Water Sandal Review: Keen, Merrell & Teva

Float along the Colorado River for 18 days and you get a chance to put any water sandal through the paces. I took three pairs of sandals from Keen, Merrell and Teva on a Grand Canyon rafting trip with specific agendas for each. Keen for its closed-toe design, Merrell for its open-toe and minimal strap design, and Teva for a rugged but comfy flip-flop for camp life.

Each brand designs water and land sandals specifically for a women’s foot. All of them dried quickly, were lightweight and made with techy materials. Plus, they float – which I found particularly handy when a pair I left close to shore started to float away with the high tide and were rescued by a fellow boater.

As a person with a half size foot, a big pet peeve of mine is when sandal-makers only produce whole sizes. My toes and heel straddle the edges of the smaller whole size and swim in the larger whole size up. Keen has whole and half sizing for its water sandals. Merrell’s water sandals are available in whole sizes only. Teva offers whole and half sizing in select water sandals, but not in its flip-flops.

Keen Turia Sandal

I really wanted a sandal that had a toe guard for protection and Keen has been making them that way since the company’s beginning. I wanted to keep my toes from getting stubbed if I went for a swim in a rapid and also for walking in rocky areas, be it on land or in the water. In that regard, Keen’s Turia sandal didn’t disappoint. The synthetic upper offered all-around foot protection with spaced-out drainage holes on the sides and a bit of an open heel. It also has a stretchy lacing system that tightens down well and is secured in place with an adjustable toggle. It also has a molded midsole and footbed for cushioning while hiking.

While this was a go-to sandal, it did have a few shortcomings. Small pebbles would work their way into the opening at the inner arch and they were hard to fish out unless you took the sandal off. When the footbed is wet, the traction quotient goes down considerably. When hiking through creeks, immediately followed by scrambling up rock walls (a common occurrence in the Grand Canyon), the footbeds didn’t have time to dry and were really slippery. It also has a continuous collar that goes around the foot/ankle that is great for ensuring the sandal stays on, but can be a smidge tight to get off when wet.

Retail price: $100


Merrell Avian Light Strap Sandal

With an open-toe design, Merrell’s Avian Light Strap sandal is wickedly lightweight – a pair weighs in at a mere 11 ounces. It’s an all-synthetic sandal from straps to sole with some neoprene edging on the inside of the straps. It has a minimally contoured footbed, hook-and-loop closures for quick adjustments, and a Vibram sole. Despite a hiking boot heritage and knobby tread, the Avian was still slippery on wet terrain.

A drawback for this sandal is the design of the toe straps. The fabric edges are rather unforgiving, digging into the foot and rubbing toes. After more than two weeks on the river, all the rafters had cuts and sore spots on their feet and toes from strap wear. It didn’t matter the brand…it just happens when you are getting that much wear and tear on your feet from getting in and out of the water and hiking. A little more stretch and softer materials would do this sandal some good.

Retail price: $85


Teva Bomber Flip

I’ll admit it: I like me a good flip-flop. If I could, I’d wear them everywhere I go, no matter what I’m doing. But when rafting, it’s best to defer on the side of safety when on the open water. If you’re unlucky enough to swim a rapid, it’s advised to wear a sandal that secures over the top of your foot and around the heel. But that doesn’t preclude Teva’s Bomber flip-flop from being a handy companion on a water trip.

The Bomber is a sturdy, but relatively comfy, sandal around camp with a textured bottom for grip. The footbed is contoured, rather than flat, to hug the bottom curves of your foot and toes, with an extra padded heel for shock absorption on rocky terrain. I especially liked the additional instep strap that can be tightened over the top of the foot so it doesn’t slip off esily – still not enough, though, to trust it on a burly hike or Class 5 rapids.

Retail price: $70



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