Flip flops! We humans have been wearing these things since before recorded history; you can fact-check us but since it wasn't recorded, good luck. The first flip flops we know about appeared on Egyptian murals around 4,000 BC, but you can bet folks were rocking this simple, elegant footwear way before they figured out how to write or chisel or whatever. Constructed from wood, papyrus, rawhide, and even palm fronds, flip flops were, and remain, the most egalitarian footwear out there. Everyone from princes to paupers loves a comfy pair of flops. Little has changed, except now you can spend as much frankincense and myrrh as you can manage on a pair of kicks that will feel more comfortable and last longer than the papyrus thongs of yore. Fortunately for us, there are many brands mindfully producing quality flip flops for every situation imaginable and most budgets too.
Choosing Your Activity
Consider what you'll be doing and where you'll be going in your flip flops. Are you going to be using them more in an urban setting, wandering miles of foreign streets while tasting strange foods and getting lost on purpose? Or will you be taking your flops beyond their recommended applications (as most of us do), using them on rocky trails or granite slabs? If you're into water sports, your flops will need good traction to prevent you from slipping all over the deck or falling on wet rocks. Flip flops that are good for hiking might not be your cup of tea stylistically as they sometimes have padded straps or thicker tread. If you spend most of your time in town, narrowing in on the more stylish flops probably makes the most sense. Be honest with yourself about what you really plan to get after the most. We know, making a decision is hard, but as the saying goes, a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. So what's it going to be?
If you find yourself wearing flip flops every day, be it after work, before work, out on the town, or just around the house, you might fit into this use category. Regardless of the activity, comfort should still be high up on your list of demands. There are several flip flops in our review that offer all-day comfort and the durability necessary for everyday use.
Both the OluKai Hokua, our Editors' Choice, and the OluKai Ohana, offer superb comfort along with some serious durability. Additionally, the OluKai Hiapo checks these boxes but does it with a lot of extra style to boot. If you're more of a Big Lebowski, cult classic lover, the Rainbow Premier Leather is probably going to hit you right in the feels. These flip flops also illuminate another critical consideration because of their different weather tolerances. The Hiapo, being leather, isn't as suitable to regular dousings in the water and thus should be relegated to dry days, though a bit of moisture won't damage them. The 'Ohana and Hokua are well suited for basically any environment.
For our flip flops enthusiasts whose priority is water sports, look for the version with the best traction and stability when wet. The Astral Filipe and Hari Mari Dunes II are some of the top performers in the wet because of strategic water-specific modifications. The Dunes II, for example, have a sole that puts tons of rubber in contact with any surface while channeling water away. The Filipe has additional straps that keep it on your foot even if it gets sucked down into the mud when you're getting out of your boat.
Another significant concern with water activities is the likelihood of losing your flip flop! We're not sure how many flip flops have been lost at sea, but it has to be in the billions. Considering the flotation of a flip flop along with the overall cost might be pertinent as you set sail. The Needbo NDB is an effective water fairing flip flop that costs a fraction of what others might cost, so it's worth a gander if your wallet is thin and you're going to be around a lot of water.
Whether it's carrying a surfboard to the break or a backpack to the crag, you're going to need a flop that offers some arch support and actually stays on your foot if you're looking to get off the sidewalk regularly. Traction, stability, and durability are all super important to those looking to use flip flops for purposes slightly more extreme than recommended. Flip flops that excel in this category should be durable, rugged, and packable, whether that be in a backpack or clipped to a harness. Several of the flops we tested did well in this category. The 'Ohana has an aggressive tread and maintains great traction on a variety of surfaces. Its thong straps hold the sandal in place well but are not the tightest we tested, allowing for a little bit of slip. Remember, even if your flops have great traction, they're worthless if your foot doesn't stay in place. The Astral Filipe takes the cake in this area, featuring a removable strap that secures your foot snuggly inside, even if the footbed gets wet or sweaty.
Let's face it, we all want to look good, and while style is a subjective and often controversial topic, we bravely dive in with some strong opinions. Clean, simple lines, low-key colors, and leather are all features we find visually pleasing in a flop. Both the Hiapo and Rainbow flip flops define the upper echelon of style in this review. Both utilize beautifully crafted leather though the Rainbow hits more in the retro styling vein and the Hiapo is just plain classy, like Ron Burgandy's leather-bound books.
There really isn't anything quite as comfortable as a nicely broken in and molded footbed with the perfect arch support slipped on after a long hike. The open-air against your disgusting feet and the arch support massaging your barking dogs, it's almost too good to be true. If you are on the hunt for this euphoric post-hike foot love, it's important to consider what you want in a footbed and what you need in regards to fit. The flip flops we tested ranged from nearly flat and hard to moldable and high arched. In between this wide range were flip flops offering ultra-plush footbeds and other bargain options that are moldable but firm.
Light Foam Footbeds
While flip flops constructed from this lightweight and squishy foam can be comfortable off the shelf, they are generally of less durable construction, and the low-density material wears quickly. We have found it not uncommon for ultra-cheap low-density footbeds to blow out within a month or two. The affordable price tag is undeniable. You could have five or more pairs of these flip flops for the cost of the heavy-hitting dense rubber-soled options. While we don't have any of these sub-five dollar flip flops in our review, it's important to know where they land on the spectrum of comfort and durability. They land quite far on the not very comfortable and not very durable end of the spectrum.
Foot Molding Footbeds
A handful of the flip flops we tested fall into this category. While each has a different foam density and feel, the main point is that these are generally more durable than the light foam footbeds but a bit less durable than the chunky and durable contoured footbeds, discussed in the next section. These foot molding footbeds are almost universally constructed from EVA or ethylene-vinyl acetate. This polymer can be crafted into an insane variety of density, flexibility, and environmental resistance. Also, the ability to easily mold it makes it ideal for mass-produced flip flops. No, it's not the greatest on the environment, but hey it's summer, and we've been virtue signaling all winter, time to slip on some highly refined Brazilian crude oil and hit the beach.
This is where the rubber meets the road, or any surface you want it to meet actually. The contoured footbeds seem to be the creme of the crop with ultra-comfortable form-fitting designs and ergonomics that rival the most comfortable shoes. OluKai flip flops seem to have this corner of the market etched out quite well. As a general rule of thumb, these flip flops are ultra-comfortable out of the box and only seem to get better with age. The footbeds come formed with wide and high arch support, decent heel cups, and sometimes a separation for toes. Wearing these flip flops generally gives you the sense that your entire foot is being supported and cushioned. Not only are these usually the most comfortable, to create the necessary contoured structure requires more durable materials, either high-density EVA or leather in some cases. Ultimately, contoured footbeds allow you to find a pair of flip flops that work for you and keep them in your family for a long time versus getting a new pair every time you are headed to the beach.