It goes without saying, but hiking sandals have a lot of advantages over hiking shoes and boots when it comes to summer adventures in the backcountry. Not only do they cause fewer blisters but they also let the feet breathe and are extremely adaptable and adjustable. And when it comes to this type of footwear, two brands stand above the rest – Chaco and Keen.
But which one of them is better? Which brand manufactures sandals that are more practical, comfortable, and stylish? In this article, I’ll be taking a thorough look at the most popular sandals made by each company and, by doing so, try to help you determine which brand’s footwear suit your needs the best.
The Primary Differences Between Chacos and Keens
As you can already guess, “Chacos” and “Keens” are the terms most people use to describe hiking sandals made by these two brands. In this part of the article, I’ll be taking a quick look at the main differences between them – stuff like, which ones are more durable, which ones provide better ankle support, or which ones are actually better for trekking.
Are these the same questions you’ve been asking yourself? If so, here’s everything you need to know:
- Chaco is a brand with a wider array of water-ready sandals, and their footwear generally dries faster. However, Keen has the Whisper model on offer, which is “good in and out of water”.
- Chacos are typically more open (they don’t sport as many straps), which makes them better for around-town use and warm-weather hiking. To my eyes, they also look more stylish, but this is, of course, highly subjective.
- Chacos come equipped with straps that are very adjustable. In other words, tailoring a pair of Chaco sandals to your feet is as easy as it gets.
- Keens are well-known for their ability to fully enclose (around & under) and support one’s feet. They are great for walking or hiking long distances.
- Keens are a great choice for all those looking for sandals that provide good toe protection. Most models manufactured by this company come with strong, rubber-made toe bumpers.
What Do You Need a Pair of Sandals For?
Are you looking for a pair of stylish sandals that you’ll be wearing around town? Or do you need a pair of practical, durable sandals for summertime trekking adventures?
It goes without saying, but this is undoubtedly the most important question you need to ask yourself before getting yourself a pair of Chacos or Keens – both companies offer plenty of different models for all kinds of uses.
For example, let’s take a closer look at the Ana Cortez Sandals and Whisper Sandals – both of these are made by Keen but they’re quite different in many ways.
The Ana Cortez sandals are perfectly fine for around-town use – there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s quite easy to see that they shouldn’t really be used for trekking.
The ankle strap is not thick enough and therefore doesn’t provide sufficient support. The same can be said for the outsole – it’s not grippy enough to be used on rough terrain.
On the other hand, Keen’s Whisper sandals are more than suitable for trekking. In fact, that’s what they were made for. These sandals are capable of holding the entire foot firmly in place, removing the chances of you slipping and spraining your ankle.
However, in my opinion, those searching for a pair of sandals they’ll be able to safely submerge underwater should definitely get themselves a pair of Chacos. That’s because most of the footwear made by Chaco comes equipped with rubber soles, and these can be used both in and out of water.
And while it’s true that you can use the aforementioned Keen Whisper sandals underwater, their straps don’t dry as quickly. I’ll talk about this more in the next section of the article.
The Importance of Materials
Obviously, nothing influences the practicality and functionality of particular sandals as much as the material out of which they’re made. The material will influence the sandal’s overall quality, fit, longevity, as well as purpose.
Fortunately, both of the brands I’m comparing in this article use only the materials of the highest quality. And that is also why their footwear isn’t exactly cheap. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, it guarantees that both Chacos and Keens are exceptionally durable and that they can be worn for years.
However, if we compare Keen Ana Cortez Sandals, which I’ve already mentioned above, to Chaco ZX2 Classic Sandals, we’ll notice that the former model features materials that don’t fare that well underwater, i.e. a cork midsole and a leather upper. In other words, these Keens would probably fall apart after some time if you would frequently use them in wet and moist environments.
Chacos, on the other hand, are made out of rubber, which, as you probably already know, fares quite well underwater. Furthermore, these sandals sport non-slip footbeds – they’re as stable as a pair of sandals can be. Another thing worth mentioning here is that the upper parts of the ZX2 Classic sandals are made out of thin straps, and these dry very fast.
Don’t get me wrong, however – just like its rival, Keen also designs, manufactures, and sells sandals that can be worn underwater. But it’s crucial to learn the difference between the sandals which can and which can’t be worn underwater. If you don’t do that, you’ll be at risk of throwing your money away.
The Keen Whisper Sandals, which I’ve talked about a couple of paragraphs above, can be used underwater. However, their straps are exceptionally wide and take a lot of time to completely dry out.
Also, water-absorbing materials add weight to the sandals, which is precisely why the Chacos win in this department – they’re made out of rubber and their straps aren’t as wide.
And one more thing – those planning to spend a lot of time walking/hiking in their sandals should definitely have comfort as their main priority, i.e. look for sandals made out of comfortable materials.
The Keen Newport H2 Sandals, for example, feature microfiber footbed covers, which are significantly softer than any kind of rubber and therefore a lot cozier to hike in.
In summary, once you’ve decided what you’ll be using your sandals for, it’s very important that you pick a pair whose materials match your needs. It’s the only way to make sure that you won’t have issues of any kind while using them.
Are the Sandals Adjustable?
Once you’ve figured out the factors I mentioned above, you’ll have to make sure that the Chaco/Keen sandals you’re looking to buy have a good fit.
In my years of hiking, I’ve met quite a lot of people who’ve always had major problems with finding footwear that actually fits their feet. Typically, it was because they had really wide feet or high arches.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, I would recommend you to go with Chaco. The sandals made by this company are usually adjustable all around, i.e. you can widen or loosen their straps as much as you want.
As for the sandals made by Keen, some are quite adjustable and some really aren’t. In any case, none of them sport the level of adjustability found on Chacos.
Grip, Support, and Traction are Vital
Just like the materials; grip, support, and traction go hand in hand with the purpose of the sandals. Those planning to wear this type of footwear around town don’t really need to pay that much attention to traction, though.
Without a particular pair of sandals in mind, talking about these things can be quite challenging – after all, every pair is different. However, here are a couple of tips that should help you get a pair of Keens or Chacos that won’t disappoint you in any department:
Those who know a thing or two about sandals also know that these kinds of shoes often provide lousy arch and ankle support. So, it’s quite easy to hurt yourself while wearing this type of footwear, no matter how rough or flat the terrain is.
Models whose outsoles are completely smooth typically provide horrible traction, and they’re the last thing you’d want to wear during your summertime trekking escapades (a short day hike is fine, though, but only as long as it doesn’t take place on rocky terrain).
Those who often take on genuinely challenging hiking sections should definitely opt for a pair of sandals with good toe protection. Keen has a couple of closed-toe models on offer and these are a great choice for difficult terrain.
But generally speaking, neither of the two brands I’m comparing in this article is going to disappoint you in terms of traction and grip. Almost every sandal made by Chaco and Keen sports a non-marking outsole with lots of thick lugs. And that’s yet another reason why the footwear made by these brands is quite expensive.
Popular Chaco Sandals Reviewed
When it comes to leather sandals, one thing is certain – they look exceptionally stylish, and the same can be said for Chaco’s Fallon sandals. If the looks are really important to you, you’ll be pleased to know that these shoes go well with pretty much any kind of clothes.
The Chaco Fallon sandals sport a suede footbed and a full-grain leather upper. Therefore, they’re not something you’d want to use in moist environments – suede and water don’t really get along together. However, these sandals are more than suitable for summertime hikes, as they feel extremely comfortable on the feet.
One of the best things about this sandal is undoubtedly its Luvseat footbed. These are everyday-wear sandals, and that’s precisely why this feature is so important – it guarantees that you’ll never feel like walking barefoot on concrete while wearing the Chaco Fallon sandals.
In addition to the overall comfort it provides, the Luvseat footbed also conforms to the foot’s shape.
These sandals also have non-marking rubber outsoles. They are not slippery and can be used for both around-town walking and car driving. But if you’re shopping for a pair of sandals that you’ll be using solely for trekking, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
- Premium full-grain leather upper
- Comfortable Luvseat footbed
- Great for around-town use
- Not for hiking
Chaco ZX3 Classic
Just like most sandals made by Chaco, these can also be safely used underwater.
First of all, the ZX3 sandals are equipped with non-slip footbeds, and these ensure complete stability – wading through streams in these sandals feels just like walking on dry land. Second, these sandals have straps that are very thin, i.e. they don’t take a lot of time to dry out.
However, there are enough of these thin straps on the ZX3 Classic sandals to keep the feet in place – you’ll never have to worry about stability.
The outsoles, on the other hand, are made out of rubber and feature deep lugs. Excellent underwater traction is guaranteed due to the fact that these sandals were made with the help of Chaco’s proprietary ChacoGrip technology.
The ZX3 Classic sandals are not lightweight, but this also means that they won’t be much heavier once they get wet. Furthermore, this also turns them into a great choice for swimmers, who will never feel like these sandals are dragging them down.
In summary, it’s quite obvious that the ZX3 Classic Chacos were made for water sports. They’re a particularly good choice for summertime trekkers who often find themselves traversing areas with a lot of shallow streams.
- Great for underwater use
- Thin, quick-drying straps
- Excellent traction
- Quite heavy
Chaco Z2 Classic
- Material – Polyurethane, polyester, rubber, textile
- Available sizes – 9
- Available colors – 3
Truth be told, one could wear almost any pair of Chaco sandals for trekking – most models, including Z2 Classic, come equipped with non-slip footbeds and rubber outsoles. However, one really important thing to point out here is that the sandals made by this company are rarely as protective as those made by Keen.
In other words, Chaco sandals, like the ones I’m describing here, are often too open. They can’t really protect one’s feet from bruises and cuts that come hand in hand with traversing terrain filled with sharp rocks, high grass, and pesky bugs. Yes, it is totally possible to hike in Chacos, but Keens should still be your first choice if you’re really serious about summertime trekking.
The Z2 Classic Chacos feature outsoles that are very similar to those found on ZX3 Classic sandals, i.e. they provide good grip and traction. What’s more important, their straps are significantly thicker and, therefore, provide a lot more arch support and stability when it comes to hiking over demanding terrain.
All in all, these Chacos are perfectly fine for light hiking and underwater use. They are also relatively affordable, especially when compared to most of the other Chaco and Keen sandals I’ve mentioned throughout this article.
- Can be used underwater
- Good grip & traction
- Non-slip footbed
- Uncomfortable toe loop
Popular Keen Sandals Reviewed
Keen Ana Cortez
- Material – Rubber, leather, memory foam, polyurethane, cork
- Available sizes – 13
- Available colors – 2
One thing is certain – these Keens are very stylish. Due to the fact that they can be worn with pretty much anything, they’re a great addition to anyone’s closet. However, not only do they go well with jeans, dresses, and skirts, but they also keep one’s feet cozy throughout the day (which is far more important).
The main reason behind the comfiness of these sandals is the presence of KEEN.CUSH footbeds. These consist of cork, polyurethane, and memory foam, and all of these materials work in unison to conform to the shape of the wearer’s foot.
And that’s also the reason why these Keens are a fantastic choice if you’re looking for an everyday-wear pair of sandals.
Another great thing about them is the fact that they’re equipped with non-marking rubber outsoles. These provide excellent traction and grip on pavement, and you can also wear them while you’re driving. After all, these are rubber outsoles – you won’t have to worry about your foot slipping off the pedal.
While the ankle strap of these sandals can be adjusted, the toe strap cannot. That is also the biggest disadvantage of these Keens. Well, besides the fact that they’re not really a suitable choice for demanding summertime hikes.
- Non-marking rubber outsole provides traction & grip
- Comfortable KEEN.CUSH footbed
- Stylish design
- Non-adjustable toe strap
One of the best things about the Keen Whisper sandals is their versatility. These Keens are good for both wearing underwater and regular trekking, and they provide the wearer with a sufficient amount of traction and support due to their multidirectional lugs.
What is more, these sandals have enough straps to hold one’s feet in place and they also provide decent toe protection.
Another upside of these Keens is their high adjustability. In other words, they come equipped with bungee cords that are very elastic and which you can tighten as much as you need to.
However, an important thing to mention here is that the Keen Whisper sandals are not the best choice for folks with wider feet – their profile is somewhat narrow.
Furthermore, the straps that I’ve mentioned above are..well, numerous – there are way too many of them and all absorb water once they come into contact with it. This won’t only make the sandals heavier, but also increase the amount of time they’ll need to completely dry out.
But still, I consider these versatile Keens to be a phenomenal choice for all those looking for a pair of sandals they’ll be able to use for multiple purposes. They’re an investment you certainly won’t regret making.
- A pair of genuinely versatile sandals
- Highly adjustable bungee cords
- Supportive & protective
- Too many straps
Keen Newport H2
The last sandals I’ll be taking a look at are also one of the most popular – Keen’s Newport H2 sandals are considered to be the best shoes of this type by many outdoorsmen around the world. In fact, they’re so popular that the manufacturer has made them available in 20 different colors and 38 different color combinations.
The straps of these sandals are very thick and, therefore, provide their wearer with excellent ankle and arch support. In addition, these Keens provide outstanding traction on dry land due to their innovative, grippy outsoles.
I own a pair of these sandals myself and have been using them for years, and I can guarantee you that they effortlessly grip pretty much any surface.
In theory, these Keens can also be worn underwater. However, I would definitely advise against wading through streams in them – they are much heavier than they look and they take a lot of time to dry off.
Furthermore, the footbed of this sandal becomes quite slippery when it gets wet, so it’s easy to slip and fall if you’re not careful.
But for general trekking, the Keen Newport H2 sandals are great. On top of everything I listed above, they also provide superb toe protection, and they feel very comfortable on the feet due to their “metatomical” footbeds which are covered with special microfibers.
- Excellent grip, traction, and support
- Very comfortable on the feet
- Superb toe protection
- Somewhat bulky
Chaco vs Keen Sandals – The Verdict
In summary, both of these brands make great sandals – hence the higher price tags.
But speaking generally, I consider Keens to be a better choice for folks looking for sandals that will support and protect their feet (especially toes) during long summertime hikes.
Chacos, on the other hand, is a better choice for people looking for something a bit more casual, stylish, and open, i.e. sandals with fewer straps. Chacos also dry faster than Keens.
So, in the end, it all boils down to your personal preferences and needs.
And, of course, these are not the only hiking sandal brands worth considering. If you are not sold on these two brands, I suggest checking out my Teva vs Chaco comparison or my Teva vs Keen comparison.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.