Best Minimalist Sandals – Guide to Barefoot & Running Sandals

The best minimalist sandals only use a few straps and they are made with zero drops. Drop refers to the height difference between the heel and the ball of the foot. I wasn’t sure about zero drops, given I often use walking shoes which have a drop of around 10mm.

If you are in a hurry or just don’t want to read through a few thousand words, I recommend Xero Shoes Z-Trail in their versions for men and Xero for women are the best minimalist sandals.

But there are a few advantages to this design, which includes a more natural walking or running experience. At the same time, minimalist sandals are not as bulky as they are made with just a few straps which hold the sole to the foot.

How to Choose the Best Minimalist Sandals

Choosing the best minimalist sandals requires a bit of research. Like me, you might be confused about the various materials and designs on offer. From EVA and gum rubber to zero drop or small drop exceptions, you need to consider a few characteristics.

Synthetic Leather vs. Real Leather

Many minimalist sandals are made with leather or synthetic leather straps. These materials have their strengths and weaknesses. Real leather comes from animals hides such as cattle and buffalo. Alternatively, synthetic leather is made from various plastics treated with wax at the surface.

What I like the most about the real leather sandals I own is that they are durable. I already own a few pairs which look as good as new a few years down the line. Then, there’s the element of uniqueness, as the pores on the leather surface make each material different. However, if you’re on a budget, synthetic leather straps might be a good alternative, together with nylon straps.

Why Non-marking Rubber Soles are a Must

When you’re following trails, you might not think too much about the quality of the outsole minimalist sandals come with. But whenever you enter a store or any indoor premises with clean floors, you immediately realize just how important the rubber on the outsole is. Like many others, I already had my share of sandals which left clear rubber marks on the floor.

EVA Foam Support

EVA or Ethylene-vinyl acetate is a rubber-like foam which is used in cushioning. If you like trekking like me, you might not know that some of your walking shoes might already include the supportive foam. There are 3 main EVA variations with different degrees of support and most of them are seen on modern minimalist sandals.

Mesh Materials and Velcro Straps

Other materials seen on minimalist sandals include the omnipresent mesh. If you like walking in hot conditions as I do during the summer, the added ventilation might add breathability in the areas of the straps. Velcro straps are often used together with nylon mesh materials for added stretchiness. I vividly remember an old pair of sandals which were made with mesh straps and they were great for hugging the feet and following the natural contour of the fit a bit better to thick leather.

Are Minimalist Sandals Suitable for Hiking?

Minimalist sandals are great for hiking. Sandals have a long history and the minimalist designs were as useful for comfort and breathability hundreds of years ago as they are today. As a fun fact, I remember reading about the oldest sandals on Earth as they were found in Oregon’s Fort Rock Cave. These sandals dating back thousands of years look exactly like modern minimalist sandals, with just a few straps made of dry willow leaves.

Can I Run in Minimalist Sandals?

Sandals have come far from their first historical discovery in Fort Rock Cave. Today, they can absorb shocks better with thinner and thinner soles and as a result, they can be suitable for running. Their variations are based on the actual surface you plan to run on. I would highly advise on getting sandals with thicker cushioning if you plan to run on trails or other uneven surfaces.

Are Sandals Made with Arch Support?

Not all sandals have good arch support. Zero drop sandals have no arch support at all. However, there are a few good minimalist sandals with contoured midsoles, just right for arch support. A good tip I was given here was to choose the sandals which were fitted for my foot from the start, as I cannot rely on adding an insole to my sandals, as I often do with my trekking shoes.

Can I Wear Sandals if I Suffer from Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of a tissue which runs from the heel to the toes. Its symptoms include stabbing pain somewhere in the heel area. Across my outdoor adventures, I would often see people with this condition which only gets worse with hours of standing and walking. In this case, I would recommend staying away from thin soles as they could do a worse job at absorbing some of the shocks transmitted from the walking surface to the foot.

11 Best Minimalist Sandals I Would Consider

From the thousands of possible options, I recommended these minimalist sandals for their combination of materials and simple designs. I still remember my first experience with minimalist sandals and how surprised I was to find so much comfort in such thin materials with just a few straps running over my feet.

  1. Xero Shoes Z-Trail – Women’s Lightweight Hiking and Running Sandal

Xero Shoes Z-Trail - Women's Lightweight Hiking and Running Sandal - Barefoot-Inspired Minimalist Trail Sport Sandals

 

You can count on these minimalist sandals for long walks and even running. Impressively, they roll up and they can fit any small pocket of a backpack. Here’s what else you can expect.

Pros

  • A lightweight performer specifically made for long wear hours
  • Proven durability and abrasion resistance of up to 5.000miles (nearly 5 times the length of the longest Camino de Santiago)
  • High versatility apart from walking – yoga, rafting, jogging, and even crossfit
  • Zero drop design – mainly suitable if you’re a huge fan of the barefoot-like walking experience
  • Only 10mm in outsole thickness which doesn’t impede the top running speed
  • Z-style nylon straps suitable for a minimalist fan
  • Added heel cup to keep the foot in place better
  • The popular design is seen on Shark Tank

Cons

  • The Velcro strap needs to be a bit longer for some users

  1. Teva Men’s Original Universal Sandal

Teva Men's Original Universal minimalist hiking Sandal

 

Teva provides EVA cushioning and extra arch support, I see these sandals like a good all-rounder. They can be used on trails since they have foam comfort as they can be used in urban environments when traveling. However, you might need to go half a size down for a tight fit.

Pros

  • Available in all colors, these minimalist sandals are made for both men and women
  • Includes EVA foam cushioning, specific to sports shoes and known for its low weight and high energy responsiveness
  • Based on rubber sole with good traction on wet surfaces
  • Contoured footbed specifically made for arch support
  • May reduce pain with inflammation such as Plantar Fasciitis
  • Thin outsole favors a more barefoot-like walking experience
  • 2 Velcro straps at the ankle and on the front of the foot made for a tight fit
  • 16 colors to choose from which fit any outfit
  • Made by a respected brand dating back to the ’80s

Cons

  • It is a good idea to go half a size down if you’re going to wear them for outdoor sports

  1. Xero Shoes Z-Trek – Men’s Minimalist Barefoot-Inspired Sport Sandal

Xero Shoes Z-Trek - Men's Minimalist Barefoot-Inspired Sport Sandal - Hiking, Trail, Running, Walking

 

These zero drop sandals are only 5.5mm in thickness. I would back them in my backpack on any type or long hiking expedition or trip. Since they dry quickly, they can even be worn in water, which means they offer a type of foot protection not many can deliver.

Pros

  • Designed for men and available in charcoal black, mocha coffee, multi red, and multi blue
  • One of the lightest designs of its class, highly suitable for travel purposes
  • Full roll up versatility based on the flexibility of the outsole
  • Minimalist Z-style straps which adjustable tightness around the ankle
  • Zero drop design (based on the characteristics borrowed from running shoes in the early ’70s)
  • High versatility for walking, trekking, crossfit, hiking, and outdoor yoga practice
  • With 5.5mm thickness, the minimalist sandals are made for a barefoot-like walking experience
  • High outsole traction suitable for slippery surfaces such as rocks
  • Vegan-friendly design free from leather

Cons

  • Needs silicone hoops to hold the excess strap in place

  1. Vibram Women’s VI-S Fitness and Yoga Shoe

Vibram Women's VI-S Fitness and Yoga Shoe

 

The Vibram form-fitting design is highly suitable for women who need barefoot-like minimalist sandals. Being made by Vibram, you can expect a lot of attention given to the outsole. But their overall versatility is what truly makes them special.

Pros

  • Made with a minimalistic form-fitting design
  • Only uses 2 thin straps to stay on the feet
  • One of the few minimalist sandals which don’t use a Velcro strap
  • Suitable for active users and sports such as cycling, walking, hiking, and yoga
  • Stretchy heel cup which naturally follows the contour of the foot
  • Made with a flexible Vibram outsole known for its traction on all surfaces
  • Available on pink, black and beige
  • For some women, they feel more like a glove then actual sandals
  • Proven versatility on trails for any current Vibram fan

Cons

  • I would not recommend these minimalist sandals for any formal event

  1. Gold Pigeon Shoes Simplus Waterproof Sandals

Gold Pigeon Shoes Simplus Ultra Light Weight Waterproof Flip Flops - Slide - Sandals for Women & Men

Gold Pigeon are made with open-toed and toe-strap designs, these sandals are an affordable design for walking. You might feel unsure about which one of the multiple colors and designs to go for. But given their affordability, you may as well purchase a few of them to suit various outfits and activities.

Pros

  • Made in 39 unique colors such as light blue and neon green
  • Includes open-toed and toe-strap designs with rubber and nylon straps
  • Includes Velcro straps for the open-toed designs
  • Based on yoga mat-style sole for added comfort and cushioning
  • High maximum load capacity at 400lbs
  • Included perforations in the outsole make them suitable for quick drying and walking through water
  • Designed with a slip-resistant outsole suitable for most even surfaces
  • Free from BPA, the materials of the sandals will stay in good shape even after being machine washed
  • Medium to wide construction recommends these sandals for those with wide feet
  • Available in half sizes makes them particularly interesting for ultra-wide or narrow feet

Cons

  • I find these sandals too mushy for those with inflammation such as Plantar Fasciitis or gout

 

  1. Xero Shoes Z-Trek Minimalist Sandal

Xero Shoes Z-Trek Minimalist Sandal - Barefoot Hiking, Trail, Running Sport S.

 

This version of the Z-Trek is a bit more elegant. I see them as the option you take out off the beaten path on trails as well as back in town shopping or walking. At their core, they’re made to be trail sandals. However, the elegant design of the straps makes them the solution which replaces regular everyday sandals.

Pros

  • Made with a minimalist outsole, a Xero shoe staple
  • The height of the outsole only measures 5.5mm, which recommends them for walking
  • Made with flexible materials, these minimalists sandals can roll-up and even be stored pockets
  • Available in elegant black, red, brown and blue colors
  • Designed with 2-ways strap adjustability at the ankle
  • As most other sandals from this line, they are made with a tested outsole up to 5.000 miles, the equivalent of 71 full hikes on the Tonto Trail in Grand Canyon National Park
  • Based on zero drop principles, the sandals encourage natural movements of the feet
  • Rubber outsole offers traction on rocks, trails, kayaks or even in yoga classes
  • Designed with a small heel cup, valuable on various hiking descents
  • The outsole is made with small multi-direction chevron-style lugs, suitable for climbing

Cons

  • I can certainly say it takes a few days to get fully comfortable with zero drop sandals when coming from cushioned alternatives

  1. Luna Sandals 2017 Origen Flaco Hiking Sandal

Luna Sandals Mono Winged Edition | Minimalist Running and Hiking Sandals - Lightweight 5.9 oz Comfortable Sandals for Men and Women | Adjustable Fit

 

Some minimalist sandals are versatile while others are pure trekking designs. The Origen Flacos are sandals specifically made for hiking. With their performance laces, they are made for intensive physical effort. Their leather laces offer an elegant twist to these performance-orientated sandals.

Pros

  • Available in performance and leather laces, sourced from Mexico
  • Designed with multiple points of adjustability for the laces for a tight fit
  • The fit system of the laces is fully patented which means you’ll only see this design in Luna’s Sandals
  • Made with low weight as a typical men’s size 9 only weighs 8.03oz
  • Sustained by an original tire-treaded outsole, perfect for traction and thousands of miles of reliability
  • Based on a zero-drop design, highly suitable for a natural way of exploring off-road trails
  • Slightly thicker 10mm outsole comes with better shock absorption

Cons

  • none

  1. Skechers Women’s On-The-go 400-Radiance Heels Sandals

Skechers Women's On-The-go 400-Radiance Heels Sandals

 

If you value comfort above aesthetics, these women’s Skechers is one of the options to consider. Mainly suitable for holiday wear or for women who need better shock absorption from their sandals, these Skechers have a familiar feel if you’ve worn any other similar design from the manufacturer.

Pros

  • Based on proven EVA foam cushioning, highly praised in shock absorption
  • Added boost and energy based on the thick foam outsole
  • Designed with hook and loop closure
  • Available in natural beige, black, and navy blue
  • Made with durable synthetic straps which can be hand washed when needed
  • Suitable for walking long distances either trekking or in urban environments
  • Made with a responsive midsole, recommended against sweat buildup

Cons

  • Even if not very stylish, I would see these sandals as close to perfect with added options for half sizes

  1. Keen Men’s Newport H2 Closed Toe Sandals

Keen Men's Newport H2 Closed Toe Sandals

 

When it comes to hiking difficult trails, I use closed-toe sandals for that extra toe protection. These Keen’s sandals are based on such a design and as a result, they protect the toes in case of tripping or in case of hitting small rocks.

Pros

  • Inspired by trekking shoes, the sandals are made with a closed-toe design
  • Adjustability and fit are controlled by a classic Velcro strap and shoe-inspired lacing
  • Properly fits even when rushing as they are made with an included heel-loop
  • Thick rubber outsole with extra durability in the high friction areas
  • Good grip on various surfaces and plenty of stability when passing rivers and streams
  • Multi-directional lug pattern suitable for walking up and down mountains and hills
  • Inner mesh lining for added breathability on extra hot days
  • Added EVA foam cushioning on the midsole, similar to what is used in sport’s shoes
  • Available in half sizes from 6 to 12

Cons

  • A bit too bulky for trail running fans

  1. Teva Men’s Katavi Outdoor Sandal

Teva Men's Katavi Outdoor Sandal, Walnut, 9 US

 

One of my pet peeves is with the poor fit on some minimalist sandals. Luckily, Teva’s Katavi Outdoor Sandals don’t have this issue with its 3 adjustments straps. Two of them fix the sandal to the ankle while the third one fixes them to the front of the foot. This type of adjustability is still not seen on many designs, but other advantages also characterize Teva’s release.

Pros

  • Open-toe design made for the best ventilation
  • Made with adjustable hook and loop straps, recommended for those with wide or narrow feet
  • Include heel pull tab for quick foot adjustments
  • High 1.25” heel suitable for better comfort in the Achilles’ tendon
  • Aggressive sole pattern design suitable for hiking and outdoor adventures
  • Made with arch support and suitable for overpronation
  • Abrasion-resistant rubber outsole recommended for outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking or cycling

Cons

  • Not the most comfortable solution for low arches

  1. Oofos – Unisex OOriginal Sport

OOFOS - Unisex OOriginal Sport - Post Run Recovery Thong Sandal

 

Like many, I’m a strong advocate for proper recovery, especially on multi-day hikes. It is the way you treat your feet at the end of the day which can make the difference the following day. The Oofos recovery minimalist sandals are made exactly for this purpose and help your feet recover. At the moment, they are also used for other types of objectives such as recovering from injuries or simply dealing with the specifics of Plantar Fasciitis or gout.

Pros

  • Made with a shock-absorption foam, used for better feet care
  • Reduces shocks on feet, knees and lower back
  • Minimalist design with no adjustment straps to worry about
  • Available in 13 daring colors for men and women
  • Made with a heel height of just 1”
  • Designed with minimum arch support of the midsole
  • Soft toe thong specifically made for sensitive feet

Cons

  • Mainly made for walking on straight surfaces, I wouldn’t recommend hiking with these sandals

Final Thoughts

I think that the Xero Shoes Z-Trail in their versions for men and Xero for women are the best minimalist sandals. They drive innovation with the thin outsole and they can be rolled up and stored easily in a backpack. Teva’s Original Universal sandals are a good choice as well, especially with the EVA cushioning. But unfortunately, these sandals are not as versatile as the Xero shoe design.

Another advantage of Xero Shoes offers in the Z-Trail series is a large number of strap materials and colors to choose from. Starting with leather and continuing with nylon straps, there are plenty of options to suit all wearers.

If you’re like me and you also like to wear sandals around town after a long hike or run, such versatility becomes even more important. At the same time, I find the zero drop design of the shoes suitable for purists. While I’m not a perfectionist by any means, I still enjoy the natural feel this design gives me whenever I’m out in nature or when I’m wandering around city streets.

Given the outsole is non-marking, I can easily pop in a store to do some quick groceries after a long day out in nature. If I’m out on trails for multiple days, the fact that my feet don’t sweat and that they stay dry for longer is crucial as well. However, unlike most other sandals, Xero Shoes are also quick to dry. If I have to cross a small stream, I’m confident the sandals will completely dry in a matter of minutes.

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