Editor's Note: This women's sandals review was updated on March 23, 2022, with new details on our testing process and information in our gear reviews designed to help you make the best buying decision.
The highest scorer in our test and a standout in every metric, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure offers a unique style, employing a thong construction combined with an ankle strap. This design provides a surprising, barely-there feel by eliminating pressure points on the side of the foot. This Cairn also sports a hearty Vibram sole that gives the wearer little hesitation when scurrying up and down steep slabs with a heavy pack. Add a comprehensive adjustment system and a lightweight feel that adds versatility and style, and it was easy to crown this pair as our favorite. The Cairn Adventure is a do-anything champ, and if you're looking for a companion on your way to the crag, beach, and bar, this is the sandal for you.
It's hard to find things to complain about with the Bedrocks, but no product is perfect, so we'll give it a go: this model has a fairly thin, flexible sole, so if you're looking for a cushy pair of kicks with a ton of support, this ain't it. You also can't wear socks with these due to the thong-style toe strap. The strap isn't comfortable for everyone, though we loved it. If you can get over these issues, we're pretty sure you'll love this shoe. If you need more support, Bedrock also makes a cushier version, the Bedrock Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, that has a molded footbed and an extra-grippy sole for your wildest outdoor wanderings. Most people will find that the regular Cairn Adventure meets their needs just fine, and it'll save you a few bucks.
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 scores near the top of the sandal charts across the board, but its durability and comfort specifically make it a great choice for long-distance hiking. This model features one of our review's best traction performances, combining underfoot traction with foot-to-shoe interaction that allowed testers to feel comfortable and secure no matter the terrain. This product is a favorite with a comprehensive adjustment system that can hug each foot area. We love that its toe strap provides extra support on the trail but can also fold down as needed to accommodate socks.
Though we love them, we'll acknowledge that Chacos don't work for everyone. Their footbed is sculpted and doesn't break in much, so they are unlikely to feel comfortable if you have flat feet. The adjustment system is tricky to figure out at first, and it's not conducive to quick readjustment when you need it. These also aren't the lightest options we tested, though we feel that their extra heft lends stability during long days on the trail. All in all, if these fit your feet and you're ready to get out after it, we're pretty sure you'll be in love.
Weight per pair: 0.73 lbs (size 10) | Sole: Rubber
Soft and comfy footbed
Stylish and fits many foot types
Not hearty enough for heavy-duty adventuring
This retro-looking option delivered strong performance across most of our testing metrics and came in at a surprisingly friendly price. The Teva Original Universal is comfortable, simple, and easy to adjust, and it offers great traction across various terrains. It's a particular rockstar in watery environments. If you're looking for laid-back, old-school style, you've come to the right place: this model looked great in the '80s, and it looks as good now. Even more compelling, it comes in a ton of awesome colorways, so you can find the option that suits you best.
Though this is one of our first picks as a casual or recovery sandal, its floppy sole, and imprecise adjustment mechanisms make it inappropriate for heavy-duty days in the backcountry. It feels unstable over super technical terrain or when wearing a heavy pack, and when you really crank down on the straps to achieve a secure fit, they rub and get uncomfortable. If you're looking for footwear to take you everywhere, this probably isn't it, but for casual and light outdoor use, the Original Universal is a great value.
Keen has long been a purveyor of sturdy footwear options that score high in versatility despite their bulky profiles. The Keen Clearwater CNX upholds the brand's standard for adaptability while bucking the trend for bulk, and its sleek footprint made it our top choice for adventure travel. A comfortable, contoured arch cradles the foot, the rubber toe ensures safety from pebbles, rocks, and branches, and the latest version of the shoe is remarkably lightweight.
Our one gripe with this model is the lack of a heel strap adjustment, making quick on-and-off and use with heavy socks difficult. This is also one of the slimmer versions of Keen footwear, and those with wide feet might want to look elsewhere for a more comfortable fit. The style leaves something to be desired, and it isn't our first choice for active footwear we'd also wear out on the town, but this shoe is versatile for hiking and water sports alike and is a great choice for many outdoor pursuits.
Most people are looking to raft, bike, hike, and lounge in their sandals, but what if you're a little crazy and you're on the hunt for something that will let you run free? Well, friend, check out the Luna Oso Flaco Winged. This super pared-down, thin-soled kick has outstanding traction and a secure strap system built to keep minimalist runners happy. After a few skeptical test runs, this model fully converted our lead tester to minimalist running, and she now puts dozens of miles per month on them as her primary trail shoe. If you're interested in dipping your toes into the minimalist running waters, the Oso Flaco is an excellent introduction.
When you're not running, the party screeches to a halt. This model is pretty uncomfortable — something about the running motion seems to align the straps better with the foot, and this magic fades when you slow to walking speeds. The strap system is difficult to adjust at first, and it's too thin-soled to be comfortable on bike rides. If you're looking for an all-around sandal and not just an intro to running free, give this model a pass or, at least, be sure you can try them on before buying to ensure you like the way they feel.
Our reviewers were impressed by the lightweight and comfortable design of the new Xero Z-Trail EV - Women's. Comfortable right of the box, the 3-layer, 10-millimeter thick soles are soft and flexible. The flat, zero-drop soles allow for a more natural posture and more traction as you can feel the ground more easily underneath your feet. But even if you don't plan to do a lot of hiking in these minimalist shoes, they are our favorite choice to throw in the backpack and change into at camp after a long day in hiking boots or deploy for a quick creek crossing.
They are not the most robust in our lineup, and we found that our feet often slid uncomfortably to the top of the shoe while hiking downhill no matter how much we tightened the strap. The footbed also becomes slick when wet, causing some instability. But these can't be beaten for how light and comfortable they are, and you'll be so happy to pull them out of your bag at camp to relax after a long day on the trail.
The Olukai Upena is somewhat unique in this review in that its design is not really for rugged use. While this model can't compete with the more technical options in the backcountry, it deserves mention for wearing at home and around town. It is one of the most comfortable and stylish models we've ever worn, and our testers rarely take it off around the house. Its footbed is slightly molded and supportive enough to remain comfortable walking to the coffee shop and on easy bike rides around the neighborhood. If you're not planning to do any water sports or trail hiking but are looking for a stylish footwear option that's more supportive than a flip-flop, the Upena deserves your attention.
This option is on the pricey side, but that's what we expect from Olukai. If you want quality craftsmanship with premium materials, these are well worth the price. Despite the leather components, these sandals are surprisingly water-friendly, thanks to the Hawaiian focus of the brand. However, adjustability is a pitfall of the Upena. It's also not as rugged as other options, which means it's a poor choice for thru-hikes or rafting trips. On the other hand, if summer for you means beaches, bistros, and bars, this is a good contender.
This review is brought to you by experts Joanna Trieger, Shey Kiester, and Miya Tsudome. Joanna uses her home in Reno, Nevada, as a base of operations for various Sierra Nevada excursions. You can find her bike commuting on workdays, which she has done without exception for the past five years. She travels nearly 4,000 miles per year under her own steam, from long-distance hiking to running to bikepacking, and her preferred type of footwear is — you guessed it — the sandals. Shey is an accomplished alpine climber and writer. She holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others. Miya is an avid outdoor enthusiast who can be found running, scrambling, and climbing in the High Sierra and has a sharp sense of good footwear for long days in the mountains.
Reviewing this category began with no shortage of market research. The team started with several dozen pairs up for consideration and selected the best 14 models available. Once all models were purchased and in hand, months of testing in various settings ensued.
We tested women's sandals across 6 performance metrics:
Comfort tests (20% of total weighted score)
Traction tests (20% of score)
Stability tests (20% of score)
Adjustability tests (15% of score)
Versatility tests (15% of score)
Style tests (10% of score)
Each sandal for women was subjected to more than 11 individual assessments. Our tests' two critical sandal metrics were comfort and traction, each contributing 20% to the weighted overall score. We dispatched shoes to testers who wore them in wet and dry conditions, with and without packs, and around town. About 70% of testing took place on hiking trails, while the rest occurred in and around water, on bikes, and around town. After gathering our findings, we are pleased to share this comprehensive review, which we think is a great tool if you're in the market for women's sandals.
Analysis and Test Results
Adventure sandals are unique footwear that attempts to cover the large gray area between hiking shoes and flip-flops. This category offers more performance (and maybe a little less fashion) than a flip-flop while maintaining more breathability (and, in some cases, more versatility) than a hiking shoe. Most will also be waterproof and quick-drying, making them versatile performers for when you encounter creek crossings on your hike or if you need a sturdy yet lightweight shoe for water-related activities.
All of the products in this review strap securely to the foot and sport patterned soles, making them versatile enough for off-the-pavement forays. This review identifies the best models for specific activities, like travel, hiking, water sports, and even running. All the models here are top performers, and their scores in each of our metrics represent how they fare compared to one another. Below, you'll find in-depth explanations of the designs we reviewed and how we tested for each parameter.
It is important to remember that some of the most durable models we tested are on the more expensive side. The Chaco models are among the most expensive in this review, but they are built to last. If you expect to put in a lot of time in your shoes and anticipate rough-and-tumble activities that will test your footwear's durability, Chacos are worth it.
Another pricey option that's worth splurging on is the Bedrock Cairn Adventure. Our lead tester wore this pair almost daily for two years. She used it as her primary shoe for hundreds of miles of use per month of biking, hiking, and around-town before the front lugs wore down enough to need replacing (check out the Bedrock Cairn Adventure review for more on that process). That said, the Teva Original Universal offers acceptable durability for less than half the price of the Chaco or Bedrock models.
If your shoes are uncomfortable, you're less likely to wear them. Because of this, comfort is one of our most important metrics and is worth 20% of each product's overall score. We rated our sandals based on how long they took to break in and whether there were any lingering discomfort points after the break-in period. We analyzed how the footbed and strap materials feel against the skin and tested for comfort while wearing a heavy pack, with wet feet, on smooth and rough terrain, and walking up and down steep trails. Some models perform well in one area and poorly in another, while our highest-scoring models perform well across the board.
Keep in mind that, to an extent, comfort is subjective. Where applicable, we have noted whether or not a shoe's comfort is affected by the foot shape of the tester, and we indicated which foot types were likely to work with which models.
Although we try to be as objective as possible with our comfort ratings, this metric is dependent on what kind of activities you plan to participate in while wearing your shoes. If you intend to wear your shoe during long stints on the trail with a heavy pack, seek out a model with excellent support and traction. On the other hand, if you're looking for an exceptional travel shoe that is lightweight and breathable, look for options with slim profiles and comfortable straps.
The Keen Clearwater and Bedrock Cairn Adventure take home high comfort scores. The close fit and supportive-yet-supple footbed of the Clearwater garner top marks, while the barely-there feel of the Cairn Adventure earns it a high score. The other burlier Bedrock we tested, the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, also takes home a high score here. It's very similar to the regular Cairn but with a cushier sole.
Though we don't recommend it for technical applications, the Olukai Upena and the , Xero Z-Trail EV both stood out in the comfort category. The straps and footbeds of both shoes feel delightful against the skin, and it takes no time at all for them to feel cozy. They are the first shoes we would reach for lounging around the house or taking a walk to the coffee shop.
The Xero Z-Trail EV is the most minimalist product in our review, so its comfort isn't based on its cushioning. Its BareFoam upper materials feel great against the skin, the straps are light and soft, and the shoes feel broken in almost instantly. We especially like slipping these on after a long day of running, hiking, or skiing since they're extremely lightweight and don't pinch the feet. It is one reason why this model is a great pick for use as camp sandals. We loved to slip them on with a pair of socks (don't judge us) to relax in around a campfire after a day on the trail. Note that this shoe is not cushioned, so it doesn't score top marks in this category.
The Teva Original Universal and the Chaco models are in the middle of the spectrum. Chaco's offerings are incredibly supportive, and the comprehensive (although complicated) adjustments allow for round-the-foot support. However, because of a raised footbed that proves uncomfortable for flat-footed users and a hearty sole that takes time to break-in, we took docked some points. The Z/Volv X2 has a slightly lower-profile footbed molding, making this a better choice for those with low arches. The Teva Original Universal's wide straps and squishy footbed lend comfort during light use, but these same straps and footbed become uncomfortable under the strain of technical trails. Again, it all depends on what activities you plan to undertake.
The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is Chaco's attempt to pare down its classically chunky offerings. The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is made of a PU compound that the company says is 20% lighter than its classic sandals. We measured the model to be about 15% lighter than the Z/Cloud 2. The footbed is also less contoured, which may satisfy the complaints of those with flat feet. We tested the Z/Cloud 2 and the Z/Volv X2 side-by-side and could barely detect these differences, but they are there. If you've been avoiding Chacos because their weight and molded footbed feel uncomfortable to you, you might be happier with the Z/Volv X2.
With the common trend of slapping sticky rubber (like that found on modern approach shoes) and Vibram soles on the bottom of outdoor footwear, shoe traction has significantly improved. Traction is a major selling point for shoe manufacturers, so we are naturally curious how well each pair gains purchase on varying surfaces. Our testers scrambled slick granite from Donner Summit to Yosemite to Bishop. Each product was subjected to a slip test while carrying a heavy pack and in wet conditions. We also evaluated the traction between the bottom of the foot and the footbed, which is a big factor in how grippy you'll feel over uneven surfaces. Even over steep, slick terrain, the highest performers inspire enough confidence for quick travel. This score is worth 20% of the total.
The Chaco and Bedrock models and the Oso Flaco Winged earn the highest traction scores. The Cairn Adventure is a go-to on steep approaches thanks to its sole's trusty rubber and large lug design. The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure is an even grippier option that excels in watery environments. The Chaco models also provide outstanding traction even when traveling with a heavy pack, and we found their footbeds to have even better traction than that of the Cairn Adventure. The Oso Flaco's combination of deep lugs and a flexible sole allows for amazing traction on uneven terrain, though it loses out on top marks due to its slippery footbed.
Following behind the leaders is the Clearwater CNX. Keen's proprietary rubber is up to most tasks, handling loose pebbles on steep terrain well while traveling both up and downhill. This model receives lower marks because it tends to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills, and the rounded edges of its outer sole don't provide as much surface contact as the Chacos. The Teva Original Universal and the Teva Hurricane Verge - Women's also offer surprisingly good traction, especially in wet environments.
This metric is based on the number of adjustment points sported on each model, how well they conform the product to the foot, and how easy they adjust. This metric spread the competition across the board, as the adjustment methods vary from model to model. This metric is also worth 20% of the overall score.
The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure and Bedrock Cairn Adventure receive top adjustability scores. These models employ a unique combo of adjustable ankle straps and a sliding top strap, as well as a high hook for even more adjustment. These combine to give a considerable amount of adjustment potential, and testers could quickly lock in the best fit. Once that fit is locked in, adjusting the Cairn Adventure to take it on and off and loosen or tighten it for different applications is a cinch.
The Xero Z-Trail EV is intuitive and easy to adjust, and we appreciate being able to tighten one of its straps without having to batten down everything. This makes slipping them on while setting up camp after a long day of hiking a breeze. However, this model's heel strap is short, which could be an issue for wide feet, and with only one strap, it's hard to get the snuggest fit possible.
The Chaco models — the Z/Volv X2, the Z/Cloud 2, and the Z/1 Classic — have continuous straps that flow in and out of the shoe's sole and over the foot. These models are supremely adjustable so that you can get the right fit. However, making adjustments is time-consuming, and since adjusting one strap means adjusting them all, quick tweaks are out of the question. It also takes time to get the hang of adjusting these, so plan to spend some quality time getting your Chacos just right before you hit the trail.
The Teva Hurricane Verge has three customizable straps, making it another highly adjustable model. A large and easy-to-use buckle accesses a z-strap over the midfoot, and a strap for the forefoot and the heel can pull tight and be secured via Velcro. However, because there are many adjustment points, it can take some time to get the fit right for each foot, which can be painful.
At the bottom of the pile are the Keen models. The Clearwater CNX and Astoria West include a simple, pull-to-tighten bungee lace feature at the top of the foot that attempts to mimic a shoelace design. However, this system doesn't allow toe box micro-adjustments or ankle adjustments, making it difficult to dial in the fit.
Stability is what sets most sandals apart from flip-flops. Feeling stable while hiking, especially with a pack on, is essential, so this metric is worth 15% of a product's overall score. To perform well, contestants need to feel stable and secure in nearly all outdoor settings and during long days of city walking. Sufficient arch support, a solid sole (that's minimal enough to feel light but not so flimsy that it feels insubstantial), and well-fitting straps contribute to this metric. Each model's Stability score is a collective assessment of performance across a range of terrain.
Several models receive high marks for stability, including the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, Cairn Adventure, all three Chaco models, and the Clearwater CNX. These products have durable soles that allow for quick movement across rugged terrain, and their strap systems eliminate concerns about slipping on steep hills.
The Cairn Adventure is an excellent choice for users looking for a more minimal sole with less support, allowing for more feel. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chaco models offer thick soles and maximum support. The Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure is a happy medium. The Xero Z-Trail EV has the most flexible sole in our review and doesn't offer footbed molding or support, so it loses points here. However, we still feel its straps hold the feet in place well enough for light hiking without a pack, unless you are doing a lot of up and downhill hiking, where we found our foot often slid forward uncomfortably.
The Clearwater CNX receives high marks in this category for its supportive footbed combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. This design, which is more shoe than a sandal, performed the best on steep terrain in terms of shoe-foot integration. Unfortunately, the similar-looking Keen Astoria West loses points due to its bulky, cushioned heel that absorbs impact and adds a bounce to your step but is unsuitable for rough and varied terrain. We found that sandals with less cushion allow you to feel the terrain underfoot more, which adds a sense of stability and balance. If you're looking for pure comfort and arch support for long, flat walks, the Astoria West will do you just fine.
Three of the Keen models — the Clearwater, the Astoria West, and the KEEN Rose — come with the classic Keen Foot Bumper, a bulbous rubber add-on to the front of the shoe that provides unrivaled toe protection.
Sandals are often pushed to their limit on the hiking trail and then, on the same day, taken out on the town paired with a summer dress. It requires them to be nimble and flattering enough for social events while still maintaining a high level of traction and support for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Models that score the highest in this metric take on everything from steep, loose trails to water sports and easily transition to the bar patio or a backyard barbecue afterward. This metric accounts for 15% of a product's overall score.
The Bedrock models take home the top scores in this metric because they score well in the rest of our performance categories, AND they are low-profile enough to pair with a skirt or skinny jeans. The Chaco models and the Teva Hurricane Verge are not far behind and come in many attractive colorways, but their bulk makes them harder to style. Conversely, the Teva Original Universal and the Xero Z-Trail EV are not up to the rugged backcountry use of the Chaco, but they're super stylish, so they transition easily from light outdoor pursuits to wearing around town.
Although some other models like the Clearwater perform well across various activities, they lack the style points to cross over into town use. Keen tried to add a feminine flair to their Astoria West with an elevated heel. Still, our testers didn't find this feature added any style to an already not-so-attractive shoe and, if anything, just made it more impractical. Style-forward models like the Upena score low here because they can't hack anything more than very light activity on the trails.
Style is subjective but important nonetheless. Many consumers consider aesthetics when purchasing footwear, so this is a necessary consideration to evaluate each product. Style preference will look a little bit different for everyone. Therefore, we strongly suggest examining photos to assess how you feel about the style of each shoe. We considered how each pair looked in the backcountry and around town to evaluate this metric. All-around styles scored well as they were more adaptable to go from trail to watering hole. Overall, this metric accounts for 10% of each product's score.
The sandals that best bridge the backcountry/city gap are the Teva Original, Xero Z-Trail EV, Cairn Adventure, and the Chaco models. When we surveyed family and friends to ask which options they found the most stylish, these were the top scorers. These are low-profile, with both flashy and more neutral color options. They look at home both on city streets and in the mountains. The Teva Hurricane Verge is the most urban of the bunch, with chunky straps and trendy monochromatic color schemes. Some may find this style to look too bulky, while others will love its funky, modern vibe. While not ruggedly trail-ready, the Upena is urban and attractive, perfect for lazy summers at the cafe, park, or even dressed up for a night on the town.
The Keen models are among the least stylish of the bunch. Our testers agree that these options are clunky and awkward to pair with a sleek outfit. When we surveyed friends and family and asked them to rank the style of each model from 1 (ugly) to 10 (super stylish), some respondents tried to give the Astoria West a zero. One lobbied for the Rose to receive a -1, which is why they score so low in this category. It's hard to make a sandal that has a closed-toe rubber bumper with a webbing outer and bungee cord closure look good, and we would be impressed if someone did one day. For now, these shoes lie firmly in the "practical" footwear category.
There is a lot to consider when looking for the perfect adventure sandal. Whether you're looking for a pair that specializes in one activity or is a jack-of-all-trades, or whether you care if they look good enough to take you from trail-to-town, we've made sure to give you a detailed look at which ones will best suit your needs. The footwear in this review is meant to walk the line between casual flip-flops and serious hiking shoes by strapping to your feet more securely than a flip-flop while allowing for more ventilation and water use than a regular hiking boot. Perfect for the summer and even shoulder seasons, these sandals will accompany you on many of your outdoor pursuits while being lighter and more breathable than a pair of shoes. Our review is here to help you evaluate the different models available so you can find the pair that will best fit your lifestyle, feet, and wallet. Get your feet in the pair that's right for you, and we'll see you on the trails!
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