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Women on the Road

Room to Wiggle: Picking the Right Hiking Sandals for Women

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Hiking sandals, like any walking shoes, have to be utterly comfortable. If you have sensitive feet, as I do, the tiniest rub can lead to a major blister - and this may mean cutting your day short - or even shaving several days off your trip.

For years in Africa I used a fantastic pair of Eccos. These sandals were so wonderful they were of course discontinued - even worse, they were 'upgraded'. The result wasn't satisfactory so I went on the prowl for the perfect hiking sandal.

Here's what I came up with!

I know. At first sight Keens aren't pretty. But they have a toegard to keep your toes safe, they're utterly sturdy for real hiking, and they are COMFORTABLE! These are more for trekking but they'll keep your feet safe and snug.

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I had a pair of these Tevas - a nice alternative to bulky hikers or flimsy city slickers. Perfect for light hiking or walking, especially if most of your travel is in cities: comfortable and adjustable.

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Thongs aren't exactly hiking sandals BUT - if you're going in and out of sacred buildings where you have to take your shoes off umpteen times... consider these Clarks flip-flops!

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The only other items of clothing which deserve as much attention as my hiking sandals are my hiking boots (although travel bras and travel underwear come close seconds).

Some important things to look for when deciding which hiking sandals to buy

  • Comfort: but we know that.

  • Cost: you get what you pay for in sandals. You can go cheap but may have to replace them sooner than you'd like.

  • Stickiness: soles should grip the ground properly even if it's wet (or crumbly). Conversely, your feet should NOT stick to the insole when they get sweaty or you've been walking a lot.

  • Sturdiness: how long will they last? Will they fall apart just days into your trip?

  • Smell (I kid you not): some sandals make your feet pungent within a few hours of walking. A good scrub with Dettol soap will usually get rid of the smell but it's something to avoid if possible.

  • Adjustable: not everyone has perfect feet. You need to be able to customize your sandals a bit... this isn't common but a definite plus.

  • Appearance: don't underestimate its importance. If you want to travel light, you'll want your sandals to be as versatile as possible. They shouldn't be too ugly!

  • Fit: are the straps adjustable? You may need a stronger grip for heavy hiking and a lesser grip when strolling in town. Width and length are also important. Some sandals have little ridges around the edge that make them unwearable for women with wider feet - and the opposite, narrow feet will swim in sandals that are made too widely.

  • Rubs and bumps: the underside of straps and buckles are important. If they rub in any way or if there is even the slightest bump or seam when you run a finger under them, avoid them - they could lead to blisters in a few hours. It all depends on the shape of your feet: what might give me blisters might not even be noticed by you.

  • Versatile: the more uses they have, the better. Ideally you could find a sandal you can hike with, wade into the water, and wear to dinner. I said ideally...

  • Padding: are the straps padded? How many straps are there - more mean better support, but fewer mean less chafing.

  • Washable: how easy are they to keep clean? Hiking sandals inevitably get dirty but you don't want to have to scrub them to death every day.

  • Drying speed: this is especially important if you're crossing rivers, walking in muddy rainforests or if it rains - walking in wet sandals is definitely one of life's less enjoyable experiences.

  • Model: a word of warning here. Just because you had a fabulous sandal ten years ago doesn't mean you'll get the same thing if you order it again. Shoe manufacturers have an irritating way of downgrading models so that what was a spectacular shoe a few models ago is now uglier, clunkier or not as well made.

Note for long-term travelers: If you're using your hiking sandals as long-term footwear, you'll have to clean them regularly. This helps avoid that all-too-common 'sandal stink', and keeps any ridges and grips fresh. I usually carry a nailbrush with me when I travel, and cleaning sandals is mostly why.

women hiking sandals