Our team of experts evaluated over 40 pairs of women's sandals before buying, testing, and rating some of the best 12 you can buy in 2019. From city blocks to trails and rocks, these sandals stayed on our feet for several months wherever we went. In our side-by-side tests, we set out to find which options best combine style, performance, and value. We looked at models that might replace your hiking shoes, options you can run in, and more delicate ones that can explore trails by day and still be paired with a dress at night. We've put dozens of hours and hundreds of miles into figuring out which choices are best for every foot and every activity.
The Best Women's Sandals of 2019
|Price||$105.00 at REI||$109.95 at MooseJaw|
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|$78.35 at Amazon|
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|$58.49 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Comfortable, versatile, lightweight, fits many foot types||Stable and supportive, stylish, durable||Comfortable, lightweight, fits many foot types||Support, style, durability||Comfortable, water performance, low bulk, versatile|
|Cons||Sizing is not women's specific||Annoying to adjust, uncomfortable for the flat-footed, heavy||Ankle strap rub, lacks support for long days||Annoying to adjust, comfort is not uniform for all users, can't be worn with socks||Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustment|
|Bottom Line||The Bedrock Cairn is a minimalist workhorse that can take on nearly anything.||A classic sandal, it's tough to go wrong with the Z/Cloud 2, no matter what you're planning.||A former overall favorite, the Tirra has almost everything, but an uncomfortable ankle strap knocked it from the top spot.||This sandal has serious street cred, and it lives up to the hype.||A tester favorite despite low expectations, the Clearwater is the Top Pick for adventure travel.|
|Rating Categories||Cairn Adventure||Chaco Z/Cloud 2||Teva Tirra||Chaco ZX/2||KEEN Clearwater CNX|
|Specs||Cairn Adventure||Chaco Z/Cloud 2||Teva Tirra||Chaco ZX/2||KEEN Clearwater CNX|
|Weight (pounds)||0.89 lbs (size 9)||1.44 lbs (size 9)||1.12 lbs (size 9)||1.59 lbs (size 9)||1 lbs (size 9)|
|Width options||Medium||Medium, Wide||Medium||Medium, Wide||Medium|
|Sole Material||Regolith Vibram||Non-marking ChacoGrip||Spider Original rubber||Non-marking ChacoGrip||Non-marking rubber|
Best Overall Women's Sandals
Bedrock Cairn Adventure
Throughout testing, one shoe continually demanded attention. The highest scorer in the test, 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. This competitor 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 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
The Tirra was one of the highest scoring products in our tests and can be found for moderate prices. It performed 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.
Read review: Teva Tirra
Top Pick for Distance Hikers
Chaco Z/Cloud 2
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
Top Pick for Adventure Travel
KEEN Clearwater CNX
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 steal the Top Pick for Adventure Travel from its clunkier cousin, the Newport H2. 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. But thanks to its comfort and coverage, this product can handle almost anything, making it the ideal choice for days or trips when you don't know what to expect.
Read review: Keen Clearwater CNX
Top Pick for Urban Travelers
Merrell Terran Ari Lattice
Most of the products we tested were great for outdoor recreation and also worked around town. This option from Merrell flips that script. Thanks to its silky-feeling, cushioned footbed, lightweight design, and streamlined adjustment system, this is a great city shoe and is a dream companion at the airport.
While it's great around town, the Terran Ari Lattice doesn't hold up in the wild outdoors. Its thin sole lacks stability, and the single adjustable strap leads to a poor fit that's far from desired for navigating technical terrain. If your travels have you seeing more dirt than pavement, you'd be happier leaving these at home. Urban travelers, on the other hand, will find this to be a comfortable option that offers more versatility than a less-durable, smooth-soled city sandal.
Read review: Merrell Terran Ari Lattice
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 two years.
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 those 12 were purchased and in hand, 3 months of testing in a variety of settings ensued. The sandals were disbursed 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 (except the Sketchers Reggae-Rasta) 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. To narrow down your specific needs, cruise over to our Buying Advice guide for comprehensive assistance.
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. 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.
In the chart below, we depict the relationship between overall performance and each product's suggested retail price. The closer a product is to the bottom-right quadrant, the higher overall value it presents.
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.
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.
The highest scorer in this category was our Top Pick for Urban Travelers, the Merrell Terran Ari Lattice. We found this model to be supremely comfortable right out of the box, and it stayed that way through weeks of abusive testing. While the Merrell has a cushioned footbed, its sole is relatively thin, and it's not designed for adventurous pursuits. Our Editors' Choice, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, and our Top Pick for Adventure Travel, the KEEN Clearwater, are more rugged than the Terran Ari Lattice and 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.
In the middle of the spectrum where both 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. 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 weakest performers here were the Sketchers Reggae-Rasta Thong and the ECCCO Yucatan. The Sketchers' footbed gave little support beneath the arch while simultaneously irritating the outside edge of the foot, and its straps were difficult to adjust. 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. As such, 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 wide range of terrain types.
Several models received high marks for stability, including the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, the KEEN Newport H2 and 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.
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 KEEN Newport H2 and Clearwater received high marks in this category for their supportive footbeds combined with round-the-foot strap attachments. Thanks to this design, these models performed the best on steep terrain when it came to shoe-foot integration.
The Teva Original and the Merrell Terran Ari Lattice both received low marks in this category. Both have floppy soles and straps that allowed for significant foot slip when on steep 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 and the Chaco Z/Cloud 2 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.
Following closely behind the leaders were the KEEN Newport H2 and 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. These models received lower marks because of their tendency to inspire insecurity on the steepest downhills.
The lowest scorer in this metric is the Sketchers Reggae-Rasta Thong. Nearly every tester found this model to have below-average traction, due in large part to its underwhelming sole design. Additionally, on steep uphills, the open-back design doesn't help.
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. 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.
Two models — the Chaco Z/Cloud 2 and 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.
Our Top Pick for Urban Travelers, the Merrell Terran Ari Lattice, is extremely easy to adjust, but that's because it has a single adjustment point, so there is no way to ensure a proper fit in the toe box. We love this model when ease of getting the shoe on and off trumps perfect fit, like when going through airport security. But for more technical applications, a more adjustable product is required.
At the bottom of the pile were all three KEEN models and the Sketchers Reggae-Rasta Thong. 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. The Reggae-Rasta has a disappointing single adjustment point that left most testers clenching their toes in an attempt to keep the shoe on when the going got rough.
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 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 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 our performance metrics, and they were low-profile enough to pair with skinny jeans or a skirt. The Chaco Z/Cloud 2 was not far behind but received a lower score because its bulk made it a bit harder to style than the Cairn Adventure and the Tirra.
Although some other models, like the KEEN Clearwater and Newport H2, performed exceptionally well across a variety of activities, they lacked the style points to cross over into town use.
Yes, judging looks is a subjective game. Most of us, however, don't choose footwear without regarding style, rendering it a key criterion to include. We recommend skimming through our photo gallery to form your own opinions about each shoe's style. One of our main considerations for this metric is a shoe's looks in the backcountry and around town. All-around style tended to score well in this metric because we don't want to need 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 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. The Merrell Terran Ari Lattice was also a popular, if polarizing, style choice. Its colorways are a little heinous, but some judges deemed it the most attractive product in our review, saying that it would work with a variety of outfits and would even fly in a casual office setting.
The KEEN Newport 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. Bringing up 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. You can check out the individual reviews for more photos of these models to decide if their style is right for you.
The footwear in this review is meant to securely strap to your feet 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!
— Shey Kiester and Joanna Trieger