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How to Select the Perfect Pair of Women's Flip-Flop Sandals

Photo: Penney Garrett
Friday June 11, 2021
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Along with tank tops, ice cream, and plenty of vitamin D, flip flops may be one of the most significant benefits of warm weather. But choosing the right pair is not always as simple as it might seem. In this article, we will break down the different types of women's flip flops as well as discuss which are best suited for various activities. Additionally, we'll go over the different materials used to manufacture these open-toed shoes and how those materials affect both comfort and support. Finally, we'll touch on how to fit your next pair properly.

Yay flip-flops!
Yay flip-flops!
Photo: Penney Garrett

Footbed Types


For this review, we tested pieces with light foam footbeds, molded or contoured footbeds, foot-molding footbeds, and novelty footbeds. The strap configuration on our tested models varies pretty extensively, though most have a thong-style toe-post. If you're looking for sandals with additional security via a heel strap, head on over to The Best Sandals for Women Review. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of different strap configurations that can give your sandals a unique look and fit. We'll discuss these a bit more below, but first, let's dive into footbed types:

Light Foam Footbeds


The light foam footbeds found on cheap, bargain sandals are the least supportive and stable option. For many, these sandals are often either desperation or impulse buys (i.e., OMG, how did I make it to the beach without a pair of flip flops!?). As a general rule, we don't recommend this style of footbed. Yes, it's cheap, but they can foster foot problems you want to steer clear of, such as plantar fasciitis. These cheap footbeds might be fine as a locker room shower shoe, but beyond that, they are not ideal. While we tested a few models with foam or partial-foam footbeds, those models more accurately fit into the next category, foot-molding footbeds.

We also feel it's important to take a minute here and break down the price/value side of things. Super cheap flips wear down and blow out reasonably quickly, so if you're an avid wearer, you could quickly go through more than one pair per summer. Very soon, you might spend as much or more as one good pair would have cost you. We feel that it's better to do your research and make an upfront investment than continually having to re-buy something cheap and flimsy. Not to mention, this style of flip flop often lacks durability, which means it probably makes its way to the landfill or worse, the ocean, faster than some more robust models. Anyone who has ever walked along a trash-ridden beach has probably seen multiple pairs of bright-colored plastic flip flops washed ashore.

The classic super cheap beach flip won't offer you much support or...
The classic super cheap beach flip won't offer you much support or long-term durability.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Now that we've established why we don't recommend models with light foam footbeds, let's move up the ladde.

Foot-Molding Footbeds


In our review, we tested several products with foot-molding footbeds. Flip flops like these have footbeds with EVA or foam/rubber compounds that remember the shape of your foot over time, not unlike a memory foam mattress or pillow. Many people find this type of footbed to be insanely comfortable right out of the box and it only increases in comfort over time. When new, your foot sinks in just a little bit, and as you break them in, the footbed becomes an exact mold of your foot. EVA footbeds tend to provide more shock absorption and support than simple foam ones.

The most significant benefit of these foot-molding models is that they tend to be relatively affordable while still providing some of the perks of high-end contoured footbeds. In general, however, this type of footbed does not offer stellar support or stability. In fact, some experts believe that a foot-molding footbed can exacerbate existing foot anomalies, which can then lead to bone and joint problems. If your foot is doing something funny like pronation or supination, these footbeds will mold that issue into the footbed and offer nothing in the way of positive correction.

The lightweight EVA-foam footbed of the Olowahu is thick and plush...
The lightweight EVA-foam footbed of the Olowahu is thick and plush and will mold to your feet over time, but it's not particularly durable or supportive.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Point being, these are not the flip flops that you want to wear on long hikes or all-day excursions, especially if you have some oddity with your feet. Yes, foot-molding flips are comfortable and more affordable than contoured models, but they're only ideal for general non-excessive use. That said, they are a significant step up from their arch-abusing light foam cousins. If you don't want to shell out for a high-end flip, you can do yourself a favor and opt for a slightly more expensive and infinitely more comfortable foot-molding model. Alternatively, you can consider a crossover hybrid option. These models have contoured footbeds made from EVA so that they both provide extra stability AND mold to your foot over time. This hybrid style of flip quickly won us over because it combines support and comfort.

The contoured EVA footbed of the Gizeh Essentials offers some of the...
The contoured EVA footbed of the Gizeh Essentials offers some of the best of two footbed worlds for a very nice price.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Novelty Footbeds


Footbeds can be considered novelty because of the material they are made of or a certain novel shape that they take. Sometimes footbeds like these are more about initial comfort than about overall performance. When the wearer slips them on, they tend to have that "ahhhh" effect but can often lack other important qualities like support, traction, or water resistance. The novelty models we tested are higher performing flip flops across the board, but still lacked certain attributes, like traction, that one might need for a proper outdoor adventure.

Before purchasing a novelty flip, be sure to ask yourself how you hope to use it. If it's just a morning at the coffee shop or something to slip on after a workout, then you're undoubtedly okay. But if you plan to do more walking or engage in specific activities or sports, make sure you don't just get wrapped up in something that sounds or looks cool.

The novelty yoga mat footbed of the Sanuk Yoga Mat is highly...
The novelty yoga mat footbed of the Sanuk Yoga Mat is highly comfortable but lacks support.
Photo: Matthew Blake

Contoured Footbeds


If there's one thing you take away from this section, it should be the understanding that contoured footbeds mean more support and stability which equates to happier, healthier feet (even — or especially — while on all-day adventures). Most of our top performers have some level of contour to them. These sturdy footbeds are made with materials like EVA, PU, or leather and are difficult to bend in half down the middle. They do, however, bend in the forefoot, where the foot naturally curves. Next time you're at the store perusing flip-flops, pick a few up and try bending them in half. If it folds easily, it won't provide much, if any, stability.

Our top performing models all had sturdy contoured footbeds, like...
Our top performing models all had sturdy contoured footbeds, like the Merrell Juno.
Photo: Matthew Blake

While at first some of these harder, more contoured footbeds may feel less comfortable than the squishy flat ones, they often become more comfortable over time and the big thing they offer is support and stability. Some manufacturers have designed all their products with footbeds that are anatomical molds of the bottom of a typical foot. Since we don't all have the same foot shape, it can be beneficial to try on different pairs of contoured flips to determine what is best for you. Some of the differences include heel cup shape, outer edge padding, and — most importantly — arch height. It is important to ensure that you are buying a flip flop that contours nicely to your feet. If you have a high arch, don't buy a flip with a smaller arch support. Conversely, if you are flat-footed and you purchase a heavily contoured flip, your comfort will suffer.

Almost always, contoured flip flops are more expensive than ones that lack contour. Their designs are more advanced and intentional than the simple foam cut-outs of other models, and they use sturdier, more durable materials to provide exemplary stability and support. If you're investing in a contoured sandal, make sure that it supports the unique shape of your foot. Even though we can never expect a flip flop to provide the support and stability of footwear like hiking boots, with contoured footbeds, they can come surprisingly close.

Well designed contouring and wide straps make the Gizeh our top...
Well designed contouring and wide straps make the Gizeh our top performer for support and stability.
Photo: Matthew Blake

Why We Suggest Contoured Footbeds


Speaking of hiking boots, let's drive home a point. If you love to hike on rugged trails, or often find yourself carrying a 50-pound pack on overnight backpacking trips, you need to purchase a supportive and stable hiking boot, right? We all know this will help keep your ankles from rolling, protect your toes from sharp rocks, and keep your joints healthy over the long haul. But even if you're an avid hiker you likely aren't wearing your boots every day (outside of dedicated backpacking trips or thru-hikes, of course). Now think about how many hours per week you wear your flip flops throughout the summer months. If you're anything like our testers, it could be every single day for extended hours each day. Flip flops are usually not the right footwear for hiking miles of rugged trail or carrying a heavy pack, but even on mild terrain, it's still important to seek as much support and stability as you can, especially if you wear your open-toed footwear as much as we do.

Sandals with contoured footbeds are supportive enough to wear all...
Sandals with contoured footbeds are supportive enough to wear all day without pain or injury and stable enough to handle rocky terrain.
Photo: Penney Garrett

When fitted correctly, sandals with contoured footbeds promote proper bone and joint alignment, keeping your feet and entire body healthier and happier. Thanks to a supportive footbed, we were able to wear some of our top performers all day long without any discomfort. Likewise, we went on multi-mile hikes (over moderate terrain) comfortably in the models that offer support, stability, and comfort via contoured footbed and strategically placed straps. If you want a flip that you'll be able to wear all day — whether you're shopping beach-side boutiques or headed out on a mellow jungle trek — you should invest in a sandal with a contoured footbed.

Fit


Finally, let's talk about fitting a pair of flip-flops properly. The first thing to remember is that this type of footwear tends only to be sold in whole sizes. Our main tester is a half size, so each review contains helpful information about whether sizing up or down is recommended.

Typically, when consumers first put on a pair of thong-style sandals at the store, they forget that as we start to walk, our foot slides forward until the area between the first and second toe is fully pressing against the toe post. Although it may seem subtle, the amount that your toes slide forward can completely alter the fit of a flip flop. It's important to start here because this is how the shoe will fit when you are walking. Too much slide or an uncomfortable toe post could leave you very unhappy later on (keep in mind, of course, that most toe posts will break in and become more comfortable with time).

The placement of the toe post and the fit of the straps will both affect how far up your foot slides (i.e., looser straps will allow your foot to slide farther forward). Even though a specific model may seem like it fits the length of your foot while you're just standing, the fit may be slightly off once your toes slide up against that post. And, if any part of your foot is hanging off the sandal, steer clear and look for something that has tighter straps, adjustable straps, or a longer and broader toe box.

Every flip flop design will have slight differences in how the toe...
Every flip flop design will have slight differences in how the toe post feels, how wide and long the toe box is, and where the arch supports (if there are any) will fall. While we know shopping online is convenient and often more cost-effective, the more models you can try on in person the better your final fit will be.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Once you've made sure that the toe post is well-placed and the straps fit the volume of your foot, tune into your arches. Make sure that you can feel some support under them, as this will help prevent conditions like plantar fasciitis. Different models have different arch heights, so choose one that feels natural under your foot. Some even have rounded heel cups that help keep the heel bone in place and provide extra stability. If this is the case with the model you're considering, be sure that your heel sits comfortably in the center of the cup.

The deep heel cup and strategic contouring of the Birkenstock...
The deep heel cup and strategic contouring of the Birkenstock footbed helps provide superior stability and support.
Photo: Penney Garrett

Lastly, you'll want to think about strap fit. Different strap configurations not only affect the look and style of your sandal, but they are also an essential component of the overall fit. The classic V-shaped straps can be sufficient, but very often they will be too loose or too tight depending on your foot. For casual outings around town, this isn't a big deal, but for longer days and more intense activities, it can be a deal-breaker.

Another strap option those that crisscross over the top of the foot. These can provide a tighter fit for some, but they also run the risk of being uncomfortable or impractical for specific foot shapes. The more stable and supportive models have buckles on the straps for adjustments, allowing more people to be able to get a perfect fit. This is a massive bonus if you have low-volume feet and tend to have difficulty finding straps that feel secure.

We realize that much of this is hard to assess if you're shopping online. For those of you that can't or don't want to try things on in person, our Ratings Table on the main page provides measurements for each model. While this is only for the sizes we tested (size 8 and 9 for most), it can still offer some insight and illustrate differences between models. For each shoe, we measured the width of the straps, the length of the entire shoe, and the length of the toe box. If you have long toes that tend to sneak off the end of open-toed sandals or an in-between size that's hard to fit, these measurements might help you out.

The take-home point with all of this is that even minimal shoes like flip flops have a lot of components to consider before purchasing — particularly if you plan to spend the majority of your time in them. Do your feet and body the favor of taking a little extra time to consider all of these features and your warm weather months will be even more enjoyable.

Mountain meadows and flip-flops, two pieces of a summer well done.
Mountain meadows and flip-flops, two pieces of a summer well done.
Photo: Penney Garrett

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