Why I Ditched My Trail Runners for Sandals

One unexpected aspect of trail life has been the standard for acceptable gear. We expect to see similar packs and clothes as our own reflected in our fellow hikers, so when someone strays from the path, it can turn some heads.

For example, hiking kilts and dresses have grown in popularity. And my decision to hike the Appalachian Trail in sandals also attracted some speculation.

The switch was sparked by my ankle injury, which made it difficult to feel comfortable in trail runners and boots while properly wrapped and braced. I hiked just under 100 miles in my Xero shoes, which I had originally used for camp. After some particularly rocky terrain, I opted for the Keen sandal option (these were my original choice, but I opted for the water sandals for speed of delivery), and here’s why:

1. Flexibility

I wanted a shoe that would fit me during and after the healing process for my ankle. The flexible fabric and fit of sandals can accommodate changes in your gear and accessories based on injury or climate.

2. Breathability

As we begin entering the warmer months of the thru-hiking season, a shoe adaptable to sweat and water can make the hiking day more comfortable.

Despite popular belief, sandals can be adapted to both warmer and colder climates with proper socks and layers. Most sandals are also waterproof, moisture-wicking, and/or quick-drying.

3. Convenience

There is a certain level of ease associated with a slip-on shoe compared to lace-up trainers or boots, and there’s no need to double or triple-knot things to keep it in place.

This also means I’m able to take my shoes off frequently throughout the day, which can minimize blisters and foot pain that naturally come with hiking hundreds (or thousands) of miles.

4. Movement

The way we move in sandals can feel more natural than clunkier options. While the opposite may be true for some, it may be worth trying multiple shoe types to see what works best with your foot shape and gait.

For me, sandals felt more casual and comfortable and were something I did consider (but didn’t act on) prior to starting the trail with the textbook trail-runners.

5. Customizable

My Keens are rainbow tie-dye, which happens to match other accessories in my pack. They’ve become a signature look, something unique that stands out from the crowd.

Chacos offer customizable sandal options and many other brands have a wide range of patterns and colors to make them unique to your style.

Whether you’re halfway through your thru-hike or you’re just starting to look at gear, consider trying out more than the traditional clothing and accessory options. You may be surprised by what catches your eye.

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Scott : May 3rd

    I also have switched to backpacking in sandals. Sometimes I go barefoot too. After trying sandals with straps that cross the front of my foot and finding them abrasive when the sandals were wet and sliding on my feet I switched to Luna Oso Flaco’s that have a strap that comes up between my first two toes. They seem much more secure without being uncomfortable or squishing my feet. Then I got V-toe marino wool socks and they work in cold and wet weather and the socks keep my feet warm even after stream crossings on cold days. The system is very versatile, but in soft snow they do scoop up snow under my toes. Still working on a solution there.
    All the best, Scott

  • Avatar
    TBR : May 3rd

    Interesting … I have a pair of those Keens, but I never thought of hiking in them.

    I do like the heavy-duty front bumper on the Keens … nice protection for the tootsies.

    I may give them a try …


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