Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Sandals for Women

Wednesday June 30, 2021
To truly compare the performance of the models in our review, we...
To truly compare the performance of the models in our review, we test them side-by-side. Here, we're getting ready to traction-test (from left to right) the Luna Oso Flaco, OluKai Upena, Keen Rose, Bedrock Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, Chaco Z/1 Classic, Teva Original Universal, and (worn by our lead tester) the Bedrock Cairn Adventure.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

We put these sandals to the test, wearing each of them for a variety of activities to be sure to bring you a comprehensive look at their strengths and weaknesses. Our testers went on day hikes, on longer hikes with heavy packs, up and down rugged and easy trails, biked around the block, walked around town, performed creek crossings, and hauled kayaks to shore, all while wearing each of these models. We compared each of them to each other and evaluated them on key metrics of comfort, traction, adjustability, stability, versatility, and style so you can figure out which model best suits your adventure and everyday needs.

Comfort


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

Listen, gear testing is no picnic, but we get through it. We wore...
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).
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Traction


We measure traction by walking and running in each sandal on every surface we can think of, from loose scree to dirt trails to granite to slick river rock. We wear each as a pair; then we wear a different model on each foot to truly test these models side-by-side. We note the traction between the outsole and the ground, and crucially, we also note 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...
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.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Adjustability


Adjustability is measured by timing how long it takes to get each shoe from out of the box to fitting well on our foot. We note whether each model is intuitive to adjust or if we have to furrow our brows to figure out how the straps work. We count the number of adjustment points on each model and note throughout our testing if we wish there were extra spots we could adjust. We also attempt to adjust each model one-handed and note whether or not this is possible.

Field-testing the Z/1 Classic to see if it's possible to adjust...
Field-testing the Z/1 Classic to see if it's possible to adjust one-handed.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Stability


For stability, we hike on a variety of terrain and take down our subjective notes about how stable each model feels. We also measure how far we can displace our feet to the left, right, back, and front in order to report how well the straps hold the foot in place.

We wear models on varied and uneven terrain to test their stability...
We wear models on varied and uneven terrain to test their stability. This Bedrock model is a standout in this category.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Versatility


We score the versatility of each product by looking at the big picture: how wide a variety of activities and settings can each model handle? We note the number of outdoor sports each model is appropriate for, its weight (since this affects whether it can be easily toted on trips), and how well it transitions to life around town. A sandal scores well here if it performs highly in the backcountry and in town.

If a model is light and slim enough to tuck into a backpack side...
If a model is light and slim enough to tuck into a backpack side pocket, it probably makes a great camp shoe. We also love this Teva model because it can be worn with thick socks.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Style


Finally, we take each model's style into account. Since style is a subjective category, we note each of our testers' subjective opinions, and we survey family and friends to have them rate each model's style on a scale of 1 (unstylish) to 10 (super cool). Most importantly, we take photos — LOTS of photos — and include 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...
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.
Photo: Joanna Trieger