The Ultimate in Lightweight Hiking Footwear
Hiking sandals are the ultimate in ultralight backpacking footwear. A quality pair can come in as low as one and one-quarter pounds.
The lighter the load you carry, the lighter can be your footwear. Carrying an ultralight backpack can allow you, in the right environmental and climate conditions to wear only trekking sandals—and many hikers do.
What are the Right Conditions?
In order to wisely use hiking sandals exclusively, your pack should be very light, the terrain very mild and unobstructed and the climate cool to warm. With these conditions met, go ahead and give trekking sandals a try.
Is There a Place Outside of These Conditions?
Certainly! Wear sandals at stream crossings to save your boots from getting wet. Wear them in camp to give your feet a much needed rest at the end of a long day. Wear them during mild sections of an otherwise rough trail to provide ventilation to your feet. Wear them with socks and liners in the early morning when it is a bit too cool for the open sandals.
Just remember that with open sandals you have virtually no protection from sticks or other protrusions from the trail. Therefore, use them when they make sense. Neither do they provide ankle support, so wearing them in rough terrain is not a good idea.
How to Choose the Right Pair
There are some basic principles to follow when choosing hiking sandals. First, most come in whole sizes only. If you are a half-size don’t be tempted to choose the next lower size. You want to be sure that you have a little shoe left past your toes to protect them from trail obstacles. Choose the next larger size.
Secondly, choose a model with a good arch support and a curved (not flat) foot bed. No matter how mild the conditions, you are not walking across the back yard. You have a pack on your back that will be supported by your feet. An arch support helps to keep the foot in proper alignment as you walk and provides support to prevent pain. A curved foot bed helps to keep the foot inside the sandal and minimizes slipping around. A neoprene foot bed also helps to minimize slipping inside the sandal.
Adjustable straps help to make a closer to custom fit. Every foot is different. A sandal perfectly adjusted to my foot might rub blisters or be too loose or too snug on your foot. The more points of adjustment, the more you can make the sandal fit your foot. You might even find that you prefer to change the adjustment when you begin a downhill descent.
The sole of the hiking sandal should be made of Vibram rubber with a deep lug. This provides for durability as well as traction. Rubber will grip on slippery surfaces both dry and wet. A deep lug helps to provide traction in loose terrain.
Most experienced hikers tend to lean toward nylon straps because they are durable and dry quickly. If you find a good fitting, quality sandal that is made with some leather on the straps, be sure to use a quality waterproofing agent on the leather. Leather left wet for prolonged periods tends to shrink, crack and break. Nylon, of course, is naturally water resistant and will dry very quickly so no additional waterproofing is necessary.
Boots? Sandals? How do I choose?
You don’t have to. Many hikers take both. It is very convenient to have a pair of lightweight hiking sandals attached to the outside of your backpack to slip on during stream crossings. Then at the end of the day, slip on your sandals in camp and give both your boots and your feet a rest. Have to get up in the middle of the night? Slip on your sandals, they are easier to put on than your boots and you won’t trip over the laces (which you KNOW you won’t tie). Also, in case one of your boots completely falls apart on the trail…yes, it happens…you have emergency footwear to get you through the hike. A quality pair of hiking sandals will serve you well.
Return from Hiking Sandals to Hiking Boots
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