Its challenging to remember a world without sport sandals, but the performance sandal is a somewhat recent invention, having only been around 25 years. Sandals have grown from simple pieces of leather in Biblical times to high-performance, water-resistant footwear with toe protection, reinforced bedding, and heel bindings. Today, sandal construction often includes drainage systems, all-terrain traction, and anti-microbial applications that retard the growth of bacteria and fungus.
These delightful technological advances come with a price: The average price of the womens sandals we tested this go-round was about $82, with several ringing in at $100.
What We Tested
For this review of womens sailing sandals, we set out to find a shoe that was comfortable wet or dry, one that didnt absorb water, provided traction and support, and is built to resist the odors typically associated with boat shoes. We looked at eight designs from four makers: Teva, Keen Footwear, Columbia Sportswear, and Sperry Top-Sider.
Sperry is synonymous with boating shoes, while Columbia is a prominent retailer of outdoor shoes and clothes. Teva, more or less, invented the sport sandal, and Keen turned the amphibious, hybrid shoe market into a lifestyle.
Five of the sandals were closed-toe, which we prefer because open-toe sandals increase the wearers risk of tripping as a sheet or deck hardware can easily get caught between the toes and the shoe sole. All of the sandals had straps across the heel and a supportive, reinforced sole.
Although the difference between what is a shoe and what is a sandal shrinks every time a new model emerges, Practical Sailor jumped into the sandal test differentiating sandals from sailing shoes with a clear definition of sandals: “We know them when we see them.”
Testers weighed construction quality, test performance, features, and price. Find out how we evaluated odor resistance and traction in “How We Tested” on page 27. Men in the market for new sailing sandals can expect that the mens versions of these designs will have the same performance as far as grip and construction.
Testers spent some time decoding the shoe-industry lingo and found that most of todays performance sandals use a blended polyurethane/EVA material in construction. For help deciphering the vocabulary, see “How We Tested.”
In 1984, a young Grand Canyon river guide revolutionized the footwear industry when he created the worlds first sport sandal and the Teva brand.
The womens Itunda sport sandal borders on “shoe” with its enclosed toe protection and sturdy frame. The sandal features a quick-drying, breathable synthetic and NuFoam upper, and Tevas patent-pending drainage system in the topsole and midsole. A series of drainage ports with mesh screens allow water to escape directly through the bottom of the shoe while preventing rocks or debris from entering. These ports also allow air to flow through for ventilation and comfort.
The sandal has adjustments on the forefoot and instep closure and blended polyurethane/EVA in the outsole. The bottom features Tevas Spider Rubber, a non-marking rubber designed for good traction on wet or dry terrain.
Testers found the Itunda to be well-made and comfortable. Rated Excellent overall, it was a top-scorer in the grip tests. Testers actually quit testing before the shoe slipped in the wet teak grip test, as the testing angle grew dangerously steep and the shoe was still holding steady.
The Itunda retails for $100 and comes in four colors.
This shoe-like sandal brags of a lot of fancy technology and lives up to its claims. Comfortable and versatile, the Itunda shared top ratings in comfort and grip. Typical of the Teva brand, it is not as flashy as some of the Keens and Columbias, but it definitely gets a recommendation.
The Tirra has a less-chunky look than the Itunda with thin, feminine straps wrapping around the foot for support and custom adjustment. Like the Itunda, the Tirra has Spider Rubber soles, a reinforced heel cup, and microban zinc built into the shoe-an environmentally friendly zinc technology that fights the growth of odor-causing bacteria and fungus, according to Teva. The company says the built-in anti-microbial protection wont wash off or wear away. The Tirras sole was similar to the Itunda in everything except the siping, which apparently made all the difference, as the Tirra didnt hold as well in the grip tests.
The open-toe Tirra sandals, which are offered in seven colors and retail for $70, offer multiple adjustment options for a secure, custom fit for different types of feet. However, more than one tester found that the straps, which fit high on the ankle for better support, rub along the bones. The sandals rated a Good in the grip test.
Teva products are warranteed to provide normal wear and be free from defective materials or faulty manufacturing for one year from the date of purchase. Any products beyond one year will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
This sandal trades some of its performance and protection for looks-a balance each sailor has to weigh. The Tirra performed respectably, but testers couldnt get the fit right.
KEEN Venice H2
Keen, with its signature black toe bumper, launched a line of hybrid sandals in 2003 that found a ready market in the sailing world.
The Venice H2-as well as the other two Keen models we tested-have compression-molded EVA midsoles and footbeds built around the overall shape of the foot with special emphasis on the toe.
The Venice also has washable, polyester webbing uppers that can be adjusted with an elastic cord and plastic toggle lacing system for a comfortable and secure fit. The design uses environmentally friendly, antimicrobial technology that helps prevent odor, staining, and deterioration.
Its open strapping system allows for plenty of ventilation, and its grippy, non-marking outsole uses multi-directional lugs with razor siping for excellent traction. Testers found this well-constructed sandal to be the most comfortable in the field, and grip test ratings were second only to the Teva Itunda. The Venice H2 retails for $95.
Rated Excellent in comfort, the well-made Venice H2 gets our Best Choice rating. These are a bit pricier than some we tested, but the shoes are cute and comfortable, wet or dry; they offer great traction, and come in (count em!) 15 colors.
The Whisper sandals we tested were ironically a loud nectarine orange. Like the other Keens, they have an EVA midsole, washable polyester webbing uppers, and antimicrobial features to help prevent odors.
A quick-draw elastic cord lacing system adjusts the webbing to a comfortable and secure fit, even around the back of the heel. The non-marking rubber outsole allowed an Excellent grip, but testers did note that sizable pebbles could get stuck in the tread-something to think about if you plan to wear them off and on a boat with fiberglass decks. The Whisper was a bit more narrow than the other Keens, so with its multiple adjustment options, it would be a good bet for those with narrow to medium-width feet.
The Whisper comes in eight colors and retails for $85.
The Whisper is a quality-made, comfortable, and attractive sandal that scores high in performance. It gets our recommendation.
KEEN Hydro Guide
The Hydro Guide we tested was a mens size 6, and the fit was a bit off for the testers with narrow feet. However, female testers with wider, flat feet found the shoe quite comfortable. The sandals adjustable front strap is one continuous length of polyester webbing, so it can be easily and infinitely adjusted using the plastic slide buckle. A Velcro heel strap also allows customized adjustment.
The sandal felt and looked chunkier than others tested. It also featured an EVA midsole; non-marking, sticky, siped tread; and screened drain ports in the midsole and outsole.
The Keen-termed Aqua Stop tread didnt perform as well as the other Keens in grip tests, and the Hydro Guide earned a Fair plus for overall grip. It comes in one color and retails for $100.
Designed for men, the Hydro Guide is a heavy-duty sandal with a less-dainty look than the other shoes tested. A quality, tough shoe, the Hydro Guide didnt perform quite as well as its siblings in grip tests. This would be a good option for women with wide feet.
Established in 1938, Columbia is an adventure clothing and shoe giant well-known for quality gear.
The Kaweah features a perforated neoprene upper, reinforced heel, and comfortable heel straps. The easy-on, easy-off elastic cord lacing system makes the sandals easy to adjust. Neither the straps nor the shoe body absorb water. Testers found the Kaweah comfortable, and it scored a Good Plus overall in the grip tests. Not as heavy-duty as the Keens and Tevas, the Columbia is lighter (a size 7 is 8.2 ounces compared to the Keen Venice H2s 13.4 ounces), and has open toes. The Kaweah comes in three colors, whole sizes only, and sells for about $75.
While the sandals would be less appropriate for hiking than the Keens or Tevas, the Kaweah fits the bill for an amphibious sailing sandal. Removing some bells and whistles-and toe protection-seems to lower the price, and we gave the Kaweah our Budget Buy pick.
Columbia Kaweah Flip
A thong-style sandal, the Kaweah Flip has a reinforced Techlite heel. The open-toe sandal claims to balance cushioning, stability, and support. A soft Techlite EVA band around the heel enhances security, and the shoes internal design provides support and rigidity to protect feet. While the band around the back of the heel is comfortable and provides support, it also jams the front toe strap into the space between the wearers toes. The sandals are not adjustable, but they do seem to loosen up with wear. With no webbing and an open toe, the Flip was the lightest shoe tested. It rated a respectable Good Plus in the grip test.
The Kaweah Flip comes in three colors and retails for $60.
The least expensive sandal tested, the Flip is attractive, well-made, and performed well, but its not testers top pick for sailing.
Sperry wave runner
Sperry Top-Siders are synonymous with sailing shoes. Given the companys history and many years of excellent products, testers were surprised by the lack of traction the Sperry Wave Runner showed in grip tests.
A Mary Jane-style sandal with an elastic heel strap and a Velcro front strap, the Wave Runner was comfortable, well-made, and one of the most attractive shoes in our test field. It has a petite fit that would be good for those with narrow feet.
The Wave Runner didnt offer much for ankle support, however, the outsole wraps around the front and side of the shoe a bit for added toe protection.
The Wave Runner is quick-drying but not totally waterproof: Its made with low water-absorption materials and waterproof leather. Mesh panels and drainage ports help keep the water from pooling in the EVA footbed.
The Sperry was the least grippy in testing and also had the worst mildew odor following the stink test. It comes in four colors and retails for $69.
One of the more comfortable and attractive shoes tested, the Wave Runner struggled in the grip test, especially on nonskid.
Testers were able to quantitatively compare construction quality, performance, and price. The Tevas and Keens were more durable and heavy-duty than the Columbias and the Sperry, but the price was also higher. Although a sailor may not need something quite as sturdy as the Tevas and Keens, if you plan to use them off the boat for hiking or even long walks to and from the anchorage, these are your best bet for long-term support.
The well-made Keen Venice H2 and the Teva Itunda rated the highest in performance, and both have the best foot protection, a feature that can’t be ignored when maneuvering wet decks around cleats, rigging, and deck gear. Both also were extremely comfortable for long-term wear-wet or dry-and their construction allows an adjustable fit that we believe most would find comfortable. Testers gave Keens Venice H2 the Best Choice nod and recommended the Itunda. The lighter, less-expensive Columbia Kaweah earned our Budget Buy pick.