Summer hikes call for summer hiking sandals: Your regular boots will be too hot, but lighter-weight workout shoes won’t always have the grip and technical chops you need to make it through wet and uneven ground. To find the best ones for both men and women, we spoke with a group of eight experts that includes trail guides, outdoor gear buyers, experienced hikers, and even one of the fastest women to ever hike the Appalachian Trail. They passed along their advice for what to buy — spoiler alert: Everyone really likes Chacos — and even some wool socks for anyone interested in a sporty socks-and-sandals look.
Best all-around hiking sandal
Chaco, the chunky, durable sandal company, was a near-unanimous favorite: Three people we spoke to said these specific ones are the best all-around hiking sandals. There were a few rationales: “I do not like bells and whistles — they usually cause blisters, fall apart, or just underperform,” says Matt Schonwald, a certified ski-mountaineering and avalanche guide and founder of BC Adventure Guides. The Chaco Z/1 Classic is made up of only eight components, including a strong sole and customizable straps. It’s about as simple as it gets.
Crucially, people also say Chacos feel the best. All models in the series have also earned seals of acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association for promoting foot health — the only sandals on this list to do so — and fans of the shoe agree: “I walked 1,200 miles in a single pair on the Pacific Crest Trail,” says Michael Hervey, a senior instructor with Outdoor Outreach, of his “bombproof” Chaco sandals. Photographer Erika Skogg, a National Geographic explorer, loves that they’re “incredibly weatherproof and seem to last forever, even after years of travel wear and tear.” They work just as well for casual hikers — walkers, really — like a friend of mine who immediately brought up Chaco when I told her I was writing about hiking sandals. “They repaired mine for free after I wore them out, during seven years of use, so I am a loyal customer now,” she said.
Plus, Chaco lets you design your own one-of-a-kind pair, so you can finally have the taco-printed, houndstooth, or Pac-Man-adorned sandals you always wanted.
Best for difficult terrain
The Chaco Z/2 has all the benefits of the Z/1, but with an added toe loop to keep your feet in place when trails turn rocky and treacherous. “I’ve hiked, camped, paddleboarded, biked, and basically lived in them over the summertime,” says Taylor McFarland, administrative assistant at the Sierra Club New Jersey chapter. McFarland has worn hers from hiking in the parks of Monmouth County to dancing at Mountain Jam, the annual music festival held at Hunter Mountain. Matt Smith, youth-programs manager at Outdoor Outreach, said his Z/2s are still going strong after a decade of more than 500 outings “from the jungles of Ecuador, the mountains of Yellowstone, the forest of Northern California, and the beaches of San Diego.”
Best for long hikes
Still more Chacos: Kelly Maggs, a merchandise manager for footwear at REI, prefers the Z/Cloud for its pillowy footbed, a necessity for arch support on long hikes. The Z/Cloud’s soft feel comes from an extra layer of polyurethane foam that adds cushioning without packing on weight. “I love the strap adjustments to customize the fit to my foot,” she said. “And the great grippy outsole so I stay upright when scrambling on rocks.”
Best hiking sandal-slash-flip-flop
Conor McElyea chooses products for Cairn, an outdoor gear subscription service, and to pick the first shoe to include in the box of goods, he sent samples of different brands’ sandals to adventurous friends. The Astral came out on top whether testers were hiking on mossy rocks, crossing rivers, or exploring Oregon’s early spring muddy coastline. “We wanted cross-functionality and broad appeal for hiking in the backcountry or walking around town,” he says. With some other hiking sandals, including the technically proficient but style-lacking Chacos, “a lot of people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them.” These have a more streamlined look. The strap that wraps behind and around the foot is removable, so the sandal can easily convert to a flip-flop.
Best hiking sandal with Velcro straps
Most experts agreed that their hiking sandals had to meet the high standards they set for their boots. Although Merrell and Chaco share the same parent company, Merrell’s expertise in hiking-boot technology informs this sandal’s design. Nicole Brown, founder of Women Who Hike, a community for female hikers with chapters organizing group hikes in all 50 states, Canada, Europe, and Australia, likes the Merrell All Out Blaze Web sandal because it features the same durable, slip-resistant Vibram sole found on many hiking boots by Merrell. Since it’s durable enough for any adventure, she recommended it as a “reliable hiking sandal for trails with stream crossings and waterfalls, and it’s great for hiking mixed terrain, including hikes with any rock scrambling.” Also, unlike the Chaco buckle closure, the Velcro straps on these sandals allow for easy on-and-off, and quick tightening or loosening on the go.
Best for very wet hikes
The braided cords on these Keens provide increased strength while maintaining a flexible hold on the foot. That means the sandal moves however you do — whether you’re wading through a riverbank or sidestepping on rocky parts of the trail. They’re secured by bungee lacing, so they won’t loosen or slip while hiking, and since the cords cover the entire foot, there’s little chance you’ll slip out, even in water. For water shoes, Matt Schonwald likes Keen’s McKenzie, and the Uneek offers all of the security of a shoe in a breathable, quick-drying sandal.
Best budget hiking sandal
Less than half the price of a pair of Chacos, the original Teva sandal is an affordable pick also featuring adjustable straps and a sole with lots of grip for traction on uneven terrain. Designed to get wet, they’ll be able to handle hikes that go from the trail to the river and back. A friend of mine who hikes a lot said, “The Chaco sole was a bit rigid for me; I actually prefer Tevas because they’re softer.”
Best socks to pair with hiking sandals
Wearing sandals over socks is so uncool to the extreme that it’s actually become cool again. When hikers do this, they go with wool socks under hiking sandals. Wool is naturally moisture-wicking and odor-resistant, so they’re actually a good match for active hikers and wet terrain. Erika Skogg said, “If it’s a cold summer morning in Alaska or Montana, I usually start the day with Chacos and thick wool socks because I know how quickly those mornings can transition into hot afternoons.” She loves these cozy, lightweight Darn Tough socks that she can throw in her pack when it warms up. They’re made in Vermont and come with a lifetime guarantee. Matt Schonwald agreed: “Any sock from Darn Tough will be the best socks you own.”
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