Updated October 2017
We're always seeking the latest and greatest products, which led us to test the new and popular Bedrock Cairn Adventure sandals this fall. They impressed our review team so much that they have taken over as the new Editors' Choice winners. Check out the details in the full review. Lastly, as the Northern Hemisphere heads into colder temperatures, it's a great time to swoop in on a great deal. Many online retailers drop their sandal prices this time of year to clear out space for winter gear.
Best Overall Sandals for Men
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Low shock-absorbing ability
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure
led the pack in almost every test that we conducted and was the best overall sandal in our review, winning our Editors' Choice Award. They have a unique strap system that combines a thong with easily adjustable ankle straps. Their slim soles feature Vibram rubber outsoles and grippy footbeds that lent excellent traction and stability. With a far slimmer profile than any other sandal in our review, the Bedrock
's were impressively durable. We took them over high mountain passes, through slick river crossings, and
Read full review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandal
Best Bang for the Buck
Teva Hurricane XLT
Lowest weight of all models reviewed
Average support and stability
The Teva Hurricane XLT
is a streamlined version of the Teva Terra-Fi
and lists for $60, approximately $40 below the average price of sandals we reviewed. While offering a comparable amount of cushioning, the Hurricane XLT has a slimmer profile, less strap padding, and a different tread pattern. It's comfortable and weighs less than any other contender. It's everything a Best Buy winner should be — a solid, cost-effective performer.
Read full review: Teva Hurricane XLT
Top Pick for Closed Design
Keen Newport H2
Comfy footbed doesn't get slimy
Great foot protection
Resists absorbing water
Ineffective bungee laces
Tricky to slip on
The Keen Newport H2
hit the nail on the head for closed shoe designs. While the shoe scored well in comfort and stability, it didn't win in any category. Yet the shoe's overall design, attention to detail and solid scores in each category bring it to be a great choice for its type. Most people with water-based adventures in the future will benefit from this pair.
Read full review: Keen Newport H2
Top Pick for Support and Problem Feet
Chaco Z/2 Classic
A robust beast
Stable and supportive
On the heavy side
We've all seen Chaco
's on people's feet; maybe even at inappropriate times where typical products fall short, such as periods of long standing. We were a bit perplexed at first with the Chaco z/2 Classic
due to some of its shortcomings (traction and weight being the key). As the shoe broke in, it became surprisingly comfortable — not for the cushy footbed or padded straps, but instead for the well-designed shape and contour of the shoe's footbed. The stamp of approval on the exterior of the box, boasting the approval of the American Podiatrists Medical Association, seems to hold merit. The support and strength of the Chaco
design, mixed with its genius footbed profile, leave the shoe unrivaled concerning support.
Read full review: Chaco Z/2 Classic
Analysis and Test Results
Ty Caldwell jumps rock to rock in some Chaco's.
There are two main sandal categories: open design and closed design.
Open Design: Open design shoes, such as the Chaco Z/2 Classic
or the Teva Terra-Fi
, are simplistic designs that resemble a glorified flip-flop. These designs are great for use in the water, light hiking, casual wear, and any adventure that doesn't get too burly. In addition to being extremely lightweight, this design also dries quicker and are more packable than their closed design counterparts.
Closed Design: Closed designs resemble shoes with vented areas and drainage opportunities throughout, and offer protection similar to a light-hiking shoe. Some of these shoes are even supportive enough to use for light backpacking and heavier hiking, unlike the open design shoes. If this sounds like your ticket, take a look at our award-winning Keen Newport H2
The full fleet of sandals, in their state-of-the-art organizational storage device.
Criteria for Evaluation
Combining the scores from each metric, weighted appropriately, the table below displays the overall scores of each product at the end of our testing period.
Obviously, a shoe isn't going to be great to wear if it's uncomfortable. With most traditional shoes and boots, there's a relatively level playing field of comfort. However, with such a wide range of designs and styles, sometimes sandals fall short in the comfort category.
Through our brutalization of these shoes (and consequently, our feet) we found out for you. On the open design side of things, the Teva Hurricane XLT
gave our feet the exact right amount of squish in the sole. The basic webbing design surprised us in how good it feels. Despite a few plastic pieces and hardly any padding on the straps, the shoes almost felt invisible on our feet (also thanks to their low weight). Teva
's signature strapping and adjustment system gave us total control over the fit, which helped break in this shoe precisely the way we wanted.
Our Editors' Choice winner is also a comfortable model, albeit for different reasons. Utilizing a thong strap to stabilize the forefoot, our toes experienced great mobility and the most barefoot feeling of all contenders. They are also our favorites for avoiding blisters on long hikes and approaches. The straps are wide enough to avoid hot spots, but not excessively thick. We love that the minimal Cairn Adventure
is also a comfort king.
The Cairn Adventure (right) has a much less restrictive strap system than the Hurricane XLT (left)
Bringing the award home for the closed designs, we grew to love our Keen Newport H2
. The shoe keeps a core construction by ditching the shoe-like fabric footbed found in the Keen Arroyo
, which helps the shoe stay comfortable even when wet. While there hasn't been a metric-imperial measurement created yet for the amount of debris let into this type of footwear, this shoe seemed to stay more free of rocks, sticks and other nature trash that could prevent you from having a fun day.
Thin, spineless designs have plagued low-quality models for decades. However, with advances in design and technology over the years, high-quality sandals can provide the stability and support of a full shoe. Some shoes are notorious for sliding around and flexing side-to-side when hiking in more technical terrain, but as companies grow, they introduce great new designs to alleviate these issues.
For open design shoes, the Chaco Z/2 Classic
is a spectacular choice. The addition of a toe loop adds a new level of stability over its competition by eliminating any foot slip from front to back. Additionally, the appropriately named "z" shaped z/2 system wraps around your foot by having well-placed connection points that hold your foot in a firm and strong area on your foot. In addition to the iconic strapping method, the Z/2 Classic
's sole is second only to its big brother, the Chaco z/1 Classic, which is also available with a toe loop
. The sole shared by the entire Chaco
line is thick, supportive and firm. While it may not have the plushness liked by some wearers, the Chaco
sole is unparalleled regarding support and thickness — its only downside being an excessive complete shoe weight.
The top stability performer in the closed shoe category was the Newport H2
. The sole is firm and the footbed has enough squish to absorb shock well without losing support by being too soft. The upper, though, flexes more than we like in rougher terrain.
Fit and Design
The fit and design can be drastically different. Hiking shoes you look at tend to look pretty similar. They've got laces and a sole and an upper and a midsole, and then some proprietary other "stuff" tacked on. But when talking about this kind of footwear, all rules are out. Every company seems to bring their own flavor of straps and fastening, in addition to more classical shoe elements such as sole designs and materials.
Finding the right design for your foot is crucial. Some shoes we tested work fine with most feet, but they may not work for "problem feet." For example, any shoes in the Chaco z/2
line (with the toe loop) have a dictated back-of-heel to space-between-your-toes…a highly technical and reasonably unheard of measurement that translates to try before you buy
. That said, the entire line of Chaco
's has been endorsed by the American Podiatric Medical Association for their design to help problem feet through pronation control and well-designed arch support.
The Cairn Adventure by Bedrock was one of the most adjustable sandals that we tested.
In the open shoe category, Teva
impressed us with the Terra-Fi Lite
, which had a perfect balance between features and simplicity. Although the shoe looks deprived of fancy features, it has everything you need to get the job done. The Bedrock
pair did not fall far behind with a wide range of adjustability to accommodate varied foot volumes and shapes.
Who wants to buy a shoe that isn't going to last? Nobody. Durability is probably the easiest factor to consider, yet the most difficult to test. That's why here at OutdoorGearLab we've done that for you.
On minimalistic models, the main failing points come in the rings or connection with the sole to the straps. Additionally, some have issues with the sole separating from the midsole. With added features, potential failure points are introduced with shoe-like closed designs. Frequently, we hear complaints about exterior stitching, toe caps, and other critical parts falling apart.
We were fortunate enough to test these shoes for a long time, and for some of them, we still can't even tell. Both pairs of Chaco
's that were tested, the Zampa z/2
and the Z/1 Classic
blew us away with their durability. With a no-frills construction, a low-profile Vibram tread pattern, and plenty of rubber to go around, it's no surprise that these things are bombproof. Additionally, if you manage to wreck your Chaco
's, the company will re-strap or re-sole your footwear for a reasonable fee. However, we had to ask around for a while to find someone who had been forced to do this. He was going on ten years of almost daily wear, excepting only to when it was snowing.
We had a hard time getting the Cairn Adventure to show wear.
held up well to our abusive testing, too. Under the weight of a heavy climbing pack, these shoes showed no signs of wear after dozens of rugged, scrambly miles of through the Sierras on rough Granite. The straps of most models are connected with plastic pieces, but not the Cairn
. Instead, it holds the straps together with a cord, which is more robust in comparison.
As outdoor enthusiasts, we all put them through probably way too much strain for our well-being. As testers, we may have crossed the line into dangerous territory to test the traction of these contenders. Traction is necessary for all shoes, but when we expect these models to be able to handle anything from wet, mossy rocks strewn along creek beds to hiking up steep, sandy trails, traction goes from necessary to crucial for survival. Out of all of the categories we tested, we were surprised by the traction that some shoes provided, while others thought to be great for their traction turned out to fail.
The good folks at Teva
have figured out a great solution. While some might scoff at their proprietary rubber compared to big name brands found on our other shoes, Teva
's rubber compound and their tread design generally out-performed the competition. The Terra-Fi Lite
has the best traction of the entire category. Take a look at the sole of this bad boy; there's no doubt this thing will stick to almost anything you'll throw at it, and the traction will continue to serve over the lifetime of the shoe. Even as the aggressive tread pattern breaks down over time, the rubber compound acts like glue under even the most treacherous conditions.
(front to back) The tread pattern of the Teva Terra-Fi, Keen Newport H2, Teva Dozer (discontinued), Chaco Unaweep, and Chaco Yampa.
Adding a pair of sandals to your footwear arsenal can bring a nice breeze between your toes, but with expanding market options, selecting a model from the bunch is no easy task. Common tradeoffs, like low weight leading to less support, mean that considering your intended uses is key before making a purchase decision. If you need more help in finding what type of sandal is for you, head over to our Buying Advice
article. We hope this review leads you to the best sandals for you and your feet!