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Looking for new sandals? For 9 years, our team of experts has purchased and tested over 20 of the best sandals on the market, with 13 of today's top models in our latest head-to-head analysis. For several months, we brought these kicks on our daily adventures from the Sierra Nevada to the California coast and now even the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on everything from hikes and boulder hops to water sports and casual beach strolls. All along the way, we scored and ranked each model across five rating metrics to help you differentiate between the comfort, performance, and value of each pair and choose the best option for your lifestyle.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure once again separates itself from the pack and earns our highest honor with its dependable, lightweight construction and excellent all-around performance. We were continually impressed with Cairn's performance across any conditions, and this model seems to perform well across all of our rating metrics. Its unique strap system is simple and easy to adjust yet provides plenty of security on uneven terrain. The footbed provides a nice balance of stability and comfort, yet it is lighter than many beefier models we tested. The star of the show, though, is the Vibram XS Trek outsole. This material is commonly on much heavier duty trail shoes and hiking boots. We were blown away by the traction from such a lightweight offering — it gave us confidence in our footing in various conditions.
One of the potential drawbacks of this model is that the thong style strap system can take a little getting used to and can't be worn with regular socks. We also tested some cushier models that are more comfortable and more supportive. However, the all-around performance, versatility, and high quality make the Cairn a worthy recipient of our top award.
The ECCO Yucatan impresses with its beefy construction and high-end materials. It has surprisingly capable traction and a host of features and technologies that make this our overall runner-up and our choice for the most comfortable sandal in our lineup. Right away, we noticed how the contoured microfiber footbed and nubuck leather straps nicely cradled our feet. Within the first few steps, we also noticed how the Fluidform midsole with Receptor technology supported and cushioned each step and how the slightly rockered outsole helped encourage a natural footstrike and stride. While these kicks come at a premium price, their high-end features are undoubtedly noticeable and provide excellent comfort and support across various terrain and conditions.
The Yucatan undoubtedly make a strong statement with their high-end comfort and performance, but they don't quite earn the highest scores. While there isn't much we don't like about the Yucatan, our other top dog, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, weighs less, provides better traction, and better adjustability. However, with much better support and stability and a more comfortable footbed, the Yucatan may be the right choice for users willing to make some slight sacrifices.
With competitive all-around performance at a surprisingly low price, the Teva Katavi 2 earns recognition for its solid performance and excellent value. Combining a plush contoured footbed, comfortable suede straps, and a durable rubber outsole in a lightweight package, these kicks hold their own against many other contenders with nearly twice the price tag. The classic Teva style with three adjustable velcro straps makes this model simple to get into and out of and easily adjustable. The durable rubber outsole holds up against the roughest of terrain.
A slight tradeoff with the lightweight design and nicely cushioned footbed is that these kicks come up a bit short in our traction and stability tests, particularly in wet conditions where we experienced some slipping on both the outsoles and the footbeds. We also found that the classic three-strap design is not as customizable as some more modern designs with fancier (yet more complicated) adjustment systems. However, with a low price tag that stands out and performance that crushes other contenders in its price range, the Katavi 2 provides a great value. This sandal is an excellent choice for a comfortable, lightweight, and versatile sandal that won't break the bank.
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 grippy and versatile in most dryland activities as well. The molded insole is comfortable and supportive while maintaining a relatively lightweight feel. The Newport's webbing structure is padded with neoprene backing and is very comfortable and quick to dissipate moisture. It also offers adequate protection from stubbed toes on submerged river rocks and the trail as a closed model.
One drawback of a closed-toe sandal is that it's easier for pebbles and sand to get stuck inside the shoe if you're hiking through a rocky stream bed or at the beach. We found that this is a minor inconvenience for the high-end wet-condition performance of the Newport H2. While it is ideal for watersports and our top choice for a closed-toe sandal, it also keeps up with some of the burlier models in our lineup regarding traction and stability. We give this model a seal of approval for trail use and watersports. This footwear style isn't most folks' first pick for wearing around town, but it certainly gets the job done in the outdoors.
"Less is more" seems like a good 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 EV, 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 EV is an undeniably great option if you're looking to save pack space or weight 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 burlier hunk of rubber.
Xero, a leading company for zero-drop footwear, promotes the philosophy that feet are meant to move naturally and "Feel The World." While it may not be for everyone, we believe that the Z-Trail EV caters to this particular niche very well. With nylon made from recycled water bottles according to Xero, the Z-Trail EV uses search and vegan-friendly materials. While not as traditionally comfortable as a thicker and more supportive sandal, the Z-Trail EV performs well across the board with its secure strap system and comfortable footbed.
Although they didn't blow us away in any one performance metric, the Chaco Z/Volv 2 consistently resides near the top of the charts in every single rating category. This model has all the features that make Chaco a longtime user favorite: excellent foot security, good traction, and dependable construction, 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.
As with most Chaco models, our testers noted that you typically have to adjust all of the pull-through strap system's interconnected straps to make a slight adjustment to one part of this sandal. While this makes on-the-fly adjustments a little more challenging, it certainly isn't a deal-breaker and is part of what makes this brand and style unique.
To test men's sandals, we enlisted the expertise of gear testers Nick Bruckbauer and Jacob Clark. Nick and Jacob are experienced outdoorsmen and understand the importance of quality gear and footwear. When Nick's not trekking in Nepal, skiing in Alaska, or scaling 14ers in Colorado, he makes his home along California's Central Coast where he can rock open-toed kicks practically year-round. Throughout the year, Jacob, a former climbing guide and route setter, can be found on the Central Coast beaches, in the beloved Los Padres National Forest hiking and running, or exploring any number of trails and mountains across various states to his heart's content with his dog Eli.
Men's sandals were tested across 5 performance metrics:
Comfort tests (25% of total weighted score)
Traction tests (25% of score)
Stability tests (20% of score)
Adjustability tests (15% of score)
Versatility tests (15% of score)
We tested each sandal through more than 10 individual assessments. The two most important sandal metrics were comfort and traction, and each contributes 25% to the overall weighted score. We wore these kicks every chance we had throughout several months of field testing. We repeatedly walked and hiked the same routes to understand how each pair handles similar terrain. We took these kicks kayaking, running, on bike rides, skateboarding, and to beach barbeques. The result is a comprehensive understanding of where each pair shines or falls behind.
Analysis and Test Results
This review focuses on sporty sandals that provide the user with a secure fit and enough traction for active adventures. After thoroughly examining the market's current offerings, we chose various models from some of the most trusted footwear brands. We're confident that our lineup has the best offerings available that blend performance, comfort, and value for whatever on or off-trail activities are in your future. Check out our flip flops review for a more casual option.
Not all footwear is created or priced equally. In our experience, lower price tags often come with cheaper materials. Bargain hunting will serve you well in some areas, but we typically wouldn't recommend it for shoes where you plan to log lots of miles. When considering value in these models, we looked for products that balance quality and durability with reasonable affordability.
For a very comfortable model with respectable all-around performance that won't break the bank, our outstanding value award-winning Teva Katavi 2 comes in at roughly half the price of some of its higher-end competitors. While it isn't high-scoring, the Teva Original Universal is a comfortable classic at a friendly price with everything you need for more casual, non-technical terrain. The Chaco models, while a bit pricier, have noticeably burlier materials and construction and have a reputation for their longevity.
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. We gauged this 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 and the straps, buckles, and attachments are all critical influencers of comfort. Ergonomic and well-designed, and ergonomic pairs receive higher scores on average.
We tested comfort in various activities, surfaces, weather conditions, and with socks when possible. After the initial unboxing, we noted whether the shoe requires any breaking in before rigorous use. If any hotspots or weaknesses became evident over time, we focused on the design or materials that may prove problematic long-term.
Comfort is mainly dependent on factors like foot shape and intended use. We included various sports and activities while taking note of the shoe's overall 'feel.' If you're looking to tackle long, rugged hikes, your feet will be happier with greater stability and traction. If you want a do-it-all travel model, you'll likely be more satisfied with a lightweight, cushioned design.
The Teva Katavi 2 and the ECCO Yucatan are the standout performers for comfort. They each have supportive yet cushioned sole construction that provides the highest comfort level in 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.
Rounding out the middle of the pack are the Bedrock Cairn, the Teva Terra Fi 5, and most of the Chaco offerings with their well-supported, molded footbeds. While not offering as much support as others, the Cairn has such an ergonomic design and lightweight feel that we could hardly tell we were wearing them. The Terra Fi 5 is easy to secure and offers an extraordinarily comfortable footbed but falls short of our top scorers because the bulky strap mounting points caused us some chafing and bleeding the first few times out.
Today's top-performing sandals have come a long way from the slippery, spongy, 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 various 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 mossy creekbeds, steep granite scrambles, and loose, dusty trails. Each model was subjected to wet and dry conditions, carrying a pack, walking uphill and downhill, and being pulled by an energetic puppy. We awarded high marks to models that left us feeling confident in even the sketchiest conditions.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure takes the cake in this category, which is not surprising when considering its aggressive tread pattern and Vibram XS Trek outsole material. Our feet felt secure and locked in no matter what conditions or surfaces we faced, and it excelled even in the Slime Test.
Stiff-soled models like the ECCO Yucatan and the three Chaco models receive respectable scores, though they lacked the raw gripping potential of Vibram soles across all conditions. They each feature various types of hard rubber molded into sporty tread patterns that maintained traction in most conditions, including loose pebble and wet rock. However, certain models received some deductions due to less confidence on steeper descents.
The Keen Newport H2 falls short of our top marks in this category but still stands out with its siped outsole reminiscent of winter vehicle tires and optimized for wet conditions. Similarly, with its grippy Spider Rubber, the Terra Fi 5provides dependable well-rounded traction, though models with Vibram soles best it.
The underperformers in the traction metric were two lighter-weight models, the Teva Original Universal and the Xero Z-Trail EV. These products come with soft outsoles, shallow tread patterns, and flexible footbeds. While this provided comfort underfoot, they both struggled on wet, steep, or sketchy terrain.
Stability is another essential consideration when reviewing the performance of technical footwear. A not stable product is more characteristic of a flip-flop than it is of performance footwear. To assess stability, we paid close attention to how balanced, sturdy, and secure our feet felt while wearing them across a wide array of terrain. Stiff (but not bulky) midsoles, secure straps, and pronounced arch support were the chief contributors to stability. High-scoring products provided the user with an overall secure and stable feeling in nearly all outdoor environments and activities.
Most impressive here are the ECCO Yucatan, the Keen Newport H2, and the three Chaco models (the Z/Volv 2, Chaco Z/Cloud, and Chaco Z/1 Classic). These models sport a stiffer and heavier sole that can withstand severe abuse and provide notable arch support. The adjustable straps and webbing offer excellent security over the instep, leaving the foot feeling very solid.
The Teva Katavi 2 and Bedrock Cairn offer reasonable stability, albeit with considerably different designs. Flat-footed folks or barefoot enthusiasts who prefer a "trail feel" will appreciate the Cairn, while those seeking more support ought to try the Katavi.
We weren't surprised that the Teva Original Universal and the Xero Z-Trail EV earned less-than-stellar marks in this metric. These two models are intentionally more minimalist and sacrifice stability for a lightweight and simple design. In all honesty, we don't expect a lightweight, flexible, trail-running inspired model to provide exceptional stability. That said, the Bedrock model trends toward minimalism in design yet don't disappoint in this metric.
Like comfort, adjustability has much to do with how each model interacts with the foot and correspondingly affects overall comfort. We designed this metric to evaluate each pair's ergonomic function and customization — specifically, how the sandal secures to the foot. We noted the total adjustment points, how simple they were to adjust, and how often they needed tweaking during use.
We were initially curious about which type of strap or material configuration offered the greatest utility. Generally, we favor models with multiple adjustment areas that offer different fits or styles to accommodate multi-sport folks. Several adjustment areas 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 Cairn Adventure, which offers stellar adjustability and customization in fit after a little learning curve. Its three-way strap configuration allows for a secure fit that can quickly and easily manage micro-adjustments on the go. After the Cairn is the Z-Trail EV and the Chaco models, these brands offer very different strap systems with multiple adjustment locations to dial in a customized fit. Still, ultimately, the system designed by Bedrock for the Cairn is the most straightforward and intuitive.
Most of the Teva models and the ECCO Yucatan with their traditional three-strap sporty designs are bringing up the middle of the pack. 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 are boxy and not totally capable of getting a precise fit, though Teva Omnium 2 we preferred the two additional Velcro straps on the Teva Omnium.
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 challenging 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.
Overall, the 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 can'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 Yucatan is the most versatile traditional sport model with outstanding comfort and support across any terrain or activity.
Certain models like the Original Universal and Omnium (both from Teva) aren't sporty enough for tricky approaches but are well-rounded enough to receive a respectable score. Though practical for specific purposes, we awarded lower scores to minimalist models like the Z-Trail EV because they didn't give us total confidence in certain activities where more support is necessary.
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 footwear category can bridge the gap between performance and casual. We hope our findings help you locate the perfect pair for your summer, spring, fall, or even winter adventures.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.