Looking for new sandals in 2020? For 7 years, our team of experts has purchased and tested over 20 of the best sandals on the market, with 11 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, 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 in order to help you differentiate between the comfort, performance, and value of each pair and choose the best option for your lifestyle.Related: The Best Women's Sandals of 2020
The Best Sandals of 2020
Best Overall Sandals
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
With tighter competition than ever, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure once again separates itself from the pack to earn our Editors' Choice Award with its solid lightweight construction and excellent all-around performance. We were continually impressed with the Cairn's performance in any conditions, as this model seems to perform well and strike a nice balance across all of our rating metrics. Its strap system is simple and easy to adjust, yet provides plenty of security. The footbed provides a nice balance of stability and comfort, yet it is lighter than many of the beefier models we tested. The star of the show, though, is the Vibram XS Trek outsole. This material is commonly found on much heavier duty trail shoes and hiking boots, and we were blown away by the traction from such a lightweight offering — it gave us confidence in our footing in a variety of 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. There are also some cushier models we tested that are more supportive and more comfortable. However, the all-around performance, versatility, and high quality make the Cairn a worthy winner of our Editors' Choice Award yet again.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Best Bang for the Buck
Teva Katavi 2
With competitive all-around performance at a surprisingly low price, the Teva Katavi 2 provides excellent value and walks away with our Best Buy Award. Combining comfortable suede straps, a plush contoured footbed, 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, and 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 footbeds and the outsoles. 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. For a comfortable, lightweight, and versatile sandal that won't break the bank, our Best Buy Award winner is an excellent choice.
Read review: Teva Katavi 2
The ECCO Yucatan impresses across the board with its high-end materials and construction, surprisingly capable traction, and a host of features and technologies that make this our Top Pick for the most comfortable sandal in our lineup. The first time we slipped these shoes on, 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 cushioned and supported each step, and how the slightly rockered outsole helped encourage a natural stride and footstrike. While these kicks come at a premium price, their high-end features are certainly noticeable and provide excellent comfort and support across a variety of terrain and conditions.
The Yucatan certainly make a strong statement with their high-end comfort and performance, but they don't quite earn our highest scores or the top overall award. While there really isn't much we don't like about the Yucatan, our Editors' Choice Award-winning Bedrock Cairn Adventure provides better traction, better adjustability, and comes in at a lighter weight. 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.
Read review: ECCO Yucatan
Best 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 most 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.
One drawback of a closed-toe sandal is that it's easier for sand and pebbles to get stuck inside the shoe if you're hiking at the beach or through a rocky stream bed. We found that this is a minor inconvenience for the high-end wet-condition performance of the Newport H2. While it is our Top Pick for a closed-toe sandal and is ideal for watersports, it also keeps up with some of the burlier models in our lineup when it comes to traction and stability. We give this model a seal of approval for trail use as well as watersports. This style of footwear isn't most folks' first pick for wearing around town, but in the outdoors, it certainly gets the job done.
Read review: Keen Newport H2
Best 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 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 burlier 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 this particular niche very well. While obviously not as traditionally comfortable as a thicker and more supportive sandal, the Z-Trail performs well across the board with its comfortable footbed and secure strap system.
Read review: Xero Z-Trail
Notable for Solid All-Around Performance
Chaco Z/Volv 2
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: 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.
As with most Chaco models, our testers noted that to make a small adjustment to one part of this sandal, you typically 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 isn't a deal-breaker and is part of what makes this brand and style unique.
Read review: Chaco Z/Volv 2
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.
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 sporty sandals that provide the user with a secure fit and enough traction for active adventures. For a more casual option, check out our flip flops review. After a thorough examination of the market's current offerings, we settled on these 11 different models from some of the most trusted footwear brands. We're confident that our lineup has the best offerings available that blend comfort, performance, and value for whatever on or off-trail activities are in your future. Every model in our lineup features some type of 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.
Related: Buying Advice for Sandals
Not all footwear is created or priced equally. While our lineup includes products across a wide spectrum of price points, it's always wise to look for an option that gives you the most bang for your buck for your specific needs. In our experience, cheaper price tags often come from cheaper materials. Bargain hunting will serve you well in some areas, but we typically wouldn't recommend it for shoes in which you plan to log lots of miles. When considering value in these models, we looked for quality and durability before
considering whether or not the manufacturer offers any warranty or repairs.
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 in our review, as well as the Editors' Choice Bedrock Cairn Adventure and the Top Pick ECCO Yucatan stand out to us as the most durable options, making them valuable to a very active user. For a very comfortable model with respectable all-around performance that won't break the bank, our Best Buy Award-winning Teva Katavi 2 comes in at roughly half the price of some of its higher-end competitors. And, while it isn't high-scoring, the Teva Original Universal is a comfortable classic at a very nice price that has everything you need for more casual, non-technical terrain.
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 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 receive 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 requires 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 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 a do-it-all travel model, you'll likely be more satisfied with a lightweight, cushioned design.
The ECCO Yucatan and the Teva Katavi 2 are the standout performers 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.
Rounding out the middle of the pack are most of the Chaco offerings with their well supported, molded footbeds, the Bedrock Cairn, and the Teva Terra Fi 5. While not offering as much support as some others, the Cairn has such a lightweight feel and ergonomic design that we could hardly tell we were wearing them. The Terra Fi is easy to secure and offers a very 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 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.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure takes the cake in this category, which is not surprising when you consider its aggressive tread pattern and Vibram XS Trek outsole material. Our feet felt locked-in and secure no matter what surfaces or conditions we faced, and it excelled even in the Slime Test.
Stiff-soled models like the three Chaco models and the ECCO Yucatan receive respectable scores, though they lacked the raw gripping potential of Vibram soles across all conditions. 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.
The Keen Newport H2 falls short of our top marks in this category, but stands out with its siped outsole that is reminiscent of winter vehicle tires and is optimized for wet conditions. Similarly, the Terra Fi 5, which it's grippy Spider Rubber, provides dependable well-rounded traction, though it's bested by models that have Vibram soles.
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 of technical footwear. A product that is not stable is more characteristic of a flip-flop than it is performance footwear. 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 are the Keen Newport H2, the ECCO Yucatan, and the three Chaco models (the Z/Volv 2, Z/Cloud, and Z/1 Classic). Each of these models sports 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 Bedrock Cairn and Teva Katavi 2 both offer reasonable amounts of 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 Xero Z-Trail and the Teva Original Universal 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 flexible, lightweight, trail-running inspired model 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.
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 can 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 Cairn Adventure, 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. After the Cairn are the Chaco models and the Z-Trail. Each of these brands offers very different strap systems that all have multiple adjustment locations to dial in a customized fit. Still, ultimately, the system designed by Bedrock for the Cairn is the most intuitive and straightforward.
Bringing up the middle of the pack are most of the Teva models and the ECCO Yucatan with their traditional three-strap sporty designs. 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 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 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.
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 its outstanding comfort and support across any terrain or activity.
Certain models like the Original Universal and the 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 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 adventures.
— Nick Bruckbauer and Rob Woodworth