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.
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.
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.
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.)