'Technical' Flip-Flops

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

In the rank and file of the footwear world, flip-flop sandals stand among the foremost underachievers, lazy and flat-soled, offering little support or protection, and barely staying on the foot as you walk along.

But outdoors companies like Teva, Keen and Sole hold faith in the flip-flop format still, and each company has open-toe offerings that attempt to add performance features onto the blank slate of a sandal sole.

Teva-Ultimate Thong-W.jpg

Redesigned this year, Teva’s Ultimate Thong (pictured above, $60, www.teva.com) is an easy example. This nylon strap sandal, touted as the “one and only functional river flip-flop,” has tricks like a tacky-rubber footbed, a grippy sole and an extra webbing strap that cinches tight over your foot.

The over-the-top webbing — dubbed the “midfoot silencer strap” — helps secure this sandal while also eliminating the flip-flopping effect where the back of the shoe pops up to clap your heel on each stride. You can cinch this strap tight during action or wear it loose for easy off-and-on around home.

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A new entry this year, insole company Sole unveiled the Platinum Sandals (above, $79.95, www.solesandals.com), which are an orthopedic option in a genre often lacking anything resembling foot support. Indeed, Sole includes a metatarsal pad, an arch area and a contoured heel cup to provide continuous contact points across the sole of your foot.

Bonus: The Platinum’s footbed, which is based off the company’s insole technology, molds over time to your footprint, creating a custom fit. The company sells the Platinum in several colors and in men’s and women’s models, each tweaked to the anatomical idiosyncrasies of the gender.

Keen’s flip-flop offerings include sandals like the Waimea (pictured below, $40, www.keenfootwear.com), a solid and thick-soled pair that provide adequate underfoot support. As with many Keen models, the Waimea sandals have a large toe guard. The rubber bumper encapsulates your big toe and protects the smaller ones by deflecting roots or rocks that might get in the way.

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All three models here will do the job on short hikes. I have put miles on Teva’s Ultimate Thong and they continue to perform with aplomb, providing a comfortable if flat-footed stride. Plus, with the midfoot strap you can cinch these down for walking in mild river currents.

Sole’s high-end Platinums are hands down most comfortable. They also look the best, in my opinion, with a handsome design appropriate in the outdoors or for patio dining.

And for the klutz set who often stub toes — of which I am a part — Keen’s Waimea model may be the best choice. The toe guard, a subtle feature, is an effective deflection device to keep your toenails from contacting the wrong surface on the trail, at the beach or lazing around home any given Saturday afternoon.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eleven U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

Posted by tom faranda - 08/28/2008 09:26 AM

There’s no accounting for taste, and I’m not sure what your definition of a “short hike” is, but I can’t see wearing any of those for anything on a hike, beyond using in the campsite.

Posted by Kristin Harley - 08/28/2008 10:27 AM

I love my Sole flips! I have only worn them on one hike (they were perfect), but I golf 18 holes in them twice a week and I’ll never go back to proper golf shoes. I’ll wear my injinji socks when it gets colder. Maybe there will be a rebirth of “socks and sandals”?

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 08/28/2008 01:10 PM

To Tom:
I have hiked up to five miles on trail with these sandals. They work just fine for day hikes. I even did the approach up slabs and talus on Devils Tower in Wyo. with the Tevas! That was a stretch, but they made it ok.

Posted by Brock - 08/28/2008 02:00 PM

My old foam Teva flips withstand light hiking through treacherous environments like the shower at the Y.

Posted by Steve - 08/28/2008 02:37 PM

I’d toss in Chaco’s Zong as well. Feels like a flop, but with a little more control. I’ve hiked tons of terrain with these for 2-3 years and they’ve held up great, plus they’re comfy. http://chacousa.com/Portal.aspx?CN=BDADA464085A&MN=0E776DA03D8F

Posted by Jason - 08/28/2008 03:17 PM

I bought the Sole Flips as well. I picked them for style and the built in orthotics. Breaking them in was terrible for me because the straps created nasty friction issues on the tops of my toes. After limping around for awhile, the pain subsided and I was fine. After wearing them all summer, I’m happy with the products comfort and performance – have even worn them on long walks on the roads & trails with my dog. If I didn’t have to pay full price I’d buy another pair.

Posted by molly - 01/28/2009 04:13 PM

i agree with the chaco zong…i’ve used it on four multiday backpacking trips and love the stickiness of the shoe on rock and the arch support!

Posted by Abi - 07/31/2009 09:25 PM

Agree with Molly and Steve – where is Chaco’s mention in the technical flip-flop category?!

Posted by Amy Wike - 01/19/2011 03:14 PM

The best ones are biodegradable (to help the environment – www.feelgoodz.com/flipflopmens), comfortable, and supportive.

Posted by Jane - 02/15/2011 06:55 PM

Do any of you ever have issues with the flip flop sliding off while hiking?

Posted by Alex - 05/18/2011 08:11 AM

Check out the Teva Halyards at some point. Grippiest damn things that I have ever put on my feet short of climbing shoes. I commonly did a couple mile runs and 10+ mile hikes in them.

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