Whether you’re splashing through puddles, fording streams or walking across a desert, hiking sandals are an essential part of your walking wardrobe.
Forget clumpy cork soles matched with woolen socks: modern hiking sandals come in cool, city styles, from super-supportive webbed shoes to summery thong styles.
We tested these sandals in the English spring, which meant a typical combination of unexpected heatwaves and plenty of rain. Because support and padding are so essential to walking footwear, we put in plenty of miles on tarmac to test for excellent shock absorption, as well as in the hills to test for support and grip.
Buying sandals for walking is an art: you need plenty of support and structure under foot, as with any kind of walking shoe, but you don’t want to lose all sense of the terrain beneath you. This is particularly important on rocky ground, because sandals won’t support your ankle in the same way boots do – so you need to stay alert to avoid any slips or strains. When we tested sandals aimed at long or rough terrain walking, we looked for extra grip that will help you stay upright.
Part of the joy of walking in sandals is being able to splash through water without worrying about having to dry out your shoes at the end of the day. But wet shoes can quickly rub blisters where they make contact with your feet: to avoid this, we looked for sandals with lined straps or quick dry fabric.
Shop for your walking sandals the same way you do for walking boots or shoes: try them on, ideally in an outdoor specialist shop where you can test them out on some artificial terrain or small slopes. Break them in with a few short walks, or around the house, to prevent blisters; and the first time you wear them out, bring plasters.
Broadly speaking, the harder and longer your walks, the more straps and adjustment points you want. This helps your feet feel supported and comfortable, which takes any strain out of your feet and legs (you’re trying to avoid the slight contraction you need to keep flip flops on). You’ll also need sandals with more coverage around the toes, like a toe cap, because your gait will change as you rack up miles, leaving you more vulnerable to a stubbed toe.
A toe cap is also essential if you’re anticipating a lot of wading on your walks: stubbing a toe hard underwater is profoundly, unforgettably painful. Look also for shoes with plenty of gaps in the webbing to let pebbles, sand and silt out, and for good grip.
From minimalist slip-ons to technical trailblazers, these are the best sandals for walking. We’ve included some men’s styles, too.
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Keen women’s whisper sandals
Incredibly comfortable and secure-feeling, these classy sandals are ideal for walking long distances thanks to their cushioned footbed and the supportive way their webbed outer coaxes your foot into place.
The webbing and substantial toe cap means your feet feel protected in rugged terrain – we’ve scrambled over stones in them with ease – and bad weather, but plenty of ventilation makes them suitable for hot weather too. The black pair we tested had a nice gladiator-style look to them that made them ideal for walks ending in a pub lunch.
Buy now £69.99, Keenfootwear.com
Merrell Belize convertible
Plush and comfortable, with a Lycra lining and a super grippy sole, these airy convertible sandals are brilliant for summer walks. As good looking as they are good for long distances, they have a thick sole and a microfiber insole that absorb miles easily whatever the terrain.
Leather lining and adjustable straps shed water easily if you end up in rain storms or streams, and a classic sandal look means they’re just as good for days on the beach (or at the beach bar) as they are on the trail.
Buy now £80.00, Merrell.com
Keen astoria west
A brilliant, eco-friendly all-rounder. These shoes are ideal for walkers who suffer from lower back problems or who need a bit of extra cushioning in the sole: the wedged heel gives you the most padding of any shoe we tested, with amazing support in the midfoot, while still keeping you low to the ground for balance and responsiveness.
Like Keen’s popular whisper sandals they fit snugly with excellent protection, and are easy to slip on and off, even when wet. Best of all, they’re made from recycled PET plastic bottles and treated with eco-friendly water repellent. They are available in closed- and open-toed styles.
Buy now £89.99, Keenfootwear.com
Columbia women’s sandal
These are for anyone who want walking sandals that don’t look like walking sandals. The best looking pair we tested, these shoes come with elegant criss-cross webbing that makes them just shy of evening wear, making them a great pick for holidays where you want to pack light.
These sandals perform brilliantly, with comfortable and easy adjustments (via a pull cord at the back) for the perfect fit. They dry quickly, thanks to the combination of hydrophobic webbing and thermoplastic buckles, and have a good level of cushioning for mid-distance walks. They’re open toed, so be careful on rocks.
Buy now £65.00, Columbiasportswear.co.uk
Jack Wolfskin rocky path
We loved the S-shaped webbing on this sandal, which made it feel supportive without making our feet feel too enclosed: this is ideal for warmer weather, or if you’re prone to blisters.
Three adjustment straps made it easy to get a custom fit: paired with the supportive, anatomically-shaped footbed, we walked miles in these sandals without any strain at all.
As they’re fully synthetic, they wash easily and dry quickly. They are also available in a men’s model.
Buy now £80.00, Jack-wolfskin.co.uk
Timberland ripcord sandal
Smart and supportive, these neat men’s sandals have incredible grip thanks to their deep, supportive cleats, making them ideal for walking over rocks or if you want to bring them along on a boat trip. The S-shaped strap, with multiple adjustment points, means they fit securely, and we found the sole was thick enough to keep knees and backs happy but responsive enough to keep you grounded.
Made from recycled fabric, they also have impeccable eco credentials.
Buy now £70.00, Timberland.co.uk
Craghoppers lady locke
Stylish walking sandals made from coffee: we love everything about this comfy, innovative offering from Craghoppers. Made out of recycled rubber, plastic bottles and ground coffee beans, they have a lovely, responsive sole with plenty of grip and enough cushioning to feel comfortable over mid to long walks.
The cool loop-and-hook closure makes for an easy fit, and they pack down easily – great for clinging in a backpack pocket for water crossings or bouts of good weather.
Buy now £50.00, Craghoppers.com
Vans trek slip-on shoes
Lightweight and cool, sling these cool new Vans in your pack for walks that involve fording streams, or hike/kayaking hybrid trips. Durable and waterproof with amazing grip, they are incredibly fast drying, protective and comfortable – absolutely ideal for beach walks. The footbed is comfy but not cut for support, so these are best for shorter walks and quick dashes.
Break them in over a few short trips, or around the house: the synthetic material can take a bit of getting used to.
Buy now £37.00, Vans.co.uk
The verdict: Women's walking sandals
Our top all-rounder walking sandal is the high-performing Merrell kahuna III. If you want something sporty, we rate Columbia’s sandal, and Timberland’s good-looking Malibu wave will work both in the city and the country.
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For more hiking essentials, read our review of the best women’s walking boots