Related: The Best Women's Sandals of 2019
The Best Sandals of 2019
|Price||$105.00 at REI||$79.93 at REI|
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|$104.95 at MooseJaw|
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|$79.99 at MooseJaw|
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|Pros||Lightweight, versatile, easy to use and comfortable||Comfortable, rugged, grippy on variable surfaces||Extremely supportive, insanely durable, dependable stability||Super comfortable, lots of support, dependable performance||Comfortable, good traction, quick-drying and breathable|
|Cons||Not best for high arches||Softer footbed means less stability||Heavy, requires break-in period for learning adjustment||Straps can slip out of place||Lack of adjustment points, doesn't slip on|
|Bottom Line||The Cairn is a well designed minimalist sandal that is ultra-resilient and ready for the long haul.||Tough to go wrong with a Chaco classic; especially when it's geared for comfort.||This all-around workhorse comes from a pedigree of high-performance in rugged conditions; you can't go wrong with Chaco.||This sandal is a comfort-oriented revamp of the original Chaco. We are fond of the upgrades.||With solid coverage and water friendly materials, this is our favorite closed sandal for water sports.|
|Rating Categories||Cairn Adventure||Chaco Z/Cloud||Chaco Z/1 Classic||Chaco Mega Z/Cloud||Keen Newport H2|
|Specs||Cairn Adventure||Chaco Z/Cloud||Chaco Z/1 Classic||Chaco Mega Z/Cloud||Keen Newport H2|
|Weight (in lbs per pair, size 12 US)||1.15 lbs||2.05 lbs||2.29 lbs||2.1 lbs||2.01 lbs|
|Available Widths||Medium||Medium, Wide||Medium, Wide||Medium||Medium|
|Footbed Material||Granite Grip rubber||LuvSeat PU||LuvSeat PU||LuvSeat PU||EVA|
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Across the board, there was one model that continually impressed us with its ability to perform. No matter what we threw at it, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure rose to the occasion and often exceeded our expectations. It has a unique and eye-catching design that provides a tremendous amount of support with virtually no hot spots or pinch points. We were surprised that a thong-style model could qualify as a high-performance footwear option, but the Cairn is just that. The sole material is high-quality Vibram rubber that holds in even the sketchiest of conditions but is also still light enough to foster that barely-there feel. It appears no compromises were made in the construction of this shoe. It is not only adept and capable in a wide variety of situations, but it is also very comfortable and low-key stylish.
The all-around performance and high-quality nature of this Bedrock model make it one of the most versatile in the review. All-in-all, we feel that the Cairn is an overachiever worthy of a second consecutive Editors' Choice Award. Perhaps the only thing it can't do is be worn with socks—bummer, dude.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Best Buy Award
Teva Hurricane XLT 2
A fresh take on an old classic, the Teva Hurricane XLT 2 offers reliable performance and stability at a low price. The three-strap design is familiar and easy to work with but now features a neoprene heel pad to give even greater comfort while on the move. Quick-drying webbing and a foamy, supportive insole mean that the Hurricane is ready for the water, but we also had no issues bombing around for some light-duty adventuring. It didn't outshine any of the other contenders in one category in particular, but it did prove itself to be consistent and trustworthy across the board.
It's not the burliest model, and for proper support under the weight of a pack, you'll be better served by other models. For the price, though, this above-average sandal is a great entry-level pair for someone looking to invest in a multisport option. You'll also probably like it if you are/were a classic Teva fan.
Read review: Teva Hurricane XLT 2
Top Pick for Closed Toe
Keen Newport H2
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
'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 lighter-than-air minimalist model that is so thin you could fold it into your back pocket. While barefoot-inspired footwear (barefootwear?) 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. Gram-for-gram, 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. For sure check it out if you're a minimalist trail-runner or a weight-conscious traveler.
Read review: Xero Z-Trail
Why You Should Trust Us
To test men's sandals, we enlisted the expertise of lead tester Rob Woodworth. In addition to being a Level 300 certified USSA Development Coach, Rob is an all-around outdoorsperson. When the snow melts, he can be found partaking in any number of land or water bound adventure activities. Rob understands the importance of quality gear and footwear and has the experience to accurately evaluate how each pair of sandals performs.
Throughout three months of testing, we wore these sandals at every opportunity. We hiked the same trail repeatedly to gain an understanding of how each pair handles the same 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
We focused on shoes that offer more secure fits for active use. Every model reviewed has some form of securement on the heel to provide a lineup that is fully capable of handling off-road adventures bipedally. Each contender has different tread patterns, sole materials, and securement styles that each offer a unique experience both on and off the trail.
Related: Buying Advice for Sandals
After a thorough examination of the market's current offering, we settled on these ten models from seven reputable brands. Our experts combined their sandal knowledge with solid consumer feedback on new models during the selection process. All of the contenders 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.
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Not all shoes are created equally. And while we were careful in selecting products that hit multiple price points, it is wise to invest in an option that will give you the most bang for your buck. In our experience, cheaper price tags come from cheaper materials. Bargain hunting will serve you well in some arenas, but we wouldn't recommend it for footwear 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.
It may not surprise you that the Chaco offerings are some of the priciest options in this lineup. Though, if you're familiar with the brand, you'll know that they're known for their superb longevity. Although it's difficult to forecast the lifespan of a shoe, it is easy to recognize quality construction and robust materials that will stand up to potential years of abuse. That being said, we can safely say that the Chaco models and the Editors' Choice Bedrock Cairn Adventure standout as the most durable options, making them valuable to an active user. In the chart below, the products trending toward the lower-right quadrant possess the most impressive performance per dollar ratio.
Nowadays, it's not uncommon to find beefy Vibram soles or climbing rubber on mainstream outdoor shoe offerings. That trend has now carried over into the realm of sandals. Consequently, the overall traction and purchase potential of these shoes have far exceeded what some might be familiar with on their worn-out flip-flops.
Many brands have proprietary sole technology that sets them apart from the competition, and we were eager to see how they each performed. We tested traction on steep granite, mossy logs and loose, dusty trails. We also took the contenders out skating, biking, and strolling to see how they performed on asphalt. Each model was subjected to both wet and dry conditions while carrying a heavy pack to assess slippage. High marks were awarded to models that left us feeling confident even on sketchy scrambles. We weight traction at 25% of the total score because we believe that traction is paramount to performance.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure takes the cake in this category, which is not surprising when you consider its aggressive tread pattern and Vibram sole. Our feet felt locked-in and secure no matter what surfaces or conditions we faced in the Cairn. The other Vibram sole in our lineup, the Luna Oso 2.0, didn't score quite as high because it lacked the necessary adjustability to keep our feet in solid contact with the footbed.
Stiff-soled models like the Teva Terra Fi, the Keen Newport H2, and the Chacos 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, they received some deductions due to less confidence on majorly steep descents.
The underperformer of the traction metric is the Xero Z-Trail which is purposefully low-profile and pliable, but also slippery. Soft outsoles with shallow tread were the primary issues we found when taking lightweight models up steep or sketchy terrain.
This type of footwear is casual and relaxed by nature. 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 in balance with traction at 25%. We gauged this metric by paying close attention to how our foot interacted with the shoe 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 and 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.
Comfort is largely 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 provided 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.
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 Oso which had an overly minimalist design that created friction between the toes and had poorly-placed plastic that rubbed on the top of our feet. While the soles were sturdy, they were not supportive enough to be comfortable on rough trails.
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 great security over the instep and leaves your foot feeling very solid.
Not far behind the Z/1 Classic are the two Chaco Cloud 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.
We weren't surprised that the Luna Oso 2.0 and Xero Z-Trail earned less-than-stellar marks in this metric. Both models are intentionally minimalist and tradeoff stability for a lightweight and simple design. In all honesty, we don't expect a barefoot-inspired trail running 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 has an effect on 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 both the Hurricane XLT 2 and Terra Fi 4 which feature Teva's classic three-strap design. The velcro straps are easy to secure and allow for three different points of adjustment, but ultimately don't lock in the foot quite as well as the Cairn.
Bringing up the middle of the pack were the Chaco models and Xero Z-Trail which all feature a more or less continuous piece of webbing that runs over the instep while attaching to the sole in some way. This style can offer a secure and customized fit, but not without a good deal of tinkering.
The closed-toe varieties were boxy and not totally capable of getting a precise fit, though we preferred the two additional velcro straps on the Teva Omnium. We were left disappointed with the Luna Oso which had a single tightening apparatus and a tricky weave of thin webbing that made it difficult to get a proper, comfortable 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's, and the Teva Terra Fi 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.
Certain models like the Hurricane XLT 2 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.
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 (sandals extremists, you know who you are)!
— Rob Woodworth