Minimalist Hiking Sandals

Minimalist shoes are a type of footwear that provide a more natural experience for the feet similar to being barefoot, which is why they are also called “barefoot shoes.” There are options out there to wear minimalist shoes during all seasons (check out TMM team member’s Kristin’s post on barefoot winter boots!) This post will focus specifically on minimalist hiking sandals for exploring in the summer months, with lots of choices to consider depending on your lifestyle and terrain.

I was an avid Chacos wearer for decades, living in them whenever the weather was warm enough. But as I got older, my hips and knees started to hurt during hiking adventures, so I started to look into wearing minimalist sandals as a replacement for the Chacos.

There are two pairs of feets, one in a pair of black homemade sandals and one in a pairs of Chacos with blue straps. They are standing on sand.
Homemade huaraches on my partner, Chacos on me on a trip to Egypt in 2010.

My partner first started wearing barefoot sandals after reading the book Born to Run in 2010, making his own huaraches out of old tires and rope. He wore these everywhere for a few years, until they began to breakdown. He then moved on to other minimalist options, like Vibram FiveFingers, Vivobarefoot running sandals (no longer in production), and then to the Unshoes Keota below.

A pair of adult feet wear a pair of black minimalist hiking sandals, a baby is standing a top the adult's feet, they are in a creek.

While I initially resisted the barefoot “movement,” as more options became available and were more similar to the sports sandals I was accustomed to for hiking and everyday wear, I decided to take the plunge into the barefoot shoe world and haven’t looked back. I have gradually replaced my shoes as old ones have worn out, and I now wear minimalist trail runners, hiking boots, casual shoes, and (as you’ll see below) sandals.

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Characteristics of Minimalist Hiking Sandals

To be considered a barefoot sandal, shoes must have a thin sole with “ground feel” and zero drop, so the heel and the toe have the same height. Soles should not only be thin, but also flexible. Minimalist shoes are also wider and more “foot-shaped” compared to narrower options. Barefoot sandals also are secure to your foot (so no flip-flips or slides).

Benefits of Minimalist Hiking Sandals

Minimalist sandals are designed to mimic the feeling of walking barefoot while still offering some degree of protection and comfort and some of us who wear them agree on the many benefits to our bodies and our minds from wearing them. Here are some potential benefits of wearing minimalist sandals for hiking and other activities:

  • Improved Foot Strength and Flexibility: Minimalist sandals encourage your feet to move more naturally, allowing your muscles and tendons to strengthen and develop as they adapt to the varying terrain. This can lead to better overall foot strength and flexibility.
  • Enhanced Balance and Proprioception: With less cushioning and support than traditional shoes, minimalist sandals promote better sensory feedback from the ground. This can help improve your balance and proprioception (awareness of your body’s position in space).
  • Encourages Forefoot Striking: Many minimalist sandals have a thin sole, which encourages a forefoot or midfoot striking pattern while walking or running. This may help reduce the impact on joints and lower the risk of injuries associated with heel striking.
  • Promotes Natural Arch Support: Minimalist sandals often have little to no arch support, which allows your foot’s natural arches to develop and provide support naturally over time. I worried about this with my high arches, but haven’t missed arch support.
  • Encourages Mindful Walking: Wearing minimalist sandals encourages you to walk more mindfully and pay attention to your stride, posture, and the sensations underfoot. This can lead to a more enjoyable and meditative walking experience.
  • More Ground Contact: Minimalist sandals typically have a thinner sole, bringing you closer to the ground. This can help you feel more connected to your environment and provide a better sense of the terrain you’re walking on.
  • Lightweight and Portable: Minimalist sandals are often lightweight and easy to pack, making them convenient for travel or outdoor activities. Most of the options below are lightweight enough to make great “camp shoes” for backpacking trips!
An adult and three pair of kid feet stand in a circle. they are all wearing the same black, minimalist sandals.

Note: It’s important to note that while there are potential benefits to wearing minimalist sandals, they may not be suitable for everyone or for all activities. Transitioning to minimalist footwear should be gradual, allowing your feet and muscles time to adjust to the new movement patterns and sensations. I’ve made the mistake of jumping into running in barefoot shoes before, causing issues with my Achilles tendon and leading to months of pain. Start with wearing barefoot sandals for a little bit each day, gradually working your way to more time in them every day.

The Most Popular Barefoot Sandals for Hiking and Outdoor Activities

With minimalist shoes becoming more and more popular, it’s easier than ever to find a wide variety of minimalist sandals from casual, everyday wear to fancier kicks. Below are a few of our favorites here at TMM, along with some other popular minimalist sport sandals for hiking, running, wild water play, and other outdoor adventures.

Unshoes Keota

If you’re looking for a sandal that looks and feels as minimal as possible (at one of the most reasonable price points), the Unshoes Keota is a great starting point. The primary innovation of these shoes is the elastic band connecting the three primary strands of support. With the feel of a sturdy and durable hair tie, this high tensile loop allows for the sandal to be easier to take on and off, and allows for some give in fit when the shoe is in motion. 

A person wears a pair of black minimalist sandals standing on a blue SUP
TMM Team Member Kristin wears her Unshoes Keota while paddle-boarding

The extra give helps to make sure there weight is distributed throughout the webbing system so that pressure points are reduced, but it took some time to find a tightness level that worked consistently. The adjustment itself was a little tricky, as the stiffness of the adjustment clasp works to prevent the webbing from shifting, but can make the adjustment process difficult. But after an adjustment period (in particular developing calluses on the bottom of the toes), my partner is able to do long runs in these shoes, up to ten miles.

A person wears a pair of black sandals with green straps, standing amidst pine cones and straw

With a slim rubber sole, this shoe is lightweight and flexible. Without any additional cushioning these shoes are very loud, especially running downhill on firm surfaces, and my partner gets a lot of head turns as people look to see if they are getting chased down by a tall man in flip-flops.

Available at ($63)


EarthRunners are my personal favorite sandals for casual wear and light hiking. I wear them almost every day in the summer! While they may seem a bit flimsy at first, they are still going strong after a couple years of near-daily wear for four months out of the year.

EarthRunners are “earthing” shoes, meaning they are designed to facilitate a person’s connection with the electrical charges pulsing in the earth. The earthing (also known as grounding), movement believes that this connection with the earth leads to overall health and well-being including better sleep, less inflammation in the body, and improvement of mental health. To promote earthing, the EarthRunner sandals contain a copper ground plug (which also means they recommend not wearing them in thunderstorms!)

A pair of feet in Canvas sandals with tan straps - there are rocks and water in the background

EarthRunners come in a few different variations; I wear the Circadian with a 9mm Vibram sole. The sole is not super grippy on the Circadian, so slippery conditions are bit more hazardous with these. But they have the option to purchase the Alpha version, which has a thicker (10.5 mm) and grippier Vibram sole.

If you are moving from a different kind of sport sandal, EarthRunners can take some getting used to with the adjustable toe strap, but I love it now. It feels really secure and super comfortable. I can slip them on and off pretty easily now that they are adjusted to my feet.

A pair of feet standing in water wearing sandals with tan straps

One of my favorite features of the EarthRunners is the option for a canvas footbed, which makes wearing in water feel really comfortable and secure as the footbed doesn’t get slippery when it’s wet.

What I don’t like as much: they don’t work as well for long hikes or on rockier, technical terrain because of the very thin sole, so I reach for other minimalist sport sandals (like the Lunas, below).

Available to purchase at ($68-$94, depending on style)

Luna Sandals

Luna Sandals are the “original” sport running sandals on the market, founded by a man called “Barefoot Ted,” whose journey to barefoot running is chronicled in the book Born to Run. These sandals are robust and durable, made for outdoor adventuring.

Lunas come in many different varieties and it can be intimidating to know which ones will work best. But on their website you can filter based on activity and how much ground feel you prefer, making it easier to find the right ones for your situation and preferences. You can also filter by options made in the USA, in their factory in Wenatchee, Washington.

I chose the Middle Bear, which is not the thinnest or thickest sole but a nice medium ground-feel. I like a lot of ground feel, but I also needed a sole that would handle rocky, technical trails since I knew I’d be using my Lunas for long day bikes and backpacking.

A pair of feet on a mountain peak, wearing sandals with blue sraps.

The Middle Bear have very grippy but flexible all-terrain Vibram soles, making them perfect for slippery rocks or rocky trails. I still get the benefits of barefoot shoes but with the durability and protection from rocks like a traditional sports sandals offer.

All that being said, they aren’t perfect! Even though I’ve been wearing my Lunas a few months now, adjusting can still be tricky. If I don’t get the adjustment right, they will loosen up a little as I hike, and so I have to stop and tighten them again. I like the feel of when the slider piece is further from the toe strap, but it creeps its way up there sometimes if it’s not pulled taut. This can especially be annoying when backpacking with a heavy pack!

a Pair of feet with black painted toenails stands on a rock with water flowing, wearing sandals with blue straps.

Another thing that bothers me is when the footbed gets wet, the sandals get slippery (unlike the Canvas footbed of the EarthRunners). For steep downhills, the toe strap can get painful even when adjusted perfectly, so I usually switch them out for trail runners during downhill sections.

Available to purchase at ($95-$125, depending on style) and

Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals

Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals are similar in design to the Lunas above, but with a loop that goes between the toes rather than a strap and a slightly different adjustment system. Like most of the other options for hiking sandals, these have a rugged Vibram sole with excellent grip in slippery or technical conditions.

Bedrocks are different from other minimalist sandals in that they have two versions, a “3D” or molded version, or a style without molding more similar to the other sandals on the market.

They are super durable too, as one of the most robust minimalist sport sandals on the market. Like popular sport sandals (Chacos or Tevas), Bedrocks come in so many fun colors and patterns so you can find a style that fits your aesthetic.

Available to purchase at ($115-$140, depending on style).

Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals

I am a fan of Xero Shoes and own several pair of their Prio sneakers and casual Tari boots (my favorite in winter!) Xero has a number of different sandal options, including the Z-Trail, which are sport sandals most similar to Chacos or Tevas. These are different than the options above in that they don’t have a strap or loop that goes in between the toes for additional stability.

The Z-Trails are super light (4.3 oz for women’s size 7!) so they won’t weigh you down out on the trail and make amazing camp shoes for backpacking. At the same time, they also have a flexible sole that can handle most trails. They aren’t quite as grippy and functional on technical trails as the Luna or Cairns though. I do like the comfort of these and wear them often, but they don’t have the high-quality feel of these others.

Xero sells a build-your-own barefoot sandal kit that’s one of the most affordable options you can find in the minimalist shoe world ($19.95-$30.95, depending on sizing, thickness, and lace preferences). If you are into DIY and want a sandal that’s as custom as possible, these might be a great option for you! These kits remind me a lot of the DIY homemade huaraches that were popular during the early days of the barefoot running movement.

Barefoot Sandals for Outdoor Mamas

If you are interested in the benefits of barefoot shoes, but are struggling to say goodbye to your Chacos or Tevas, some of these options might work for you! Whether you are hiking, running, or playing in the river, there are so many different minimalist sandals to choose from now.

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  • Cait currently lives in Western North Carolina with her three kids, but they have bounced all over from Utah, Texas, Wisconsin, and Sweden before moving to their current home. She loves any and all outdoor activities, and spends a lot of her week hauling her kids around on an electric cargo bike and trying to convince anyone and everyone to go backpacking or climbing with her. She has a PhD in Sociology with an emphasis on Gender and Sexuality, and currently works full-time as a User Experience Researcher in the tech industry. She loves to talk all things feminism, gardening, car-free life, and the Danish political drama Borgen.

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