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When temperatures warm in Chicago, most of us can’t wait to put away our rocker soles and closed toe shoes and welcome our toes back from hibernation. We get a pedicure and pull out cute sandals from the back of the closet. We may love freeing up our feet, but sandals’ lack of support can usher in a season of blisters and painful steps. My rheumatoid arthritis led me to search for sandals that are not only great looking but also comfortable for my feet. In the last 8 years I’ve reviewed more than 225 comfortable sandals on barkingdogshoes.com. I’m here to help women find cute, comfortable sandals that will keep feet feeling good while pounding the pavement during spring and summer.
Comfortable sandals are important for your feet
Podiatrists say they get more foot pain complaints in the summer months than in the colder winter months when we ladies are typically wearing more supportive shoes. Foot issues from sandals can include:
Experts say sandals may lead to foot problems for us gals because many summer shoe standbys are less supportive than what we wear during fall and winter. According to a website from the Sutter Orthopedic Institute, sandals lack a heel counter. The heel counter is the stiff part in the back of your shoes that supports your heel bone and keeps your feet from rolling too much. I found further explanation from guys who study feet. ‘The gait guys’ say a strong deep heel counter is important for motion control in your feet. It gives the calcaneus, i.e. your heel bone, something to bump up against. So the backs of shoes help limit the motion of your heel bone, providing support. But most summer sandals, and all flip flop styles lack this support for the back part of your feet.
Arches are another issue in sandals. Arches help to support and align our feet. Popular “pancake flat” summer sandals and flip flops usually offer little to no arch support. Experts say this lack of arch support can cause your toes to ache and even lead to painful tired arches that may cramp up. The issue can be even worse for folks with high arches or flat feet. Its important to find shoes that work for the arches we’re born with. According to Shape Magazine, “Most of the time, people walk and stand on hard, unnatural surfaces that cause the arches of the foot to flatten. Traditional flip-flops are little more than a soft flat piece of foam with a thong strap that allows the arch to continue to collapse…” When our feet deal with this so called summer spread, it can put more pressure on the arch and lead to Plantar Fasciitis. (If that’s you, we’ve got tons of reviews of sandals for Plantar Fasciitis and shoes specifically for PF). In addition, experts say sandals can contribute to shin splints and knee cap pain.
Experts say if your summer feet-related pain lasts more than a few days you should consider calling the doctor to avoid more serious injury to your feet.
Finally a word about going barefoot. It can be tempting to go barefoot and give your feet a break from shoes. But going barefoot on hard floors or hard surfaces can also irritate or contribute to a painful case of plantar fasciitis. Flip flops or sandals in styles that offer some support can be an easy, comfortable substitute for bare feet.
History of sandals
Sandals are different from other shoes in that they leave most of the top of the foot (and usually our toes) in the open. Sandals are one of the oldest types of footwear in the world. Apparently 10,000 years ago they’ve found evidence of sandal wearing. Ancient Egypt, Rome, and even the Bible talk about sandals! Apparently the ‘right’ kind of sandals was a status symbol even thousands of years ago. Today’s sandals come in multiple styles, color, heels and strap types.
Types of sandals for women
One thing that stands out about sandals from some shoe types is the wide array of colors and trendy metallics you can find in sandals. Color can be one of the most fun parts about summer shoes. And not just color, but decorations abound as well. You’ll find jewels, glitter, beads, and even coins on sandals. A comfy pair of Noat Trovadors has shells on them. The straps on sandals can be made of leather, pleather, plastic (think sport sandals and Crocs) and even rope.
Here is an overview of the popular styles of sandals:
Thong styles – A small strip of leather or material functions as a toe separator and goes between your big toe and your second toe to hold the shoes on your foot. Thong styles can come with a back or without. Check out my review of the Mephisto Helen Spark. This style is released in updated colors and patterns every year, but for our feet’s’ sake features a shock absorbing midsole and a molded foot bed for support.
Flip flops like the Helen Spark are a very popular type of thong style sandals. Flip flops protect your feet more than going barefoot, and they are easy to slip on and off for camp drop offs or going to get the mail. Check out my review of the Spanco Total Support Yumi – some say it helps with plantar fasciitis heel pain. I also love the metatarsal and “transverse arch” support which helps my metatarsalgia caused by my arthritis of the metatarsals.
You can also find some cute and supportive styles from Vionic (I was surprised I liked the sequins!) formerly known as the Orthoheel brand of shoes. Check out my review to learn how a pair of Tide Sequins lifted my sagging arches and made my feet, ankles, and back feel good in shoes again.
Flat sandals – These are sometimes known as pancake heels, the typical very flat layer of material may be hard or flimsy. The issue is for those of us girls with problem feet, these styles may lack heel, arch or toe support, which can be a painful truth at the end of a few hours in these styles.
Heels- I know some of you love sandals with heels for work, weddings or just running around with your cute summer dresses and capris. You’ll love my review of the OTBT Gearhart sandal.
More than a two inch heel but offset by a 1” platform. Rubber outsole, cork midsole, what’s not to love for us gals with problem feet? Wedges and Platform sandals in this category can give you height of heel but the extra lift up front can reduce the pressure on your foot normally caused by wearing a slightly higher heel. They can come with a variety of cute and creative straps to hold these on your feet, such as the Sofft Vali sandal. Check out why my friend Tracy found this leather strappy style wedge was her “go to” shoe on a business trip.
Chunky block heels are a new sandal trend in the heel category. But sometimes problem feet make heels sound scary. If you are one who can wear them, consider this 3”, surprisingly supportive Okena model from Clarks. The cushioned foot bed, and the secure support around your ankles get high marks.
If your office or lifestyle requires you to have more coverage on your feet, consider peep toe closed heel style sandals, with laces or without. The Okena Sass is a comfortable peep toe closed heel style. And check out the lace up, peep toe Earth Plover sandal. Those adjustable laces can accommodate a bunion, wider foot or high instep. And the closed heels may accommodate a thin orthotic. If you need orthotics in the summer check out my reviews of other orthotic friendly comfortable sandals.
Closed toe- Sometimes we need a closed toe shoe in the summer for trekking to a kid’s game, camping or just being in a crowd. But the sandal style with a closed toe means our feet can stay cooler and aired out during the warm months. I admired the Jambu Clementines for awhile before getting a chance to add a review of them.
If this closed toe sandal style idea interests you, you should check out my review of Metropolitan sandals from Spain. This line includes cute close toe or closed heel styles in cool designs, with an anatomic foot bed covered in soft leather.
Gladiator- These very strappy, usually flat sandals may remind you of the Roman and Grecian sandals from the history books. Gladiator sandals are also usually tall with ties or straps reaching up to your ankle or even your calf. For a shorter, but hint of gladiator-type pair I recommend, check out my review of the Noat Dorith sandal in 5 Summer Sandals that Go With Everything.
Espadrilles- The classic summer jute bottom shoe. Cute and very summery. New upper materials featuring prints and metallics, can make espadrilles suitable for dressy occasions, even the office. Don’t miss my review of Eric Michael footwear from Spain for some amazing styles!
Slides- Easy to put on and off, slide sandals have no straps around your ankle, usually a wide piece of material that covers over your mid-foot. The heels can be flat, platform or high. Some say the lack of ankle strap may be flattering to certain leg types. Slides have become very trendy and modern in recent years. Some people think Birkenstock when they here this style, but today’s slides can also have toe loops, multiple straps or crisscross fabric styles. For a pair of slides that won’t break your bank, check out my review of Crocs Anna slides in my reviews of Comfortable Sandals under $70.
Z Strap- The strap material makes almost the shape of a letter Z across your foot. Check out the Dr. Martan Balfor style in my reviews. A sandal ‘so hip’ that even Urban Outfitters carries it.
Sport sandals- These more casual summer shoes usually have very cushioned soles, secure straps and waterproof or water-friendly materials. I highlight some comfortable and cute sport sandals, the Teva Kayenta, in my reviews of 5 Comfortable Stylish Travel Sandals. If you have problem feet like me you may also like comfortable, stylish sport sandal options from Jambu and even Dansko (Side note: yes Dansko makes more than clogs! But if you want that familiar Dansko clog-type rocker sole in a sandal, check out the Dansko Lindy.
I hope this overview of the types of sandals you’ll find out there was helpful as you try to narrow down your sandal selections to find comfortable sandals for your feet.
How to shop for comfortable sandals for women
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop for sandals to keep your feet comfortable and stylish.
Where you’ll wear them: First consider what you need a new pair of sandals for. Comfort sandals are not cheap. But it may be possible to find a sandal that you can wear a lot of places. For some ideas, check out 5 summer sandals that go with everything.
Consider the types of occasions where you will wear your sandals, and the types of surfaces you’re likely to encounter.
Find your sole: the grippyness you need in the sole of a sandal and how much cushioning you should look for will vary based on your own foot issues, but also where you’ll be taking these snappy new sandals. We found helpful advice north of the border in a Canadian article on shopping for sandals. “Look for sandals with a sole that doesn’t bend too much. A stiffer sole as well as straps that cross the foot will help distribute the pressure on your foot more evenly. The heel and arch will take some of the weight, so that the ball of your foot and its sensitive joints don’t receive the full impact of each step.”
Did you know for instance, they make stylish sandals with comfy EVA foam on the soles but I’ve also found a pair with faux cork insoles that are actually EVA foam as well. (Thanks Spenco!) Be sure and consider the types of materials that are making up the bottom of the shoe. This part of the sandal will absorb the impact of your steps for your body all spring and summer.
Toes and heels: You should also consider your toes and heels when shopping for sandals. Whether the shoes are for work, travel or even the outdoors, may make a difference in the heel height. Does your intended use of your sandals make open or closed toes, or an open or closed heel style a factor to consider in your sandal shopping?
When to shop: Shop for sandals in the evening, when your feet may have the most spread in your arch.
What to look for: Look for sandals that have that heel cup and arch support your feet need. Most podiatrists recommend avoiding flats and instead selecting a small heel of less than two inches to lift pressure off your Achilles tendon.
Find the right fit: Does the foot bed fit your feet? Zappos has some great advice on their blog about how to size sandals. For instance, they recommend you decide whether your feet most often need you to round up or down if only whole sizes are offered. Other tips include making sure neither the heel or the toes hang off the edge. Finally, tighten the straps of sandals until they fit snug but don’t slip around your foot
Don’t get burned or blistered: Experts say don’t forget sunscreen on your feet now that you’re showing them off in your new comfortable sandals! And if the straps are rubbing your feet, I hear some people rub beeswax or candlewax on problem areas of their leather sandals and have had success solving that issue.
When they’re worn out, toss ‘em: As always, worn out shoes, especially flip flops are a no no for women with problem feet or anyone for that matter. If the support in your shoe is no longer there, your feet and other joints may suffer, and it may irritate the heck out of any existing foot conditions you are dealing with. Some podiatrists go as far as saying one season only for certain styles like flip flops.
Comfortable sandals for foot conditions
I started barkingdogshoes.com after facing disabling pain in my feet due to rheumatoid arthritis. In the years since I’ve reviewed hundreds of shoes and collected comments from real women with problem feet, to create a list of comfortable stylish shoes across categories. When it comes to comfortable sandals for problem feet, I’ll have to start with an oldie but still a goodie. The Noat Kayla just turned 16! This gem comes in 15 colors, is the top selling Noat sandal and can accommodate a variety of foot concerns, but best if you have feet on the narrower side. Check out my updated review here.
Dealing with Hallux Rigidtosis (big toe stiffness and pain)? Check out 6 stylish sandals for hallux rigidtosis I recommended for a reader which also include sandals that work for bunions. Also check out the Mephisto Helen in my reviews.
And I’m a fan of the Florida platform sandals for women dealing with Hallux limitus/rigidus, bunions or plantar fasciitis.
Sandals that work with orthotics:
You may think when summer comes, you have to store the orthotics with your cold weather gear. But I’ve found several types of comfortable sandals that can accommodate orthotics.
The Noat Papaki features a removable cork footbed and closed heel. Don’t miss my review of 8 orthotic friendly sandals, all with removable footbeds. In another post you can check out 7 styles, such as the more casual pink patent pleather Avaron Candace which also comes in four widths (you’re welcome.) The snakeskin Klogs Journey also has a slip-resistant polyurethane outsole and can accomodate an orthotic.
Send your questions or share your comfortable sandal favorites!
If you have sandals that you’ve found help with your problem feet, please share! We have an active community of readers and tips on our Facebook page.
As a reminder, if a featured style on our blog doesn’t wow you, take a look at the entire brand collection and see if there’s a pair you’d prefer. You may also find it helpful to scroll through our reader comments for their suggestions.
We hope you’ve found inspiration for finding sandals for your feet this summer.
Sutter Orthopedic Institute sandal advice
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