Choosing the right flop the first time while cruising your plethora of options can be a daunting task. To help, our expert testers researched over 60 models. We then purchased 10 of the top scorers, putting them through a series of side-by-side tests to measure each one's competence. If you're anything like those of us who wear flops every day, then you know the importance of choosing the right pair. Over the course of several months, we tested these contenders on rocky trails, beaches, on climbing approaches, rafting trips, and downtown dinner dates. We wore a pair every day and pushed them to perform in everything from casual social gatherings to places where hiking boots may have been a much wiser choice. This review is for the die-hard flip-flop wearer in all of us.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated July 2017
We updated this category to bring you the latest, greatest, and most popular models on the market today. There are countless to choose from, and your daily driver sandal has to be one that you love. For that reason, we've researched the most popular models and selected the top ten to test as multi-purpose, everyday sandals. What were the results? The OluKai Ohana remains our Editors' Choice for the second year in a row, while the OluKai Hiapo takes the win for Top Pick for Dressing Up or Down. The Chaco Flip Ecotread wins the Best Buy award - a new winner this year.
With so many flips to choose from, we were surprised to find that last year's Editor's choice once again outperformed its competitors. Our testers came into the review with little bias and no expectations. Many of us are loyal Chaco users and weren't ready to be so impressed by another sandal. The OluKai Ohana blew us away in most of the categories that we rated these models in and was our highest scorer. Plush, stable on a variety of terrain, stylish and well built, this pair found their way to the front of the line time and again. The footbed is soft and didn't get sticky when it was wet and the rugged tread pattern made this sandal one of the best we tested on steep dirt and rock. This competitor is the do-anything winner, whether walking off the top of a climb or riding bikes to the bar.
Not the cheapest
Read review OluKai Ohana
Top Pick to Dress Up or Down
Despite considering ourselves rigorous outdoor enthusiasts, let's be honest, we spend at least as much time socializing as we do in the mountains; it's nice to have a pair that has as much class as it does mountain performance. For that reason, among others, we chose the OluKai Hiapo for our Top Pick award, specializing in the classy occasion. When we first opened the box, we were sure that these were nothing more than an overpriced boutique model. Wow, were we wrong. Over months of wearing this pair, we learned that they are much, much more. We wore them on dates, plan travel, to concerts, we carried heavy packs to the crags and took them to the beach. After a break in period, they were by far one of the most comfortable sandals we tested, as well as the best looking. The attention to detail is easy to appreciate when you look closely; they are wonderfully constructed and performed well in every area except water sports.
Not a water sandal
Break in time
Read review OluKai Hiapo
Best Bang for the Buck
Chaco Flip EcoTread
The Chaco Flip EcoTread has a cult following, and for good reason. For years, this has been the choice for climbers and boaters alike. People that demand not only performance but expect their flops to hold up for close to a decade. This is by far the most rugged, best-built sandal we tested; hold a pair in your hand, and this becomes evident. They are not the lightest model we tested but with their weight comes an exceptional level of durability. The footbed can feel stiff at first, so if you're looking for a plush pair straight out of the box, the Chaco might not be for you. However, if you're willing to put in the time to break this contender in, you'll be rewarded with a loyal piece of footwear for years and years. Get rad or go to a wedding; this model will outperform almost all others on the market.
Great in water
Long break-in time
Read review Chaco Flip EcoTread
Analysis and Test Results
You're only as good as your footwear, and we believe that you should end up with something that matches your needs, your personal preferences, and the shape of your foot. For that reason, we've broken down our review into five criteria that we've used to judge each model. What kind of user are you? Some people live on the coast and will spend their time in town or be walking to a surf break, while others may be mountain dwellers using these sandals to hike and climb. And some people may just want their pair to function as a house slipper and grocery getter. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, there is a multitude of things that every contender needs to do well, and plenty of factors you need to take into account. Below you'll find a breakdown of our matrix by which we judge a sandal, making it easier for you to think clearly about what it is you're searching for.
Types of Flip Flops
Throughout this review, we'll use the term flip-flop and sandal interchangeably, although it is important to know the difference. Every flip-flop is a sandal but not every sandal is a flip-flop; it's a bit of a square/rhombus situation. It's easy to find sandals that look like flip-flops at first glance, in that they have a thong between the great and second toe but also have auxiliary straps meant to add stability or style. For this review, we're not interested in those (though we have a review if you are strictly looking for sandals). This review will focus strictly on the standard, thong-style model with no extra frills or straps. The market is saturated, and if you can dream it up, chances are it exists. Sporty models, casual contenders, stylish pairs, ones that are comfy out of the box, and ones that take a while to break in. They are constructed out of a myriad of materials including rubber polymers, foam, nylon, leather, and plastic. Some are lightweight and cheaper, thus being a little less durable. Others are cumbersome and rugged, built to last and with a price tag to boot. Regardless of where they fall in that range, we chose them because we felt they were sandals that fit our criteria of being diverse and able to accommodate a variety of needs.
We assessed each model using the criteria comfort, versatility, durability, style, and traction. Each criterion or scoring metric is listed and further expounded upon below.
As we're sure we all can attest to by now, "comfort" can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people and like many of these criteria can be pretty subjective.
Some of the sandals we tested were plush and super comfortable straight out of the box, while others felt stiff, and required a while to break in. The shape of the sandals varies widely, depending on the width, length, shape of the thong and amount of arch support given. The form of the footbed and height of the arch were things that we found changed considerably on some of the sandals we tested, such as the Chaco Flip EcoTread, OluKai Hiapo and the Rainbow Sandals.
As we wore each pair for an extended period, the footbed became customized, molding to our foot. This experience could not be said of all the models we tested, as with the Crocs Crocband, which held its shape despite significant use. Others, such as the Oofos, were so soft and squishy that they felt almost too comfortable. They were so plush that the foot to the ground transfer of power and energy felt diminished by all of the soft foam.
We found that, for the most part, sandals that are super comfortable out of the box are not usually the ones that last the longest. A stiffer material can (not always) indicate a greater longevity for the product. Comfort is a subjective criterion. Some of the sandals we tested were cushy and soft from day one while others were super stiff and slowly broke down (while never becoming too plush). Some had good arch support, like the Rainbow while others offered a simple, flat shape at first that took time to break in and mold to our feet, like the OluKai Hiapo.
What are you looking for? A sandal for a cruise to the coffee shop or a daily driver that will take you deep into the mountains as well as the grocery store?
What makes a model versatile? Some might argue that versatility in a sandal is a bit of a misnomer but we at the OutdoorGearLab use our flops hard and knowing how they're going to perform in different situations is crucial to us.
Although you can get it done in all the sandals we tested, some were designed for one purpose or another and not as all-around. Maybe you're the type of person who owns a quiver and has a pair for each occasion. If that's you, go ahead and feel free to skip this section. However, for those of us who appreciate a do-it-all pair, versatility is a key ingredient. We tested some models that were so trail-oriented, like the Teva Pajaro, that they might be a little overkill for a trip to the grocery store.
We tested others, like the OluKai Hiapo that are so fancy that they seemed (at least at first) to have no place in the mountains. Others, such as the Sanuk Beer Cozy 2 appeared to be versatile at first glance, but after being put through the paces were decidedly not. We found that many contenders excelled in many conditions but floundered in just one like the Rainbow's tendency to slip and slide on steep, uneven terrain.
The sandals that best walked the line between casual and active were the Chaco Flip EcoTread, OluKai Ohana, and Reef Fanning. These sandals were the ones that best performed in a multitude of activities; from hiking on steep terrain to swimming in the Truckee River, they do well on dry dirt and excel when wet. These pairs possessed the perfect blend of comfort, support, traction, and style to push them to the top of the versatility score.
You'd think that something like durability would be king when purchasing footwear like flip-flops and for many people, this is probably true. There are others that have expressed their undying loyalty to a certain pair, despite the fact that they don't last that long.
For those people, things like fit, comfort, and style might trump how long the model lasts, as they might be happy to buy a pair a season and never look back. That logic, however, seems flawed to this tester and thus, durability was taken seriously during the review. One part of the nature of this testing is that we are unable to wear each of these sandals for multiple years, so several pairs were distributed to aficionados in the Tahoe basin for some heavy use over three months. Between testing each pair and surveying friends that have historically worn several of these models, we've been able to put them through the paces and get a feel for how they hold up. The pairs of sandals made with leather and rubber compounds seemed to hold up the best, whereas the more synthetic material and foam that made up a model, the quicker they started to break down.
The ingredients a flop must possess to be truly durable are many and hard to perfect. The sandal must break in with heavy use but not break down. Some of these models, like the OluKai Hiapo and Chaco Flip EcoTread, break in and mold to your foot without becoming thin and flimsy.
Others, like the Sanuk Beer Cozy 2 and the Reef Phantom mold to your foot, but at the same time, become paper thin in the process. The sole also needs to be able to hold up during this process, and for that purpose, a rubber sole is an ideal choice. If you don't want to spend much on a model and do not expect it to last more than a season or so, there are several comfortable flops in our fleet that would serve you well.
However, they do not rate exceptionally well for durability; these models include the Reef Phantom and the Sanuk Beer Cozy 2. If you sit firmly in the other camp of people that want a durable, long lasting pair, then you just cannot go wrong with the Chaco Flip EcoTread, Teva Pajaro, or OluKai Ohana.
Style, much like comfort, can be a very subjective category and thus a personal choice. We can make some basic judgments on the style, or at least what the company was shooting for when they developed it and those scores are reflected below.
The competitors we tested span a wide variety of styles from super cushy foam to aggressive hiker to fancy leather footwear. There are a few things that we believe makes for an all-around good looking sandal, such as a simple, sleek design, and beautiful lines. We tested several pairs that accomplished those things such as the OluKai Ohana, the Chaco Flip EcoTread, the Reef Phantoms, and the Rainbow Premier Single Layer. There were also sandals on either side of the spectrum, with the Olukai Hiapo, consisting mostly of leather and fancy looking materials, while the OOOFO Unisex Original Thong was made from bulky foam, designed for those with plantar fasciitis.
We found that the most stylish pairs were the ones that were able to combine the classic elements of the flip-flop without drawing attention to themselves, such as the OluKai Ohana, Chaco Flip Ecotread, OluKai Hiapo, and the Reef Fanning. The outliers had a more difficult time doing this for a number of reasons. Big, bulky models made of foam, like the Oofos Original Thong or the Croc Crocband, draw unwanted attention. Regardless of how they scored in our review, make sure you get the pair that you think look best; if you're a fan and they're comfortable, you'll wear them more, and that's the whole point. Check out the individual reviews and their photos for a better idea and a more detailed description of each.
Unless you're just interested in using your flip-flops to walk down to the local coffee shop or around the house, you're going to want to pay attention to how these sandals scored in our traction category. We ran each pair around the mountains of the Tahoe Basin and the Sierra all spring and summer, putting them through the paces.
Approaching rock climbs, walking off rock climbs, stepping out of the raft into the swift and cold Truckee River, and dancing at concerts were a few of the ways we tested the traction this summer. Many of our sandals scored relatively high in the traction category, but it's important to think about what surfaces you'll be walking on and how the model you're interested in will perform. Mud and loose dirt require a different sole/tread to grip well versus when you're walking on slick rock or glacier-polished granite. A deep tread pattern may grip well on dirt and mud, but the deep lugs allow less rubber to contact the ground when you're walking on a granite slab, thus making them less sticky.
There is a fine line between too much tread and too little and few of the contenders we tested fit in that category. Several of the sandals we tested had tread patterns made out of foam and, needless to say, did not perform that well when the going got tough.
For the river-oriented people out there, we found that the Chaco Flip, the OluKai Ohana and the Reef Fanning all performed well both in the water and on wet surfaces. The Teva Pajaro has the most aggressive lug sole, making it seem more like a hiking shoe than a flip-flop. The OOFOS Unisex Original Thong and the Sanuk Beer Cozy 2 have relatively smooth tread patterns and a foam soles, making them not as ideal if you're looking for exceptional traction. Other pairs like the Chaco Flip EcoTread, the Reef Fanning and the Olukai Ohana faired well with a modestly aggressive tread pattern and rubber sole. As with other categories, read the individual reviews for more detailed descriptions and photos.
There are so many models on the market these days that it is important to start by asking yourself what you expect out of your flops. Are you going to be cruising sidewalks or trying to get rad? Are you a surfer or a mountain person? A river rat or a homebody? Do you expect your pair to last five years? Or one season? Are you the type of person that is willing to put in some work to break a pair in or do you expect them to be plush and comfy straight out of the box? Read the individual reviews of these flip flops and consult our buying advice article and we're sure that you'll find the perfect flip flop for you.
— Sam Piper
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.