Forget the humble flip-flop – sandals have evolved. Whether you need them for simple sightseeing, easy strolling or adventure activities such as hiking and kayaking, they can be the most versatile piece of footwear in your bag
There are myriad sandals on the market, ranging from basic flip-flops to dedicated walking sandals. Will you go for a slip-on or strapped version? Do you need toe protection? Will you be getting wet? Consider what you’re going to use these sandals for and look for the features that best suit your needs.
2) Toe Protection
If you just want sandals for walking around towns or on beaches, toe protection may be unnecessary. However, if you want a more versatile option that you can wear for activities such as trail walking and kayaking, it’s worth considering.
Lightweight sandals are better for your baggage allowance; they can also mean your legs get less tired. However, saving weight can mean sacrificing comfort – lighter shoes may have less cushioning and a thinner sole, leaving your feet struggling on rough ground. Weigh up how much you’re prepared to compromise on weight vs comfort.
Check the lugs – deeper ones of varying size will take longer to wear and give better grip.
You will want some way of securing the sandal to your foot, so you can enjoy what you’re doing without worrying about losing a shoe! Look for sandals with adjustable straps so you can get the perfect fit.
This is usually made from synthetic fabric (lighter and cheaper than leather). Make sure there is cushioning between the straps and your foot to avoid rubbing, which could cause blisters at pressure points – especially around the heel, ankle, front of your foot and toes.
The difference between sport sandals and regular sandals is usually found in the sole. Look for a sole that offers cushioning, a good balance of flex and stiffness, and is shaped to support your arch and heel.
THE TEST: At first glance, this sandal looks fairly flat and appears to have the least moulded footbed here, looking more flip-flop than activity sandal. However, turn it over and the outsole actually has a collection of well-spaced lugs to help with grip, proving it’s built with walking in mind. Also, although the footbed isn’t particularly shaped, it still offers a good amount of cushioning and flex.
It features two adjustable straps to help get a good fit. As someone with high-arched feet, I would have liked more support around the mid-foot, as it felt a bit loose; those with lower arches may not have a problem. The upper is made from mesh and spandex and is lined to be soft against the skin. At 474g (pair, women’s UK size 6) these are the second heaviest here, though at over 200g lighter than the heaviest, they’re closer in weight to the lightest. There’s no toe protection.
THE VERDICT: A definite step up from flip-flops, ideal for those needing low cost footwear for sightseeing and shorter walks.
THE TEST: Offering a more moulded footbed than the Regattas, Karrimor’s Saba is also made for walking. It features more arch support, a good amount of targeted cushioning (at the back and ball of the foot) and a slightly stiffer sole, which would be good for longer hikes. The outsole features a range of different-sized lugs, offering good grip. There are also three adjustable straps, which make the sandal feel more secure.
The upper is made from synthetic fabric, with targeted cushioning at key pressure points. I did find that the gaps in cushioning where the sandal’s different sections met – over the toes and under the main strap – meant a bit of rubbing. These are the third-lightest on test (411g, pair, women’s UK size 6). They offer no toe protection.
THE VERDICT: Despite costing a little more for men, these are well-priced, especially as they offer more features – a moulded insole, more adjusters. As long as they don’t rub your feet, they’re a good, low-priced option.
THE TEST: Celebrating 30 years since their founder invented the first sports sandal, Teva are renowned for their comfort. As such these have a generous amount of cushioning. Built primarily for watersports, they also feature an impressively robust sole that’s good for walking. From a shock-absorbing section at the back to the anatomical footbed (for excellent arch support), they don’t skimp on comfort. There’s also an aggressive set of lugs to help with grip. However, such a meaty sole adds weight: at 714g (pair, women’s UK size 6), these are the heaviest on test by a way. They’re also a bit clumpy for short strolls (though there is a lighter Terra Fi Lite option).
There’s no toe protection but the big sole puts distance between toe and shoe end. The upper is synthetic, with two adjustable straps. There are pads of cushioning at key points but where they ended meant potential rubbing.
THE VERDICT: Heavy weight, but superb cushioning underfoot – ideal for water sports and longer walks, if the upper suits your foot.
THE TEST: With a leather upper and casual-wear style, the women’s Kawaii (tested) could be worn for evenings out as well as easy walks. The two strap adjusters at the back enable a good fit there; however, there is no adjustment over the toes, leaving them loose in that area. A softer fabric on the inner helps prevent rubbing, but where there are gaps in this you may find they do chafe.
Underfoot there’s a good amount of cushioning. The footbed is moulded, ensuring good support. The outsole features varying sized lugs to help with grip, though they’re not as aggressive as some on test. The sole offers a good amount of stiffness and flex.
Weighing 392g (pair, women’s size 6), these are the second-lightest on test. There is no direct men’s equivalent, though for £10 more, Ecco offers the Offroad Lite (not tested).
THE VERDICT: Great for easy strolls and sightseeing if they fit you well, but active types may want something more versatile.
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THE TEST: The Ultra is a three-in-one chameleon. Its inner sock (made from a swimsuit-type fabric) has a rubber sole, and can be worn alone as a water shoe. The outer shell can be worn on its own as a sandal, with great ventilation. Or you can wear the two together for a warmer shoe that’s still completely amphibious. Secured to your foot by an adjustable cord, it fits well, both with and without the inner sock.
As the name suggests, Vivobarefoot is focused on helping you walk in the most ‘natural’ way: the sole is the thinnest on test, with little cushioning. If you’re not used to barefoot footwear, you may struggle with these for walking long distances.
The lugs are not as aggressive as others on test but are well spaced and grip well. You also get toe protection. These are the lightest here – just 338g (pair, women’s UK size 6).
THE VERDICT: One of the best options for water activities, though some will struggle to use them for walking longer distances.
> Value: ★★★★✩
THE TEST: These may be at the higher end of the price scale, but you get what you pay for. The anatomical footbed (handily anti-odour too) has a contoured arch and is instantly comfortable. The synthetic upper is lined all over, so no rubbing at pressure points. It’s fitted to your foot via a cord system that’s quick and easy to use.
Underfoot there’s a good amount of cushioning – ample, if not as much as others on test. The sole is quite flexible so your feet may tire on longer, rougher walks, but the outsole is well designed with a variety of well-spaced lugs. The toe protection is superb; a rubber rand helps prevent knocks, making these feel more like a shoe that is well vented – ideal for warmer climates. At 444g (pair, women’s UK size 6) it’s the fourth-lightest on test and feels light on foot.
THE VERDICT: A great all-round sandal, that’s well-featured and comfortable straight from the box. You can get a sporty sandal for less, but for versatility this is the best choice.