Are hiking sandals good? Really?

sandals
Are hiking sandals good? We explain why you might want to take these lightweight, breathable and surprisingly tough shoes on the trail (Image credit: Getty)

When the warm weather really hits, it can be tough to summon the enthusiasm to shove your feet into even the best hiking boots.  Sure, the weather is beautiful, but trudging along carrying the extra weight of boots on your hot, sweaty feet just isn't  your idea of a great time. Why not try out hiking sandals? Wait – really, are hiking sandals good? After all, isn't that akin to hiking in flip flops? You might be surprised to learn that hiking sandals are a serious contender among the different types of hiking shoes. In fact, after reading this article, you'll wonder how you ever wandered without them as we walk you through the advantages of wearing walking sandals for sweltering hot days and explain what to look for when choosing your first pair.

Person hiking wearing sandals

We talk you through the advantages of wearing hiking sandals for sweltering hot days and explain why they're not just for lounging at the beach (Image credit: Getty)

Are hiking sandals good?

In a word, yes. In good hiking sandals, your feet will feel cool and unencumbered, but still supported enough to hike across even relatively challenging terrain. We wouldn’t recommend wearing them on high alpine trails or very technical paths, especially while carrying a heavy backpack (when good ankle support and stability is important), but in good conditions, quality sandals with toe protection and decent soles, are fine for walking across all sorts of surfaces.

They perform particularly well on trails with frequent river crossings, as you don’t need to stop and take off shoes and hiking socks – just crack on through the stream or across the estuary, and your sandals will quickly dry afterwards. For coastal and clifftop walks they’re excellent, and if you’re on a serious multiday backpacking adventure, it’s good to have a pair of sandals to slip on after the day’s walking is done.

Sandals are also perfect for travelling in tropical climates (or just sticking in your backpack for summer holidays) as they’re lightweight, easy to pack and ideal for slinging on quickly for a walk, a swim, or for wearing around a campsite.

And yes, hiking sandals have traditionally been seen as a bit of a fashion faux-pas (especially if – brace yourself now – worn with socks!) but there are some pretty stylish versions now on offer. Most people in the market for the more serious shandals will care more about staying cool on the trail than looking cool in the pub at the end of the day, but many brands – Teva and Keen for example – are now making sandals that are seriously stylish.

Convinced? Read on for what to look for when choosing a pair of hiking sandals.

Man on mountain trail wearing sandals

With a good grip, sandals are just as hard working as hiking boots (Image credit: Getty)

1. Design

Designs differ, of course, and the walking sandals that you will get the most use out of are the ones best suited to the kind of activities you do most often. For regular hot-weather hikers who like to explore all kinds of terrain, the best walking sandals on the market are the rugged trail-ready designs with thick straps and substantial rubber soles with lugs that will rival your favourite hiking boots for grip – sometimes called shandals, because they’re like a cross between a walking shoe and a sandal. But if you’re more likely to stick to beach strolls, or you’re planning to travel for an extended period, a lighter pair of sandals will probably suffice.

2. Fit 

Pick a model with wide adjustable straps around the heel and across the front of your foot that stay put when you walk and, just like when buying a hiking boot, make sure the sandal doesn’t pinch or feel too tight, and that your foot doesn’t slide about in it. Some sandals are adjusted with Velcro straps or bungee cords, which make it easy to get a snug fit.

Woman climbing a trail wearing hiking sandals

For regular hot weather hikers who like to explore all kinds of terrain, the best walking sandals on the market are the rugged trail-ready designs (Image credit: Getty)

3. Fabric 

Hiking sandals come in all kinds of finishes, from smart leather to neoprene, but we recommend picking a fabric or nylon material, as these tend to be tough when walking but quick to dry if you do get them wet.

4. Protection 

Used in the right conditions (ie not when it’s freezing cold), there’s only one real downside to hiking in a sandal – it’s relatively easy to stub a toe on rocky ground. Shandals have this part of you covered, though. As the name suggests, this is a hybrid design that’s half shoe, half sandal, and usually has a closed rubber toe and quite a bit of cover around the ankle area, along with strappy sides with plenty of vents to keep feet cool. They’re a great compromise for hot weather hiking when you still want protection, and are also ideal for use in water when you’re wild swimming, crossing a river, canyoning or coasteering.

Keen Terradora II open-toe sandal

Whichever pair you pick, we reckon you’ll wonder how you ever did without them (Image credit: Keen Terradora II)

5. Value

Good shandals, such as Keen’s, can be quite expensive, but they are well worth the extra cash if you plan to hike long distances in them. Your new sandals will always be naturally less long-lasting than your hiking boots – we recommend buying a good quality pair of sandals, as very cheap ones can be a false economy and prone to breaking. There are also good bargains to be had if you buy sandals in early spring or on the other side of summer.

Whichever pair you pick, we reckon you’ll wonder how you ever did without them – just be warned, you might find yourself walking in your new sandals so often that you end up with some interesting tan lines.

An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.

With contributions from