Updated November 2017
After a full summer and fall of cruising the trails and tarmacs with our sandals, we have updated the reviews with durability notes. We also had a few women's sandals become discontinued. We add in a few more key specs and graphs to help you find the best option for your needs. If you want to see our favorite Birkenstock model, see our flip-flops review.
Best Overall Women's Sandals
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
: Polyester and nylon webbing | Weight
: 0.89 lbs
Fits many foot types
Sizing is not women's specific
Throughout testing, one shoe continually demanded attention. The highest scorer in the test, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure
offers a unique style, employing a thong construction combined with an ankle strap. This design lends a surprising, barely-there feel, eliminating pressure points on the side of the foot and between the toes. In addition, this model sports a Vibram sole, making it unique to the test group. Our testers have grown to love and trust Vibram rubber, so there was little hesitation when scurrying up and down steep slabs with a heavy pack while wearing the Bedrock. Add in a comprehensive adjustment system, style points, and a lightweight feel that adds versatility, the Bedrock was an easy pick for Editors' Choice. This competitor 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.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Top Pick for Adventure Travel
KEEN Clearwater CNX
: Washable polyester webbing | Weight
: 1 lbs
High water performance
Does not fit wider foot types well
Lacks ankle adjustment
Keen has long been a purveyor of sturdy footwear that score high in versatility despite their bulky profiles. The Keen Clearwater
upholds the brand's standard for adaptability while bucking the trend for bulk, and its sleek footprint helped it steal the Top Pick for Adventure Travel from its clunkier cousin, the Newport H2
. 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 still remaining supportive enough for all-day use. Our one gripe was the Clearwater's lack of heel adjustment, which made quick on and off and use with heavy socks difficult. But thanks to its comfort and coverage this product can handle almost anything, making it the ideal choice for days when you don't know what to expect.
Read review: Keen Clearwater
Best Overall Value
: Synthetic and polyester webbing | Weight
: 1.12 lbs
Lightweight and comfortable
Stylish and fits many foot types
Ankle strap discomfort over time
Not the best for all-day use
was one of the highest scoring sandals in our tests and can be found for $50-80. It performed well across all of our tests and is relatively lightweight. Although the ankle straps caused discomfort for some testers, they still can handle almost any terrain and are one of the more stylish Teva options. A three-point adjustment system allows you to tighten as needed when you're cruising the beach or trails, and the contoured sole provides the right amount of traction for short off-trail forays. If you're looking for a value option that can handle light-duty adventure, the Tirra is your best bet.
Read review: Teva Tirra
Chaco Z/Cloud 2
: Polyester jacquard webbing | Weight
: 1.44 lbs
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2
was a chart-topper, and although it didn't win an award, its all-around performance earned it an honorable mention. 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 in this model. With a comprehensive adjustment system that can hug each area of the foot, this product was a favorite. Although the adjustment system can be tricky to figure out at first, once you have it dialed it's a cinch. The Z/Cloud 2's high price point and relatively high-arched profile that left flat-footed testers a little uncomfortable were the only reasons it missed out on an award. If you're willing to shell out a bit of extra cash for a model that will last, this is an excellent option.
Read review: Chaco Z/Cloud 2
Analysis and Test Results
Sandals are unique shoes 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 flop, while maintaining more breathability (and in some cases more versatility) than a hiking shoe.
All of the products in this review (with the exception of the Sketcher USA Reggae-Rasta Thong
) strap securely to your foot and sport patterned soles, making them versatile enough for off-trail forays. Within our review, we've identified the models that are best for specific activities like water sports, hiking, and travel. To narrow down your specific needs, cruise over to our Buying Advice
for comprehensive assistance.
Summer is sandal season. Whether you want some shoes to hike, skip, boat, or hang, we found a pair that is right for you. Here, we're testing the Enoki (left) and the Unaweep (right).
For this review, we tested ten sandals from six brands. To make this selection, we researched more than 40 available models, ensuring that our review represented models with consistently high reviews and good track records. All the models here are top performers, and their scores in each of our metrics is a representation of how they scored in comparison to one another. The competition was stiff. Below, you'll find in-depth explanations of the different designs reviewed and how we tested for each metric.
Types of Sandals
Sandals come in closed-toe models and open-toe models. Keen offered the only closed-toe models in our review, the Newport H2
, and the Uneek
(which is difficult to call closed-toe, because it features a thin webbing across the toe). Both of these competitors excelled on rugged terrain and in water sports. Since they leave less of the foot exposed, they also offer better foot protection, while still allowing water to drain during stream crossings and lake time. However, because they featured more material than other models, they were heavier and slower to dry when wet.
The remaining nine models are open-toe. These models were lighter, better ventilated, and dried faster, and most testers preferred the look of these shoes, especially when transitioning from an outdoor setting into town for dinner. Stability and adjustability varied from model to model, with the Bedrock Cairn Adventure
being the only product to feature a thong/ankle strap combo.
A healthy selection of sandals.
The overall score of each product is a result of its combined performance in every metric, weighted appropriately, within a range of 1-100.
It's well-known that if your shoes are uncomfortable, you're less likely to wear them. Because of this, Comfort was our most important metric and was worth 20% of products' overall scores. This score comes from the footbed of the shoe and its interaction with the bottom of the foot, and the straps of the shoe and their interaction with the top and sides of the foot. Some models performed well in one area and poorly in the other, while our highest scoring models performed well in both. Comfort was analyzed on smooth and rough terrain, with wet feet, while wearing a heavy pack, and while walking up and down steep terrain.
Keep in mind that, to an extent, Comfort is subjective. Where applicable, we have noted in products' reviews whether or not a shoe's comfort was affected by the foot shape of the tester.
Although we tried to be as objective as possible with our comfort ratings, this metric is mostly dependent on what kind of activities you plan to participate in while wearing your shoes. If you intend on wearing this shoe during long stints on the trail under a heavy pack, keep an eye out for a model with excellent support and traction. Or if you're looking for an exceptional travel shoe that is lightweight and breathable, look for options with slim profiles and well-designed straps.
Our Editors' Choice, the Bedrock Cairn
, and our Top Pick, the Keen Clearwater
, both took home the highest scores for comfort. The Bedrock's barely-there feel helped it achieve its high score, while the Clearwater's close fit and supportive-yet-supple footbed earned it top marks.
Relaxing in comfort with the Bedrock Cairn and Friday the dog
In the middle of the spectrum where both Chaco
models and the Teva Tirra
. Chaco's offerings were 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 stiff sole that takes time to break in, both models lost points. The Tirra's three-point adjustment system and squishy footbed lent comfort. Because of a floppy toe and low ankle strap that caused an annoying hot spot, the Tirra lost points.
The weakest performer by far was the Sketcher USA Reggae-Rasta Thong
. This model's footbed gave little support beneath the arch while simultaneously irritating the outside edge of the foot. Combined with straps that were difficult to adjust for maximum comfort, this model did not fare well in this metric.
Stability is an important metric for this category, as it sets these shoes apart from most flip-flops. As such, this score was worth 20% of a product's overall score. To be a high-performer, contestants needed 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 was minimal enough to feel light but not so flimsy that it felt insubstantial), and well fitting straps contributed to this metric. We evaluated stability based on all of the terrains where we tested these products.
Several models received high marks for Stability, including the Bedrock Cairn Adventure
, the Keen Newport H2
and Keen Clearwater
, and the Chaco
models. All of these products had durable soles that allowed for quick movement across rugged terrain, even with a heavy pack. Additionally, their strap systems eliminated concerns that they would slip on steep terrain. For users looking for a more minimal sole with less support, allowing for more feel, the Bedrock is an excellent choice. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chaco models offer thick soles and maximum support.
A Chaco sole vs the Bedrock sole.
The Keen Newport H2
received high marks in this category for their supportive footbeds combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. Thanks to this design, these models performed the best on steep terrain when it came to shoe-foot integration.
Both the Keen Newport H2 and Keen Clearwater come with the classic Keen Foot Bumper, a bulbous rubber add-on to the front of the shoe that provides unrivaled toe protection.
The Teva Original
received the lowest marks in this category because of its floppy sole and straps that allowed for significant foot slip when on steep terrain.
In recent years, manufacturers have introduced sticky climbing rubber (typically found on approach shoes
) and Vibram soles to the mainstream outdoor shoe market. As a result, shoe traction has significantly improved. With each company boasting proprietary sole technology, we were curious to see how each model's traction compared. 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. The highest performers inspired enough confidence for quick travel even in steep, slick conditions. This score was worth 20% of the total.
Not surprisingly, the only model with a Vibram sole, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure
, snagged the highest Traction score. This model was a go-to on steep approaches thanks to the trusted rubber and large lug design of the sole. It missed out on scoring a perfect ten because testers found that on steep downhills, the thong design gave the feeling that their foot could slip from the shoe (although it never did).
Following closely behind the Bedrock were the Chaco
models and the Keen Newport H2
and Keen Clearwater
. Both companies' respective proprietary rubbers were up to most tasks, handling loose pebbles on steep terrain well on both the up and down. These models received lower marks because of their tendency to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills.
The Cairn Sandals in action.
The lowest scorer in this metric was the Sketcher USA Reggae-Rasta Thong
. Nearly every tester found this model to have below average traction, due in large part to its underwhelming sole design. Additionally, on steep uphills, the open-back design didn't help.
The traction of this model leaves a little to be desired when compared to the higher performing models in our review.
This metric was based on the number of adjustment points sported on each model, how easy they were to adjust, and how well they conformed the product to the foot. This metric spread out the competition across the board, as the adjustment methods of each model were varied. This score was worth 20% of the overall score.
Both the Bedrock Cairn
and the Teva Tirra
received top adjustability scores. The Bedrock employs a unique combo of a velcro ankle strap and a sliding top strap, as well as a high hook for even more adjustment. All of these combined to give a considerable amount of adjustment potential, and testers were able to quickly lock in the best fit. The Tirra's three-point adjustment system provided a superior fit in the toe, while giving classic ankle-strap adjustability. While both of these methods is vastly different, they both performed well above the rest of the pack.
The adjustment of the Tirra vs the Bedrock
At the bottom of the pile were all three Keen
models and the Sketcher USA Reggae-Rasta Thong
. The Keen offerings featured simple pull-to-tighten feature at the top of the foot that attempted to mimic a shoelace design. However, this system lacked micro adjustments to the toe box, and without an adjustment for the ankle, it was difficult to fully dial in the fit. The Reggae-Rasta had a disappointing single adjustment point that still left most tester clenching their toes in an attempt to keep the shoe on when the going got rough.
Sandals are often pushed to their limit on the hiking trail and then, on the very 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 outdoor pursuits. Models that scored the highest in this metric took on everything from water sports to steep, loose trails, and then easily transitioned to the backyard barbecue. This metric accounted for 10% of a product's overall score.
Both the Bedrock Cairn
and Teva Tirra
took home the top scores in this metric. These models received high scores in our performance metrics, and they were low-profile enough to pair with some skinny jeans or a skirt. Although some other models like the Keen Clearwater
and Newport H2
performed exceptionally well across a variety of activities, they lacked the style points to easily cross over into town.
The quick dry time of the Tirra and its excellent traction made it one of our go-to boating and water activity shoes.
There is no way to hide it: this is our most subjective rating criteria. Nevertheless, style is an important consideration in a footwear choice, so we felt that it was necessary to include it in our rating criteria. Regardless of what we have to say about this metric, skimming through our photo gallery will give you of what you think about each shoe's style. One thing we thought important when considering the style of each product was how appropriate it would be to wear it on outdoor terrain and in an urban setting. This was relevant since you should feel comfortable wearing these shoes both on rocky and muddy terrain and out with friends for drinks. This metric accounted for 10% of a product's overall score.
The models that bridged the backcountry/city gap were the Bedrock
and the Chaco
models. All of these models were low-profile, with both neutral and more flashy color options. They look at home both in the mountains and on the streets.
This model earns its style points.
Our testers agreed that the Keen Newport
and Keen Uneek
were the least stylish of the bunch. These models were clunky and awkward to pair with a sleek outfit.
Although we picked a cheaper model as out Best Buy winner, it is important to keep in mind that the more expensive models in this review are some of the most durable. As with anything, it is true that you get what you pay for. With sandals, if you pay a bit more, your footwear may outlast a cheaper model by a year or even two. This means that you will avoid having to buy a replacement if you had gone with a cheaper shoe right off the bat.
Although the Chaco
models were among the most expensive models tested, 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, considering buying a more expensive model that will hopefully last you longer. We recommend the Editors' Choice-winning Bedrock Cairn Adventure
and the Chaco
models as durable options, which lend them high value. That said, the Best Buy-winning Teva Tirra offers good durability and can usually be found for $10-30 less than the Bedrock or Chaco models.
The award-winning Cairn taking on rocky terrain.
The footwear in this review is meant to securely strap to your feet while allowing for more ventilation and water use than a hiking shoe. Perfect for the summer, a pair of these models can accompany you on hikes, in the water, and around town. Our review is here to help compare the different models available so you can find the pair that will best fit your lifestyle (and feet)!