It’s been a very long time since we reviewed any sandals. We remember reviewing a few models back in the first year of solereview’s existence. That was a crazy year when we reviewed everything from running shoes to Crocs to adidas Superstar sneakers. It was in 2008 but feels like yesterday.
If you think that the timing for this article is a bit odd, you’re half right. Some parts of the world – notably Western Europe and North America – are headed towards winter. When temperatures fall, what good is a sandal?
At the same time, many places never see a snowy winter. Also, with Australia being in the Southern Hemisphere, their summers begin in December and end in February. By now, you must have seen the video of Kangaroos hopping in the snow.
The winters in South and SE Asia rarely get severe – unless you’re living in the northern regions, that is.
So while residents in one part of the world prep their Gore-Tex hiking boots, people in other geographies are always sandal-ready.
Weather isn’t the only reason to wear sandals.
Besides being a style choice, sandals work better if you have wide feet or simply prefer the breezy openness. Some people use sandals as recuperative footwear. Open footwear is much easier on the feet than closed shoes if you’re recovering from a foot injury.
So what qualities should you look for in a sandal? We’d like to mention here that this guide doesn’t cover flip-flops and slides; that’s a category large enough to deserve its own.
Even after excluding flip-flops, sandals cover a diverse range of silhouettes and consumer needs. If you’re looking for comfortable casual-wear sandals, you’ll find brands like Birkenstock, Clarks and Ecco to be a good fit.
The outdoor sandal market is cornered by brands like Chaco, Keen, Merrell, and Teva. This sub-category offers the choice of protective open footwear for hiking or water-sports. Esoteric, one-off models like the UnderArmour Fat Tire Sandal also add value to the outdoor segment.
Then there are hybrid shoe-sandals which combine a sandal strapping system with a semi-closed upper. Models like the Timberland Altramount Fisherman sandal and the Keen Newport H2 target this market niche.
Regardless of the sub-category, the basic functional requirements are a non-brainer. A cushioned and supportive midsole is a must-have. Since sandals lack the secure upper fit of closed footwear, the midsole should provide most of the stability.
The overall stability level of a sandal depends on several factors. The footbed should be contoured to keep the foot from sliding off the edges. In the absence of an upper, the molding should include under-arch support. A wide and flat outsole geometry with excellent traction should also be a part of the design.
The ride needs to have the right balance between cushioning comfort and support – which means that the midsole foam needs to be firm. The geometry should have enough margin ahead of the toes to prevent sidewalk bumps.
Whether you need a roomy or narrow fit will depend on your foot shape. Nonetheless, the upper should not bite or use materials which stains fabrics.
We’ll split this buyer’s guide into three sandal groups – the black and browns, the all-round sports sandals, and the protective outdoor kind.
Black and brown casuals:
These 2-strap and Fisherman sandals are comfortable enough for all-day urban exploring. Pair them with your shorts and Khakis.
1) Birkenstock Arizona – soft footbed sandal
Of late, we’ve seen a quiet resurgence of the German sandal brand. The Arizona is Birkenstock’s most recognizable sandal and the originator of the anatomical footbed concept.
The two-strap upper comes in a variety of materials, ranging from soft suede to leather in oiled, patent, and metallic finishes. The simplicity of the upper requires no further adjustments after day one; once set, these become slippers.
The leather-lined Cork and Latex insole cups the foot and arch through its anatomical molding. The outsole is made of blown EVA foam which delivers another layer of closer-to-the-ground cushioning.
2) Teva Langdon Sandal
Sometimes a 2-strap sandal won’t cut it for you, and you need something with a more secure upper fit. At the same time, you don’t want to cross over to the sports-sandal side.
The Teva Langdon is a good middle-ground between an activewear sandal and casual leather aesthetics. A mesh and leather frame in a Fisherman style provides a secure lock-down without coming across as overly sporty.
There’s a foam footbed lined with a soft synthetic and an EVA midsole underneath. That makes the Langdon cushioned yet supportive; the full-contact rubber outsole cups the midsole for stability while being grippy at the same time.
3) Ecco Sport Yucatan Sandal
The Ecco Yucatan is another Fisherman style sandal which melds a tonal leather-based aesthetic with athletic footwear performance.
A two-point hook and loop closure makes the upper fit secure and adjustable at the same time. A neoprene mesh lining makes wearing all-day wearing comfortable. We’d like to point out that the forefoot strap isn’t a proper hook-and-loop closure – you can only make tiny fit adjustments there.
Ecco uses direct injection to make its outsoles, and the Yucatan Sandal is no different. A resilient Polyurethane midsole is directly injected over a durable rubber outsole. The PU foam delivers stable cushioning and the dual-density footbed enhances the step-in comfort.
4) Ecco X-Trinsic leather Sandal
Here’s another Ecco sandal, and a slightly more dressy one at that. The embossed, waxed leather straps give you the muted black-and-brown styling while the mesh-lined 3-point closure makes the upper fit active-wear worthy.
The underfoot comfort comes from the cushy anatomical footbed and the directly injected Ecco midsole. The flat profile of the rubber outsole is excellent for traction and stability.
Versatile sports sandals:
These sandals are suitable for light hikes, travel, and everyday use.
1) Teva Original Universal
You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of – or at least seen – the Teva Original sandal.
This sandal is a backpacker favorite due to its lightweight build, cushioned midsole, and a nylon strap system which folds flat, fits well, and is easy to clean.
2) Chaco Z Cloud
If you prefer a lightweight textile strap upper along with an anatomical and cushioned footbed, you should get yourself the Chacos Z Cloud. The molded midsole cups the arch for everyday support.
Underneath, a grippy and supportive rubber outsole creates a reassuringly planted feel.
3) Underarmour UA Fat Tire Sandal
The Fat Tire Sandal is a refreshing take on the nylon-strapped sandal concept. It features a three-point closure system but without the midfoot panel which defines the Fisherman style. This gives the UA upper a more open look without compromising on the upper fit and comfort.
All-day comfort is delivered by the full-length foam midsole which UA calls ‘Charged’ cushioning. Best-in-class traction is delivered by the knobby outsole made of Michelin’s OC rubber compound.
4) Teva Strata Universal
The Teva Strata comes shod with a Vibram Megagrip outsole configured with small lugs. As a result, the Strata is one of the grippiest sports sandals money can buy.
There’s plenty of comfort in the form of the padded straps and an anatomical footbed which supports the arch.
Protective Outdoor sandals:
The following half-shoe, half-sandal models offer a higher degree of protection over Fisherman and strap sandals. Wear them for outdoor use or simply to find that happy place between open and closed footwear.
1) Keen Newport H2 Sandal
The comfort and protection of a closed athletic shoe. The open-air construction of a sandal. The Keen Newport H2 has both in equal measure, and that’s what makes this semi-sandal so popular.
The signature Keen cap forms a protective shield over the toes; the hydrophobic foam lining backed straps wrap the foot securely without blocking ventilation. Lacing is quick and fuss-free thanks to the bungee cord lock.
There’s no separate insole. The anatomically molded midsole doubles as the base layer for step-in comfort. The flat geometry of the rubber outsole is supportive and provides adequate traction over urban and outdoor surfaces.
2) Keen Uneek Sandal
Though you see familiar bits and pieces like the bungee lacing and anatomical footbed from Keen’s playbook, that’s where the similarities end.
Soft, Polyester-Nylon composite cords allow the midsole to flex freely – thus creating an ‘Uneek’ ride, fit, and visual character. The inter-locking cords go directly inside the anatomical midsole without getting under the foot.
The end product produces an upper fit which is secure but feels uninhibited at the same time. That was on the top; cushioning the foot is a durable PU foam midsole with arch-support and an outsole with reliable traction.
3) Timberland Altamount closed-toe Fisherman Sandal
With the Timberland Altamount, we’re stretching the definition of a ‘sandal’ here. But if you look past the semantics, features like a quick-release hook and loop closure and the leather-strapped upper offer benefits which are similar to sandals.
You get a generous amount of ventilation with the stitch-down upper alongside a cushioned ride and rubber outsole with good traction. Unlike sandals though, this shoe comes with a removable insole so you have the option of replacing it with your own.