Are waterproof hiking sandals really waterproof? Reality check: hiking in wet conditions will mean your feet will get wet. Obviously, if hikers will be exposed in the dew-soaked grass, creek crossings, melting snow, and high humidity, they will naturally experience soaked feet. But before raising an eyebrow and dismissing the “waterproof” branding as a hoax, shoppers need to understand the reason why waterproofing is considered a myth. There are two culprits for why the feet will get wet even if hikers wear waterproof footwear:
Design – Hiking sandals are made with an open design, so it is impossible to expect that it will be physically sealed off from external moisture sources. Waterproof hiking sandals are not completely sealed because of its open design. This open design means there are different entry points for water to penetrate and soak the feet.
Materials – Although materials are considered waterproof, they are not reliably waterproof and could even trap perspiration. Sandals could be made with synthetic materials or leather and are treated with a polyurethane coating. The coating is completely waterproof warding off water and outside sources of moisture. Through time, the coating will break down, and the sandal will no longer be waterproof.
What a waterproof hiking sandal is
During summertime, hiking in boots is torture. Walking with clunky, heavy, and non-breathable boots will slow down the hiker and cause injuries. When the warm weather starts, hikers should start ditching their clunky boots and embrace the comfort that waterproof hiking sandals bring.
Hiking sandals are characteristically open or webbed. The design makes this footgear ideal for summer hikes as this allows more skin to be exposed. With more skin exposed, the body is able to regulate its temperature.
Sandals for outdoor activities are made of quick-drying materials. Eventually, leather and waterproof hiking sandals have been introduced, making outdoor sandals even more functional and durable. The waterproof versions, like hiking boots and hiking shoes, are also coated with a special membrane that keeps water and moisture from soaking the feet.
A good pair of waterproof hiking sandals should offer bouncy rubber soles with a good tread and grip. These properties assure hikers that they are supported in their active adventures. Hiking sandals are also used by adventure seekers for water sports, light travel, and casual strolls.
Elements that make waterproof hiking sandals waterproof
There is no other footgear that is as battered as outdoor footwear. Unlike formal, office, or casual footwear, it is worn on the most demanding adventures. Outdoor footwear is always exposed to mud, water, twigs, stones, and other elements that can soak it through. Wearing soggy footwear is not something that will make adventures awesome so shoe manufacturers figured waterproofing their products will solve the problem.
Back in the old days, waterproofing footwear entailed smearing tree sap over the seams and laces. People back then also used boots which made it easier for the concoctions to keep water out. Eventually breathability — with the lack of air circulation causing the feet and socks to be soggy and resulting in blisters — motivated shoe makers to improve their waterproof lining options. These innovations gave birth to water-repellent, water-resistant, and waterproof linings like GoreTex, eVent, Polartec, and NeoShell.
But why must footwear companies bother to make waterproof sandals? This question hovers around as the open design of sandals seem to defeat the purpose of waterproofing them. But shouldn’t the question be, why not? After all, hiking sandals are worn on watery and damp parts of the trail much like shoes and boots.
Merrell and Keen are just two of the prominent names producing waterproof hiking sandals. A combination of waterproof and quick-drying materials are used in the upper of different models so hikers won’t have to drag their steps on soggy sandals.
Waterproof Merrell hiking sandals mostly make use of the natural waterproof properties of leather combined with other materials like webbing and mesh. These materials withstand wet elements and dry quickly thus, hiking with them on even by wading through creeks, brooks, and rivers, is not much of a problem.
Keen hiking sandals also come in waterproof varieties. Like Merrell, a hydrophobic mesh is also used in certain models to keep water from soaking through. A combination of leather and the hydrophobic mesh also makes the sandals washable and easy to clean.
Reasons why wearing waterproof hiking sandals is a good idea for men and women
Traditionally, hikers want to get as much coverage and support as they can which is why they invest in hiking boots. However, as boots can get too warm, they are not the ideal footwear on warm summer days. Hikers look for alternative footwear that can give them support and breathability.
There are different reasons why hikers choose to wear sandals instead of boots. Usually, those who buy waterproof hiking sandals only discover the advantages of wearing them once they actually take them on a hiking trip. Hikers then realize that they are light, breathable, and need very little time to break in if they ever need to be broken in at all.
Waterproof hiking sandals can be great for backpacking because they provide great support and foot comfort. Aside from the features that make hiking a breeze, a lot of hikers also wear hiking sandals because they provide trail support that is almost at par with shoes and boots. Hikers who are not prone to ankle twists, toe bashing, and other injuries can enjoy the sandals most. A lot of supportive models, those that cover the toes and support the heels better, are available in the market.
For some, breathability is a huge concern when hiking. The body’s extremities actually help in regulating the body’s temperature. On a cold day, it helps to wear insulated footwear such as winter hiking boots since it helps keep the body warm. On a hot day, wearing breathable footwear helps in cooling down the body’s temperature. The feet, like the hands, is at the end of the limbs and don’t have much muscle so they cool down and warm up more than other regions of the body. Wearing a pair of sandals that expose more skin helps the body cool down faster.
Finally, although this is the least of the concerns of hikers, waterproof hiking sandals are also very fashionable. Unlike their boot and shoe cousins, sandals come in more stylish designs and colors. For hikers who love the idea of lovely pastels and webbed or open designs on their footwear, sandals are definitely a steal.
As much as there are hikers who are having the time of their lives hiking with waterproof sandals, there are also those who are against it. Hiking sandals are definitely not for everyone or every adventure. While they are an awesome alternative to hiking and mountaineering boots, they do not provide as much rugged protection.
When hikers go out on trips, they expose themselves to elements and animals. Sandals are open so it is expected that the feet will also be exposed to the elements, rocks, twigs, and animals on the trail. Since they are not as sturdy and rugged as boots, sandal-wearers may stub their toes, get scratches from twigs, or get stung by some animals on the trail. It would be best to consider these threats when deciding the kind of footwear to use.
The best uses of men's and women's waterproof hiking sandals
There are different factors that can influence your hiking footwear preference. One thing to consider of course is the kind of terrain hikers will tackle. Sandals are ideal for trails that are not too rough. Since they are not as sturdy as boots, they are best worn only on established trails with stable terrain like national parks.
The weather is another major consideration when hiking with sandals. Wearing waterproof hiking sandals is perfect for when the weather is too warm for boots and shoes. During summer, hikers should consider wearing sandals for day trips since the open design doesn’t restrict the feet and allows air to cool down the feet.
However, thinking that these outdoor sandals are only for warm weather is a mistake. Waterproof hiking sandals are actually perfect for monsoon trails. Unlike boots, these sandals are waterproof so hikers can wear them for day hikes even when it is raining.
Finally, waterproof hiking sandals are great camping footwear. For those who are hiking or mountaineering for days, having alternative footwear to change into is advisable. While allowing the boots to dry after a day hike, sandals can be used around camps. These are very light and will not affect the hiker’s pack that much.
Qualities of great waterproof hiking sandals
Hikers may be surprised that a really good pair of waterproof hiking sandals, can last for years. There are brands in the industry that are known for producing really good quality sandals, and it is worth noting some of these traits to guide hikers in their next purchase.
One of the primary traits to check when getting a hiking sandal is a good fit. Since most of the hiking sandals have open designs, they fit almost all types of feet. The adjustable straps are an awesome feature not found in shoes and boots. With these straps, wearers can loosen or tighten their sandals according to their preference.
Stability is another feature to consider. As wearers will be using their waterproof hiking sandals on the trail, they need to make sure that they get one that has good traction and grip. The sandal’s outsoles should have deep lugs and treads and should be stiff enough to offer support on easier trails.
Another thing to consider is the weight. Sandals weigh from about a few ounces to a pound. This light weight makes sandals ideal for a day hike. Also worth noting, while they may be light, they actually offer good support for hikers with a day pack.
Hiking sandals in the market come in both waterproof and non-waterproof versions. While non-waterproof sandals dry quickly, opting for a waterproof sandal is a sounder choice. When looking for a pair of good hiking sandals, it would be best to consider how dry it will stay during a day hike.
Finally, hikers can choose a pair of waterproof hiking sandals that express their personalities. A lot of styles and colors are available in the market. There is a reason why these sandals are eye candy. A lot of them come in pretty pastel colors, something that not a lot of boots and shoes are known for.
Top questions about waterproof hiking sandals
Can the waterproof coating of hiking sandals affect breathability?
There is a misconception that waterproof footwear is not breathable, but the latest footwear coating technology makes it possible. The water-sealing membrane has billions of holes that allow the air to pass but also shields the sandal from the water.
Breathability is not a problem as sandals have open designs, so there is enough ventilation. Waterproof hiking sandals are perfect for summer hikes when the weather is too warm for closed footwear.
Can hiking sandals protect me during hikes?
To expect sandals to give the same amount of support and protection that boots and hiking shoes give is wrong. Of course, there are limitations because sandals are open and leave some or most of your skin exposed. They are best used for relatively smooth, and well-maintained terrain where risks of injuries and animal bites are minimal.
Are waterproof hiking sandals expensive?
Waterproof hiking sandals are a bit pricier than non-waterproof models. But among footwear options, these remain among the most affordable. Sandals for outdoor activities are well within the $50 to $150 price range.
I will only use hiking sandals during summer months, should I still get a waterproof model?
Summer months sure are warm, but the weather could still become erratic. This means rain could still threaten the hikers. There are also chances that hikers will have to cross rivers or streams during their trip. Obviously, even if sandals dry faster than other footwear, a waterproof option still has a better edge.
What is the best way to care for waterproof hiking sandals?
Caring for waterproof hiking sandals is easy but requires careful attention. Here are some tips to clean and perfect waterproof hiking sandals:
The waterproofing membrane is delicate and brushes with hard bristles could damage it. Clean the shoe by hand using a delicate cloth and soft brush.
If the surface is dirty, remove dirt and grime using lukewarm water. Wipe or brush the sandals gently to avoid puncturing the membrane.
Do not use chemicals to remove stains since these can tamper the footwear’s waterproof qualities.
Allow air-drying at room temperature since this will help protect the footwear from damage.
Do waterproof hiking sandals have a shorter lifespan?
A waterproof hiking sandal, like any other footwear, is expected to last long if it is properly taken care of. This means, as users, hikers should make sure that they use their footwear for its intended purpose. After each hike, these should also be cleaned, dried, and kept so these stay in good shape for a long time.
Are waterproof hiking sandals a worthy investment?
Although they don’t cost as much as hiking boots and shoes, waterproof hiking sandals are a great investment for the day and weekend hikers. They are especially a great gear to own during warm summer months when most outdoor junkies look forward to spending a few days off to embrace the outdoors.
4 best waterproof hiking sandals
Keen Newport Hydro
Keen Rialto II H2
Keen Rialto II
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.