Hiking Sandals And Walking Sandals Guide
1 – Introduction To Walking And Hiking Sandals
Many hikers swap their trusted, sturdy hiking boots for lightweight hiking sandals or walking sandals when the hot weather comes. The Sports Sandal has established itself as a suitable item of footwear during the past 20 years, in spite of early doubts from outdoor enthusiasts. Sandals in the early days were very simple in construction.
Today, there are sports sandals, that is, sandals for specific and almost any activity. There are womens hiking sandals and mens hiking sandals and there are also sandals for backpacking and trekking.
Hiking Sandals are more robust than everyday sandals and provide hikers with an alternative item of footwear when the climate is especially hot and dry, and when support for your ankles is not a great concern. Wearing hiking sandals is a personal choice and you must weigh up the benefits and disadvantages, and then relate them to the terrain you will be traversing.
Some people believe that hiking sandals are only appropriate for paths but they can also be very good over both steep and rocky terrain. However, it is generally accepted that hiking sandals are best suited to warm weather.
It is important to choose hiking sandals that are sturdy enough to handle the rigours of hiking and provide good support and foot comfort, especially so if you are backpacking or trekking. Also, remember that using hiking sandals in the dark can be risky as you can’t see where you are placing your feet and may bump into obstacles.
This video outlines the benefits and features of hiking sandals.
Contents On Sandals For Hiking And Walking
Use the following guide to aid you in your choice of hiking sandals and walking sandals:
- 1 – Introduction To Walking And Hiking Sandals
- 2 – Why Use Sandals For Hiking And Walking?
- 2.1 – Ventilation
- 2.2 – Lightweight
- 2.3 – Reduced Toe Bruising
- 3 – Why Not Use Sandals For Hiking And Walking?
- 3.1 – Less Foot Protection
- 3.2 – Ingres Of Debris
- 3.3 – Sunburn
- 3.4 – Dryness Of Feet
- 3.5 – Feet Get Cold
- 3.6 – Feet Get Wet
- 3.7 – Unpleasant Aroma
- 4 – Features of Sandals For Hiking And Walking
- 4.1 – Uppers
- 4.2 – Straps
- 4.3 – Toe Type
- 4.4 – Sole
- 5 – Fitting Your Sandals
- 6 – Looking After Your Sandals
- 6.1 – Cleaning
- 6.2 – Drying
- 6.3 – Ion-mask
- 6.4 – Waterproof Treatment
- 6.5 – Material Linings
- 6.6 – General Care
- 7 – Some Brands of Sandals For Hiking And Walking
- 8 – Summary On Walking And Hiking Sandals
2 – Why Use Sandals For Hiking And Walking?
The benefits of wearing hiking sandals or walking sandals are:
2.1 – Ventilation
The open nature of hiking sandals means that your feet get more ventilation than hiking shoes and boots. Getting more air to your feet leads to the following benefits:
2.1.1 – Cool & Comfortable
The extra circulation around your exposed feet draws heat away from your feet and the evaporation of moisture (i.e. sweat) cools your feet. This in turn means your feet do not sweat and swell due to heat generation during walking.
2.1.2 – Quick drying
When you do actually get them wet, they are quicker drying than boot and shoes. Hiking sandals do not retain moisture as much as shoes and boots should you get them wet in rain, snow or when crossing water.
2.2 – Lightweight
As hiking sandals are made using less material than shoes and boots, they are lighter to wear.
2.3 – Reduced Toe Bruising
When using closed-toe footwear, your toes can press against the uppers of your footwear, or your toes can bump into the closed-toe when descending hills and mountains. These problems can be avoided when using open-toe hiking sandals.
3 – Why Not Use Sandals For Hiking And Walking?
Although the disadvantages of hiking sandals may seem greater than the benefits, most of them are either personal preferences or can be overcome:
3.1 – Less Foot Protection
Less protection around your feet naturally means there is a greater chance of your feet receiving a knock. If you are the kind of hiker that is used to bumping your feet on rocks, in the knowledge that your hiking boots will protect you, then, it could take a little time to get used to hiking sandals before observant hiking develops into a habit. Hikers that already wear hiking shoes will be practiced at avoiding bumping into rocks.
3.2 – Ingres Of Debris
Hiking Sandals are prone to picking up dirt, stones and vegetation. The seeds and stalks of vegetation like heather can get caught under your feet, as can scree also. It can be quite easy to remove debris from your hiking sandals and stones could be kicked out easily from open toed hiking sandals. In addition, your feet should quickly become hardened to irritations. On the other hand, removing seeds from your boot or shoes or taking off shoes or boots to clear out stones could be more time consuming.
3.3 – Sunburn
This is an unusual risk when wearing hiking sandals. If your feet do not regularly get exposed to the sun then they may burn quite quickly. Using sunscreen on your feet to protect against sunburn would be prudent.
3.4 – Dryness Of Feet
If the weather is dry, especially when on extended hikes, then there is a risk that your feet can dry out too much and start to crack. Use of a moisturiser or moisturising sunscreen can be used to help prevent such an occurrence.
3.5 – Feet Get Cold
Socks can be worn with hiking sandals on cold days to help keep your feet warm but bear in mind that they would soon get mucky and damaged.
3.6 – Feet Get Wet
On days when it’s raining or snowing you can wear waterproof socks like SealSkinz with your hiking sandals in order to keep your feet dry.
3.7 – Unpleasant Aroma
There is a chance that hiking sandals can become smelly, particularly after they’ve been wet for some time. Some hiking sandals have anti-microbial treatments. You can help minimise the smell by airing them in the sun. “Nikwax Sandal Wash” is simple to use and reasonably effective.
4 – Features of Sandals For Hiking And Walking
Hiking sandals, or walking sandals, can be quite complex products these days, so consider the following features before you purchase your next pair: uppers, tread sole, mid-sole, footbed sole, straps and arch support.
4.1 – Uppers
The uppers keep your hiking sandals connected to your feet and are therefore important to safety and comfort. There are two broad categories of material used for the uppers of hiking sandals:
- Synthetic – Synthetic uppers are fast drying but can get smelly. Synthetics can be either nylon or polypropylene etc. Synthetic straps need to be soft. A woven, tubular nylon is very sturdy, flexible and dries quickly. Of all the synthetics, nylon is best for rough and/or constant use, or use around water. Polypropylene is sometimes used but is not as soft as nylon and could also deteriorate in strong sunshine over a prolonged time. Polypropylene is often found on some cheaper hiking sandals.
- Leather – Leather uppers are slower drying but smell less. Leather can be either full grain, waterproof, suede, etc. Leather looks smarter and also more casual. Leather on its own can stretch so nylon may be used as a backing to the leather and helps the straps retain their shape. Waterproof leather is better as it does not absorb so much water when wet. Suede is frequently combined with other fabrics such as neoprene or mesh, as it is lightweight, flexible and comfy.
4.2 – Straps
Straps hold your feet in place and should not rub or irritate. Factors to consider are:
- Strapping System – The key to any strapping system is comfort and support. Quick fastening Velcro is great for achieving a tight fit and for allowing easy adjustment. The more adjustable the sandal has the better. The patented Universal Strapping System from Teva® is the most common, although there are other strapping systems available. The Teva® strapping system ensures your feet are secured with an athletic fit for outdoor performance. The system secures your feet via four connection points whilst at the same time being a comfortable open sandal.
- Strap Integrity – Ensure that the straps go all the way under the heel and under the fore-foot so that they cannot pull out of the sole when in use.
- Number Of Straps – It is recommended that you select hiking sandals that have at least two adjustable straps, one at the forefoot and one at the ankle. Three straps would be even better.
4.3 – Toe Type
The type of toe design available for hiking sandals comes in two general types:
- Open-Toe – Open-toe hiking sandals enable a high degree of foot ventilation to be achieved and the ability to be able to easily kick out debris from inside the sandal. However, protection from harming your feet is reduced due to its open design. If your hiking sandals have been designed with a deep footbed, have a raised lip and are also a secure fit, then your toes will have some degree of guard protection and this will help mitigate the danger of harm to your feet. However, always be aware that your toes are exposed.
- Closed-Toe – The closed-toe design of hiking sandals offer a greater degree of protection from harm compared to open-toe sandals. However, the ability to be able to kick out debris from the sandals is virtually non-existent. The extra protective material will retain the debris.
4.4 – Sole
The sole of a good hiking sandal should be made up of three sections:
4.4.1 – Tread Sole
Being the part of the hiking sandal which makes contact with the ground, it serves the following functions:
- Traction & Abrasion Resistance – The tread sole must provide a good level of traction on both wet and dry surfaces, and must resist abrasion enough so that it doesn’t wear out too quickly. The degree of resistance to abrasion is usually a trade-off with the level of traction. Soft soles normally provide good traction but wear out quickly. Hard soles usually offer less traction but last a longer time. On smooth and wet surfaces, the level of traction is determined by the rubber compound content in the sole. On uneven surfaces the pattern of the tread sole will aid traction.
- Shedding – The tread sole should be able to shed dirt and mud easily. The pattern, “lugs” or “cleats” of the tread sole will determine how good the sole is at shedding dirt and mud. On dry ground and loose stony areas, an aggressive tread should help you keep the feet positioned firmly.
Note: Teva® has developed a special compound called “Spider Rubber™” which provides you with outstanding traction in both wet and dry conditions, whilst at the same time giving you the longer life normally associated with harder soles that give lower traction levels.
4.4.2 – Mid-Sole
Mid-soles are often made from Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) and serve two functions: cushioning for the foot; and shock absorption. If the hiking sandal also has a dual density mid-sole, it can also help to ease the problem of pronation, which is a rotation of the foot that can lead to a number of foot problems.
The mid-sole may have a cut-out for a shock absorption plug of sorbothane-type material, a unique visco-elastic material that displays both liquid and solid properties.
The mid-sole may also have a shock absorbing heel pad, such as the “Shoc Pad” from Teva®, for dispersing heel impact energy throughout the foot and giving an extra spring in your step.
4.4.3 – Footbed Sole
The footbed is the surface your foot rests on and should be suitable in the following areas:
- Arch Support – The sole often has an arch shape that hugs the contours of your feet for comfort. Arch support is important as it assists the foot maintain the right shape on the sandal. This shape helps to keep the heel, ankle and lower leg in the correct alignment and hence reduce foot weariness and strain on the ankle and knees.
- Patterned Surface – A patterned surface helps prevent your feet sliding around inside the sandal, especially when wet.
- Odour Resistance – The perspiration and warmth from the foot provide a great climate in which bacteria can develop, which equates to smelly hiking sandals. Quality hiking sandals usually have a bacteria inhibitor in the footbed to lessen this predicament.
5 – Fitting Your Sandals
Your hiking sandals will only be right for you if they are comfortable, so follow these guidelines when trying on various hiking sandals:
5.1 – Heel Position
The heel of the foot should be centred over heel area of the sandal and it is best if there is about 1cm between the back of the heel and the back of the sandal as a protection buffer zone.
5.2 – Toe Clearance
It is a good idea if your longest toes are around 1 cm from the front of the sandal to provide a buffer zone to help protect your toes. Check the position of your toes once you are standing in the hiking sandals properly with weight on the hiking sandals.
5.3 – Tightening
Fasten up the front strap(s) first but not overly tight. If you place a forefinger between the top of your foot and the strap, and then tighten the fastener, you should have a comfy fit after you remove your finger. Next fasten the ankle strap using the same technique to ensure it is not overly tight.
5.4 – Feet Conditioning
If you have not worn hiking sandals for a while your feet may be soft. Allow several days for your feet to become accustomed to being in the fresh air again, and do not tighten your straps too much at first!
6 – Looking After Your Sandals
Look after your hiking sandals and they should look after you. Clean your sandals regularly as this optimizes their performance. The two major manufacturers of cleaning, conditioning and waterproofing products are NikWax and Granger’s.
For detailed information on cleaning hiking footwear, see our care instruction in our hiking boots guide. Take note of the following factors if you want to look after your hiking sandals:
6.1 – Cleaning
It is recommended that you clean your hiking sandals frequently. Allow dirt and mud to dry naturally and then brush it off. If need be, wipe with a clean damp cloth after dirt removal. Washing in a washing machine is not recommended as immersion and contact to detergents can attack both the stitches and the bonding materials.
6.2 – Drying
Drying is best done slowly with naturally circulating air at room temperature. Do not expose your hiking sandals to a direct heat source such as a radiator. Avoid high temperatures as this can damage the rubber compounds in the sole. Be careful not leave your hiking sandals too near to a strong heat source, including within your car in direct sunlight on hot days. You could use paper to stuff your hiking sandals whilst drying to aid moisture absorption and to help maintain the shape of your hiking sandals.
6.3 – Ion-mask
“Ion-mask” is a technology and not a waterproofing system. However, hiking sandals with this technology are great in water as they do not absorb water and as a result dry quicker, ensuring your feet remain lighter and cleaner for longer. With frequent use, the material surface can get clogged with dirt and would need cleaning to maintain functionality of the technology. If there is any dirt or liquids that don’t come off easily, then remove it by using a soft cloth that has been dampened with water. Dabbing the dirty area lightly should clean it. After cleaning, dry the hiking sandals completely in a warm, not too hot, area to regenerate its liquid repelling ability. Do not use alcohol or chemically based cleaners as they will hinder the ion-mask technology. Also, please don’t use a washing machine.
6.4 – Waterproof Treatment
With waterproof hiking sandals, the leather needs treatment regularly with waterproofing and conditioning sprays or creams. If you use your hiking sandals in wet climates, the leather will slowly lose its water resistant qualities. If leather remains untreated, it will gradually harden and crack.
6.5 – Material Linings
Most linings used in hiking sandals are made of comfy breathable material which need very little or zero maintenance. The moisture from your feet is absorbed by the lining which dries quickly owing to the linings ability to breathe.
6.6 – General Care
A few general points to note about the care of your hiking sandals are:
- Shape Of Sandals – To help maintain the shape and durability of your hiking sandals, make sure you undo your laces before takings your hiking sandals off.
- Waterproofing – Do not use too much leather waterproofing treatment to your hiking sandals, in particular, avoid the lacing hardware.
- Odours – Some hiking sandals use antibacterial treatments. If you want to prevent foot odours and bacterial build further, you can use deodorising and antibacterial powders and sprays that are available from many footwear outlets.
7 – Some Brands of Sandals For Hiking And Walking
Some famous name quality brands include Teva®, Keen, Merrell, Hi-Tec and Ecco. Although not a complete list, some other manufacturers to note include: Columbia, Patagonia, North Face, Timberland, Brasher and Chaco.
Many consider the brand leader in hiking sandals to be Teva® who have made many innovations, made a great deal of investment, and produced some of the best hiking sandals available. Many manufacturers will have a range of hiking sandals. Teva® hiking sandals include Teva women’s sandals and Teva mens sandals. Within the Teva womens hiking sandals range, there is the: Teva Womens Dozer and the Teva Womens Terra Fi. Take a look at all the manufacturers and decide for yourself which is best for you.
If you know of a brand that I should have included in the above list then contact me. If you do some research you will be able to find a brand that provides the features you need within your budget. You could try searching for hiking sandals on Google or another search engine or start by searching our hiking brands post to find out more about the various brands of hiking sandals. Or how about taking a look at our list of hiking sandal brands in our post entitled Best Hiking Sandals Brands.
8 – Summary On Walking And Hiking Sandals
When it comes time to purchase hiking sandals women have as good, if not better choice as men.
Whether it’s a pair of men’s hiking sandals or women’s hiking sandals, ask yourself why you want to buy hiking sandals and what kind of activity and environment you intend to wear them in.
Once you know the answers to these questions you will be able to choose hiking sandals appropriate to your needs.
A few tips on choosing hiking sandals are:
- Go for either nylon or leather straps;
- Look for good arch support for comfort;
- A cushioned mid-sole and a heel shock absorbing pad will improve comfort;
- Anti-pronation plugs in the mid-sole will help avoid foot problems; and
- The tread-sole should have a large and deep enough pattern to provide adequate traction on rough landscapes.
If you are going on extended hiking trips, that is backpacking or trekking, then consider the following:
- Take a closer look at the integrity and longevity of the sandal construction and choose hiking sandals with straps that pass completely through the sole and cannot therefore be pulled out suddenly – this would mean your hiking sandals are less likely to fail in a remote area of the world and therefore avoids a potentially serious situation;
- Make sure you choose a lightweight pair if you don’t wish to haul kilos of footwear around with you on your trip;
- Avoid leather or synthetic leather footbeds as they cannot withstand constant use over long periods of time – instead, take a pair of leather sandals, or thongs, for casual use.
Bear in mind, hiking sandals and hiking boots or shoes do not have to be mutually exclusive, that is, not an either or choice. Today’s lightweight hiking sandal designs mean you can quite easily strap them to the outside of your backpack so that you can quickly swap footwear when conditions improve, or for hiking through water.