Combing the Sands for the Best Flip-Flop Sandals
With so many flip-flops on the market, it's hard to decide which path to take. Fear not! We researched 36 popular models then purchased the best 7 for multipurpose use. We wore them just about everywhere, from mountains to cafes to beaches, sometimes walking miles at a time and pushing our feet to their limits, to find out which ones were top notch and which ones were flops. We wrote this review for people who want to live in their flip-flops all season, or (if you're lucky enough), all year long. Whether you're looking for crag shoes or casual wear, or just the perfect pair to don on your future adventures, urban or rural, coffee shop or creekside, we've got your back - read on!
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated April 2017
Ready to let our toes air out for the summer, we updated this review with new versions of our award-winning flip-flops. The Sanuk Yogi 3 has been updated to the Sanuk Yogi 4, and both of our other award winners have seen new colorways added and/or updates to materials. We added charts and rating tables to our reviews to help you get an idea of each flip-flop's ranking in our scoring metrics.
Best Overall Flip-Flop Sandal
OluKai Ohana Sandal
No questions asked: our favorite flip-flop in the review was hands down the OluKai Ohana. Not only is this flip supportive, comfortable, and durable, but it offers excellent traction and is stylish to boot. At $65, it is the most expensive flip in our review, but these puppies should last you for years. We expect that the updated toe post webbing material, which we outlined in the Ohana's review page, will only add to its durability.
Great arch support
Smooth and comfortable footbed and straps
A bit stiff/bulky
Read full review: OluKai Ohana Sandal
Best Bang for the Buck
The Best Buy award goes to the Reef Phantoms which cost $34 (MSRP) and score well in every category considered. The Phantoms are well constructed, comfortable and fit nice and snug to your feet. These sandals are very durable, and although a bit thinner than some of their competitors, they had almost no reports of breaking or wearing out in a short amount of time. They are simple and stylish and offer an exceptional overall value for anyone that desires savings over a little extra comfort or functionality. The Phantoms are now available in a variety of new colors just in time for summer.
Read full review: Reef Phantoms
Top Pick for Overall Comfort
Sanuk Yogi 4 Sandal
We understand that your eyes may have glossed over with all of this talk of hiking or river walking in flip flops. We get it, and to respect those who prefer specialized equipment for specialized activity we award the Sanuk Yogi 4 Sandal the Top Pick Award for overall comfort. When wearing the Sanuk you are walking on an actual Yoga mat. The surface adjusts nicely to your feet: memory foam meets sandal. These flips are incredibly soft and squishy, and they were the ones we reached for on the lazy days, as well as the ones that we wore when our feet could simply not take another day of pounding. They are so squishy you can't really do much intense activity in themů which is exactly the point.
No arch support
Foams and absorbs water when wet
Read full review: Sanuk Yogi 4 Sandal
Analysis and Test Results
Thoreau said "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." While we're not here to judge where your heaven is, we do know that having the right pair under your feet is absolutely essential to enjoying yourself in everything you do - or at least everything you do while wearing them. Wikipedia defines flip-flops as "a simple type of footwear in which there is a band between the biggest toe and the other toes." We think of the flip flop as a subcategory of sandals - so a flip flop is a type of sandal, but not all sandals are flip flops. Sticking with this definition we recommend that anyone looking for a secure around the foot hiking or outdoor sandal check out our Sandal Review.
Types of Flip Flops
From this more specific definition of flip-flops it is worth pointing out that there are still quite a variety of styles available on the market. Some are designed for wearing around the house or to the beach, for slipping on and off easily, for maximum comfort, for athletic use, for dressier occasions, for decorative purposes, etc There are literally thousands of different options, so for the purpose of our review we look at the best all around multi-purpose models that are reasonably priced ($30-$70), well designed, comfortable, stable for a more adventurous lifestyle, and durable enough to last more than a month at the beach.
The products we tested are made of polyurethane, nylon, rubber, plastic, leather and a variety of other materials, and are designed for strength, comfort, fit, and traction. While some focus a little more on style and others on durability or traction, in general all of the products we reviewed were selected because they met the range of needs that an outdoor enthusiast would encounter, while still providing exceptional footwear for that epic adventure to meet the girl of your dreams at the local coffee shop.
Criteria for Evaluation
We assessed each pair based on their comfort and fit, stability, style, durability and traction. The chart below shows where each sandal ranked in cumulative score, from highest to lowest.
Comfort / Fit
30%, or almost 1/3 of our rating criteria is weighted toward overall comfort and fit, both initially and after months of wear. We are heavily influenced by extra plush soft material such as the velvety feel of the Olukai Ohana Sandal and the soft squishy yoga mat feel of the Sanuk Yogi 3 Sandal. In addition to softness we also look at how well the sole molds to your foot over time. We like strong arches, but actually devalue one flop (the Reef Fanning Sandal) as the basketball style heel airbag, a bit of overkill in our opinion, makes our heel sit a bit higher than desired. Out of the box, we wore each pair, and nothing else (except climbing shoes as necessary) for two weeks straight to test them in all types of activity. During these tests, we noticed that the Rainbow Premier Leather Sandal wore through our skin from rubbing on the hard plastic and leather. Over time the Rainbows broke in and this problem went away.
We feel that all of the flops reviewed fit pretty snug initially; however reading user comments on the web we recognize that sizing can be an issue for some. Based on the feedback we gathered from multiple sources, we found that the Ohanas ran pretty true to size, the Fannings ran a little big and have the tendency to stretch out, the Phantoms are sized a bit on the tight side which is actually nice as they stretch to fit your feet well, and the Rainbows are true to size and do not fit a wide foot very well.
From the standpoint of comfort and fit the Sanuks receive a perfect score and the Ohanas score exceptionally well across the board. When you first put your foot into each of these, you will know what we are talking about. The Sanuks are simply exceptionally comfortable, preferable in some cases to those bunny slippers you don't want to be caught dead wearing. The website for the Ohana's describes why they are so comfortable, boasting a few impressive acronyms and seeming to relish the "vegan-friendly" nature of this product. I must admit that while not knowing what most of it means we believe them and are happy to pay the higher price for their comfort alone. And the beautiful part is that the soft material is everywhere: under your feet, on the underside of the straps, and even in the synthetic leather toe strap.
Stability / Versatility
In our review, we look for a versatile, stable flip flop, not something you only wear around the house or walk to the beach in. Having San Diego roots, we understand the idea of literally living in these shoes, and we wanted to reward products that don't limit your movement or create a dangerous situation should you decide to go scrambling through rivers or using them for climbing approaches. We test them above and under water, with and without socks, on a variety of surfaces, and, well, I think you get the idea.
We must admit we picked some great flops to test because all of those tested performed extremely well in this category. The Chaco Flip EcoTread performs exceptionally well in wet conditions and has straps that never stretch out creating a loss in stability.
For dryer conditions, we are very pleased by the stability of the Reef Fannings. Before these stretched out we felt we could hike and rock scramble through anything in them. Unfortunately after a month or so the strap loosened a bit and as a result a sudden sideways movement turned into a rolled ankle making us trust in these a little less than before.
Our overall winner in the category of stability and versatility is the OluKai Ohana (I'm sure you can guess which pair will end up winning our Editors' Choice Award). They fit snug, stay centered on our feet even when jogging or running, are extremely functional wet and dry, and perform just as well at the beach as they do in the mountains. They are also stylish enough to wear out to dinner (we'll get into that in a second). One drawback is that the ultra-comfortable material has the tendency to hold odors, so after pushing the limits of these sandals in strenuous and sometimes sweaty tests we find that they get a bit stinkier than their competitors.
A decent pair can last anywhere from 6 months to 3 years, depending on how they are used and their overall quality. During my seven years living in San Diego and wearing essentially nothing but flip flops I have broken the toe strap and in some rare situations worn completely through the sole of many, many pairs. For this review we do not have the luxury of wearing each pair for years to see where and when they wear out, so we utilize the vast knowledge base of peer reviewers out there and combine this feedback with some hard core flip-flopping action where we push the pairs we have in the time we have them as hard and as far as we can.
We find very few comments that complain about any of these pairs breaking in less than six months or wearing out very quickly. In over six months of testing we have experienced almost no wear and tear in any of the flips flops reviewed, with the exception of some stretching in the strap. The OluKai Ohanas, the Sanuk Yogi 4, and the Reef Phantoms have the thinnest soles, especially in the area that typically wears out, making us believe these will wear a hole in the sole before the others — but mind you, this is just speculation. We know Rainbows last forever, and have spoken with many people who are wearing theirs after five or more years. The Chacos get exceptional reviews in the category of durability and we can see from the material thus far that they seem all but indestructible.
We are not fashion police, and in this particular author's opinion, I am not very fashionable at all, so in general we try to avoid rating a product on how it looks or how it is perceived by the public. However, in this case, we recognize that style and peer perception may in fact be more important to some people than other features or performance characteristics. We therefore give a 10% weight to style and hope you take everything stated with respect to style with a grain of salt; and please feel free to comment on your personal opinion of style including how this author potentially has none.
Listening to my friends on this one (we polled about 30 people for general opinion on style), the clear winner in style is the Rainbows. Being an engineer I of course asked several people why, and the best answer I got is that they really like the rainbow tag on top. I suppose that and the simplicity of them, the fact that they don't have embellished logos or weird features and designs on the side, make them stylish to some. Also, I think people like them because they are leather and look a bit higher quality than the others. The OluKai, Reef Phantoms and Reef Fannings all come in second, although I personally like the OluKai pair I tested in black. Why? I guess because they are pretty simple. In this respect, the Chacos and the Sanuks didn't do very well from the perspective of style because they look pretty cheap and have patterns on them that rub some people the wrong way.
You might not think traction is important, but even if you are not hiking, running, or playing adventurer in your new jandals, you will appreciate good traction. The difference in traction from the most grippy pair we test (the Ohanas) to the smooth bottomed Rainbows can mean lots of wasted energy as your feet can literally slip off the pedals of your bike or cause some serious bumps and bruises resulting from a simple misstep in wet conditions. While we do not put a heavy weight on traction, it is worth mentioning that good traction directly corresponds with good stability and versatility in a shoe.
Resting on an angled board, the Ohanas offer the most grip. In our bouldering test (seeing how far up a sloping boulder we can walk in each pair) the Ohanas outperform the rest. When simply running your hand across the bottom of each pair of flops, the Ohanas clearly offer the most traction. Even in wet conditions, the Ohanas still do the best.
— Brian Blum and Chris McNamara
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