Hiking is a popular outdoor activity that involves walking long distances through natural environments like forests, mountains, and deserts. When preparing for a hike, having the right footwear is essential. Many hikers prefer boots for the ankle support and traction they provide on rough terrain. However, some hikers opt to wear sandals instead. So, is sandal good for hiking? There are pros and cons to consider.
The advantages of hiking in sandals
- Better ventilation - Sandals allow your feet to breathe better than closed-toe shoes like boots. This can help prevent hot spots, blisters, and fungal infections caused by sweaty feet in enclosed shoes. The open design allows air to circulate around your feet, keeping them cool and dry.
- Flexibility - Hiking sandals are designed to be flexible and mimic the natural movement of your feet. They allow your toes to spread out and grip the terrain underfoot. The flexible sole bends with your foot, reducing strain on feet, ankles, and knees compared to stiff-soled boots.
- Lightweight - Sandals are much lighter than boots, reducing the overall weight you have to carry on the trail. Less weight on your feet can help prevent fatigue over long distances.
- Water drainage - Sandals allow water to freely drain out if hiking in wet conditions. Boots can get waterlogged, making your feet wet, heavy, and prone to blisters. Proper drainage helps keep feet dry and comfortable.
- Quick drying - Related to drainage, sandals dry out quickly if they do get wet. The open design allows air flow to evaporate moisture faster than enclosed boots.
The disadvantages of hiking in sandals
- Lack of ankle support - Hiking boots provide more structure and stability for the ankles compared to sandals. This can help prevent rolling and spraining on uneven ground. Sandals provide little ankle support, increasing injury risk.
- Less traction - Sandals often have a smoother sole with less aggressive tread than hiking boots. This can make them more prone to slipping on certain terrain like mud, loose gravel, or steep inclines. Proper traction helps maintain stability.
- Exposure to elements - With so much of the foot exposed, sandals provide less protection from the sun, insects, thorns, rocks, cold temperatures, etc. Boots offer more coverage and barrier from trail hazards and conditions.
- Less cushioning - Hiking boots have thick, shock-absorbing midsoles to soften impact on feet and joints. Sandals have thinner, harder soles that can fatigue feet faster over long distances with heavy packs.
So in summary, sandals excel in ventilation, flexibility, weight, and water drainage compared to boots. But they come up short in ankle support, traction, exposure protection, and cushioning. Ultimately there are trade-offs with both options.
Who should wear hiking sandals?
Here are some tips on deciding if hiking sandals are right for your needs:
- Choose sandals for short hikes on relatively flat, dry, rocky terrain where ankle support isn't critical. Their flexibility and grip work well on rocks.
- Opt for sandals in hot, humid climates where ventilation to reduce sweat and moisture is a priority.
- Consider sandals for hiking in the water along rivers or beaches where drainage is important.
- Select sandals for lightweight backpacking trips where cutting weight is key and mileage is lower.
- Avoid sandals for cold weather hiking where insulation and protection are needed.
- Skip sandals for heavy backpack trips over long mileage where cushioning and support are vital.
- Don't choose sandals for off-trail hiking where ankle rolls are more likely. Stability is compromised.
Tips for hiking in sandals
If you do opt to hike in sandals, here are some tips to hike safely and comfortably:
- Choose sandals with sturdy straps that securely fasten over the tops and around the heels of feet to add stability.
- Look for sandals with lugged rubber soles for traction on different surfaces. Vibram is a popular brand.
- Break sandals in by wearing them on short walks before longer hikes to prevent blisters.
- Wear hiking socks, especially on multi-day hikes, to reduce friction, absorb sweat, and cushion feet.
- Apply moleskin or athletic tape to hot spots prone to blisters for prevention. Carry extra for reapplication.
- Consider adding an ankle brace or light hiker’s tape around the ankle for a bit more support if needed.
- Use trekking poles to improve stability and take pressure off feet and knees during descents.
- Be mindful of foot placement and avoid stepping on loose rocks or uneven ground where possible.
- Stop to re-tighten straps or adjust fit if feet start sliding around in sandals during the hike.
Popular hiking sandal brands
Some top hiking sandal brands to consider include:
Chaco - Known for its sturdy sole construction and highly adjustable strap system to customize fit. The zigzag design offers excellent traction.
Teva - Features a cushioned heel pad and shock absorbing midsole for comfort over miles. Versatile strapping configurations.
Keen - Designed with a secure heel capture system and protective toe bumper. Offers good underfoot protection.
Bedrock - Made with Vibram soles for grip and a minimalist design to maximize ground feel. Quick pull lacing.
Oboz - Lightweight with molded arch support, padded heel, and textured outsole for trail stability.
Merrell - Offers models with Vibram sole, air cushion heel, and breathable mesh lining for ventilation.
5 Frequently asked questions about hiking in sandals
1. Are hiking sandals safe for rocky terrain?
Hiking sandals can perform well on rocks with lugged rubber soles for grip and adjustable straps for a locked-in fit. Still, boots offer more ankle support and underfoot protection from bruising. Gauge the rock size and sharpness to determine if sandals suffice.
2. Should I wear socks with hiking sandals?
Yes, socks are recommended to wick moisture, prevent blisters from strap friction, and cushion feet inside sandals. Opt for thin hiking socks that don't restrict sandal straps or cause slipping.
3. Do hiking sandals provide enough arch support?
Some hiking sandal models do provide decent arch support from contoured, molded footbeds. Others are flat and minimal. Test sandals with orthotics to see if they accommodate added support. Or look for sandals promoting arch support.
4. Are sandals good for hiking in hot weather?
Yes, hiking sandals excel in hot weather since they offer maximum ventilation. Open air flow helps keep feet cool and dry compared to enclosed hiking boots that can get hot.
5. Should I treat hiking sandals with waterproofing spray?
You can use a waterproofing spray as added protection from moisture, but it may reduce breathability. Many hiking sandals are already fast-drying from designs that drain water out quickly. Assessing your hiking environment will determine if waterproofing is beneficial.
Hiking sandals have their pros and cons and are quite usable for certain conditions and distances, but likely not ideal for more demanding terrain. They offer ventilation and freedom of movement, while sacrificing some stability, traction, and protection compared to hiking boots. Consider your priorities like climate, mileage, weight, and trail difficulty when deciding between boots versus sandals. With proper precautions for grip and foot care, sandals can provide a lightweight and airy hiking option. Is sandal good for hiking? It depends on finding the right match between activity and footwear.