Bedrock Cairn Adventure
1.10 lbs (size 10) | Sole:
Easy to adjust
For the third time in a row, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure separated itself from the competition with its solid construction, low weight, and excellent all-around performance. No matter what conditions we threw at it, we were continually impressed, as this model seemed to strike a nice balance between all of our performance metrics. The strap system is simple and easy to adjust, yet provides plenty of security. The footbed provides a nice balance of stability and comfort, yet is lighter than many of the beefier models we tested. The star of the show though was the Vibram MegaGrip soles. While this material is commonly found on much heavier duty trail shoes and hiking boots, we were blown away by the traction from such a lightweight offering and had confident footing in a variety of conditions.
One of the potential drawbacks of this model is that the thong style strap system might take some getting used to, and can't be worn with socks. There are also some cushier models that were slightly more comfortable. However, the all-around performance, versatility, and high quality make the Cairn a worthy three-peat winner of our Editors' Choice Award.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Best Buy Award
Teva Original Universal
0.84 lbs (size 10) | Sole:
Plush EVA foam footbed
Price to performance ratio
Mediocre traction on wet ground
A timeless classic, the Teva Original Universal stands out in our lineup with its retro style, simple comfort, and throwback price. Not only did the classic Teva strap design and fun colors make our testers well up with nostalgia, but we appreciated how the simple design is easy to get in and out of and intuitive to adjust. This model has a fixed heel strap, with adjustable velcro ankle and toe straps that are easy to adjust. What we really appreciated most about these classics was the soft and comfortable EVA foam footbed that felt super plush under our feet. Another surprising perk was that they weighed in at 0.84 lbs (13.5 oz) per pair in size 10, making them the most comfortable of the sub-1 lb pairs that we tested.
The tradeoff for the cushy feel and low weight is that these guys came up a bit short in our traction and stability tests, particularly in wet conditions where we experienced some slipping on both the footbeds and soles. While these probably wouldn't be your top choice for logging huge miles or traversing slick or technical terrain, their price tag is less than half of that of much of the competition. For a comfortable, lightweight sandal that can transition from trail to town to tavern without breaking the bank, we recommend the Teva Original Universal as our Best Buy award winner.
Read review: Teva Original Universal
Top Pick for Closed Toe
Keen Newport H2
2.01 lbs (size 12) | Sole:
Support and traction
Ready for the water
Admittedly, some of our testers are not particularly fond of closed-toe models. However, we all agree that the Keen Newport H2 is a worthy competitor in the performance sandal category. It's tuned up to be water-savvy with durable rubber outsoles and a hydrophobic EVA-foam footbed, though we also find the Newport to be versatile and grippy in dryland activities as well. The molded insole is both supportive and comfortable while maintaining a relatively lightweight feel. Padded with neoprene backing, the webbing structure of the Newport is both very comfortable and quick to dissipate moisture. As a closed model should, it also offers adequate protection from stubbed toes on the trail and submerged river rocks.
While it performed better than the similar Teva Omnium, we also felt that Newport held a candle to some of the more aggressive models in the lineup. We give it the seal of approval for trail use as well as watersports. This footwear isn't most folks' first pick for around town, but in the outdoors, this model gets it done.
Read review: Keen Newport H2
Top Pick for Ultralight Touring
0.73 lbs (size 10) | Sole:
Comfortable footbed material
Lack of support
Not the grippiest
'Less is more' seems like a legit philosophy for sandals, right? Sometimes you don't need over-the-top arch support or heavy-duty traction to reach your objective comfortably. Cue the Xero Z-Trail — a lightweight minimalist model that is so thin you could fold it into your back pocket. While barefoot-inspired footwear may not be your cup of tea, the Z-Trail is an undeniably great option if you're looking to save weight or pack space on your next big outing. Ounce for ounce, the 10mm sole and ultra-thin webbing are remarkably comfortable and capable on the trail, though not as bomber as a beefy hunk of rubber.
Xero, a company that is leading the charge in zero-drop footwear, promotes the credo that feet were meant to move naturally and "Feel The World." While it may not be for everyone, we believe that the Z-Trail caters to a particular niche very well. While we introduced another barefoot-inspired model this year with the Luna Leadville Pacer, we preferred the more comfortable footbed and more secure strap of the Xeros.
Read review: Xero Z-Trail
Notable for Solid All-Around Performance
Chaco Z/Volv 2
1.65 lbs (size 10) | Sole:
Lower weight than most Chaco's
Comfort and great adjustability
Good purchase on many surfaces
Adjustment can be tedious
Although they didn't blow us away with any one performance metric, the Chaco Z/Volv 2 consistently resided near the top of the charts in every single category. This model has all the features that make Chaco a longtime user favorite: dependable construction, excellent foot security, and good traction, all in a package that's 20% lighter than Chaco's typical offerings. As we performed our testing, we found that going back to these shoes always brought us comfort and confidence.
Our testers noted that to make a small adjustment to one part of this sandal, you may have to adjust all the interconnected straps of the pull-through strap system. While this makes on-the-fly adjustments a little more challenging, it certainly wasn't a deal breaker, and is part of what makes this brand unique.
Read review: Chaco Z/Volv 2
From left to right: Teva Original Universal, Chaco Z/Volv 2, Bedrock Cairn Adventure, Xero Z-Trail, Luna Leadville Pacer
Why You Should Trust Us
To test men's sandals, we enlisted the expertise of gear testers Nick Bruckbauer and Rob Woodworth. Both Nick and Rob are experienced outdoorsmen and understand the importance of quality gear and footwear. When he's not trekking in Nepal, skiing in Alaska, or scaling 14ers in Colorado, Nick makes his home along California's Central Coast where he can rock open-toed kicks practically year round. In addition to being a Level 300 certified USSA Development Coach in the winter, Rob can be found partaking in any number of land or water bound adventure activities once the snow melts, where he's gained the experience to evaluate how each pair of sandals performs accurately.
Throughout several months of field testing, we wore these products every chance we had. We hiked and walked the same routes repeatedly to gain an understanding of how each pair handles similar terrain. We took these kicks running, kayaking, skateboarding, on bike rides, and to beach barbeques. The result is a comprehensive understanding of where each pair shines or falls behind.
Related: How We Tested Sandals
The focus of this review is on sandals that provide the user with a more secure fit for active adventures. Every model in our lineup features some securement for the heel as well as multiple adjustable straps. Each contender also comes with different tread patterns, footbed and sole materials, and unique styles. We're confident that our lineup has offerings that blend comfort, performance, and value for whatever on or off trail activities are in your future.
Related: Buying Advice for Sandals
After a thorough examination of the market's current offerings, we settled on these ten different models from some of the most trusted footwear brands. During the selection process, our experts combined their personal industry knowledge with solid consumer feedback on both the newest available models and some of the most popular classics. All of the products shown here are top performers, and their scores in this review are in relation to one another. Our tests ranged from general use to specific traction tests on varying terrain.
Related: The Best Flip Flops of 2019
From Left to Right: Xero Z-Trail, Luna Leadville Pacer, Teva Original Universal, Chaco Z/Volv 2, Bedrock Cairn Adventure.
Not all shoes are created or priced equally. While we were careful to select products that hit multiple price points, it's always wise to invest in an option that gives you the most bang for your buck. In our experience, cheaper price tags often come from cheaper materials. Bargain hunting will serve you well in some arenas, but we wouldn't recommend it for shoes that you plan to log lots of miles in. When considering value in these models, we looked for quality and durability before considering whether or not the manufacturer offered any warranty or repairs.
The Original Universal provides tremendous value, with a price tag less that's than half of some competitors.
It may not surprise you that the Chaco offerings are some of the priciest options in this lineup. If you're familiar with the brand, you'll know that they're known for their superb longevity. Although it's challenging to forecast the lifespan of a shoe, it is easy to recognize quality construction and robust materials that should stand up to years of abuse. The Chaco models and the Editors' Choice Bedrock Cairn Adventure stood out to us as the most durable options, making them valuable to a very active user. For a respectable all-around model that won't break the bank, the Teva Original Universal came in at roughly half the price of some of the pricier competition, yet we wouldn't expect them to last as long as the products above.
By nature, this type of footwear is meant to be casual and relaxed. Though we opted for models that could handle rugged conditions, we didn't want to sacrifice the comfortable, easy-going spirit of sandals exclusively for performance. That is why we weight comfort equally with traction at 25%. We gauged this metric by paying close attention to how our feet interacted with the shoes both out of the box and over an extended period of use. The contact points between the arch and the footbed, as well as the straps, buckles, and attachments, are all key influencers of comfort. Well-designed and ergonomic pairs received higher scores on average.
We tested comfort in a variety of activities, surfaces, weather conditions, and with socks when possible. After the initial unboxing, we took note of whether or not the shoe required any breaking in before more rigorous use. If any hotspots or weaknesses became evident over time, we directed our attention to the design or materials that may prove to be problematic long-term.
Though it struggled a bit in more technical situations, the Original Universal by Teva was one of our go-to picks for everyday comfort.
Comfort is mainly dependent on individual factors like foot shape and intended use, so we aimed to include a broad spectrum of sports and activities while taking note of the overall 'feel' of the shoe. If you're looking to tackle long, rugged hikes, your feet will be happier with greater stability and traction. And if you want do-it-all travel model, you'll likely be more satisfied with a lightweight, cushioned design.
The Chaco Mega Z/Cloud and the Keen Newport H2 are the big enchiladas when it comes to comfort. They each have supportive yet cushioned sole construction that provides the highest level of comfort in the most applications. Furthermore, the added coverage of extra materials left our feet feeling secure as well as comfortable, though flat-footed individuals may want to look elsewhere. They both have decent arches.
No matter where we found ourselves in these sandals, our feet remained comfortable and supported.
Rounding out the middle of the pack were the other Chaco models, the Teva Terra Fi and the Bedrock Cairn. The Chacos had great support and comprehensive coverage while the Terra Fi was easy to secure and offered a very comfortable insole. While not offering as much support as some others, the Cairn had such a lightweight feel and ergonomic design, that we could hardly tell we were wearing them.
The lowest-scoring model in the comfort metric was the Luna Leadville Pacer which has a very minimalist design and thin strap widths. It also had a slippery footbed that caused our feet to move around a bit on wet or on uneven terrain. It should be noticed that these sandals are intentionally designed to mimic a barefoot ground feel, and therefore cushioning is foregone.
The thin soles and slippery footbeds on the Leadville Pacer weren't as comfortable for us on uneven or technical terrain.
Today's top sandals have come a long way from the spongy, slippery, bargain bin flip-flops that we wore to the pool as a kid. These days, it's not uncommon to find Vibram materials or other grippy rubber on the soles of many newer models. These top offerings provide excellent traction and are incredibly versatile and useful in a variety of situations.
We introduced our lineup to the "Slime Test," a wet, slimy set of concrete beach steps that pushed our soles to the limit. We also tested traction on steep granite scrambles, mossy creekbeds, and loose, dusty trails. Each model was subjected to both wet and dry conditions, walking uphill and downhill, carrying a pack, and being pulled by an energetic puppy. High marks were awarded to models that left us feeling confident in even the sketchiest conditions. We weight traction as 25% of the total score because we believe that traction is paramount to performance.
The Cairn was our top performer for traction, including making easy work of these wet, slippery beach steps in our new "Slime Test."
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure takes the cake in this category, which is not surprising when you consider its aggressive tread pattern and Vibram MegaGrip sole. Our feet felt locked-in and secure no matter what surfaces or conditions we faced in the Cairn, and it excelled even in the Slime Test. The other Vibram sole in our lineup, the Luna Leadville Pacer, didn't score as high because it lacked an aggressive tread depth, and our feet slid around on the footbed in tougher situations.
Stiff-soled models like the three Chaco models and the Keen Newport H2 received respectable scores, though they lacked the raw gripping potential of Vibram soles. They each feature a variety of hard rubber molded into sporty tread patterns that maintained traction in most conditions including wet rock and loose pebble. However, certain models received some deductions due to less confidence on steeper descents.
You never know where you might need some good sandals!
The underperformers in the traction metric were two of the lighter weight models, the Xero Z-Trail and the Teva Original Universal. Both of these products come with flexible footbeds, soft outsoles, and shallow tread patterns. While this provided comfort underfoot, they both struggled on steep, wet, or sketchy terrain.
Stability is another essential consideration when reviewing the performance from footwear. A sandal that is not stable is more characteristic of a flip-flop than it is performance footwear. Accordingly, we weight stability at 20%. To assess stability, we paid close attention to how sturdy, balanced, and secure our feet felt while wearing them across a variety of terrain. Stiff (but not bulky) midsoles, pronounced arch support, and secure straps were the chief contributors to stability. High-scoring products provided the user with an overall stable and secure feeling in nearly all outdoor environments and activities.
Most impressive here is the Chaco Z/1 Classic, which sports a stiff, beefy, and heavy sole that can withstand severe abuse and provides notable arch support. The (not easily) adjustable webbing offers excellent security over the instep and leaves your foot feeling very solid.
All the Chaco models we tested, including the Z/Volv 2 shown here, received impressive scores for stability.
Not far behind the Z/1 Classic are the two Chaco models, both of which feature a softer insole material which offers more shock absorption but a bit less overall stability. The Bedrock Cairn and Teva Terra Fi also offer impressive amounts of stability albeit considerably different designs. Flat-footed folks or barefoot enthusiasts who prefer 'trail feel' will appreciate the Cairn while those seeking more support ought to try the Terra Fi or Chacos.
The Bedrock Cairn offers lightweight stability to help you keep up with your furry friends.
We weren't surprised that the Luna Leadville Pacer, Xero Z-Trail, and Teva Original Universal earned less-than-stellar marks in this metric. These three models are intentionally more minimalist, and tradeoff stability for a lightweight and simple design. In all honesty, we don't expect a flexible, lightweight, trail running inspired sandal to provide exceptional stability. That said, the Bedrock model trends toward minimalism in design yet doesn't disappoint in this metric.
Similar to comfort, adjustability has much to do with how each model interacts with the foot, and correspondingly affects overall comfort. But this metric is designed to evaluate the ergonomic function and customization of each pair--how the sandal secures to the foot, specifically. We made a note of the total adjustment points, how simply they could be adjusted, and how often they needed tweaking during use. Adjustability is weighted at 15% of the total score.
We were initially curious about which type of strap or material configuration offered the greatest utility. Generally, we favor models with multiple areas of adjustment that could be worn in different fits or styles to accommodate multi-sport folks. Several areas of adjustment also mean getting a more precise fit on odd feet or gnarly spurs from a season of ski boot brutalization.
The standout performer in this category is the Bedrock Cairn
which, after a minor learning curve, offers stellar adjustability and customization in fit. Its three-way strap configuration allows for a secure fit that can quickly and easily manage micro adjustments on-the-go. Runners-up to the Cairn are the Terra Fi 4
, the Luna Leadville Pacer
, and the Chaco
models. Each of these three different brands offers very different strap systems that each have multiple adjustment locations to dial in a customized fit, but ultimately the system designed by Bedrock for the Cairn was the most simple and intuitive.
Though tricky at first, we are very fond of how well the Cairn adjusts to fit different foot types.
Bringing up the middle of the pack were the Teva Original Universal and the Xero Z-Trail. These models can offer a very secure and customized fit, but not without a good deal of tinkering and adjustment. The closed-toe varieties we tested were boxy and not totally capable of getting a precise fit, though we preferred the two additional velcro straps on the Teva Omnium.
Not everyone is keen on how the Chaco straps adjust, though once you're past the learning curve, it's quite easy to get a cozy fit.
With modern advancements and proprietary tech now mystifying the outdoor consumer market, sandals are becoming more and more ubiquitous as do-it-all footwear. A trusty pair should be capable of navigating craggy pursuits or river crossings with ease while cruising through town in style. It is difficult to strike the right balance between performance, functionality, and utility. In this metric, we favorably scored models that transitioned smoothly through a full spectrum of activities ranging from fishing and skateboarding to trailblazing and hitting the taco bar. Versatility comprises 15% of the overall score.
Overall, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure is the most versatile model. It is strong and grippy but also lightweight, packable, and comfortable enough to wear even on the longest days--there is seemingly no situation it couldn't handle. Close behind are the Chaco models which are a little bulkier and less packable than the Cairn, but ultimately well-suited for many different missions. The Keen Newport is the most versatile closed-toe model tested, providing plenty of protection in water and on land.
With impeccable traction, great stability, and a comfortable fit, there isn't much that the Cairn can't do.
Certain models like the Original Universal and the Teva Omnium weren't sporty enough for tricky approaches but were well-rounded enough to receive a respectable score. Though practical for specific purposes, we awarded lower scores to minimalist models like the Xero Z-Trail because they didn't give us total confidence in certain activities where more support is necessary.
Ample cushion, great support, and a stiff sole mean that the Terra Fi 4 is primed for all sorts of adventuring.
This review is designed to pick out the nuanced strengths and weaknesses of the top-performing models available on the market. Providing more breathability and less weight than a typical hiking shoe, this category of footwear can bridge the gap between performance and casual. We hope that our findings help you locate the perfect pair for your summer, spring, fall, or even winter adventures (sandals extremists, you know who you are)!
Today's hiking sandals can handle beaches, boulders, bars, and everything in between.