbed are comfortable enough for light nature walks.

Traction


The Upena is not a technical performer, and this 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's relatively smooth soles are not designed for great traction. This model is fine on rock  but it slips a ton on loose dirt and steep trails.
The Upena's relatively smooth soles are not designed for great traction. This model is fine on rock, but it slips a ton on loose dirt and steep trails.

Adjustability


The Upena has a series of leather cross straps that are 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, but it makes 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.

Because this model only has one adjustment point  it's hard to dial in a precise fit. On this hike  our tester's foot kept slipping backward in the sandal.
Because this model only has one adjustment point, it's hard to dial in a precise fit. On this hike, our tester's foot kept slipping backward in the sandal.

Stability


The sole of the Upena is relatively stiff, and 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 the backcountry.

It's possible to wear the Upena with a heavy pack  but because this model is relatively uncushioned and doesn't have many adjustment points  we don't recommend it.
It's possible to wear the Upena with a heavy pack, but because this model is relatively uncushioned and doesn't have many adjustment points, we don't recommend it.

Versatility


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.

The Upena's sole is rigid enough to be supportive on quick bike rides around town.
The Upena's sole is rigid enough to be supportive on quick bike rides around town.

Style


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.

This model is stylish and untechnical  so it looks great with a range of outfits.
This model is stylish and untechnical, so it looks great with a range of outfits.

Value


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 just want a really high-quality casual sandal, these are a good value.

Conclusion


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.

This beautiful  well-made sandal is a great pick if you're not planning on anything beyond light nature walks.
This beautiful, well-made sandal is a great pick if you're not planning on anything beyond light nature walks.

Joanna Trieger