Flip Flops! We've been wearing these things since before recorded history. 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. 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 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. There are flip-flops that are obviously meant mostly for urban cruising, ones that offer support and comfort but not much in the ways of traction. There are others that are clearly designed for use in the mountains and hills, beaches and forests, with a tight fit and a more aggressive sole pattern. Others feel plush and comfortable right out of the box but might be quicker to wear out. Some folks don't mind this, they like their sandals immediately comfortable and don't worry about buying a new pair every year. Our testers tend to enjoy putting in the time to break in their sandals, feel the strap loosen and the footbed mold to the intricacies of their feet. We know that the occasionally uncomfortable break-in period will be worth it in the long run and plan on having a durable sandal that is going to last. Still, other flops do well on dry, dusty trails but feel slippery and weird when they get wet. Some do it all pretty well. One thing we can say for sure is that no amount of advice or reading can replace trying a flip-flop on to make sure it fits.
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 there 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.
Choosing Your Activity
Most of the flops we tested in this review share some common themes: they are well built with a comfortable fit and a sole that provides good traction. That being said, our testers all agreed that choosing your flip-flop based on your activity is a sure way to end up satisfied. For this reason, we've broken down activities into three categories and highlighted which sandals excelled in which activity and in which metrics. The activity categories we chose to judge these sandals by are urban use, water activities, and hiking.
The urban category fits people who wear their flip flops every day, regardless of whether it's on pavement or not. These folks might prefer a more stylish flip-flop and care less about its stability or traction. Comfort is, of course, something that is of utmost importance regardless of your activity, so city dwellers will want to choose a flip-flop that keeps their feet happy after pounding miles of concrete sidewalks.
Several of the flops we tested fit this category well. The Olukai Hiapo was by far the most stylish flop we tested. With a handsome, sewn leather thong and clean lines, this is a sandal fit for casual weddings and fancy dinner dates. With its leather-wrapped sole and only a handful of rubber traction pods, our testers weren't convinced it would perform well on trails, but they were quickly proven wrong. The Hari Mari Scouts excelled in the urban environment as a grocery getter and house flop while looking incredibly stylish. A nice thing about stylish, around-town flops is that they can be simple without expensive sticky rubber or bulky tread. The Chaco Marshall was a winner for the same reasons — comfortable, simple and unassuming, but a bit more durable for extended hikes. There were, of course, a couple of sandals that performed in every environment, namely the award-winning Chaco Flip EcoTread and OluKai Ohana. Both of these sandals are stylish and comfortable enough to take on any task, urban or off trail alike.
For our flip flops enthusiasts whose priority is water sports, we look for the flip-flop with the best traction and stability when wet. We can all agree that flip-flops may not be the best water shoes, but it is also well known that flip-flop diehards are going to wear them in any situation, whether it makes the most sense or not. So we might as well figure out which flops are the best. Traction when wet, a thong that stays snug and doesn't loosen when wet with a quick drying material make for the best water-sports flops. There were only a couple in our review that met these criteria. The Chaco Flip EcoTread outperformed most other flip flops for its stability and traction even when wet, this combined with its quick-drying strap material make it the flip-flop vetted by river guides everywhere. The OluKai Ohana also performed well in the water, with excellent traction but the straps stretched and loosened a bit when wet. The best water flop we tested is the Astral Filipe, armed with sticky rubber and some extra straps to secure them to your feet.
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 with your flip flops, which most of our reviewers are focused on, then you're going to want to pay special attention to this category. 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 OluKai Ohana has an aggressive tread and maintained great traction on a variety of surfaces. Its thong straps held the sandal in place well but were 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 Ohanas have pretty grippy footbed, as do the Chaco Marshalls, but the Astral Filipes take the cake, featuring a removable strap that secures your foot snuggly in the flop, even if the footbed gets wet or sweaty.
The Chaco Flip has been a trusted sandal for rock climbers and river people alike for many years. They're durable and stand up to constant abuse in any environment you can imagine. The tread is aggressive enough, and the straps keep the flip-flop in place. Lastly, the Teva Pajaro is a hiking machine. It has the most aggressive lug tread of any in our testing group and at first glance looks more like a hiking boot than a flip-flop. Its wide straps hold the foot in place well, and the thick, cushioned sole protects the foot from sharp rocks. The one downside to the Pajaro is how bulky the sandal is, making it hard to pack to the far-out places. We like light and simple, and the bulky look of the Pajaro was a fashion no-no for most of our testers.
Let's face it, we all want to look good, and while style is a subjective and often controversial topic, we have bravely dived into the style debate, and our testers have some strong opinions. Clean, simple lines, low key colors, and leather are all features we find visually pleasing in a flop. The Chaco Marshall, the Chaco Flip Eco, and the Hari Mari Scouts come in many great colors, letting you dial in that perfect flop, or even buy multiple pairs to go with different clothes (advanced, we know). Fashion faux-pas appear in the form of bulky straps, loud colors, and cheap flops that break. Keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and choose whatever flop makes you feel good.