Other than deciding to travel once I retired, my only other goal in life was to wear flip-flops twelve months of the year. It is now 11½ years and I have pretty well succeeded. The only other shoes I travel with are some low-cut XCR Gortex hiking shoes. I wear them in snow, when it is too cold or I am on a long trek. Flip-flops work for everything else, including dress shoes.
I need FFs that allow me to hike or walk all day. I have walked from Christchurch over to Littleton and back in flip-flops. I did every hike in my recent trip down the Grand Canyon in FFs. And many other times, I took flip-flop hiking to its limit. My coldest experience was easily a day in early April in Kyoto Japan where I walked the entire eastern side of the city. Basically the only time I don’t wear them is in the snow and if trekking where providing maximum protection for my feet is vital.
Non-FF wearers commonly state that they want something that protects their toes. But I always stub the front of my FF sole before anything damages my toes. Lack of protection from stubbing has never been a concern. Getting stepped on though is a different matter. China with its lack of social awareness scores high on this scale. With good quality flip-flops and some minimal breaking in, flip-flops are better for your feet and suffer few disadvantages.
ADVANTAGES OF FLIP-FLOP
1. Breathability. I have hot, sweaty feet. They only really feel their best completely uncovered.
2. Cost. This saves on a whole lot of socks. And other shoes. Good FFs, though are not cheap.
3. Exercise for the foot. Wearing flexible sole shoes that often require gripping with your toes is good for the foot. This is only for FFs with good quality contour foot beds.
4. Fewer wear spots. Many people have “walking sandals” with straps behind the heel and a multitude of straps or laces to tighten them. But for me, these have way too many points of contact – any one of which can cause a hot spot or blister. I have to wear socks in sandals if I’m going a long distance. But FFs only contact at the toe strap and the wide side straps rarely produce hot spots.
DISADVANTAGES OF FLIP-FLOPS
1. Danger to your toes and foot.
2. Chronic callus on heels that cracks. This can be unbearable and I find is inevitable with constant use. Over the years, I carried a pumice stone, but it is a slow, inefficient way to control the problem. Recently I found the ideal solution – a microplane zester – a kind of food grater with flat cutting edges. You may smile, but try it first. It removes callus quickly and painlessly. I like the one by Microplane – 31cm X 3.4 cm with no handle. It is at least twice as long as I need, but with no handle, it can be used in both directions that is quite useful. As it is very thin, I takes up virtually no room in my pack.
3. Liability to damage to the footwear. Compared to other footwear, FFs are more vulnerable to damage. The toe loop is most liable to break or better yet, pull out in one piece, especially if you catch the toe of the FF and it is bent down with force. Rarely have I pulled out the side straps.
4. Blisters/wear areas between toes or under straps. Because of the small areas of contact, these can be a problem. Make sure the toe strap is of supple material. The best straps are simple webbing. I recently bought some Reefs with a pillowy material under the straps that collected sand. I eventually had to put on the hiking shoes.
5. Can’t easily wear socks (except ones with a split between the toes). This is most relevant when it is cold or to help hot spots once developed.
IMPROTANT PURCHASE FACTORS
1. Contour foot bed. This adds considerably to the cost. It is rare to find good ones under $60. If wearing FFs full time, this is mandatory if you do any amount of walking. The sole is of better quality on high-end FFs and the bed more supportive.
2. Foot bed material that doesn’t absorb odours.
3. Foot bed that doesn’t get slippery when it is sweaty.
4. Repairability on the road. Tearing out the toe or side strap is inevitable. If not repairable, simply throw them away – the flip-flips you can buy most any where will not be up to standard. But some FFs can be repaired anywhere. The best guys are the shoe repairmen with their little stands sitting on the street throughout third world countries.
5. Comfortable toe strap.
6. Main straps that don’t collect material like sand under them.
REVIEWS of FLIP-FLOPS I HAVE WORN RECENTLY
Appreciate that the brands listed below have different models with different features.
Reef. They are comfortable and nice feeling flops. The heel breaks in and has some give for a softer feel than most. I don’t drink so don’t have much use for the bottle opener in the sole, but that could be a selling point for some.
a. The pair I have has a pillowed material under the side straps. I recently rafted the Grand Canyon and love to hike in flip-flops. But in sandy soil, I soon got sand under the straps that could only be removed in water with some rubbing. I eventually developed abrasions under the straps and had to hike in my hiking shoes.
b. The sole material absorbs odor. It helps some to wash them, but not for long. I don’t want to need a special odor killing cleaner while I travel.
c. The sole was a little too flexible and offered less support than desired.
Olukae. After 12 months of pretty happy use, a toe strap tore – right at where it enters the sole, and could not be repaired. Even though the warranty was just up, I was a given a store credit for the $77 flops. This is another advantage of buying good quality products – they have a warranty that the companies honour.
a. Lack of repairability. This makes them incompatible with my travel.
b. When sweating, the sole gets slippery. It was necessary to wash them regularly to control.
Havaianas. Possibly the most popular FF brand and what I used when I threw away my Olukaes.
1. They are much more available compared to the deluxe brands.
2. Relatively inexpensive.
3. Compared to cheap FFs, they have a good contour foot bed and a thicker cushioning sole.
1. But these are not FFs you want to wear all day and walk long distances. The hard rubber toe piece inevitably will cause blisters, as may the firm rubber side straps. On my recent 5-month trip in west Africa, all those with Havaianas fought chronic sores between their toes.
2. Once the toe or side straps tear out, they become throwaways.
Chacos (I prefer the Ecotread model)
When I first started traveling, I wore Chacos for at least 8 years of constant wear – that was at least 4 or 5 pairs. But the Chaco flip-flops have recently become unavailable in Canada. What do they have against us? Everyone else seems to like Canadians.
So I bought Olukaes, Havaianas, and then Reefs. All the guides and boatmen on my recent rafting trip in the Grand Canyon wore Chacos. And these guys live in their flip-flops. They hike everywhere in them. That’s because they are the best. After arriving back in Flagstaff after my trip, I went to a few stores but none had size 11s. On my 2800km drive home, I stopped when I could, but it was end of season, and there was no selection. I ordered some Chacos online from the states. It was the end of the season and the style of strap I preferred in my size wasn’t available in North America.
I like Chacos so much, I have other styles – a pair with an all leather upper that I don’t like (heavy and the toe strap is hard leather) and a pair with a canvas upper like a shoe with a strap (I love these, they have a funky style and they are my favourite travel shoes when I need to wear socks. I also use them as wading shoes)
1. Contour, anatomical foot bed. I have always found Chacos hugely comfortable and can walk long distances, all day in them.
2. Foot bed made of hard rubber – doesn’t get slippery and doesn’t absorb odours.
3. Toe strap always comfortable with minimal wear-in period.
4. Side straps are made of simple webbing that doesn’t hold grit or sand.
5. Field repairability. I have torn out the toe strap several times and a side strap a few times in my travels. I marvelled at the ingenuity of the guys on the street in India or Malaysia or the sophisticated guy in Taiwan. But as the entire strap comes out, and the sole is in two layers, it is easy to force the strap back with a screw driver and sew it in place to make them stronger than ever.
1. Not widely available, especially in Canada. Fall selection often poor. There are a lot of guys out there with size 11 feet.
2. Expensive especially with present Canadian dollar exchange rates.
3. I inevitably rip out the toe strap or occasionally one of the side straps. I wish the manufacturer would secure the end of the straps permanently.
Have I convinced you yet?