BACKPACKING BASICS

Hiking sandals: 11 things you should know

Hiking sandals
Written by Bradley Page

When most people think of hiking footwear they think of hiking boots or shoes. However, more and more people are starting to use hiking sandals! While this may sound weird at first, there are a decent number of benefits to wearing hiking sandals over your regular hiking boots.

As more people are starting to become interested in hiking sandals we thought we would cover some of the top things that people should know about them.

Are Hiking Sandals Good For Hiking?

Just because something exists, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good idea. So where do hiking sandals sit on the scale of useful to pointless invention?

In our opinion hiking sandals can be a great choice for hiking but it will come down to the conditions that you’re hiking in and your personal preferences.

If you’re going to be hiking in warm weather then the airiness of hiking sandals will help to keep your feet cool. They also have the added benefit that if the trail that you’re doing has a river for you to cross you don’t have to worry about whether you take your boots off to keep them dry or if you put up with wet boots for the rest of your hike. Hiking sandals are ideal for river crossings, they continue to provide protection for your feet while not absorbing the water and then taking a long time to dry.

Hiking sandals also weigh considerably less than hiking boots. This means they can be a great choice for long hikes where you want to keep the amount you’re carrying to a minimum.

With all that being said, hiking sandals aren’t always going to be a great choice. Personally, we wouldn’t want to wear hiking sandals for hiking in cold weather/snow. Hiking sandals also provide less protection for your toes and the sides of your feet. This means that you’re more likely to stub your toe, get scratches and cuts on the sides of your feet.

Are Hiking Sandals Safe?

Yes, hiking sandals are safe for people to wear. Now, obviously, they do come with some additional risk than if you were wearing hiking boots but if there is nothing inherently unsafe about wearing hiking sandals.

Hiking sandals will tend to have multiple adjustable straps to hold on to your feet securely.

Probably the biggest risk from wearing hiking sandals is from stubbing your toe. If you’re concerned about that then you may wish to opt for a closed-toe hiking sandal (such as the KEEN Newport H2 Sandal or Chaco’s Odyssey Hiking Shoe), which protects your toe nearly as well as normal hiking boots while still leaving the foot more open.

Can Hiking Sandals Get Wet?

Yes, hiking sandals can get wet. It’s actually one of the bigger attractions of hiking sandals. As they don’t have as much in the way of fabric, they won’t hold on to as much water when they get wet, thereby weighing you down. Also as a lot of open-toed hiking sandals are designed like the below, they won’t keep the water inside of them.

Hiking sandal next to stream

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/chaco-sandals-adventure-feet-shoes-778337/

How To Clean Hiking Sandals?

As with a lot of your gear, hiking sandals will last longer if you look after them, so how would you go about cleaning your hiking sandals?

The first thing we should do is to wash off as much of the mud, dirt, and grime that has built up on them during our hike. It can be surprising just how much dirt you can pick up on a hike! One of the great things about hiking sandals is they are almost always washable, which makes this step really easy. Just put them in running water, whether that be a tap or a stream, and rub off any dirt. You can also use a small brush or even an old toothbrush to get into any harder-to-reach areas to give them a proper clean.

While you’re washing the sandals you should also have a look at the lugs on the soles. Make sure that you remove any stones that have managed to get themselves wedged in there.

Once you have finished washing them off, you should let them dry naturally. It can be tempting to put them near a heat source to speed up the drying process but this can start to degrade the materials and shorten the lifespan of your sandals.

If your hiking sandals have leather parts then you will need to care for those areas too. It would be worth looking at leather conditioners to help keep those areas supple and avoid them becoming dried out, which can lead to them cracking and breaking, which no one wants. You may also want to look at leather polish. While most of us won’t be looking to make the leather parts of our hiking sandals shiny like you might leather shoes/boots, by applying polish you help to protect the leather from water and staining.

While you may not want to do this straight after you’ve finished your hike. I’m sure we’ve all had times where we have said we’ll clean our hiking boots tomorrow, only to grab them next time we go out for a hike to find them still caked in mud. So, wherever possible, try to get to them as soon as possible. This will also make it easier for storage as once they’re dry you’ll be able to store them properly rather than trying to find somewhere to put them that we wouldn’t mind getting dirty.

What To Look For When Choosing Hiking Sandals?

If you feel like you want to give hiking sandals a try then you might start to wonder what you should be looking for when trying to find the right hiking sandals for you.

Comfort And Fit

When choosing hiking sandals you want to ensure that you’re getting a pair that will be as comfortable as possible for you. There are a couple particular areas that you should pay attention to:

It is worth paying attention to the footbed of the hiking sandal as that is what your foot will be resting on for the duration of your hike.

You want to look for hiking sandals that can be adjusted to tightly grip your foot to prevent it from moving around while you’re hiking.

Materials

A lot of hiking sandals will use similar materials as you would find in your hiking boots for things like the sole. This is why you’ll regularly see Vibram soles on hiking sandals.

The straps for hiking sandals are commonly made from either leather or polyester/nylon and use metal/plastic fasteners.

If you buy hiking sandals that include leather then you should look into how to properly care for the leather parts of your sandal. The last thing you want while you’re out on a hike in sandals is for one of the straps to snap as the leather has become brittle.

Pricing

One of the great things about hiking sandals is that they are a lot cheaper than hiking boots. This means you can buy a really good pair of hiking sandals for the price of a low to medium-priced pair of hiking boots.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should just go for the most expensive pair of hiking sandals you can. If it is your first pair, then it would probably be worth going for a mid-priced option. This will help you to ensure you’re not buying a cheap pair that may put you off of enjoying the benefits of hiking sandals, while still preventing you from spending huge amounts of money on something you may decide you don’t want to use.

Unsurprisingly, open-toed hiking sandals will tend to be cheaper than closed-toe hiking sandals.

You can get decent hiking sandals from about $60 (such as the open-toed Chaco’s Z1 Classics) up to $90 (such as KEEN Newport H2s).

Weight

We will have all heard the hiking wisdom that a pound on the feet is the equivalent of carrying five pounds on your back in some form or another. This is why hiking sandals can be a great choice if you’re looking to travel as light as possible.

While hiking boots can weigh upwards of 2 pounds, hiking sandals can weigh as little as 5 ounces per sandal!

If you’re looking for the ultimate in lightweight footwear then hiking sandals will give you plenty of options that you can look out. However, most will likely look for options that are somewhere towards the heavier hiking sandal side, to give as much comfort while hiking as possible.

 

Hiking sandals rocks

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/u4PaJmbHUjI

Do Hiking Sandals Provide Arch Support?

When you’re walking for long periods of time some people find it beneficial to use footwear that provides arch support.

Not all hiking sandals that are available on the market provide their wearers with arch support, but there are a decent number of options available if you want arch support. Chaco Men’s Z2 Classic Sport Sandals are a great example of a hiking sandal that provides arch support for the wearer.

Do You Wear Socks With Hiking Sandals?

We know that some of you cringed at the idea of someone wearing socks and sandals, with images of old men walking around with white athletic socks and sandals coming to your mind. However, when it comes to hiking in sandals, it is more common than you would expect.

There are a few reasons that it’s more common to see hikers wearing socks with their sandals:

  1. It can help to prevent irritating the skin. When we wear sandals casually it tends not to be to do activities such as hiking where we are walking for considerable amounts of time, with changes of incline. Wearing socks can help to prevent the wearer from getting blisters where the straps of the sandals rub.
  2. It helps to keep your feel warmer. If you’re wearing hiking sandals then chances are part of your reasoning is having cooler feet. However, if you’re hiking in slightly cooler areas then you may wish to have something keeping your feet a little warmer than just hiking sandals while still having them cooler than if you were wearing hiking boots.

If you’re looking to wear socks with your hiking sandals to help keep your feet warmer then it would be worth you looking for hiking sandals that do not have a toe post (the bit that goes between your big and second toe). This will help prevent you from having your sock pulled in at that point, which can be a little uncomfortable. Alternatively, you could look for toe socks.

Hiking sandals and socks

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/MMIolKBbJ-I

Are Hiking Sandals Suitable For Wide Feet?

One of the great things about hiking sandals is that most of them have multiple adjustable straps. This allows them to be adjusted very quickly to whatever size feet you have, which is even better if you find that your feet swell over the day hiking.

What this means is that if you have wide feet you’re able to adjust the straps to still ensure that you get a tight fit around your feet while not too tight, like you would in hiking boots.

While the adjustability of hiking sandals means that you can make do with the majority of hiking sandals, some sandals (such as Chaco’s Z1 Classics) are known for being extra accommodating for those with wide feet.

Should I Get Open Or Closed-Toe Hiking Sandals?

There are two main types of hiking sandals, those with an open-toe design and those with a closed-toe design. This difference is to whether the sandals cover and protect your toes or not.

Closed-toe hiking sandals will usually have a front to them that looks more like what you would see on hiking boots. This helps to prevent you from stubbing your toe but also helps prevent stones and other debris from getting under your foot. This is obviously beneficial, but it does also mean that when you go through water it can keep a small amount of the water in your sandal, however, this isn’t as much of an issue as it is for hiking boots as it is still easy to get the water out.

Open-toe hiking sandals provide no protection for your toes apart from the amount of sole that protrudes in front of your toes. Open-toe hiking sandals have a lot less material to them maximizing how airy they feel.

In our opinion, the main deciding factor for whether you should go for open or closed-toe hiking sandals is how comfortable you are with your toes not having the additional protection. If you’re walking along easy trails then you almost certainly won’t need the protection, but that’s not to say you can’t go open-toed on more challenging trails.

Do Hiking Sandals Need Breaking In?

While getting a new pair of hiking boots is always exciting, that excitement usually dies away very quickly when you need to start breaking them in. So do you need to do the same with hiking sandals?

Yes, you will need to break in your hiking sandals. However, you’ll be happy to know that breaking your sandals in will take far less time than it does to break in hiking boots.

The best way to break in your hiking sandals is by using them for short walks, slowly building up the distance. It won’t take very long before they will start to feel completely comfortable as they don’t have as much material to break in as hiking boots do.

If you choose to break your hiking sandals in by taking them on a hike then it would be worth taking some blister tape with you just in case they start rubbing your feet too much during the hike.

You Should Wear Suncream With Your Hiking Sandals

While you may think to put suncream on your face and arms when you’re hiking, if you start wearing hiking sandals you should also make sure that you’re protecting your feet.

As we don’t spend a lot of time with our feet out in the sun this means they are going to be more susceptible to getting burnt. This makes it all the more important that we apply a decent SPF to these, at least until they have started to build up a natural resilience to the sun. Even when you feel that you’ve started to build up a natural resilience to the sun on your feet, it is still worth you continuing to apply suncream to your feet. Think of it this way, imagine getting sunburnt feet and then still needing to hike for another day! That isn’t going to be an enjoyable experience.

To make applying suncream to your feet easier, make sure to take off the sandals. This allows you to get all of your feet with ease and avoids missing bits around where your straps are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!