Olukai Upena Review
Cons: Poor traction, not adjustable, not suitable for trails
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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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Joanna Trieger