Best Overall Women's Sandals
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
: Polyester and nylon webbing | Weight
: 0.89 lbs
Combines minimal design with great feel
Adjusts to many foot types
Throughout testing, one shoe continually demanded attention. The highest scorer in our test and a standout in every metric, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure offers a unique style, employing a thong construction combined with an ankle strap. This design lends a surprising, barely-there feel, eliminating pressure points on the side of the foot and between the toes. This model also sports a hearty Vibram sole. Our testers have grown to love and trust Vibram rubber, so there was little hesitation when scurrying up and down steep slabs with a heavy pack while wearing the Cairn Adventure. Add in a comprehensive adjustment system, style points, and a lightweight feel that adds versatility, and this model is an easy pick for our Editors' Choice Award. The Cairn Adventure is a do-anything champ, and if you're looking for a companion on your way to the crag, beach, and bar, this is the shoe for you.
It was hard to find things to complain about in the Bedrock, but no sandal is perfect, so we'll give it a go: This model has a fairly thin, flexible sole, so if you're looking for a cushy pair of kicks with a ton of support, this ain't it. You also can't wear socks with these due to the thong-style toe strap. If you can get over those two issues, you'll love this shoe.
Read review: Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Best Bang for Your Buck
: Synthetic and polyester webbing | Weight
: 1.12 lbs
Soft and comfy footbed
Stylish and fits many foot types
Ankle strap can cause discomfort over time
Not the best for long days on foot
The Tirra is one of the highest scoring products in our tests and can be found for moderate prices. It performs well across the board and is relatively lightweight. It can handle almost any terrain and is one of the more stylish Teva options. A three-point adjustment system allows you to tighten the Tirra as needed when you're cruising the beach or trails, and the contoured sole provides the right amount of traction for short off-trail forays. If you're looking for a value option that can handle light-duty adventure, the Tirra is your best bet.
The ankle strap did cause discomfort among some testers, and these shoes have a fairly stiff sole that may not be the most comfortable for all wearers. It's also not as technical as our Editors' Choice winner.
Read review: Teva Tirra
Best for Distance Hikers
Chaco Z/Cloud 2
: Polyester jacquard webbing | Weight
: 1.44 lbs
Not comfortable for all feet
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 scored near the top of the charts across the board, but its durability and comfort earned it our Top Pick for Distance Hikers. This model features one of the best traction performances in our review, combining underfoot traction with foot-to-shoe interaction that allowed testers to feel comfortable and secure no matter the terrain. With a comprehensive adjustment system that can hug each area of the foot, this product was a favorite. We love that its toe strap provides extra support on the trail, but could be folded down as needed to accommodate socks. Score.
Though we love them, Chacos don't work for everyone. Their footbed is sculpted and doesn't break in much, so if you have flat feet, these are not likely to ever feel comfortable. The adjustment system is tricky to figure out at first, and it's not conducive to quick readjustment when you need it. These also aren't the lightest options we tested, though we felt that their extra heft lent stability during long days on the trail.
Read review: Chaco Z/Cloud 2
Best for Camp Sandals
Xero Z-Trail - Women's
: Polyester webbing | Weight
: 0.64 lbs
Very low weight
Easily slips into a weekend pack
Slick footbed when wet
The super lightweight Xero Z-Trail impressed us with its comfortable materials, stylish design, and performance. While we wouldn't recommend this as a primary hiking shoe, it's a great option for light hikes, and it transitions from trail to town with ease thanks to its sleek, non-technical look. This is also among the lightest sandals we've ever worn, so it's easy to tote just about anywhere. This is why we named this model our Top Pick for Camp Sandals — this is the perfect option to tuck into your pack and slip on at the end of a long day on the trail.
The lightweight, minimalist design of the Z-Trail means that these sandals won't offer the cushioning or support of the bulkier sandals in our review, so if you're not into the barefoot feel, these probably aren't for you when logging lots of miles. We also found the footbed to be slippery, especially when wet, so we don't recommend these as a primary river shoe.
Read review: Xero Z-Trail
Best for Adventure Travel
KEEN Clearwater CNX
: Washable polyester webbing | Weight
: 1 lb
Great water performance
Does not fit wide feet well
Cannot adjust ankle strap
KEEN has long been a purveyor of sturdy footwear options that score high in versatility despite their bulky profiles. The KEEN Clearwater upholds the brand's standard for adaptability while bucking the trend for bulk, and its sleek footprint helped it snag our Top Pick for Adventure Travel. The Clearwater is capable of taking up minimal space in your carry-on, and it provides near-full coverage, making it a versatile option for rugged terrain. The footbed manages to achieve a comfortable level of squish while remaining supportive enough for all-day use.
Our one gripe was the Clearwater's lack of heel adjustment, which made quick on-and-off and use with heavy socks difficult. Some testers also found this model, shall we say, stylistically challenged, but since style is subjective, you should see the photos in our review and decide for yourself.
Read review: Keen Clearwater CNX
Our lead tester checking out how the Xero Z-Trail, our Top Pick for Camp Sandals, handle hiking with a heavy pack.
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by expert duo Shey Kiester and Joanna Trieger. Shey has tested over 50 paddle boards for OutdoorGearLab to date and enthusiastically trades water for land-based testing in this review. An accomplished alpine climber and writer, Shey holds a degree in creative writing and English rhetoric from the University of Alaska, and has written for Alpinist, American Alpine Journal, and Backpacker, among others. Forming the other half of the team is Joanna, who uses her home base of Reno, Nevada as base of operations for various Sierra Nevada excursions. On work days, you can find her bike commuting, which she has done without exception for the past four years. Joanna travels nearly 4,000 miles per year under her own steam, and her preferred type of footwear is — you guessed it — the sandal.
Reviewing women's sandals began with no shortage of market research. Starting with over 40 pairs up for consideration, the team down-selected from that to the best 12 models available. Once all models were purchased and in hand, three months of testing in a variety of settings ensued. The sandals were dispatched to several testers who wore them in wet conditions, dry ones, with packs, and around town. It shook out to about 70% of testing taking place on hiking trails. After gathering our findings, we are pleased to share this comprehensive review, which we think is a great tool if you're in the market for women's sandals.
Related: How We Tested Sandals for Women
Analysis and Test Results
Adventure sandals are unique footwear that attempts to cover the large gray area between a flip-flop and hiking shoe. This category offers more performance (and maybe a little less fashion) than a flip-flop while maintaining more breathability (and in some cases more versatility) than a hiking shoe.
Related: Buying Advice for Sandals for Women
All of the products in this review strap securely to your foot and sport patterned soles, making them versatile enough for off-trail forays. Within our review, we identify the models that are best for specific activities, like water sports, hiking, and travel. All the models here are top performers, and their scores in each of our metrics represent how they fared in comparison to one another. Below, you'll find in-depth explanations of the different designs reviewed and how we tested for each parameter.
It is important to keep in mind that the more expensive models in this review are some of the most durable. Although the Chaco models were among the most expensive we tested, these shoes have proven to be built to last. If you expect to put in a lot of time in your shoes and anticipate rough-and-tumble activities that will test your footwear's durability, the Chacos are worth it. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, is also a pricey option that's worth splashing out for. Our lead tester has now been wearing the Cairn Adventure near-daily for more than a year, and it's showing virtually no wear-and-tear. That said, the Best Buy-winning Teva Tirra offers acceptable durability and at a list price that is significantly less than the Bedrock or Chaco models.
If your shoes are uncomfortable, you're less likely to wear them. Because of this, comfort was one of our most important metrics and was worth 20% of products' overall scores. We rated the options based on how long they took to break in and whether there were any lingering points of discomfort after the break-in period. We analyzed how the materials of the footbed and straps felt against our skin and tested for comfort on smooth and rough terrain, with wet feet, while wearing a heavy pack, and while walking up and down steep trails. Some models performed well in one area and poorly in another, while our highest scoring models performed well across the board.
Keep in mind that, to an extent, comfort is subjective. Where applicable, we have noted whether or not a shoe's comfort was affected by the foot shape of the tester, and we indicated which foot types were likely to work with which models.
Although we tried to be as objective as possible with our comfort ratings, this metric is dependent on what kind of activities you plan to participate in while wearing your shoes. If you intend to wear your shoe during long stints on the trail under a heavy pack, seek out a model with excellent support and traction. On the other hand, if you're looking for an exceptional travel shoe that is lightweight and breathable, look for options with slim profiles and comfortable straps.
Our Editors' Choice, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, and our Top Pick for Adventure Travel, the KEEN Clearwater, both took home high scores for comfort. The Cairn Adventure's barely-there feel helped it achieve its high score, while the Clearwater's close fit and supportive-yet-supple footbed earned it top marks.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure is one of the most comfortable models we tested. Its wide straps with multiple adjustment points give them a barely-there feel, and even our high-arched testers found the zero-drop footbed comfortable.
The Xero Z-Trail is the most minimalist product in our review, so its comfort isn't based in its cushioning. The Z-Trail's materials feel great against the skin, and this model felt broken-in almost instantly. We especially liked slipping these on after a long day of hiking, running, or skiing, since they're extremely lightweight and don't pinch the feet. This is one reason why this model earned our Top Pick for Camp Sandals. Note, though, that this model is not at all cushioned, which is why it didn't score top marks in this category.
The Xero Z-Trail is our Top Pick for Camp Sandals because slipping them on after a long day feels so great. Here, our tester relaxes after swapping her trail running shoes for the Z-Trail.
In the middle of the spectrum where the Chaco models and the Teva Tirra. Chaco's offerings were incredibly supportive, and the comprehensive (although complicated) adjustments allow for round-the-foot support. However, because of a raised footbed that proves uncomfortable for flat-footed users and a hearty sole that takes time to break in, both models lost points. Chaco's newest offering, the Z/Volv X2, has slightly lower-profile footbed molding, making this a better choice for those with low arches. The Tirra's three-point adjustment system and squishy footbed lent comfort. But because of a floppy toe and low ankle strap that caused an annoying hot spot, the Tirra lost points.
The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is Chaco's attempt to pare down its classically chunky sandals. The Z/Volv X2 is made of a PU compound that the company says is 20% lighter than their classic sandals, and that we measured to be about 15% lighter than the Z/Cloud 2. The footbed is also less contoured, which may satisfy the complaints of those with flat feet. We tested the Z/Volv X2 and the Z/Cloud 2 side-by-side and were barely able to detect these differences, but they are there, so if you've been avoiding Chacos because their weight and molded footbed make them uncomfortable to you, you might be happier with the Z/Volv X2.
The weakest performers here is the ECCCO Yucatan. The ECCO's sole was rigid, and the closed, non-breathable design of the shoe made our feet sweat.
Stability is what sets most sandals apart from most flip-flops. Since feeling stable while hiking, especially with a pack on, is essential, this metric was worth 20% of a product's overall score. To perform well, contestants need to feel stable and secure in nearly all outdoor settings as well as during long days of city walking. Sufficient arch support, a solid sole (that was minimal enough to feel light but not so flimsy that it felt insubstantial), and well-fitting straps contributed to this metric. Each model's Stability score is a collective assessment of performance across a range of terrain.
The Cairn Adventure's thong-style strap keeps our feet from sliding forward, giving us a sense of stability even on steep, uneven terrain.
Several models received high marks for stability, including the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, the KEEN Clearwater, and the Chaco models. All of these products had durable soles that allowed for quick movement across rugged terrain. Additionally, their strap systems eliminated concerns that they would slip on steep terrain. For users looking for a more minimal sole with less support, allowing for more feel, the Cairn Adventure is an excellent choice. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chaco models offer thick soles and maximum support. The Xero Z-Trail has the most flexible sole in our review and doesn't offer footbed molding or support, so it lost points here, but we still felt that its straps held our feet in place well enough for light hiking without a pack.
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 (left) and the Bedrock Cairn (right) both provide impressive stability, but their approach couldn't be more different. The Chaco has a thick, supportive sole, while the Bedrock's sole is more flexible and nimble.
When hiking with a heavy pack, we found that models with thicker soles helped us better handle the added weight over rough terrain. We felt most stable in the Chaco Z/Cloud 2 while carrying a loaded backpacking pack.
The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 kept us comfortable, even when carrying backpacking weight. However, those with low arches may find that this shoe doesn't conform to their foot.
The Clearwater received high marks in this category for its supportive footbed combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. Thanks to this design, it performed the best on steep terrain when it came to shoe-foot integration. Unfortunately, the KEEN Whisper lost points here because its exceptionally wide footbed and ineffective heel strap allowed our feet to slosh around, leading to a feeling of instability. Those with wider feet may not experience this problem as badly with the Whisper, but the heel strap is not enough to stop a foot of any width from sliding back.
Two of the KEEN models — the Whisper, and the Clearwater — come with the classic KEEN Foot Bumper, a bulbous rubber add-on to the front of the shoe that provides unrivaled toe protection.
The classic KEEN foot bumpers, shown here on the Whisper (left) and the Clearwater (right).
The Teva Original Universal received low marks in this category. This model has a floppy sole and straps that allowed for significant foot slip when on steep terrain.
This floppy sole is lightweight and grippy, but it doesn't lend stability while tackling rough terrain.
With the common trend of slapping sticky rubber (like that found on modern approach shoes) and Vibram soles on the bottom of outdoor footwear, shoe traction has significantly improved. Traction is a major selling point for shoe manufacturers, so we are naturally curious how well each pair gained purchase on varying surfaces. Our testers scrambled slick granite from Yosemite to Donner Summit to Bishop. Each product was subjected to a slip test while carrying a heavy pack and in wet conditions. We also evaluated the traction between the bottom of the foot and the footbed, which is a big factor in how grippy you'll feel over uneven surfaces. The highest performers inspired enough confidence for quick travel even over steep, slick terrain. This score was worth 20% of the total.
The Bedrock Cairn Adventure, the Chaco Z/Cloud 2, and the Chaco Z/Volv X2 snagged the highest traction scores. The Cairn Adventure was a go-to on steep approaches thanks to the trusty rubber and large lug design of its sole. It missed out on scoring a perfect ten because testers found that on steep downhills, the thong design gave the feeling that their foot could slip from the shoe (although it never did). The Z/Cloud 2 provides outstanding traction even when traveling with a heavy pack, and we found its footbed to have even better traction than that of the Cairn Adventure. The same goes for the Z/Volv X2 — try as we might, we couldn't find a difference in traction performance between these two Chaco models.
The Cairn Adventure's Vibram sole provides great traction on granite, and its textured footbed grips the foot well.
Following closely behind the leaders is the KEEN Clearwater. KEEN's proprietary rubber is up to most tasks, handling loose pebbles on steep terrain well while traveling both up- and downhill. This model received lower marks because of its tendency to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills.
This metric is based on the number of adjustment points sported on each model, how easy they were to adjust, and how well they conformed the product to the foot. This metric spread out the competition across the board, as the adjustment methods varied from model to model. This metric was worth 20% of the overall score.
Both the Bedrock Cairn Adventure and the Teva Tirra received top adjustability scores. The Cairn Adventure employs a unique combo of a Velcro ankle strap and a sliding top strap, as well as a high hook for even more adjustment. All of these combined to give a considerable amount of adjustment potential, and testers were able to lock in the best fit quickly. Once that fit was locked in, adjusting the Cairn Adventure to take it on and off and loosen or tighten it for different applications was a cinch. The Tirra's three-point adjustment system provided a superior fit in the toe while giving classic ankle-strap adjustability. While these methods are vastly different, they both performed above the rest of the pack.
The Xero Z-Trail (left) and the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (right) are both minimalist sandals, but they have very different adjustment systems. The Z-Trail's strap criss-crosses the foot and can be adjusted at several points, while the Cairn has a thong-style strap with two side branches that can be adjusted. Both sandals have a Velcro heel strap.
The three Chaco models — the Z/Cloud 2, the Z/Volv X2, and the ZX/2 — have continuous straps that flow in and out of the shoe's sole and over the foot. These models are supremely adjustable so that you can get just the right fit. However, making adjustments is time-consuming, and since adjusting one strap means adjusting them all, quick tweaks are out of the question. It also takes time to get the hang of adjusting these, so plan to spend some quality time getting your Chacos just right before you hit the trail.
The famous flow-through webbing of the Chaco models, shown here with the Chaco Z/Volv X2. This system enables the wearer to get a perfect fit, but it takes some time to get the hang of.
The Xero Z-Trail is intuitive and easy to adjust, and we appreciated being able to tighten one of its straps without having to batten down everything. However, this model's heel strap is short, which could be an issue for those with wide feet.
At the bottom of the pile were all three KEEN models. The KEEN offerings include a simple pull-to-tighten feature at the top of the foot that attempts to mimic a shoelace design. However, this system doesn't allow for micro adjustments to the toe box, and without an adjustment for the ankle, it's difficult to dial in the fit. Most frustrating of all, the KEEN Whisper's heel strap is not adjustable and is far too loose, allowing our testers' heels to slide off the back of the sandal.
The KEEN Whisper's heel strap is too loose to keep the foot in place, so our heels slid back off the footbed.
Sandals are often pushed to their limit on the hiking trail and then, on the same day, taken out on the town paired with a summer dress. This requires them to be nimble and flattering enough for social events while still maintaining a high level of support and traction for a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Models that scored the highest in this metric took on everything from water sports to steep, loose trails, and then easily transitioned to the bar patio or a backyard barbecue. This metric accounted for 10% of a product's overall score.
Both the Bedrock Cairn Adventure and the Teva Tirra took home the top scores in this metric. These models received high scores in the rest of our performance metrics, and they were low-profile enough to pair with skinny jeans or a skirt. The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 and the Chaco Z/Volv X2 were not far behind but their bulk made them a bit harder to style than the Cairn Adventure and the Tirra. Conversely, the Xero Z-Trail is not up to the rugged backcountry use of the Chaco, but it's super stylish, so it transitions easy from light outdoor pursuits to wearing around town.
The Chaco Z/Volv X2 is a great option for cycling around town as well as for long treks in the wilderness.
Although some other models we've tested, like the KEEN Clearwater, performed exceptionally well across a variety of activities, they lacked the style points to cross over into town use.
The KEEN models perform well for rugged use, but they're tough to transition to town because of their bulk and their geeky style.
Yes, judging looks is a subjective game. Most of us, however, don't choose footwear without regarding style, so we felt we needed to include this criterion to comprehensively evaluate our test group. Since everyone's sense of style is different, we recommend skimming through the photos to form your own opinions about each sandal's style. To evaluate this metric, we considered how each sandal looks in the backcountry and around town. All-around style tended to score well in this metric because we don't want to have to change shoes between the hike and the watering hole. This metric accounted for 10% of each product's overall score.
The sandals that best bridged the backcountry/city gap were the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, the Xero Z-Trail, and the Chaco models. When we surveyed family and friends to ask which options they found to be the most stylish, these were the top scorers. All of these were low-profile, with both neutral and more flashy color options. They look at home both in the mountains and on city streets.
Be your own judge of style. Which do you prefer?
The KEEN Whisper and KEEN Uneek were among the least stylish of the bunch. Our testers agreed that these models were clunky and awkward to pair with a sleek outfit. When we surveyed friends and family and asked them to rank the style of each sandal from 1 (ugly) to 10 (super stylish), some respondents tried to give the Whisper a zero, which is why it scored so low in this category. Joining the Whisper at the rear of the pack was the ECCO Yucatan. While this model has its fair share of fans, we found ourselves ducking into alleyways to avoid friends while wearing it around town.
Summer is calling! Grab some great sandals so you can get out there and enjoy it.
The footwear in this review is meant to walk the line between casual flip-flop and serious hiking shoe. For the most part, these models strap to your feet more securely than a flip-flop while allowing for more ventilation and water use than a hiking shoe. Perfect for the summer and even shoulder seasons, a great pair of sandals can accompany you on hikes, in the water, and around town. Our review is here to help you evaluate the different models available so you can find the pair that will best fit your lifestyle, feet, and wallet. Get your feet in the pair that's right for you, and we'll see you on the trails!