The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Sandals for Women

Thursday May 23, 2019
Deep within the Outdoor Gear Lab testing quarters  our testers worked hard to get to the bottom of the Sandal Traction Test.
Deep within the Outdoor Gear Lab testing quarters, our testers worked hard to get to the bottom of the Sandal Traction Test.

To figure out which of the sandals in our test group are worth your attention, we hiked, walked, jogged, flew, scrambled, biked and loitered in each model, and then we performed side-by-side tests so we could tell you how they compared to each other. We evaluated each model in six key performance metrics: comfort, stability, traction, adaptability, adjustability, and style.

Comfort


To evaluate the comfort of each sandal we wore them throughout our testing period and made our best effort to wear each sandal as our primary shoe for a full week. We evaluated their break-in periods, whether any hot spots or blisters developed, and how the materials felt against our skin. We wore each model with a heavy pack to determine how that affected the comfort of the footbed. We also noted whether differences in foot type (flat feet vs. high arches) or foot shape (wide vs. narrow) would affect the comfort of each sandal.

Listen  gear testing is no picnic  but we get through it. We wore the Bedrock Cairn Adventure deep into the backcountry to determine whether any hot spots or pain points developed during sustained use (spoiler: they didn't).
Listen, gear testing is no picnic, but we get through it. We wore the Bedrock Cairn Adventure deep into the backcountry to determine whether any hot spots or pain points developed during sustained use (spoiler: they didn't).

Stability


For stability, we hiked on a variety of terrain and took down our subjective notes about how stable each model felt. We also measured how far we were able to displace our feet to the left, right, back, and front in order to report how well the sandal's straps held the foot in place.

Testing the stability of the KEEN Whisper while wearing a heavy pack.
Testing the stability of the KEEN Whisper while wearing a heavy pack.

Traction


We measured traction by walking and running in each sandal on every surface we could think of, from loose scree to dirt trails to granite to slick river rock. We wore each sandal as a pair, then we wore a different model on each foot to truly test these models side-by-side. We noted the traction between the outsole and the ground, and crucially, we also noted the traction between the footbed and the foot, since this is a huge contributor to how well the sandal holds you in place.

Side-by-side testing the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (back foot) and the Xero Z-Trail (front foot) to determine which feels more grippy over slippery river rock.
Side-by-side testing the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (back foot) and the Xero Z-Trail (front foot) to determine which feels more grippy over slippery river rock.

Adjustability


Adjustability was measured by timing how long it took to get each sandal from out of the box to fitting well on our foot. We noted whether each model was intuitive to adjust, or if we had to furrow our brows to figure out how the straps worked. We counted the number of adjustment points on each model and noted throughout our testing if we wished there were extra spots where we could adjust. We also attempted to adjust each model one-handed and noted whether or not this was possible.

Adaptability


We scored the adaptability of each sandal by looking and the big picture: how wide a variety of activities and settings could each model handle? We noted the number of outdoor sports each model was appropriate for, its weight (since this affects whether it can be easily toted on trips), and how well it transitioned to life around town. A sandal scored well here if it performed highly in the backcountry and in town.

We measured the weight of each sandal to determine which could be easily toted along on a backpacking trip.
We measured the weight of each sandal to determine which could be easily toted along on a backpacking trip.

Style


Finally, we took each model's style into account. Since style is a subjective category, we noted each of our testers' subjective opinions, and we surveyed family and friends to have them rate each model's style on a scale of 1 (unstylish) to 10 (super cool). Most importantly, we took photos — LOTS of photos — and included them in each review so you can consider this metric for yourself because when it comes to the style of your sandals, your vote is really the only one that matters.

We sent a photo like this of every model to a trusted group of family and friends and had them rate the sandal's style on a scale from 1-10.
We sent a photo like this of every model to a trusted group of family and friends and had them rate the sandal's style on a scale from 1-10.