Get flexibility, traction and comfort with these lightweight minimalist hiking sandals. These are the best minimalist and barefoot hiking sandals that protect your feet while still allowing ground feel.
When it comes to hiking sandals, we’ve cycled through all the popular brands, including Chacos, Tevas, and Keens. Whenever possible, I opt for hiking sandals over shoes, so I’ve spent a lot of trail miles in sandals. 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 the best minimalist hiking sandals out there.
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.
If you want reviews on new barefoot shoes as they come out, check out my Instagram account just for barefoot shoes: @thebarefootshoeguide
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)
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, 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.
2 Flat aka Zero-drop
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 the 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. 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.
Choosing the Right Minimalist Sandal for You
1 Huarache Style vs Over-the-toe Straps
The first question to ask yourself is if you want a huarache-style sandal (one with a strap between the toe), or a sandal with straps that cross over your foot.
When I first thought of sandals with an in-between toe strap, I thought of flip flops, which generally aren’t considered great running shoes. The main problem with flip flops is no heel strap, which means they can flip and flop all over the place. Huarache style barefoot sandals have a heel strap. Plus, the in-between toe strap is adjustable, and goes up over your foot and connects behind the ankle, which again makes it much more securely strapped to your foot. With a securely fitting minimalist sandal, you’re safe to run, hike, or do just about anything else without worry about losing your sandals.
These in-between toe strap are usually made of soft nylon that shouldn’t irritate the skin. Some people are really bothered by in-between toe straps while others love them, you just have to decide which one you are. If you dislike straps between your toes, then there are over-the-toe minimalist sandal options as well.
2 Finding the right fit
One of the hardest thing about finding the right barefoot or minimalist sandals is they typically aren’t carried in store. The main exception are the Xero Shoes Z-Trails, which I’ve seen in stock at REI stores in the US (or they have free shipping and free returns if you want to order online).
As a generally rule, opt for sandals that are about 5mm to 10mm longer than your longest foot measurement. This requires you getting an accurate measurement of both your feet (often one is slightly longer than the other) and comparing to the sole length measurement provided by the sandal company. For closed-toed shoes, I usually aim for about 12mm of space; but in sandals, you don’t need quite as much space as there is nothing for your toes to hit up against. You don’t want your feet to be falling off the edge, but you don’t want too much extra that it turns in to a tripping hazard.
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The Barefoot Movement
For a little background reading on the barefoot movement, check out the book Born to Run. Barefoot sandals grew in popularity about the release of the book in 2009. 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.
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
The Xero Shoes Z-Trails are one of my most-worn hiking sandals. I’ve taken them on tons of trails over the last several years, from rocky deserts to lush (and slippery) jungles. Xero Shoes touts these as the “ultimate trail-friendly” sandals. These are a great option if you’re whether you’re new to barefoot sandals or you’ve been wearing them for a long time.
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 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 Earth Runners Adventure Sandals
- Weight: 11.8 oz
- Thickness: 8, 9 or 12 mm
- Retail price: starting at $74
- Discount code: KELLY10 for 10% off
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.
Earth Runners has a large and fervent fan base– but to be honest, I found them pretty uncomfortable at first. That was mainly because I opted for the performance laces, which are thicker and more wiry. If these are your first pair of Earth Runners, opt for the softer lifestyle laces. They’re still durable, but much more comfortable.
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 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.
When I first ordered my Earth Runners, I was still in the frame of mind that more is better, so I opted for the 9mm Circadian Adventure sandals with performance laces and the cotton canvas top. They’re great, but I now tend to feel that “less is more.” If I were to order again, I’d go with Elemental Lifestyle sandals with an 8mm sole and the softer Lifestyle laces. My son’s Earth Runner sandals have these and they feel more comfortable, but still seem plenty durable.
➳ Shop Now: Earth Runners Sandals
4 Shamma Sandals Warriors Maximus LE
- Weight: 4.5 oz
- Thickness: 9 mm
- Retail price: $109.95
- Discount code: BAREFOOTGUIDE10 for 10% off
Shamma Sandals is a family-owned business that operates out of a small workshop in California’s Santa Cruz mountains. All sandals are hand-made and hand-sewn.
Shamma Sandals all feature the same strap design, with soft and strong Toray Ultrasuede® laces that can be adjusted in three spots. This helps you adjust to your foot shape for maximum comfort and make sure they’re stay securely on your feet.
While the straps are all the same design, there are a few options for the soles and footbeds so you can cater to your activities and comfort level.
- The Warriors sandals are the lightest with the thinnest sole, but still provide a lot of traction. The total thickness with tread is 5mm-6mm.
- The Mountain Goats offer the thickest sole at 11mm-12mm, though that’s still incredibly thin compared to most hiking sandals.
- I opted for more of a middle ground with Shamma Sandals’ Warriors Maximus, which have a thickness of about 9mm. While sometimes I do hike in thinner sandals, sometimes it’s nice to have more protection for rockier terrain.
I also added the “LE” option, which is the Goatskin leather footbed. It is so smooth and soft without being slippery. I highly recommend it if you are not planning on wearing these in the water. These sandals are specifically designed to handle long runs or hikes on rough terrain. They offer grip and protection while still providing flexibility and great ground feel.
I opted for size 7 based on the Shamma Sandals sizing chart. The sole fits just right and the toe strap placement is comfortable. My only wish is that the straps were a bit longer so that they fully covered the velcro when the straps were adjusted and closed. I’ve read others requesting longer straps, so you may want to see if that’s a good option for you, especially if you’re sizing down on the footbed.
I found these sandals very secure with the standard straps, but you can add an extra power strap that goes across the top of the foot if you feel you could use extra security and support.
➳ Shop Now: Shamma Sandals
5 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.
6 Unshoes Wakova Feather
- Thickness: 5 mm
- Retail price: $50
- Discount code: nomanbefore10
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
7 Unshoes Pah Tempe 2.0
- Thickness: 10 mm
- Retail price: $72
- Discount code: nomanbefore10
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