On the hunt some new summer kicks? We've purchased and tested dozens of pairs in the past 6 years, with the 14 best women's sandals in this 2020 review. We spent months trying out these products side-by-side. Miles of urban hiking, backcountry jaunts, neighborhood strolls, bike rides, and even trail runs have acquainted us with every strap and buckle. At this point, our intrepid team of nonstop explorers knows what makes for the right sandal in any situation and for every foot shape. We rate each option on key factors like comfort, adjustability, and, yes, style. Then we consider their cost to refine our final recommendations. This review includes options for varied adventures, long-haul hiking, and lazy camp days.Related: The Best Women's Flip Flops of 2020
The Best Women's Sandals of 2020
Best Overall Women's Sandals
Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's
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, 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 in a comprehensive adjustment system, style points, and a lightweight feel that adds versatility, and this model is an easy pick for our Editors' Choice Award. 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 shoe for you.
It's hard to find things to complain about with the Cairn Adventure, 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 and that 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 absolutely need more support, Bedrock also makes a cushier version, the Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, that has a molded footbed and an extra-grippy sole for your wildest outdoor wanderings. But most people will find that the regular Cairn Adventure meets their needs just fine and it'll save you a few bucks.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's
Best Bang for Your Buck
Teva Original Universal - Women's
This retro option delivers a strong performance across most of our testing metrics and comes in at a surprisingly retro price, easily earning our Best Buy Award. The Teva Original Universal is simple, comfortable, and easy to adjust, and it offers great traction across a variety of 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 just 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 the Original Universal 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.
Read review: Teva Original Universal - Women's
Best for Distance Hikers
Chaco Z/Cloud 2
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 scores near the top of the charts across the board, but its durability and comfort specifically earn it our Top Pick for Distance Hikers. This model features one of the best traction performances in our review, combining underfoot traction with foot-to-shoe interaction that allowed testers to feel comfortable and secure no matter the terrain. With a comprehensive adjustment system that can hug each area of the foot, this product is a favorite. We love that its toe strap provides extra support on the trail, but can be folded down as needed to accommodate socks. Score.
Though we love them, Chacos don't work for everyone. Their footbed is sculpted and doesn't break in much, so if you have flat feet, these are unlikely to ever feel comfortable. 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.
Read review: Chaco Z/Cloud 2
Best for Adventure Travel
KEEN Clearwater CNX
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 helped it snag our Top Pick for Adventure Travel. The Clearwater is capable of taking up minimal space in your carry-on, and it provides near-full coverage, making it a versatile option for rugged terrain. The footbed manages to achieve a comfortable level of squish while remaining supportive enough for all-day use.
Our one gripe with the Clearwater is the lack of heel strap adjustment, which makes quick on-and-off and use with heavy socks difficult. Some testers also find this model, shall we say, stylistically challenged. That said, style is subjective, so check out the photos and decide for yourself. Overall, if you're looking for something durable that can handle water and rough terrain with ease, this is a sure winner. You might just love the performance they give enough that you forget about the way they look.
Read review: Keen Clearwater CNX
Best for Minimalist Trail Runners
Luna Oso Flaco Winged
Most people are looking to hike, raft, bike, 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 then, friend, check out the Luna Oso Flaco Winged. This super pared-down, thin-soled kick has outstanding traction and a secure strap system that's built to keep minimalist runners happy. After a few skeptical test runs, our lead tester was fully converted to minimalist running via this model, and 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.
Read review: Luna Oso Flaco Winged
Best for Camp Sandals
Xero Z-Trail - Women's
The super lightweight Xero Z-Trail impressed us with its comfortable materials, stylish design, and performance. While we wouldn't recommend this as a primary hiking sandal, it's a great option for light hikes, and it transitions from trail to town with ease thanks to its sleek, non-technical look. This is also among the lightest models we've ever worn, so it's easy to tote just about anywhere. This is why we named this model our Top Pick for Camp Sandals — this is the perfect option to tuck into your pack and slip on at the end of a long day on the trail.
The lightweight, minimalist design of the Z-Trail means that these won't offer the cushioning or support of the bulkier models in our review, so if you're not into the barefoot feel, these probably aren't for you when logging lots of miles. The footbed is slippery, especially when wet, so we don't recommend these as a primary river shoe either. But for minimal zero-drop comfort and good adjustability, these are defintiely worth a gander.
Read review: Xero Z-Trail - Women's
Notable for At-Home Style and Comfort
The Olukai Upena is somewhat unique in this review in that it's not really designed for rugged use. While this model can't compete with the more technical options in the backcountry, it deserves a mention for wearing at home and around town. This 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 on walks to the coffee shop, and easy bike rides around the neighborhood. If you're not planning to do any trail hiking or water sports, but are looking for a stylish footwear option that's more supportive than a flip-flop, the Upena deserves your attention.
The Upena is a bit pricey, as is typical from Olukai. However, rest assured you're getting a well-crafted shoe made with premium materials. Olukai sandals, despite having leather components, are also surprisingly water-friendly due to the Hawaiian influence and focus. Still, the Upena falls short in the adjustability category and isn't nearly as rugged as other options in this review. If you're in need of something to take you on a rafting trip or a thru-hike, this simply isn't it. On the other hand, if summer for you means beaches, bars, and bistros, this is one to consider.
Read review: Olukai Upena
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by expert duo Joanna Trieger and Shey Kiester. Joanna uses her home in Reno, Nevada as base of operations for various Sierra Nevada excursions. On workdays, you can find her bike commuting, which she has done without exception for the past five years. Joanna travels nearly 4,000 miles per year under her own steam, from running to long-distance hiking to bikepacking, and her preferred type of footwear is — you guessed it — the sandal. Forming the other half of the team is Shey, an accomplished alpine climber, and writer who 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.
Reviewing this category began with no shortage of market research. Starting with several dozen pairs up for consideration, the team down-selected from that to the best 14 models available. Once all models were purchased and in-hand, months of testing in a variety of settings ensued. The sandals were dispatched to testers who wore them in wet conditions, dry ones, with packs, and around town. About 70% of testing took place on hiking trails, with the rest happening on the bike 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.
Related: How We Tested Sandals for Women
Analysis and Test Results
Adventure sandals are unique footwear that attempt to cover the large gray area between a flip-flop and hiking shoe. 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.
Related: Buying Advice for Sandals for Women
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. In this review, we identify the best models for specific activities, like water sports, hiking, travel, and even running. All the models here are top performers, and their scores in each of our metrics represent how they fare in comparison 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 keep in mind that the more expensive models in this review are some of the most durable. Although the Chaco models are among the most expensive in this test, these shoes have proven to be 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.
Our Editors' Choice winner, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, is also a pricey option that's worth splurging on. Our lead tester wore the Cairn Adventure near-daily for two years, using it as her primary shoe for hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and around-town use per month, 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 Best Buy-winning Teva Original Universal offers acceptable durability for less than half the price of the Bedrock or Chaco 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 products' overall scores. We rated our sandals based on how long they took to break in and whether there were any lingering points of discomfort after the break-in period. We analyzed how the materials of the footbed and straps feel against the skin and tested for comfort on smooth and rough terrain, with wet feet, while wearing a heavy pack, and while 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.
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 under 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.
Our Editors' Choice, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, and our Top Pick for Adventure Travel, the KEEN Clearwater, both take home high scores for comfort. The barely-there feel of the Cairn Adventure earns it a high score, while the close fit and supportive-yet-supple footbed of the Clearwater garner top marks. 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 is a standout in the comfort category. The straps and footbed feel delightful against the skin, and it takes no time at all for this model to feel cozy. This is the first shoe we would reach for when lounging around the house or taking a walk to the coffee shop.
The Xero Z-Trail is the most minimalist product in our review, so its comfort isn't based on its cushioning. The Z-Trail's materials feel great against the skin, and this model feels broken-in almost instantly. We especially like slipping these on after a long day of hiking, running, or skiing, since they're extremely lightweight and don't pinch the feet. This is one reason why this model earns our Top Pick for Camp Sandals. Note, though, that this shoe is not at all cushioned, which is why it doesn't score top marks in this category.
In the middle of the spectrum are the Chaco models and the Teva Original Universal. 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, some points were lost. 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.
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 Yosemite to Donner Summit 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. The highest performers inspire enough confidence for quick travel even over steep, slick terrain. This score is worth 20% of the total.
The Bedrock and Chaco models, as well as the Oso Flaco Winged, earn the highest traction scores. The Cairn Adventure is a go-to on steep approaches thanks to the trusty rubber and large lug design of its sole, and 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 allow for amazing traction on uneven terrain, though it loses out on top marks due to its slippery footbed.
Following closely 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 of its tendency to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills. Our Best Buy Winner, the Teva Original Universal, also offers surprisingly good traction for a budget pick, especially in wet environments.
This metric is based on the number of adjustment points sported on each model, how easy they are to adjust, and how well they conform the product to the foot. 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 Bedrock Cairn Adventure and Cairn 3D PRO II 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. All of these combine to give a considerable amount of adjustment potential, and testers were able to lock in the best fit quickly. 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 is intuitive and easy to adjust, and we appreciate being able to tighten one of its straps without having to batten down everything. However, this model's heel strap is short, which could be an issue for those with wide feet.
The Chaco models — the Z/Cloud 2, the Z/1 Classic, and the Z/Volv X2 — have continuous straps that flow in and out of the shoe's sole and over the foot. These models are supremely adjustable, so you can get just 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.
At the bottom of the pile are the KEEN models. The Whisper and Clearwater CNX include a simple pull-to-tighten feature at the top of the foot that attempts to mimic a shoelace design. However, this system doesn't allow for micro-adjustments to the toe box, and without an adjustment for the ankle, it's 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 as well as 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 Adventure, Cairn 3D PRO II Adventure, Clearwater CNX, and all three Chaco models. All these products have durable soles that allow for quick movement across rugged terrain, and their strap systems eliminate concerns about slipping on steep hills.
For users looking for a more minimal sole with less support, allowing for more feel, the Cairn Adventure is an excellent choice. 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 has the most flexible sole in our review and doesn't offer footbed molding or support, so it loses points here, but we still feel that its straps hold the feet in place well enough for light hiking without a pack.
When hiking with a heavy pack, models with thicker soles will help you better handle the added weight over rough terrain. We felt most stable in the Chaco Z/Cloud 2 and the Chaco Z/1 Classic while carrying a loaded backpacking pack.
The Clearwater CNX receives high marks in this category for its supportive footbed combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. Thanks to this design, it performed the best on steep terrain in terms of shoe-foot integration. Unfortunately, the KEEN Whisper, despite looking similar, loses points here because its exceptionally wide footbed and ineffective heel strap allow the feet to slosh around, leading to a feeling of instability. Those with wider feet may not experience this problem as badly, but the heel strap is not enough to stop a foot of any width from sliding back.
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. This requires them to be nimble and flattering enough for social events while still maintaining a high level of support and traction for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Models that score the highest in this metric take on everything from water sports to steep, loose trails, and then easily transition to the bar patio or a backyard barbecue. 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 skinny jeans or a skirt. The Chaco models are not far behind, but their bulk makes them a bit harder to style. Conversely, the Xero Z-Trail and the Teva Original Universal are not up to the rugged backcountry use of the Chaco, but they're super stylish, so they transition easy from light outdoor pursuits to wearing around town.
Although some other models like the Clearwater perform well across a variety of activities, they lack the style points to cross over into town use. Style-forward models like the Upena score low here because they can't hack anything more than very light activity on the trails.
Yes, judging looks is a subjective game. But most of us factor in style when choosing footwear, so we feel the need to include this criterion to comprehensively evaluate our test group. Since everyone's sense of style is different, we recommend skimming through photos to form your own opinions about each model's style. To evaluate this metric, we consider how each option looks in the backcountry and around town. All-around style earns high scores in this metric because we don't want to have to change shoes between the hike and the watering hole. This metric accounts for 10% of each product's overall score.
The sandals that best bridge the backcountry/city gap are the Cairn Adventure, Teva Original, Xero Z-Trail, and the Chaco models. When we surveyed family and friends to ask which options they found to be the most stylish, these were the top scorers. All of these are low-profile, with both neutral and more flashy color options. They look at home both in the mountains and on city streets. While not ruggedly trail-ready the Upena is attractive and urban, perfect for lazy summers at the park, cafe, 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 Whisper a zero and one lobbied for the Rose to receive a -1, which is why they score so low in this category.
The footwear in this review is meant to walk the line between casual flip-flops and serious hiking shoes. For the most part, these models strap to your feet more securely than a flip-flop while allowing for more ventilation and water use than a hiking shoe. Perfect for the summer and even shoulder seasons, a great pair of sandals can accompany you on hikes, in the water, and around town. 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!
— Joanna Trieger & Shey Kiester