This Summer, Embrace the Hiking Sandal

Let the dogs run free on the trails this summer

Updated May 17, 2023 12:29 pm
a collage of the best hiking sandals on a tan stone background
The best hiking sandals do a hell of a lot more than you'd think.
InsideHook/Getty Images

Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.

For years I found myself in love with hiking boots. Beneath the rugged exterior, I found support, waterproof fabrics and cozy space for my soles. I trudged through puddles with arrogance and scrambled over rocks without care. But somewhere along the way, my feet had enough.

The snug interior I had once cherished grew hot and cramped. Waterproof fabrics offered little assistance through river crossings. And I found myself repeatedly pulling my boots on and off every time I saw a body of water worth swimming in. That’s when I discovered some of the best hiking sandals that allowed me to free my feet for good.

I’ve been testing hiking sandals ever since, styles ranging from established outdoor brands like Chaco and Keen to relatively unknown labels) and found that the best models offer comfort, freedom of movement and versatility for the miles ahead. My favorites feature a lugged sole, durable materials and classic styling for every summer outing. I prefer sandals that are minimal and lightweight to deliver a barefoot-like experience. But since I know many hikers prefer a hefty sole and lots of protection, I’ve included those as well.

Below, the 12 best hiking sandals.

The Chaco Z/1 Classic is an undeniably popular hiking sandal, and for good reason. Hikers who promote the Z/1 describe it as comfortable, supportive and stylish for a variety of activities. The sole features a high arch and the stiffest material in the Chaco lineup, making it ideal for long days on the trail. Webbing straps pair with a buckle closure to dial in the perfect fit, and Chaco replaces your worn straps after years of use. Though some hikers prefer the Chaco Z/Volv 2 (more on that later), I find its toe strap to be confining and unnecessary. For those with flat feet (myself included), the high arch might be painful, so test these in-person before committing to a pair.

Bedrock sandals have only been around for a decade, but you wouldn’t know it by their widespread popularity. The Missoula-based brand designs a limited selection of minimal sandals, each of which features vibrant colors and a durable Vibram sole. The Cairn Adventure is my favorite model (it’s what I wear) thanks to its comfortable strap setup and modest design. Its footbed is thin, like that of a flip-flop, and three adjustable straps deliver a secure fit like a trail shoe. Bedrock also re-soles old sandals and replaces worn or damaged straps, so there’s no need to buy a new pair every other year. Upgrade to the Cairn 3D Adventure for a contoured footbed that adds a little more support.

If it’s cushioning you crave, there are few brands that do pillowy plushness better than Hoka. Although perhaps best known for their running shoes, you shouldn’t sleep on the closed-toe Hopara — the 4mm grooved multi-directional lugs make short work of terrain wet or dry, while a vented, neoprene-lined upper and lacing system keeps your dogs protected and comfortable. Minimalists beware: the Hopara is a joy to trek in, but its premium comfort and heft ensure it is far too much for the barefoot backcountrier.

When you don’t want to spend a ton on sport sandals, Teva’s Original Universal is the preferred option. That said, I recommend dropping a few extra bucks to upgrade to the Hurricane XLT2. It’s still budget-friendly at $70, but the all-terrain sole pairs with an EVA midsole to improve traction and comfort. The design performs effortlessly in wet environments, and it’s just as capable on land. Three Velcro straps create a personalized fit, though some hikers notice the triangular plastic strap connectors. Consider these if you’re ready to give hiking sandals a try without breaking the bank.

Hiking sandals offer countless benefits, but steep, rocky and unpredictable terrain spell terror for your toes. When you’re looking for the freedom of a hiking sandal but prefer to never suffer an injured digit, Keen’s Newport H2 sandal has you covered. With a sturdy rubber toe cap and defensive upper, the Newport walks a fine line between sandal and shoe. I’m almost willing to tap this sandal as my favorite water sandal too, but we’ll save that title for another Keen. Because this one is a little heavier and bulkier, it works better on the trail than it does in water. Snag it to provide your toes with all-around protection.

As the name suggests, Xero sandals are incredibly lightweight and as close to barefoot hiking as you’ll get (without actually hiking barefoot). But their ultralight status doesn’t mean they skimp on comfort or performance. The Velcro adjustment system is made from soft polyester to reduce hot spots, and the 10-millimeter rubber soles are surprisingly sturdy despite being so thin. I recommend these for barefoot devotees or as a change of footwear when you finally set up camp. If your primary concern is room in your pack, never fear — these hiking sandals roll up like a burrito to occupy less space.

I still can’t wrap my head around the rising interest in chunky dad sandals, but the Ecco Yucatan is eager to silence the haters with plenty of plush support and comfort. Its spandex and nylon lining wicks moisture to prevent wrinkled feet, not to mention it also eliminates unwanted chafing. Whether you’re hitting the trail or the street, a soft footbed absorbs impact to keep your feet happy for miles. Though it doesn’t sport the traditional outdoorsy look that’s popular among other sandals, the all-day comfort is too compelling to pass up. Consider these ideal for casual wear and travel.

Any of these sandals are capable of navigating wild waters, but the Clearwater sandal is perfect for river floats, beach kickbacks and dips in the lake. The closed toe prevents pointy rocks from harming your tootsies, and the lace system cinches the sandal confidently around your foot when you’re playing in the rapids. Though the Clearwater resembles the Newport in many ways, Keen shaved every possible ounce of weight, thereby reducing unnecessary bulk. At nine ounces per sandal, you’ll barely notice all the protection around your foot. Pick these up if your summer adventures embrace recurrent bodies of water.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that Japanese label Merrell’s Huntington Sandals are actually squelchy on foot, but the Sports Slide is undeniably sticky thanks to an ultra-grippy groove-lugged outsole. It’s noticeable enough that we’ve come back to this slide for technical warm-weather hikes time and time again. Throw in Merrell’s Air Cushion tech and a tendency to go on sale, and you’re looking at a super solid sandal for the lock-down hiker.

Unlike the stiff and burly Z/Classic, the Z/Volv 2 is 20% lighter with ample traction and adjustability. The pull-through strap system can be tedious to adjust, but it improves stability once you’ve got it dialed in. This model also features a controversial toe loop that wraps around your big toe — a feature some hikers avoid by tightening the strap against the sole, though it’s useful when scrambling up rocks and trails. If you love the idea of Chacos but fancy something lighter underfoot, these are sure to satisfy your soles. And if you hate the thought of the toe loop, the Z/Volv comes in a version without it.

The Nike ACG Air Deschutz+ might not have the same tech specs as other hiking-specific sandals on this list, but we’ve found the style’s cushioned Nike Air heel and treaded sole just rugged enough to tackle less technical trails, before hopping over to the park for some brewskis. Their ’90s charm and functional straps make them the perfect backcountry-to-bar footwear. Don’t trip. (Or do — these are probably the footwear for the job.)

You probably didn’t expect to see a pair of Crocs on this list, but the year is 2023 and you should know by now that nothing is as it seems. For all the jokes people make at their expense, Crocs are more popular than ever before, and it’s time you embraced them. The Classic All-Terrain Sandal is Crocs’ take on a hiking sandal, with adjustable straps and cushioned platforms for adventures near and far from water. Though you probably shouldn’t hike the Appalachian Trail in these modern reptiles, they’re comfortable and supportive enough for daily activity.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.