Minimalist sandals are fantastic for hiking, running, and casual wear. They're versatile, lightweight, and provide that barefoot feel that's popular with outdoors people.
To make things easier for you, we tested the 6 best minimalist sandals on the market today. Read on to find out how they performed in our tests, which are best for you and get some buying advice.
Table of Contents
Best Minimalist Sandals
The best minimalist sandals are:
- Best Overall Minimalist Sandals for Price, Weight, and Comfort: XERO SHOES Z-TRAIL
- Most Durable, Tractive, and Supportive Minimalist Sandals: BEDROCK SANDALS CAIRN
- Most Ultralight Minimalist Sandals: EARTH RUNNERS ALPHA ADVENTURE
|1. Xero Shoes Z-Trail||10.8oz||$79.99||11mm||Foam||Foam||
|2. Bedrock Sandals Cairn||15oz||$115||14mm||Rubber||Vibram||Vibram||9/10|
|3. Earth Runners Alpha Adventure||7.6oz||$93||11mm||Canvas||None||Vibram||8/10|
|4. Shamma Sandals Mountain Goats||11oz||$109.95||11mm||Leather||None||Vibram||8/10|
|5. Luna Sandals Oso Flaco||14.4oz||$125||7mm||Rubber||None||Vibram||8/10|
Best Overall Minimalist Sandals:
XERO SHOES Z-TRAIL
✅ Great traction and support
❌ No major cons
- Thickness: 11mm sole
- Weight (per pair): 10.8 oz (0.68 lbs)
- Midsole: TrailFoam
- Outsole & Lugs: Dual Chevron Lug Pattern
Xero Shoes have become one of the minimalist sandal leaders, especially after appearing on Shark Tank. We love these impressively flexible sandals that can roll up into your pocket. We couldn’t believe how much we could feel the ground in these.
These are the only pair on our list that have a horizontal non-thong strap. The footbed is roomy and very comfortable, making them the most comfortable sandals on our list. The heel cup design helps to keep debris out when walking outside.
Each pair comes with a 5,000-mile warranty so feel free to crush some miles in them. We’re impressed that all this comes at just an $80 price, the second least expensive model we reviewed. The Xero Shoes Z-Trail score solidly in every category making them our best overall minimalist sandal. Read In-depth review on the Xero Z Trails here.
Best Rugged Hiking Minimalist Sandals:
BEDROCK SANDALS CAIRN Adventure
✅ Superb traction and support
- Thickness: 14mm sole
- Weight (per pair): 15 oz (0.94 lbs)
- Midsole: Vibram sole
- Outsole & Lugs: XS Trek Vibram Rubber
The Bedrock Sandals Cairn is a rough and tough sandal built for the trail. These sandals are more like a lightweight and minimalist alternative to Chacos. We’ve worn these on the trail and around town. The 14mm sole is the thickest minimalist sandal we reviewed, and we loved the cushy comfort it provides.
We’ve had no problem with durability and thru-hikers on the PCT and AT are wearing these more and more. What we don’t like is the price, coming in as our second most expensive zero-drop sandal. We also aren’t huge fans of the weight. At 15 ounces it’s the heaviest on our list. However, these are our top pick for those looking for the best-rugged hiking minimalist sandals. Read In-depth review on Bedrock Cairn Adventure sandals here.
Fun fact: Bedrock Sandals launched in 2012 with a Kickstarter project.
Best Ultralight Minimalist Sandals:
EARTH RUNNERS ALPHA ADVENTURE
❌ Less traction and support
- Thickness: 11mm = 9mm base + 2mm tread
- Weight (per pair): 7.6 oz (0.48 lbs)
- Midsole: -
- Outsole & Lugs: Vibram Morflex Outsole
The Earth Runners Alpha Adventure are quality running sandals that are great for hiking and everyday wear too. We find the 7.6-ounce weight impressive, it’s the lightest model we reviewed. The unique grounding feature (a copper lace plug) keeps you connected with mother earth. The cotton footbed offers extra comfort, but we found if it gets wet it doesn’t dry super quickly.
We like that the lacing comes with a thin layer of nylon to minimize stretching. We found the traction and support to be on the lower side due to the thin sole and thin lacing system. If you want to go ultralight the Alpha Adventure is our top pick for the best ultralight minimalist sandal.
The Other Noteworthy Models
Shamma Sandals Mountain Goats
- Thickness: 11-12mm
- Weight (per pair): 11 oz (0.69 lbs)
- Midsole: -
- Outsole & Lugs: -
The Shamma mountain goats rate highly for us on comfort. Their straps fit like a glove and the footbed is softer than a pillow. Yet we found them rugged enough to cover serious terrain. They are in the middle of the pack weight-wise compared to the other models we reviewed.
Price-wise they are some of the most expensive on our list. We love the beautiful design. They are equally at home in urban environments as they are on the trail. If you’re looking for one of the lightest and most minimal sandals, take a peek at the 6-ounce Shamma Warriors.
Luna Sandals Oso Flaco
✅ Great for running
✅ Grippy traction
- Thickness: 7mm base + 4.5mm lugs
- Weight (per pair): 14.4 oz (0.90 lbs)
- Midsole: Vibram Midsole
- Outsole & Lugs: Waterproof Non-Marking Vibram® Megagrip Outsole; 4.5mm Lugs
Luna Sandals launched soon after Born to Run was released. Their founder, Barefoot Ted, was a main character in the book and has been running ultra-marathons in minimalist sandals since 2007. It’s no surprise then that the Oso Flaco’s are great running sandals. We love these sandals for rugged trail running. The Vibram soles and deep lugs give some of the best support of the models we reviewed.
Like Bedrock’s, the other rugged hiking sandal on our list, the Luna’s are heavy for minimalist sandals. We don’t love the price. At $125 these are the most expensive sandals on our list and we found them to be less comfortable than other options.
These are not minimalist sandals:
Chaco Z2 Classic
✅ Excellent support
❌ Extremely heavy
- Thickness: 2mm
- Weight (per pair): 31.1 oz (1.94 lbs)
- Midsole: LUVSEAT PU midsole
- Outsole & Lugs: ChacoGrip™ Rubber Compound, 3.5mm Lug Depth
Chacos are the classic outdoor sport sandals that have dominated the market for decades. We wanted to add these solely as a point of reference. You can see in the picture above they are significantly bigger and heavier than the other models on this list.
Chacos weigh nearly 2 lbs. Over double the weight of the Bedrocks, the next closest in our review. In fact, they weigh 4 times more than the Earth Runner Adventure Sandals, the lightest on our list. We like them for their excellent durability and support. We recommend them for a hiking sandal, but not as a minimalist sandal.
Key Factors To Consider When Choosing
Minimalist sandals range anywhere from $60 to upwards of $125+. The cost of a sandal can be based on its materials, leather sandals cost a premium vs foam, or if there are special features like a durable tread on the outer sole.
Many minimalist brands pride themselves on using materials and manufacturing methods that are both sustainable and ethical which will increase costs. If you’re on a budget or like a good craft project DIY minimalist sandals are a relatively easy project.
Minimalist sandals that provide the greatest value:
Affordable minimalist sandals: Xero Shoes Z-Trail
Premium minimalist sandals (most expensive):
Most minimalist sandals weigh less than half the weight of boots or running shoes. Weight will depend on the sandal’s material. For example, pairs made from leather will naturally be heavier than pairs made from synthetic materials.
We recommend 12 ounces or less per pair. How about Chacos? Chacos are one of the hikers' favorite zero drop sandals, but they weigh around 2 lbs (32 oz) and are not what we consider minimalist sandals.
The Lightest minimalist sandals: Earth Runners Alpha Adventure
Comfort is a mix of fit, strap type, and footbed material. We’ll cover each of those in more detail below. The most comfortable minimalist sandals will have a snug fit without slack.
The straps can be a big source of chafing, make sure they hold the sandal on securely without side-to-side slipping. For footbed material, cotton and leather are the most comfortable.
The most comfortable minimalist sandals:
Traction & Support
Just like hiking shoes, minimalist sandals need to have good traction and support. The soles are the biggest factor for traction. Look at the lug pattern, deeper lugs equal better traction. Vibram soles are the best when it comes to traction and grip.
Look at how a sandal straps to judge its support. Thicker straps can prevent your foot from sliding giving you ample support. Thinner straps don’t offer as much support on rugged terrain.
The minimalist sandals with the most traction and support:
Other Things to Consider
Zero drop is a defining characteristic of a minimalist sandal that enables the mid-strike. Zero drop sandals let feet move and rest in their natural position. With zero-drop soles, the height of the back of the sandal needs to be the same as the front - or have "zero drop".
The benefits of a zero-drop shoe that people have experienced include less knee pain, better ankle agility, improved posture, balance, and even drastic improvements in lower body strength.
Left: zero-drop sandal | Right: "classic" sandals with elevated heel
The goal is to have the sandal fit as closely and comfortably as possible to keep it from slipping around in wet conditions. Avoid extra space in your sandals. Your toes should come up just short of the tip of the sandal, nearly grazing its end, and your heel should round out evenly with the heel of the footbed.
Sole material will affect traction and support, comfort, and weight. The three most common materials are leather, canva, and Vibram soles.
- Leather: Leather sandals are durable, soft, water-resistant, and malleable—which means over time the leather forms to fit your foot. However, leather also has its downfalls. It’s heavier, it doesn’t dry as fast as canvas and it can get slippery when wet. This specifically poses a problem with leather-soled sandals and rainy conditions.
- Canva: Canva is a quick-drying, lightweight, moisture-wicking material that’s used in many minimalist sandal footbeds. Sandals made with canvas will be more flexible than leather and will have a soft texture. Sometimes, the insoles of canvas sandals will also have added grooves for improved grip.
- Vibram: lightweight and quick-drying, Vibram is a material specifically designed by an outsole manufacturer that makes hiking boots, work boots, and sandals. A Vibram sole is thin, lightweight, comfortable, and has excellent traction and abrasion resistance.It’s made from a blend of rubber and EVA and is a secure and suitable option for various terrains. The soles last upwards of 15 years and are said to be the “best of the best” in the durable sole industry.
The Bedrock Sandals Cairn uses Vibram soles.
In our opinion, minimalist sandals soles should be 14 mm or thinner to achieve a real "barefoot feel". Minimalist sandals are supposed to naturally adjust to the grooves of the earth, with the soles acting more like barriers for added protection against nature's elements. Thinner soles are more flexible.
If you’re new to minimalist sandals, you could start with a thicker sole, like the Bedrock Cairn, until your feet get accustomed to the change. Ultra-thin soles are the closest resemblance to walking barefoot. Personally, we love barefoot sandals that fall in the 5-8 mm range.
Shamma Sandals vs. Chacos
Straps come as horizontal or thong-style. Many brands use specially designed laces that are lightweight, comfortable, weather-resistant, adjustable, and durable.
Left: the horizontal strap brings toes together | Right: thong strap lets the toes spread out
- Horizontal Strap: Sandals with a horizontal toe strap usually feature a thicker strap that tightens and secures your foot in place and helps to keep it from sliding. The downfall here is that if you’re not used to wearing this style, it can get pretty uncomfortable. And, you might even develop hotspots after a while. A horizontal strap squeezes your toes together and causes Metatarsalgia - a fancy word for knuckle inflammation.
- Thong-Style Strap: With a thong style, your feet aren’t restricted by a strap and they’re able to move around more freely and let your toes naturally spread out. This non-restrictive feature makes the style more comfortable, but the sandal is more prone to slip in wet conditions or especially rough terrain.
Thong-style Sandals (Luna Sandals)
Consider the straps and sole of the sandal for their durability. Thicker nylon or leather straps are usually more flexible and resistant to tearing than braided or thin straps. Nylon’s also much more resilient to sunlight and rain, so any weather changes won’t affect the straps or flexibility. As for the soles, materials like Vibram and leather top the charts in the durability, traction, and grip department, but rubber fares better than leather in wet conditions.
And don’t forget about the warranty! Always look for sandals with at least a one-year warranty covering every part of the shoe (soles, footbed, and straps included.)
Curled Shamma Sandals (left), Xero Shoes Z-Trail (right)
When to Wear Minimalist Sandals?
Hiking in sandals has a few benefits.
- Breathability: Sandals are much cooler and more breathable on hot days than boots, and you can quickly adjust straps or tape your foot if you get hotspots.
- Convenience: Sandals also make wading through water or crossing streams a breeze.
Of course, wearing sandals for hiking has its time and place. Avoid wearing sandals for hiking in the following environments:
- Wet and humid climates: you might develop more rubbing which could lead to blisters.
- Desert: there's a risk of getting the top of your feet sunburnt—yikes!
- Dense forests: you won’t have that extra layer of protection that hiking shoes provide, so you’ll need to be extra cautious of stepping on poison ivy, thorns, or creatures that want to bite or sting you.
Many trail runners enjoy running in minimalist sandals because they’re less restrictive, more breathable, and less abrasive on their ankles and other joints.
Form-wise, a 3-point design is a favorite for runners because it stays secure and comfortable on the foot while still providing protection.
Wearing sandals while running can also enhance form and encourage a much-favored mid-foot strike rather than a heel-strike.
Sandals also work a variety of muscles in the lower body compared to tennis shoes, and they force runners to focus on where and how they’re stepping during their runs which can improve posture, overall form, and even lighter steps.
Minimalist sandals aren’t just for the hikers and runners out there. They can be a casual summer-time shoe option to help keep your feet cool, improve your lower body strength, and ultimately enhance posture.
Regularly wearing minimalist sandals has even been said to improve balance, agility, core strength, and bone density.
Barefoot running sandals (or minimalist sandals) exploded alongside barefoot running after the bestselling book, Born to Run, was released by Christopher McDougall in 2009.
After observing the ancient and superhuman running culture of the Tarahumara people in Mexico, McDougall concluded that humans evolved running barefoot. He argues that the advancements in running shoes have, ironically, led to more harm than good. The solution to the rise in running-related injury is to go barefoot or, in case of sharp objects, use minimalist sandals.
Barefoot enthusiasts believe the heel-toe strike (ie. heel hits the ground before the toes) of a shoe can cause overstriding, while the mid-strike (ie. foot hits the ground flat) of barefoot is balanced and causes a lower impact.
Running barefoot has many benefits, too. Since your feet are forced to engage with the contours and imperfections of the ground, "barefooters" report better alignment, balance, lower leg strength, report less injury, and more.
You mean we've been doing it all wrong?!
Ehhh... maybe. Let's dive into some of the science.
Is Barefoot Bad for Me?
The barefoot theory is still heavily debated and some people actually report worse injuries when switching from cushioned shoes to a pair of minimalist sandals.
GOOD FOR: Foot Strength
A recent study out of the University of Liverpool found that foot strength increased by 60% when runners wore minimalist shoes after only six months.
This study concluded that wearing heavily cushioned shoes decreases foot strength and alters the way feet naturally function, which can lead to stability issues and increase the chance of injury.
"[...] runners can adapt successfully to using minimal shoes without increased risk of injury if they do so gradually and carefully"- ScienceDirect
Another study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science tested the effects of running in minimal vs standard shoes by studying 33 healthy endurance runners over a 12-week training period. To do this, each runner first had their feet scanned by an MRI and then the group was divided into two groups: minimal vs standard footwear users.
After the 12 weeks, researchers studied the runners and found those who wore minimal footwear (4mm or less) experienced an increase in their “abductor digiti minimi” (the muscle that runs along the outside of the foot).
Since standard shoes typically have built-in support here, the minimalist wearers experienced a greater demand on the foot's longitudinal arch and its supporting muscles which lead to increased overall foot strength.
BAD FOR: Your Achilles' Tendon
On the other hand, a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine set out to determine if minimal shoes can be problematic for certain runners depending on their footstrike pattern, specifically as it relates to the Achilles tendon (a big problem area for runners).
"Achilles tendon loading rates were higher when subjects ran either in minimal shoes or barefoot than in standard shoes, regardless of foot strike." - The American Journal of Sports Medicine
This study tested 22 rearfoot strike runners who typically wear standard shoes, and instead had them shift between running in their normal shoes, minimal shoes, and barefoot. Throughout the study, the runners intentionally switched between running with a rearfoot strike and a forefoot strike with each.
Regardless of footstrike, the study concluded Achilles’ tendon loading was the highest in runners wearing minimal shoes, or going barefoot, compared to those that wore standard shoes which could increase the risk of tendinopathy.
© Eli Duke
Despite the controversy, one thing is certain - barefoot sandals and minimalist footwear is a growing movement and has a fanatical following. A lot of companies have risen to the occasion of making fantastic sandals for all outdoor activities, not just running.
Personally, I have become somewhat obsessed with the barefoot sandal movement. I use them for hiking, traveling, and everyday activities.
They are ultra-lightweight and thin, which makes them perfect to slide into my pack. They are super comfortable and let my feet breathe, but are much more durable and higher functioning than flip flops.
📸 Some photos in this post were taken by Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes)