by Jacob Greski
This time of year, many people are starting to spend more of their time in the great outdoors. For Upstate New York the outdoors could mean several things: forests, beaches, mountains, lakes, or even the local park. The choice of footwear becomes an important question when going for that summer vacation. You may ask yourself: would my running shoes work for a day-long hike? Or should I bring my hiking boots that offer more protection, but are heavier and not as breathable? There are some days when I need footwear that can provide great support and protection while also handling water without ruining the shoe. It can be difficult to find a shoe that can check all those boxes and still be comfortable.
An active sandal designed for these activities is a good option for those who feel like a shoe is too much on their feet. These will secure your foot, have reliable traction for slippery surfaces, and are made of materials built to last. They cost roughly the same or less than running shoes and are lighter in weight.
At first glance there may not seem to be many features in an active sandal. However, sandals can have many design features that allow them to be an excellent outdoor footwear choice. Many brands offer a footbed that contours to your foot and offers the arch support that some may need. This support may be even more important if you are walking or hiking, especially for those who wear orthotics or are used to that arch support in their sneakers. A shoe has a lot more stability features built in because of all the components making it up, whereas a sandal is very minimal and needs all the support and stability it can get.
Another important feature would be how the foot is secured in the sandal. Available is anything from a simple split-toe flip flop design to a closed toed and protective style that almost resembles a sneaker more than a sandal. If you don’t need that extra foot protection, I would recommend a style with minimal straps that is both lightweight and breathable for those hotter days. Most brands have adjustable straps and even styles from Chaco have a strap to secure your big toe. This prevents the front of the sandal from catching as you walk or move around, and is a feature I’ve personally enjoyed in my pair.
Chaco sandals are known for their adjustable Z-strap models that create a very personalized fit. There aren’t any buckles or Velcro and the straps are instead built into the sandal where pulling on specific parts of the strap allows for a proper and unique fit. The sole is thick and durable, while also offering arch support and a secure fit. Chacos can be used in a variety of conditions and activities while being good in the water and having excellent traction from their ChacoGrip rubber. One drawback is they are significantly heavier than other sandals, but if you don’t mind the extra weight, then they’re a reliable sandal for every kind of activity.
Birkenstock is one of the most popular brands when it comes to active or casual sandals. They’re unique in that over time, the foodbed wears in to match the shape of the foot. This provides whole foot support specific to your foot, which is unique among shoes or sandals. A softer foam combined with a firmer cork and latex material provides comfort and even more support. Soft leather straps secured by buckles provide a unique foot securing system. People typically use these for everyday wear, but Birkenstock does offer models that are more durable or water resistant, and have better traction for outdoor activities. They are a little more expensive than competing brands, but when it comes to Birkenstock, you’re certainly getting your money’s worth.
Teva is another popular sandal brand and a great option for those who want something simple but effective. Versatile and comfortable, these can be used in all sorts of lighter activities. The Velcro straps are easy to use and water resistant, while available in a multitude of colors. Many but not all Teva sandal models have arch support, which is something to keep in mind if you need it. If you’re looking for a less expensive and lightweight option, then Teva sandals are a great choice.
Minimalist or barefoot sandals are less popular than the brands previously mentioned, but they have many benefits that typical sandals do not offer. The most obvious benefit is that they’re very lightweight, lighter than nearly any other shoe or sandal available. The thin sole also allows the foot to feel the ground and any rock or bump you may come across, which can be a minus or plus, depending on personal preference. Many people prefer to feel physically closer to the earth, especially when it comes to hikes or walks through nature, and barefoot sandals do just that while also providing enough protection for your feet. All barefoot sandals are zero drop, which means your foot is in a level and more natural position. Zero drop gives the feeling of walking without shoes on and another feature that allows for a natural fit. The minimalist style of these sandals can also strengthen your feet simply by using them. The purposeful lack of support forces your foot to do most of the work while walking, which over time can lead to stronger and ultimately healthier feet. You can do your feet a great service by wearing barefoot sandal; however, if support is something you need then I would choose a more supportive style. It is possible to transition to a minimalist sandal, but it does take time and advice should be sought out by experts on minimalist sandals. Some popular brands include Xero, Vivobarefoot, Bedrock and many more.
There are many other brands available with countless more styles and designs. If you’re looking for an active sandal and not sure where to start, this list should point you in the right direction. Of course, comfort is the best indicator when choosing any kind of footwear, and sandals are no exception. If possible, I would try them on before buying them, or at least read up on a sandal’s design and reviews to help narrow down your choices.
Jake has kindly agreed to be a frequent contributor to The Pace Setter. His background as an elite runner, running shoe specialist, and student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Russell Sage College, makes him uniquely qualified to write columns that our readers will benefit from greatly.
Thanks, Jake for coming onboard.