Gear Review: Bedrock Cairn Minimalist Sandals
Disclosure: The following product was donated by Bedrock Sandals for the purpose of review.
In the first few weeks of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I was surprised to run into so many hikers without boots, or even trail runners. Trail names like “Blazing Sandals” and “Chaco Taco” were common, and it was obvious that the minimalist fad had caught on in the hills of Appalachia, as it has in almost every other part of the world of outdoor recreation. Though I finished the trail with my five pound boots, and would gladly do it again, I was inspired to pick up a pair of Chacos in Franklin, North Carolina, and these days I’m always looking for an excuse to let my feet breathe while up in the mountains.
Bedrock Sandals, based out of Richmond, California has spent the last five years developing minimalist footwear for hiking, trekking, and travel. Their latest effort is the Cairn:
Sole: 6mm Vibram lug outsole
Upper: 8mm Go Far midsole
Materials: nylon and polyester webbing straps, metal and acetal plastic hardware, Velcro heel adjuster
Size Range: Men’s 4-13, Women’s 5-14
Weight: 16 oz. per pair
At 15.6 oz., the Cairns weigh half as much as the Chaco Unaweep and the Teva Terra Fi, two of the more popular sandals for hiking and multi-sport use. This pared down construction comes mostly from the thinner sole and footbed, but an effort is clearly made as well to cut as much weight as possible from the straps. For just under a pound, the material quality to weight to price ratio is quite fair.
The Cairns buck traditional design with a thong sandal approach, so that they’re more like a beefed-up flip flop than a traditional hiking sandal. This solves one of my major gripes with most hiking sandals, the frequency with which small rocks, sticks, pine needles, and other forest detritus sneaks in between your foot and the footbed and necessitates removing the sandals to clean out the debris. Chaco solved this issue with the inclusion of an extra strap for the big toe. Equally effective is the thong divider on the Cairns. This divider (made of durable nylon cord) between your big toe and the rest of your foot limits the flex in the front half of the sandal and drastically reduces the number of times that your sole will scrape a pile of rocks and flip a couple of them in.
The footbed provides pretty exceptional grip, considering the thin profile of the sandal, on uneven terrain and in wet conditions. I rarely had trouble keeping my feet from slipping and sliding around inside the sandal when climbing rock scrambles and navigating steep downhills.
The adjustable strap system is far and away the most unique and innovative feature of the Cairn sandals. The system is comprised of a Velcro strap around the heel, and two more straps in the same place you’d find them on a pair of flip-flops. One is a hook-and-loop system, the other a webbing-and-buckle system. These three different methods are meant to cut down on the number of adjustments needed on a daily basis. Once the Velcro and hooks are dialed in to a comfortable position, you can insert and remove your foot from the sandal simply by loosening and tightening the webbing on the outside of your foot. In fact, it’s nearly as easy as putting on a pair of flip-flops. I found during the course of a three-day trip, using both the Cairns and my hiking boots during different times of the day, with different foot volume due to swelling, I only had to adjust the hook-and-loop strap once, and the Velcro not at all.
The same can be said of most other sandals in the $80-$100 price range, but it’s still a bonus that the uses and contexts for the Cairns are many. They fit the profile of a minimalist hiking sandal very well, as their design intends, but they also make excellent camp shoes for spring and summer trips, and great lifestyle footwear as well. As the weather warms, I’ve found myself often opting for the Cairns instead of my flip-flops, as they give you the same comfort and freedom with just a little bit of added security. It’s nice to know, after all, that I’ll be safe if ever I get chased by someone in a pair of flip-flops.
Also, for international travel in hotter climates, desert hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail, and river trips, having a pair of lightweight, durably built sandals that include a heel strap is definitely a must. Though I haven’t gone overseas with them yet, I expect that the Cairns will do well and soon be a staple of my travel kit.
In addition to the uses described above, one of the most pleasing discoveries I had while testing out the Cairns is how perfect they are for a stream-crossing shoe. On long trips, especially West of the Mississippi, the intrepid hiker might have to cross upwards of five streams a day. In spring, when runoff is at its highest, these can be fairly treacherous in bare feet, and fairly soggy in booted feet. Until now, I’ve always used my Chacos for stream crossing, but with the Cairns, I have an alternative which also has a Vibram sole for superior grip, and a heel strap so they remain on my feet even in a swift current, and which takes a full pound off of my pack weight. Big bonus.
Bedrock Sandals come with the “Rock Solid Warranty,” which is in effect for the entire lifetime of the Vibram sole. Bedrock will repair or replace any defect or broken strap, as long as there is still 1 mm of Vibram material remaining on the sole under the ball of your foot. The shipping cost both ways is also covered.
Obviously, what a minimalist sandal has in weight reduction it will often lose in durability. For what it’s worth, the materials that make up the Cairns are of high quality and I would expect them to last very long, but not quite as long as a pair of beefier Chacos or Tevas. This, of course, is the choice you make when trying to cut ounces from your outdoor kit. Do I want to have my items weigh less, or last longer? In my estimation, the Cairns fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but I tend to wonder if they could survive an entire thru-hike of one of our long distance trails. As a disclaimer, I haven’t put 2,000 miles on them yet, so I’ll be sure to check back in when I do.
That said, the warranty makes the above much less of a concern, as it is far more likely that the strap system will go before the Vibram sole.
Pronation & Supination
One thing that is noticeably lacking in Bedrock’s line of sandals is any sort of curved shape in the footbed to support a high arch, or to prevent pronation and supination. On uneven sidehills, my feet stayed in the sandal without a problem, but I found the hike overall to be a bit harder on my feet, and ankles especially. The vast majority of people will be comfortable in a flat footbed like this, and won’t even notice a difference, but if you have a very high arch or are prone to overpronation, I might consider looking at Chacos, or other sandals that have a bit more shape to the footbed.
This is a minor quibble, of course, but one thing I like about my Chacos is the ability to tighten the toe strap down to the footbed and turn them into sock-friendly sandals. In my spring and summer climate of Western Montana, this has yet to be a necessity, but it’s nice to have camp shoes that can accommodate an extra layer or two on your feet for those shoulder seasons or chilly mornings. This is especially relevant for Appalachian Trail hikers, who will want that extra warmth during the first month or two of their trek, but won’t want to pack an additional pair of camp shoes on top of their sandals.
Besides, without socks, how will all you sandal-wearing fathers out there embarrass your kids when you pick them up from school? I guess there are always toe socks…
As an outdoor enthusiast, you’re going to be faced with the choice that all of us eventually are when we’re ready to buy a new piece of gear. How many ounces can I shave off without sacrificing comfort and durability. Some of us prefer the extra few pounds of comfort weight, while others opt to limit their weight in order to be able to hike faster and further.
The Bedrock Cairn Minimalist Hiking Sandal will likely please the latter crowd more, but there is definitely something for everyone in this piece of footwear. For how light and low profile it is, it holds up remarkably well in the punishing terrain of the Rocky Mountains, serves as an excellent water shoe, and won’t just stay buried in your closet until your next summer rafting trip. Since my only major concern is how long the Cairns will last, the “Rock Solid Warranty” is what moves this sandal from the interesting and innovative category into being a real contender.
If you’re not a fan of hiking sandals, I urge you to give some a try, and if you are, check out the Bedrock Cairns and use that extra pound in your pack for a whole lot more chocolate.
The Bedrock Cairns go on pre-sale May 31. Head over to Bedrock Sandals to check them out.
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I plan on getting these sandals this year based on a review from one of my coworkers. In regards to your sock conundrum (to the chagrin of kids everywhere) there is a brand of toe socks called Inji Inji that would work perfectly with these sandals. I use the Inji Inji’s as liner socks in the winter months too.
You really hit the nail on the head with this solid review. Nice work, man! I couldn’t agree with you more on all of the bases covered (except chaco, ew). I just got muy pair in the mail last night and tried them on a quick hike today. They have great traction and I felt my feet were secure the whole time, especially on the steep sections, where my Teva’s don’t perform as well. Overall, great review. Keep them coming