Have you ever wondered if there was a lighter alternative to tromping around the mountains with a hiking boot or trail running shoe? Sure, they make lightweight trail running shoes these days, but many of them are still more cumbersome than they need to be.
Enter: the minimalist sandal. Designed specifically for the outdoor enthusiast who wants protection from the ground without all of the weight and bulk of a standard hiking boot, the minimalist sandal is a great option for anyone who wants a versatile, yet durable footwear option.
But if you’re looking for a new minimalist sandal, you’ll quickly discover that there are a lot of options out there to choose from, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. To help you find a pair that’s best for your needs, we’ve created the ultimate buyer’s guide to the best minimalist sandals. Here, we’ll review some of the best options on the market today and then give you some insight into how to choose a minimalist sandal.
The Best Minimalist Sandals
Teva Men’s Original Universal Sandal
While not a true minimalist sandal, the Teva Men’s Original Universal is really the only sandal from a big brand name that mostly abides by the central tenets of minimalist footwear. With just a footbed, strap, and buckle, the Original Universal is about as simple as it gets.
Teva’s Durabrasion rubber outsole gives just enough performance and durability for day to day activities without being so heavy and cumbersome that it drags you down. Plus, the synthetic footbed feels nice underfoot, even after a day of adventuring. Teva’s proprietary strap design is where this sandal shines, however. With a variety of different colors and patterns, the open-toe strap not only looks good but keeps your foot secure as you walk.
- Great strap design
- Durable, yet thin outsole
- Synthetic footbed reduces slippage
- Heavier than most minimalist sandals
- Contoured footbed gives a slight drop
- Contoured sandal with triple hook-and-loop straps and cushioned EVA footbed
Xero Shoes Z-Trek
As the original manufacturers of the “zero drop shoe,” Xero Shoes really knows what they’re talking about when it comes to minimalist sandals. The Z-Trek is Xero Shoes’ answer to the pleas of people who want a minimalist sandal that can handle any terrain.
The Z-Trek’s 5.5mm FeelTrue outsole provides just enough protection from rough terrain without compromising on their zero drop mantra. Their Z-Pattern straps are constructed in the open-toe style but allow you to adjust them to the perfect amount of tightness for your walking needs.
The best part? The Z-Trek is 100% vegan, which means it’s completely free from any animal products, such as leather. At just 6.6 ounces for a men’s size 9, the Z-Trek are so light, comfortable, and functional, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing them!
- 100% vegan materials
- Fully adjustable Z-shaped strap with an open-toe design
- 5.5mm thick outsole with high friction
- Zero drop might be too much for new minimalist sandal wearers
- All the fun, freedom, and benefits of being barefoot, but with the protection and comfort you want in a sport sandal. Xero Shoes come with our 5,000 mile warranty.
- Perfect if you hike, walk, run, jog, work out, Crossfit, yoga, raft, stand up paddle board, kayak, canoe, fly fish, even run ultra-marathons.
- Up to 70% lighter than other sport sandals. Only 5.5mm thick, it's perfect for travel. Flexible enough to roll up and fit in your pack or pocket. Durable enough for wherever the Z-Trek takes you.
- Zero-drop non-elevated heel for natural posture. 5.5mm non-marking FeelTrue sole. Water resistant. Fast-drying. Great grip and traction. Z-style webbing holds securely, yet slides on and off in seconds.
Vibram Women’s VI-S Fitness and Yoga Shoe
If you’re a fan of toe shoes, you don’t have to look any further than the Vibram VI-S Fitness and Yoga Shoe. This shoe combines all the benefits of a toe shoe with the design and functionality of a minimalist sandal into one great package.
With individual, form-fitting toes in the front of the shoe and a comfortable heel cup in the back, the VI-S is designed to stay comfortable on your feet, regardless of what you’re doing. Vibram’s patented XS Trek outsole also allows for great performance on a variety of terrain.
Made with 100% vegan materials and just a scant 3.17 oz in a women’s size 7, there’s a lot to love with the VI-S sandal. The shoe’s zero drop and individual toes will take some getting used to for newcomers but is just part of the fun.
- Extremely lightweight
- 100% vegan materials
- Doesn’t slide around on your foot
- Toe shoes aren’t great for everyone
- Minimal padding underfoot takes some getting used to
- Form fitting and open sandal upper flatters the foot
- Stretch adjustable closure system with easy side release
- Serrated blade lug design outsole. Foot length : Longest toe measurement in inches (+/- 0.125 ) Inches
- Zero Drop
Luna Sandals Mono 2.0
Luna Sandals was one of the first large-scale minimalist sandal companies in the game and the Mono 2.0
Although they feature zero drop in their footbed, the Mono 2.0 actually feature quite a thick Vibram Morflex outsole. This outsole provides ample protection from the ground and excellent traction, all without tipping the scales in the weight department. At just 5.9 ounces for a single men’s size 9 sandal, the Mono 2.0 are hardly heavy duty.
Their quality toe-strap lace-up system keeps the sandal attached to your foot, whether you’re hiking, running, or just hanging around camp. Plus, the strap is completely adjustable and made with webbing for long term-durability.
- Quality materials and build
- Thick, high-traction outsole for protection from ground
- 100% vegan
- Toe-strap lace-up system is very durable
- Takes time to get used to the toe-strap system
- Not as light as some other models
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Golden Pigeon Shoes Simplus
Although a heel strap on your sandal is great for hiking and running, nothing beats a lightweight flip flop for hanging around camp or lounging on the beach. Enter: The Golden Pigeon Shoes Simplus.
Made with a fabric and synthetic upper and a rubber outsole, the Simplus is a classic flip flop with a modern twist. The ultra-cushioning footbed is actually made of yoga mats, so you can walk around town with cushy comfort all day long. Plus, the perforated sole allows for plenty of airflow to your foot on a hot summer’s day while also allowing for water drainage after some time in the ocean.
The Simplus is a good option for people that want the simplicity of a flip flop but don’t want to compromise on comfort or quality.
- Well-cushioned yoga mat sole for comfort
- Easy slip on and slip off
- Not as much support as other minimalist sandals
- Not great for hiking and running
- Supper light weight. Ultra-cushioning yoga mat sole with firm heel support. Shock absorbing & flexible. Textured foot bed to provide extra grip.
- Simplus: Perforated sole to promotes fresh air flow & water release (Max support weight 250 lb.). Simplus+: Lite arch support for added comfort (Max support weight 400 lb.)
- Adjustable straps for slide sandals and sandals
- Quick dry. Slip-resistant wet or dry. Waterproof. Machine washable. BPA free
Minimalist Sandals Buying Guide
Although they may seem simple, there’s actually quite a lot that goes into making a minimalist sandal. Before you buy a minimalist sandal, it’s important to first understand all the components that go into making one. Then, you’ll be ready to find the sandal that’s best for your needs. Let’s get to it!
Open-toed v. Toe-strap
There are two main types of minimalist sandals out there: open-toed and toe-strapped. You might be confused as to what this means, but it turns out it’s quite simple. Toe-strapped sandals have a strap that runs between your big toe and your second toe. Open-toed sandals have no strap between the toe, but rather rely on a strap that runs across the top of your foot, just behind the “knuckles” of your toes to stay attached.
Toe-strap sandals are the most common of the minimalist sandals. This is because they are better at staying in place on your foot while you walk or hike. That being said, toe-strap sandals do take some getting used to especially if you’re not an avid flip-flop wearer.
The open-toe sandal is a style that was made popular by the likes of traditional sandal brands, like Birkenstock and Chacos. Minimalist versions of these open-toe sandals do exist and they tend to be fairly comfortable for moderate hiking, water sports, and hanging out around camp.
Generally speaking, people new to the open-toe minimalist sandal movement often find that their foot slides forward quite a bit on steeper ground, which can be uncomfortable at first. But, open-toed sandals actually provide more lateral support than their toe-strapped counterparts, which can be nice on difficult terrain.
Types of straps
Minimalist sandals are, well… minimalist, and, as such, tend to eschew heavy and burly straps for lighter alternatives. Many minimalist sandal brands have their own proprietary laces that they use on their shoes, which are specifically designed for hiking and outdoor activities.
Some open-toed sandals come with 5/8” climbing webbing for their strap. This type of webbing is wide enough to prevent uncomfortable pinching, durable enough to withstand daily use, and light enough to be used on a minimalist sandal.
Toe-strapped sandals generally opt for a strap that’s much thinner for weight savings and simplicity. There are so many different options out there and we can’t possibly review them all, so here are some things to look for in your sandal straps:
No one likes a sandal that gives them blisters, and a soft, comfortable pair of straps can help. Soft straps also feel nice against your skin, which is an added bonus. While every person has a different tolerance for discomfort and a different notion of what is “comfortable” it’s important to make sure your minimalist sandal straps feel nice against your skin before you set out on that 20-mile hike.
The last thing you want is for your straps to break in the middle of a weeklong trip, so a durable pair of straps is a must. Some companies use braided hemp straps on their minimalist sandals because it is lightweight, soft, and eco-friendly. Unfortunately, such materials tend to break easily and are best avoided.
Minimalist sandals purposefully choose to use thin soles. This is because thick soles tend to add weight to a sandal and can also change how we walk. For the most part, minimalist sandals use soles that are between 5mm and 12mm thick. The 12 mm sole feels very “minimalist” to most people, but still feels comfortable on rough terrain. The 5mm sole provides minimal protection and cushion for your foot and, thus, is pretty much the closest approximation you can get to barefoot walking while still wearing a sandal.
New minimalist sandal users should start out with a thicker sole as they get used to a less-cushioned shoe. This is because those of us who exclusively wear regular footwear are used to having our feet padded from the rocks, sticks, and debris under our feet. Plus, minimalist shoes can change how we walk, which takes getting used to. Starting out with a thick outsole and getting in lots of walking miles before you set out on a burly hike is a great way to get used to the minimalist sandal life.
In the footwear world, “drop” refers to the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the ball of the foot when someone is standing still, measured in millimeters. In your standard running shoe, the drop is somewhere around 8-10 millimeters, although larger drops do exist.
Drop, as a concept, is actually fairly new in the footwear world, as it was introduced during the running boom of the 1970s. As relatively inactive people were getting into running, shoemakers thought that putting additional cushion in the heel could reduce the stress placed on the calf and the Achilles while running.
Minimalist footwear, and sandals, in particular, subscribe to the “barefoot” movement, which prefers to have little to no drop. Many of these minimalist shoes have what we call “zero drop,” which means that they have no height difference between the heel and the ball of the foot.
Advocates of the barefoot running movement argue that having zero drop allows us to run and walk as we were made to do, before the advent of cushioned running shoes. If you’re new to minimalist shoes however, it’s important to take it slowly as you ease into minimalist shoes. Before heading out on a big hike in your minimalist sandals, spend some time walking around town in them to get your body used to a new way of walking.
There are a lot of different footbed options available in the minimalist sandal world, and it’s important to get the kind that’s right for your individual needs. A footbed in a sandal serves a number of different purposes, like providing traction and wicking properties.
As far as traction goes, people new to a minimalist sandal might find that their feet slide around as they walk. This is partially because you’re not quite used to a different type of footwear, but also because you might be wearing a slippery footbed. In the world of minimalist sandals, textile/canvas footbeds have the most traction, while synthetic and leather feel a bit more slippery.
People with particularly sweaty feet or people who live in hot environments may also want to look for a wicking footbed in their minimalist sandals. Wicking footbeds help pull moisture from your feet so it can evaporate and keep you cool. Since traction can be greatly diminished by a sweaty foot, this is an important footbed characteristic to consider.
One of the main advantages of a minimalist sandal is that they tend to be fairly lightweight. That being said, there’s a wide array of different minimalist sandals out there, some of which are lighter than others. Generally speaking, leather sandals are going to be a bit heavier than canvas or synthetic sandals, but they also tend to be more durable.
There are a lot of great minimalist sandals out there, but only one can be the winner of our head-to-head competition. Although any of these sandals could be worthy companions on an outdoor adventure, we’ve chosen the Luna Sandals Mono 2.0 as our winner.
As a minimalist sandal, the Mono 2.0 doesn’t contain any unnecessary frills or accessories – only what it needs to get the job done. Made with 100% vegan materials, the Mono 2.0 has a burly, yet light outsole that’s designed to provide ample traction while also protecting you from the ground. Plus, the toe-strap lace-up system helps keep your foot secure, regardless of the terrain.
At the end of the day, though, what’s most important is that you find a minimalist sandal that’s best for your needs. Whether you’re looking to hike, run, or just go for walks around town, there’s a minimalist sandal out there for you!