The Best Sandals for Women Review
Sandals are the unofficial footwear of summer and in our new review, we're dedicated to hunting down the best. They are more adventurous than a flip-flop, but are more breathable and lighter weight than a hiking shoe. The problem with a piece of footwear that tries to straddle so many responsibilities is that it can make it hard for the buyer to know which pair is appropriate for her specific activity. We tested eight models in the most popular brands. Our goal was to discover which ones were better than others, which were just down right sub-par, and why. We used the products in this review hiking the Sierra Nevada, exploring the French countryside, and just shopping around town. We took them on plenty of steep and unstable terrain to push their stability potential and to discover how their traction held up we made sure to scramble over some granite slabs, even in the rain. We weighed them, counted the minutes it took them to dry, pondered the existence of the "perfect" fit, and much MUCH more! Read on for all the other insightful details!
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Sandals
Fits many foot types
Testing left no doubts about which product deserved our Editors' Choice Award: the Teva Tirra. It performed at the top in nearly every metric. Not only was it ridiculously comfortable, lightweight, and affordable, we also found it to be one of the most versatile models that we tested. It excelled on wet and dry terrain, was comfortable to hike in all day, and yet was still stylish to wear out at night. Testers overwhelmingly favored the Tirra to the Teva Hurricane, the iconic Teva. Its footbed was just as supportive as many of the hiking shoes our testers have used in the past, but it still felt light and flexible like a sandal. It has a distinctive feminine design with thin, flattering toe straps and an array of color options. If you are looking to buy one model to fill all of your needs this summer, the Teva Tirra is it.
Best Bang for the Buck
For $50, we couldn't pass up the comfort and performance of the Columbia Sunbreeze as our Best Buy pick. Testers loved its feather-light feel and all-around comfort. It has sticky tread and dries super fast. Some testers praised is "minimalist" fit, which is a result of its sensitive sole and low drop. Others wished it had more arch support and stability. The only other real critique of the Sunbreeze was its style. It doesn't have any flattering features and testers felt it simply appeared too dated or dull to want to wear it anywhere other than the trail. This product would best fit feet of moderate width and volume as its straps have a limited amount of Velcro and inhibit its adjustability.
High water performance
Not ideal for all-day wear
Top Pick for Adventure Travel
Keen Newport H2 - Women's
We had a special spot in our hearts for the Keen Newport H2 - Women's, which is why we named it our Top Pick for Adventure Travel. This shoe embodies all of the necessary qualities of summer: casual, comfortable, water compatible, and great on any terrain. Its close-toed construction improved foot protection and stability, two factors which you will appreciate when you take this shoe everywhere. The Newport was our lead tester's preferred option for trail use thanks to its unique construction and easy adjustability. It kept out debris slightly better than its open-toed competitors. The Newport has a very featured footbed that really redefined our expectations of summer footwear. Our Top Pick winner has a well-defined arch and a soft heel cup that effectively secures the back of the foot.
Fits a wide variety of foot shapes
Slow to dry
Hard to get on
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Analysis and Test Results
A sandal is a rather unusual piece of footwear. Its utility lies somewhere in that rather large gray area between flip-flop and hiking shoe. Unlike flip-flops, which slip on and off and don't offer as much all-around performance, all the products in this review are designed to strap securely to the foot. These products also offer better ventilation and water performance than a hiking shoe. If a flip-flop (without a heel strap) is what you're in the market for, read up on our women's flip-flop review. If you're still leaning towards the sandal market, next you should identify the uses you need the shoe for. We always recommend checking out our Buying Advice article to help with this process. Will you spend a significant amount of time in water? If so, make sure to search for a product that dries fast and has good traction on wet surfaces. Are you looking for something to put a lot of miles on? Check out the products rated with the most comfort and stability. Is it important to you to have a shoe that you can wear (without shame) to dinner as well as on short outdoor outings? If so, don't miss our photo gallery.
For this review, we tested eight different shoes from five different brands. And since we take these reviews pretty seriously over here at OutdoorGearLab, we don't just choose any products for our testing. The review process really begins with the selection of the product. We chose products that have consistently high online reviews and products we continuously saw out in the field. Read on to see how all of the competitors fared against each other. Did we mention that we have also covered the summer footwear needs of your special man in our Men's Sandal Review? That's right, we've got all your feet covered.
Types of Sandals
The market is divided into two different categories: close-toed design models and open-toed design models. Keen was the only brand of close-toed models that we reviewed. Both the Newport and the Whisper fit into this category. Testing confirmed that these models really excelled on more adventurous terrain than their open design counterparts. Since they leave less of the foot exposed, they also offer better foot protection and stability. They still allow water to drain easily if the foot is submerged, but do so at a price; the increased quantity of synthetic fabric on both of these shoes becomes quite heavy once saturated.
The rest of the six models fit in to the open-toed category. These models were all lighter, better ventilated, and dried faster. Stability and adjustability varied from model to model. Most testers preferred the look of these shoes, especially if they were hoping to to wear them from an outdoor setting straight into town for dinner.
Criteria for Evaluation
The overall score (shown in the table below) of each product is a result of its combined performance in every metric, weighted appropriately, within a range of 1-100.
It goes without much explanation to say that this is our most important metric. If your footwear isn't comfortable, you're not going to wear it. Period. The overall comfort of the shoe was generally influenced by two components: the comfort of the footbed/sole and the comfort of the straps. For some models, only one of the features was high on the comfort scale. Our most comfortable models scored well in both areas. Shoes were worn while soaking wet, while hiking up and down hill, and on loose, pebbly terrain. Some of the models were preferred by people with wide feet, some preferred by those with higher arches, but all fell somewhere on the comfort spectrum.
The Teva Tirra - our Editors' Choice winner - and the Keen Newport H2 - Women's - our Top Pick for Adventure Travel - took the cake on overall comfort. The Tirra's straps weren't too narrow that they cut into your feet, they didn't cause any chafing on the top of your foot, and the underside of the straps were padded and devoid of uncomfortable seams or materials. And let's not forget about the soles of the Tirra which were oh so comfy! The EVA footbed material is cush and forgiving, but far from squishy, while the arch is supportive without being too firm. Meanwhile, the Newport was also ridiculously comfortable. It has a well-defined orthotic with a moderate arch and sculpted CMEVA footbed. It was super simple to adjust and there were no issues with chafing from its webbing upper. Its extra roomy toe box didn't cramp your toes and made for a more natural feeling stride.
The poorest performing model in this metric was the Chaco ZX/2 Yampa. The comfort of this shoe was affected by both its webbing and its sole. The ZX/2 has two thin, polyester webbing straps which are theoretically easy to adjust. The existence of a toe loop was by far the demise of the ZX/2. It took much more effort than most testers were willing to admit to size the foot/toe webbing correctly, and was even harder to keep it at this size. Unfortunately, this wasn't this model's the only uncomfortable component. The super dense Vibram sole and the footbed cross hatch pattern were almost unanimously disliked. However, a few testers with narrow feet and high arches didn't seem to mind the hard and unforgiving footbed.
Although the Chaco ZX/2 Yampa earned low scores in our comfort metric, women with high arches may find them to be a great fit. When choosing footwear, it's important to remember that comfort can be subjective since feet vary so much.
Stability was another crucial rating criteria for the products in this review. Considering all of the demands, these shoes must feel stable and secure in all settings, from a laundry list of outdoor activities to long days of shopping in town. Several of the things testers wanted to see in a secure shoe was sufficient arch support, a solid sole (wasn't clunky enough to feel cumbersome but wasn't so flimsy that it would feel insubstantial), and well fitting straps. We evaluated stability based on all of the terrain where we tested these products.
There were several high performing models in this category. But in the end, the Teva Tirra and the Keen Newport tied with the highest scores. The Tirra is an open-toed model and has three relatively thin Velcro adjustment straps; one crossing in front of the ankle and two crossing above the footbed. Each strap is attached to the footbed at multiple points (see photo for best visual) thereby giving you better control and security over the front of the shoe. There weren't any reports of the Velcro coming undone. The Tirra offers excellent arch support for a wide range of arch types. One lucky tester donned this model for an 11-hour stand-fest at Le Louvre Art Museum in Paris and had no complaints of foot or back pain. The shoe is flexible, but not flimsy. It also performed well hiking on wet, loose, and rocky terrain.
The Newport, our other top performer in this category, is a close-toed model. Its cinch tie gives a snug, customized fit with one easy pull and does an excellent job of preventing your foot from sliding around. The soles of the Newport are quite beefy and make your feet feel the most protected of all the models we tested. Although marketed as a wider alternative to the Keen Whisper, users of all foot types found the Newport to be snug and secure. On the other end of the spectrum, the Merrell Enoki scored the lowest in this metric for several reasons. It has minimal straps and its platform is rather narrow, thin, and rigid, a combination the can leave the foot feeling exposed and insecure. Also, once wet, the removable heel strap had difficulty staying closed. Simply going up steps became problematic as the Velcro would come undone with the slightest pressure on the heel. That said, the Enoki was the only model we tested that had the option of being able to be converted into a flip flop!
The Newport comes with the classic Keen Foot Bumper - a bulbous rubber add-on to the front of the shoe - that provides unrivaled toe protection.
In recent years, manufacturers have introduced sticky climbing rubber (typically found on approach shoes) and Vibram soles to the mainstream outdoor shoe market; as a result, shoe traction has significantly improved. With each company boasting about its proprietary sole technology, we were curious to see how their traction matched up relative to each other. Our team of testers spent the early summer in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, an area known for its slick granite domes. Using the local landscape, we thought the perfect controlled test would be sliding around on this granite in wet conditions. Fortunately, no testers were harmed in this process and the frictionless, sloping slabs of the testing site quite adequately allowed us to differentiate between the traction quality of each product.
The Teva Tirra and the Columbia Sunbreeze had superior traction to the other models. We felt secure ascending the wet granite terrain in these shoes, a result which supported our experiences wearing them in the field. It is worth noting that it seemed very possible that the actual traction of the Sunbreeze was the best of the lot we tested, however, the lightness of the shoe and the less ergonomic foot straps made our feet feel less secure overall, which directly influenced our overall opinion of its traction. One last note worth mentioning is that we found the overall performance of the rubber of these shoes to be very, very good. This same test was done with sticky rubber shoes (the La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's) and a popular trail running shoe (the Brooks Cascadia 11). While the Boulder X was superior, almost all of the sandals felt more secure on the wet terrain than the trail runners, which was an unanticipated result. Clearly, a trail running shoe and a sandal are very different footwear options and each has significant benefits in their respective activities, but it is worth knowing that these compact and minimal pieces of footwear have excellent traction and are worth prioritizing in wet environments.
We were particularly surprised by the lowest performer in this category: the Keen Whisper. This shoe excelled in many other areas, but unfortunately, traction was not one of them. The sole rubber of the Whisper was the same material as the Keen Newport, but the tread pattern was drastically different. As such, we attributed the poor traction of the Whisper to its tread pattern. The irregular lug pattern of the Whisper has the least aggressive tread on the forefoot of the shoe, which is problematic while hiking up steep, wet surfaces. Although we felt that there are many perks to the Whisper, we would not recommend it when consistently traveling on wet surfaces; whether it be hiking on wet terrain or maneuvering around a wet boat or swimming area.
This metric really spread out the competition across the board as the adjustment methods of each model's webbing were quite varied. We evaluated each pair not only according to how adjustable it was, but also how easy it was to make adjustments and if frequent readjustment was necessary.
The Keen Newport was the easiest to adjust due to its single adjustment tab that was ergonomic and easy to use. The stretchy synthetic mesh upper prevented any pressure points on the top of the foot. One pull and we had a comfortable, personalized fit every time; doesn't get any simpler than that! The reason the Newport didn't get a perfect 10 was due to the fact that they were a little tricky to get on, especially if you have a high volume foot. Although this is a seemingly unrelated fact, we couldn't applaud all of the benefits of the stretchy mesh upper without mentioning that it also gets in the way of actually putting on the shoe. The Whisper had the exact same cinch system as the Newport, but due to the stretchier material of the Whisper, we found it impossible to cinch the pull tab enough to prevent your heel from sliding off the back of the shoe.
The Chaco ZX/2 was the unfortunate loser in the adjustability category. Testers may have loved the idea or the look of that double toe strap, but that didn't make it any easier to adjust. One tester remarked that the dilemma of the toe strap could be solved with an included diagram with the shoe, but this poses the question - does one really want to have a shoe that requires a diagram to adjust? It's bad enough that most of our furniture requires such cryptic illustrations, do our shoes really need it too? That's a personal decision. Appropriate fit can certainly be achieved with the ZX/2, but it requires a minute of thought and regular readjustment as we consistently found the toe strap to be get much tighter than the strap that went across the center of the foot. Surprisingly enough, the lack of toe strap on the Chaco ZX/1 Unaweep resulted in a significant increase in adjustability.
Performance in wet environments is one of the major selling points of sandals, therefore we wanted to include a metric that would help size up how tolerable these shoes would feel when wet. All of the materials on the shoes are claimed to be water resistant, and each pair is inherently breathable when wet because of its open construction. So we thought it would be helpful to test and measure each product's dry time. The dry time, which more or less correlates to how much water the shoe retains, is important in that if a shoe takes a long time to dry, you don't want to wear it in the water because a clammy shoe is generally less comfortable and can cause chafing and blisters. For our dry time test, we submerged each pair of shoes fully in water the left them in a sunny, well ventilated area to dry on a warm summer day. They were evaluated every 5-10 minutes until they were dry to the touch.
Both Chacos were the fastest to dry in our dry test, feeling completely dry in merely 10 minutes. Unlike most of the other products we tested, the Chacos didn't have any Velcro on them to retain water, nor any kind of absorbent padding. Their simple, thin straps dried in no time. The Newport was by far the slowest to dry, clocking in at over an hour and a half! All that porous, cushy material just sucked up water. Not only did the water retention of this shoe make it clammy and uncomfortable, but it made it significantly heavier.
There is no way to hide it: this is our most subjective rating criteria. Nevertheless, style is an important consideration in a footwear choice so we felt that it was necessary to include it in our rating criteria. Regardless of what we have to say about this metric, skimming through our photo gallery can give you the best idea as to what you think about each shoe's style. One thing we thought important when considering the style of each product was how appropriate it would be to wear it in outdoor terrain and an urban setting. We felt this was relevant since you should feel comfortable wearing these shoes both on rocky and muddy terrain and out with friends for drinks (after the aforementioned muddy hike) while wearing something like a summer skirt.
The models that really bridged this backcountry/city slicking gap were the Chacos. Both the ZX/1 Unaweep and ZX/2 Yampa have black soles and several attractive neutral webbing prints to choose from. The dark, neutral colors were universally appreciated. At their best they were remarked as stylish, and at their worst, declared unnoticeable - something which should probably be taken as a compliment if you are even debating with yourself the social acceptability of wearing sandals to the bar.
Our testers agreed that the Columbia Sunbreeze and both pairs of Keens were the least attractive products of the bunch. Some comments about the Sunbreeze were that it looked dated and drab; however, with a price tag as low as the Sunbreeze's you might be willing to make a fashion sacrifice. In regards to the Keens, let's face it, they are only socially acceptable because so many people wear them. Fortunately, the Keen company manufactures their shoes in too many colors to count, and the thinner straps on the Whisper help make it look a little less clunky.
The footwear in this review are all meant to securely strap to your feet while allowing for more ventilation and water resistance than a hiking shoe. Perfect for the summer, a pair of these sandals can accompany you on hikes, in the water, and even around town. Our review is here to help compare the different models available to find the pair that will best fit your lifestyle (and feet)! Don't forget to read through our Buying Advice article for help identifying the best use of each type of shoe on the market.
— Laura Lingeman
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