It has been some time since I spent much of the summer in sandals, but with the recent hot weather and a planned summer trip to Japan, I'm back in the market.
To set the context, the last two pairs I owned were a simple leather Teva pair, and a Keen pair with leather over a neoprene and toe guard (similar to the Newport below). Looking at them vs my current hiking boots and insoles, I notice they're very flat with virtually no insole support perhaps explaining why I never felt comfortable in them. Whilst the leather Teva looks good, the buckle and straps over the top of my foot rub, with nothing to pad them (unless I wear socks :) which of course I never do. The Keen toe box does protect from stubbing ouch moments; however when I've used these on the trail I've regularly found small rocks finding their way in which is almost as annoying as the stubbed toe. After a couple of hours in the Keen ones, the heel strap rubs and irritates the back of my foot. Neither have particularly grippy soles, again making them fine for city use, but not good for trail hiking.
After a quick search of the current state of the market, I've narrowed the options down to one of 4, of which I think the Keen Arroyo II or ECCO Yucatan will be the winners for me.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
21st July: Post updated after trying on the latter three in the Mountain View REI in California.
Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport Multisport sandals - 3.9*
These are obviously not your regular sandals, but they do look interesting in terms of providing a good balance between protection, comfort, while giving you an almost bare-foot experience.
Note that there are 2 versions of the TrekSport MultiSport - the original one with a mesh top and velcro strap, and the more recent one above. The sole looks similar across both. The new one wasn't available to test in REI at the time of this review.
Keen Newport Sandal - 4.6*
These look very similar to my existing Keen sandals, have a neoprene inner, and the solid toe protection, but increase the arch protection. They could be an option, however look like they'll still suffer from the trapped stone problem.
After trying them on, I wasn't too impressed. They suffer from the same issues as the previous generation (although with a better insole). The increased surface area and toe box provides greater protection, however makes the sandal feel more like a shoe with ventilation than a sandal. The laces were elasticated offering some give when tightened.
Keen Arroyo II - 4.3*
Next up is the 2nd generation of Keen Arroyo. This looks great from a comfort and grip point of view with a soft lining and solid looking grip. They also appear to have more stone protection than some of the other Keen sandals; however of course the increased material reduces the airflow so making them more like trainers than open sandals.
I like the fact that as you tighten the laces at the front they tug on a strap that goes round the back of the heel, helping to seat your foot properly in the sandal. I have a paid of Boa trainers that use this technique, and it does seem to offer a slight improvement over the regular attachment method.
In the shop, I noticed that the lacing system used a traditional cord rather than elastic, which I think I prefer, however I couldn't manage to tighten them comfortably and make use of the loop around the back to adjust the heel. It always felt a little loose - which is probably a good thing given the potential for rubbing.
I also found that they suffer from the 'like a shoe with holes in' clammy feeling in a hot shoe shop, when worn without socks.
One substantial advantage for those with a high or low arch is that the insole is removable - so you can swap it out for a more substantial one better suited to your foot shape.
ECCO Yucatan Sandals - 4.6*
I love ECCO shoes - as I've found them to be the most comfortable for my feet (and I don't think I'm alone), so when I spotted that they now make sandals, I took a closer look. They have the respectable look of my Teva leather sandals, but with the addition of a neoprene inner for comfort. Arch support looks to be present, and the review comments appear to confirm it is good.
These were like a breath of fresh air compared to the others on this page, with a lot more open space for air-flow, and no toe box to trap stones. The front strap offers a small amount of adjustment, but isn't a fully adjustable strap as on the top and back.
I couldn't identify any area of discomfort that might start rubbing, and even if I did get this on the back of my foot, the adjustable nature of the back strap would allow me to slacken this off.
Overall - they look good, feel comfortable, appear well made, and are my pick for the best trail sandals on the market today. I bought a pair.