Whether you think that barefoot is best, or you’re simply looking for comfortable, lightweight minimalist sandals for all your outdoor adventures, then these recommendations have you covered.
When it comes to hiking sandals, we’ve cycled through all the popular brands, including Chacos, Tevas, and Keens. When the weather is warm or there is water involved, I usually opt for hiking sandals over shoes. Tired of strapping what felt like heavy rubber bricks to my feet, and realizing there had to better options out there, I started searching for a great pair of minimalist hiking sandals.
I’d already switched out most of my shoes for barefoot or minimalist versions, so with summer coming up, hiking sandals were next on my list.
Interested in barefoot and minimalist shoes? You might also like these posts:
- 9 Barefoot and Minimalist Hiking Shoes perfect for travel
- 8 Best Barefoot Winter Boots: Waterproof, Warm and Zero-drop
- 7 Best Barefoot Shoes for Kids (Great for Exploring the Outdoors)
The Barefoot Movement
Barefoot sandals grew in popularity after the 2009 release of the book Born to Run. The author, Christopher McDougall, recounts his experiences meeting members of the seemingly superhuman Tarahumara Native Mexican tribe. These people ran ultra distances in record times, in minimalist sandals with minimal injuries.
A number of barefoot sandal companies were born out of the barefoot movement, trying to recreate an extremely lightweight, simple sandal similar to the ones handmade by this tribe. Most of these had a barely there aesthetic and feel and were geared towards running.
Over the past few years, these companies have expanded their lines to develop sandals with more rugged treads and stronger straps. These minimalist hiking sandals don’t compromise on weight or flexibility, but are more durable, strap more securely on your feet, and are better for rough terrain.
These barefoot and minimalist sandals are great for hiking, water activities, and everyday adventures. They’re perfect for traveling too, since they’re lightweight and easy to pack.
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What to look for in Barefoot and Minimalist Sandals
1 Thin, Flexible Soles
The biggest differentiator between barefoot and minimalist sandals and traditional adventure sandals is the sole, and specifically how heavy and thick it is.
I’d aim for anything 12mm or less for a minimalist sandal. To put that in context, Aaron’s Tevas are around 22mm at the front and 35 mm on the heel. This extra padding means you’re compromising on flexibility and and adding unnecessary weight.
Personally, I think around 10 mm provides optimum comfort without sacrificing weight or flexibility, and 5 mm is the sweet spot for providing enough cushion and durability while still giving you a good ground-feel. I’ve hiked on rocky trails with 5 mm sandals and while I could feel the rocks, it didn’t hurt.
Zero-drop sandals are the same thickness from front to back. This means no raised heel bed or added padding around the arch.
You may not think of most of your sandals as having raised heel, but many add at least a few millimeters in thickness between the front and the back (like Aaron’s Tevas I mentioned above, it was about a 13mm difference). This raised heel alters the way we walk and stand compared to when we’re barefoot. Many believe a raised heel can cause strain on our body from the unnatural position and make injury more likely.
Thin soles will naturally lead to a lighter sandal which I think is one of the best benefits of barefoot and minimalist shoes. On my first hike in minimalist sandals, I realized just how much extra weight I’d been carrying around from my traditional hiking sandals.
The last question you’ll want to ask yourself is if you want a huarache style sandal (one with a strap between the toe), or a sandal with straps that crisscross over your foot. When I first thought of sandals with a toe strap, I thought of flip flops, which generally aren’t considered great running shoes. But there’s a few big differences between a flip flop and a huarache-style sandal that makes them much more practical for running or hiking.
First, the straps securely attached the sandal to your first. There’s a heel strap, so you don’t have to worry about the sole slapping up with every step. The toe strap is much more minimalist, usually made out of something like soft nylon that won’t rub between your toes. In most sandals, this between-the-toe strap goes up over your foot and connects behind the ankle, which again makes it much more securely strapped to your foot.
Best Barefoot and Minimalist Sandals
1 Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals
Weight: 8.6 oz (for women’s size 7)
Thickness: 10 mm
Retail price: $79.99
I’d already had a great experience with Xero Shoes’ barefoot winter hiking boots, so I was excited to give the minimalist Z-Trail sandals a try. Xero Shoes touts these as the “ultimate trail-friendly” sandals, which is exactly what I was looking for.
The Xero Shoes Z-Trail sandals have a 10 mm thick sole that’s cushioned and comfortable while still being lightweight and flexible. The crossover straps over the foot are thick and comfortable, and easy to adjust. The strap that goes around the back of the ankle felt super secure too, so I never felt like these sandals were sliding around.
I wore these sandals for the first time on a seven plus mile hike and had no issues with rubbing or blisters. I love that the Z-Trails are versatile and comfortable enough for just about anything, including a full day out on the hiking trails. I’ve even read a few reviewers where people said they’ve run a marathon in these minimalist sandals.
If you are looking for something even closer to barefoot, then the Xero Shoes Z-Trek sandals are basically are a slimmed down version of this design with a 5.5 mm outsole. You trade off a bit of the comfort for better ground feel with these barefoot sandals. If you’re hesitant to go with thinner soles, know that every pair of Xero Shoes is backed by their 5,000 mile sole warranty.
2 Luna Sandals – Mono Winged Edition
Weight: 12 oz
Thickness: 11 mm
Retail price: $105
Luna Sandals was founded by Barefoot Ted, who was on a mission to learn how to run pain-free. He is prominently featured in the book Born to Run, and named his sandal company after Manuel Luna, a Tarahumara native and ultra runner. Luna made Ted his own pair of traditional huarache sandals, and since then he’s worked on creating the perfect barefoot running sandal for rugged trails.
Luna Sandals has expanded to offer a pretty extensive line of minimalist sandals, so you can find the right fit in terms of sole thickness and grip and what you want to use them for.
The Mono Winged Edition sandals are the company’s most popular sandal. They’re lightweight, versatile and rugged, they’ll hold up to just about anything you put them through. Getting just the right fit on the strap is one of the trickiest parts of a barefoot sandal, and these Luna sandals made the straps easily adjust so your sandal stays securely in place.
The zero-drop Vibram soles are 11mm thick with Luna’s MGT (Monkey Grip Technology) footbed. A pair of these sandals weighs a bit less than 12 oz and retails for $105.
➳ Shop Now: Luna Sandals | Backcountry
3 Unshoes Wakova Feather
Thickness: 5 mm
Retail price: $50
The Unshoes mission is to make shoes that enable people to move naturally. Unshoes makes several casual outdoor minimalist sandals, including the Wokova and the Wokova Feather, both inspired by classic huaraches.
I’ve been wearing the Wokova Feather, which holds up to the name. This sandal has a 5mm zero drop sole which feels basically as light as a feather (I had a hard time registering the actual weight on my bathroom scale, so let’s just say they’re really really light). The Wakova is the first barefoot sandal I tried with a between-the-toe strap. I thought I might find the strap uncomfortable because I don’t usually like things between my toes, but I barely even noticed there was anything there. The strap is smooth and soft, and you can adjust it so it feels just right.
I love the connection you get to the earth beneath with the 5 mm thickness; it’s just enough to make it so rocks aren’t going to hurt your feet, but you still feel that connection and awareness of the earth beneath. The main difference between the Wakova Feather and original Wokova is slightly thicker straps. For 10% off your order on the Unshoes website, use code nomanbefore10.
➳ Shop Now: Wakova | Wakova Feather
4 Unshoes Pah Tempe 2.0
Thickness: 10 mm
Retail price: $72
The Pah Tempe is Unshoe’s answer to those looking for a thicker sole with more protection and straps that fit the shoe a bit more securely to your foot. This minimalist hiking sandal has crisscrossing straps over your feet, making it better suited for water and steep trails. The sole is 10mm and zero drop, providing a bit more protection compared to the Wakova Feather. You can also customize this sandal by selecting the type and thickness of tread, plus the shape of the footbed.
➳ Shop Now: Pah Tempe 2.0
5 Earth Runners – Circadian Adventure Sandals
Weight: 11.8 oz
Thickness: 8, 9 or 12 mm
Retail price: $84
Earth Runners makes one style of sandal to-order out of their small workshop in Sonoma County, CA that encourages you to “Rewild your sole.” These barefoot running sandals provide a body earth connection and offer maximum foot freedom.
You can customize your Earth Runners by selecting the thickness of the Vibram sole (8mm, 9mm, or 12mm), and the type of laces (lifestyle or performance laces).
The 9mm and 12mm soles come with a cotton canvas top layer that provides what the company calls an “Earth Grip” footbed. The Lifestyle laces are soft, thin nylon webbing. The performance laces are thicker and more durable, so they took a bit more time to get used to between my toes. These laces are easy to adjust as its one piece that weaves from its base between your toes to around your ankle and through a plastic lock.
➳ Shop Now: Earth Runners Sandals
6 Bedrock Sandals – Cairn Adventure Sandals
Weight: 15.5 oz
Thickness: 14 mm
Retail price: $105
Bedrock launched on Kickstarter in 2011 in an effort to make the ultimate adventure sandal, and now have a full line of minimalist sandals. You can still purchase the original Bedrock sandals geared towards ground feel.
The newer Cairn sandals are more rugged with thicker 14mm soles. Even with the thicker soles, these sandals weigh around 15.5 oz a pair, which is still a lot less than your typical adventure sandal. The Cairn sandals also have a unique strap system that’s adjustable in three places so you can get just the right fit. You can grab a pair in the traditional black, but they also have straps in fun, earthy colors like copper, turquoise, and burgundy.
For a pair of sandals specifically geared towards wet and slippery conditions, Bedrock has the Cairn Pro line with a sticky Vibram® Megagrip outsole and molded 3D footbed so you can worry less about slipping. They’ve also upped the security in the straps so it locks in the front and the heel and stays securely attached to your feet.
The Cairn Adventure sandals are lightweight and long-lasting; even if you do manage to burn through the tread (or even break the straps), you can send them in to be repaired as part of their RE-SOUL program.