Wearing Sandals on a Thru-Hike? Yes I am!

A Little History
Seven years ago, I jumped on the minimalist shoe train and have never looked back. I started with Vibram Five Fingers and wore them everywhere I could. I even started running in them, to the shock and awe of my fellow drill instructors. Yes, I was a drill instructor at Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, NJ. I ran many miles in my Five Fingers, including a 10 mile race and the 15k Gate River Run in Jacksonville, FL. I have since given up the Five Fingers (and running) and moved to Xero Shoes Prios and Z-Trek Sandals. I wear my Prios everywhere (even to work where I’m on my feet for 8 hours straight) and my Z-Treks for hiking and walking around town.

Our Feet
Now, let me say that I’m not a doctor, and nothing I’m saying here should be taken as medical advice. You should always talk to your doctor before changing your foot routine. OK, now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on. Two thousand years ago, what did our ancestors wear on their feet? That’s right, a sandal-like shoe or nothing at all. Next question. How did our ancestors get around? You get a gold star if you said that they walked! They didn’t have high-tech arch supports, new-age polymers, inserts or podiatrists, so how could they even walk? We need all that “stuff” for our feet to be healthy and work correctly, right? I don’t think so. We have everything we need to travel by foot right at the end of our ankles.

Getting Started
The biggest piece of advice I can give if you decide to jump into the minimalist shoe life style is to take it slow at first. The first thing you’ll notice when wearing minimalist shoes is that your heal hits the ground first. In minimalist shoes this will hurt bad in the beginning. This is why it’s important to slowly transition. Your stride will adjust over time until you’re not walking with your heel striking first. I’m not going to go into great deal about stride because there are many resources available on the topic. Just take it slow. As your feet and ankles get used to walking with no support, they’re going to get stronger.

The Naysayers
Now, I know that I’m going to get a lot of flack for this blog post, and that’s ok. I can hear it already: “What about ankle support?,” “What about rocks, roots, dirt, mud, etc?,” “You’ll stub your toes,” and on and on. Well, yes. There are some issues that you’ll have to overcome if you’re going to go this route, but with a little forethought you can overcome them. Trail runners don’t provide much more ankle support than sandals, and people thru-hike in them every year. Also, by feeling the ground you’re walking on, you’ll feel your ankle getting ready to roll before it does, and you’ll compensate for it automatically. Rocks will hurt, especially pointy ones, so you have to be conscious of where you’re putting your feet, same thing with stubbing your toes. Do a little research, and I think you’ll be surprised at the benefits of minimalist footwear.

My Reasons for Choosing Sandals
Here are my main reasons for choosing sandals for my thru-hike.
1. They’re light weight. My Z-Treks only weight 15.8 oz. I’ll be carrying an extra pair with me on the trail.
2. Less contact points on my feet for blisters to develop.
3. When they get wet they’ll dry faster than any other shoes.
4. I can wear socks with them if my feet get cold. (I’m taking two pairs of Darn Tough socks and a pair of waterproof socks).
5. I don’t have to take them off to ford streams and rivers.
6. Seriously, how cool am I going to look hiking in socks and sandals?

And Then…
Hiking in sandals is not going to be for everyone, and I know that. However, for those that want to give it a try, I say go for it! I’m still testing and will update my results when I do a final gear list. So far I’m loving the sandals, and I think they’re going to work out great.

Thanks for reading.

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Comments 16

  • Vince Piquet : Oct 29th

    Currently hiking SOBO, (very slowly). Am 30 miles outside of Bennington, VT. Met a fellow SOBO and fellow Jarhead with his dog near Stratton,ME. He was was hiking in Chaco sandals and seemed to like them. If I have to stop because of weather, and I likely will, I’m considering finishing up next year with a pair. Good luck in your journey. Fair winds and following seas.

    • James Thomson : Oct 29th

      Vince, thank you for your reply. I did look at Chaco’s and saw a lot of reviews that said their quality went down when the company was sold, so I decided to go with the Xero Shoes.

      You stay safe out there and thank you for your service.

      Grumpy Gramps

      • Chance : May 30th

        Hi Grumpy Gramps,

        I retired from the Navy after 32 years and am looking to do the AT next year and will hike in sandals, stylish with socks of course!!

        I’m in the JAX area. Anything I can do to help you on the trail?

        All the best,


    • Pop : Oct 29th

      Growing up I was pigeon toed. My doctor told me to go barefoot in the summer. He said if kids grew up doing that he would be without a job. I will be 70 when I start southbound June 2, 2018. I wear shoes now. My feet miss the feel of grass and sand.


      • James Thomson : Nov 10th

        I hope to see you on the trail Pop!

    • Catherine Williams : Oct 31st

      I used to do something even more basic… I’d buy the cheapest flip flops and hike with them. I never had an issue until a knee injury that had nothing to do with hiking.

      You named all the reasons to drop the boots and trail runners!

      • James Thomson : Nov 10th

        Thanks for the replay Catherine! I hope your knee is better.

        • James Thomson : Nov 10th

          Reply not Replay lol

  • Daddy Longlegs : Oct 29th

    I could write a long post on all the reasons I find this crazy but you can do it…HYOH!
    (I wore Altras and carried Xero sandals. Love both) I can say that whatever a person chooses for footwear it needs to work for them. You MUST take care of your feet. They take an absolute beating.

    • James Thomson : Oct 29th

      Thanks Daddy Longlegs and I appreciate the lack of lecture in your replay. LoL When I first started this journey in minimalist shoes I would have thought it crazy to run a 10 mile race in them on pavement, but I did it and my feet felt great afterwards. I will be closely monitoring how my feet are doing and if needed I will re-thing my footwear options.

      Happy Trails

      Grumpy Gramps

  • Ruth Nasrullah : Oct 29th

    I have two questions (serious, not rhetorical): Has anyone previously done a long-distance hike in sandals? What kind of training are you doing?

    • James Thomson : Oct 29th

      Hi Ruth,

      Yes there have been a few people that I have found that have done the AT in sandals. There were also a couple of sisters (The Barefoot Sisters) that hiked a good portion of the trail barefoot.

      I am not really doing anything special for training except hiking and exclusively wearing minimalist shoes. With that said I have been wearing minimalist shoes for over 6 years so my feet are very used to them.

      I hope this answers your questions.

      Grumpy Gramps

  • tj : Nov 10th

    Switched to minimalist almost a decade ago. Probably the best thing I ever did for my legs and feet. I feel the biggest mistake people make when they switch is that they don’t give themselves time to acclimate (6 months plus) to the changes they experience. Many folks do hike in sandals. I’m wear Merrell Trail Glove 4. I carry two pair, and alternate them. 14oz a pair, and don’t need socks. They breathe (and drain) well, and hug my feet, preventing movement and hotspots. I love hiking in those!! Good luck on your hike!

    • James Thomson : Nov 10th

      Thank you TJ. I agree that people need to ease into minimalist footwear. I am going to check out the Merrell Trail Gloves, never heard of them before.

  • Jean Ward : Apr 6th

    Hi James
    I’m quite interested in your article. I have been trying to get in touch with someone who has thru hiked the AT with Xero’s. I plan on a solo SOBO AT thru hike starting 6/15/2019 and am considering whether to use the Terra Flex and / or Daylite Hiker. I would appreciate your input.
    Thank you,

  • Calator : Dec 2nd

    Great article.- calator.tel


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