After writing a couple blog posts about strappy high heeled and wedge heeled sandals for women, my pal Cathy, who happens to be vegan and an Ironwoman triathlete a few times over, commented, “What about vegan sport sandals? I love sporty sandals!”
And who doesn’t? Sport sandals basically give you the freedom to go barefoot everywhere without hurting your feet! And does it make any sense to wear leather sandals in the water? Heck no, especially when there are so many vegan sport sandals that will outperform those made with animal skin any day.
So, this post is for all of you active guys and gals out there who are ramping up for summer fun in and out of the water.
(One caveat I’d like to make on the the shoes presented in this post: I’ve done a lot of research, including contacting the shoe manufacturers, and I have not conclusively been able to rule out if animal byproducts are used in the adhesives in some of these shoes. However, according to Wikipedia, glues that contain animal byproducts are more commonly found in products such as wooden musical instruments, gesso, and gelatin; not shoes. PETA says that animal-based glues are rarely used in shoes anymore because synthetic adhesives outperform them in consistency and flexibility. Thus, with this information, I focused on the sport sandals I could find that are made with manmade materials and do not contain animal skin.)
And now for some historical context on athletic sandals as we know them today…
The History of Sport Sandals
The original sport sandals, Tevas were as revolutionary to the world of sandals as Nikes were to track and field shoes. In both cases, their invention was the result of an epiphany born of necessity.
Before Nikes came along, the best running shoes were the kind with metal cleats. Needless to say, those cleats didn’t lend themselves well to every kind of surface you might want to run on. The lightbulb moment came when Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman and his wife Barbara were making waffles for breakfast one morning in 1971.
They were brainstorming ideas on how to make traditional track shoes with good traction but without the use of metal cleats. As Barbara pulled a waffle off the waffle iron, Bill had an aha moment, and the famous Nike waffle soles were born. On that day, running shoes underwent a metamorphosis that would pave the way for a cultural revolution – today, sneakers have gone way beyond athletic shoes. (In other words, Air Jordans are Air Jordans not just because of Michael Jordan, but because some people like to make their own waffles.)
A Fashion Revolution Born on the Colorado River
The inspiration for Tevas originated from the same need to make something that already existed better. The year was 1982 and Mark Thatcher had a summer job working as a river guide on the Colorado River. River guides continuously make the transition from carrying rafts off of trailers, onto rocky shores, and into the river. They’re on the raft, then they’re out of the boat again, sometimes swimming, sometimes walking in the water on the riverbed, and then hauling the rafts ashore.
(As a side note, my mom is from Buena Vista, Colorado, a town on the Arkansas River, which is a mecca for river rafting and kayaking. So, you could say that this blog post about the origins and merits of semi-amphibious shoes is one that is dear to my heart and long overdue.)
At the time that Mark Thatcher was serving as a river guide in the Grand Canyon, the only real options for footwear were wearing hiking boots or a pair of lightweight sneakers you packed in your bag – both of which got heavy and clunky when wet (and not to mention, were nearly impossible to swim in, if the need arose), or else – flip flops, which had no traction on the riverbed and came off too easily in the water.
The first pair of Tevas were created when a frustrated Mark Thatcher used a couple of Velcro watch bands to attach his flip flops to his feet so they wouldn’t come off. And from that day in the Grand Canyon, sandals (indeed – summer fashion) would never be the same.
1. Teva’s Original Sandal (Is Vegan!)
The Original Teva Sandal harkens back to Teva’s roots with a flip flop-style toe strap and an adjustable ankle strap that stays secure with Velcro.
The women’s style comes in fun colors, including bright pink, orange, turquoise, black, and other colors.
One of the original style of Tevas for men, the Universal Sandal has an open toe and comes in black, brown, mustard, navy blue, and gray.
2. Vegan Hurricane Sandals by Teva
The Teva Hurricane Sandal has polyester webbing and a heel that’s about 1.5”. Plus, they come with rugged Durabrasion outsoles, which makes them perfect for wearing on rugged terrain.
This women’s style comes in red, black, turquoise, light turquoise and brown, or forest green.
One of my favorite women’s styles, the Kayenta Sandal has a grooved yoga mat-inspired footbed for good traction and narrow, comfy straps over the front of your foot. The heel is about 1” and the front platform is about 0.5”. Plus, there’s a padded heel strap for walking comfort. This style comes in a few different color combinations, including black, purple, green, and gray.
The Tirra Athletic Sandal is one of Teva’s most popular styles and it gets top reviews from customers. It’s water- and trail-ready – for wherever your outdoor adventures take you. The tractioned heel is about 1.5” and the front platform is 0.5”. This style comes in a bunch of color combinations, including gray, galaxy blue, white-multi, hot pink, black, and more.
The Toachi 2 is designed for maximum action with padded straps and three adjustable hook-and-loop straps, plus a rear pull-up loop. The heel is about 1.5” and the platform is 1”. It’s also been treated with Microban, a zinc-based odor-resistant treatment. This style comes in black, gray, and espresso brown.
These vegan Tevas are a style that even the hardcore fashionistas can have fun with. The high-platforms come in bright colors, including yellow, red, turquoise, black, pink, orange, lavender, white, and others. The heel measures 1.75″ and the platform is 1.25″.
Vegan Athletic Sandals by Chaco
Chaco’s shoes are made in the U.S.A. in their factory in Michigan. They’re one of my favorite brands because they have some styles (their Ecotread line) that are made with recycled materials. You can see more Ecotread styles in my post about recycled flip flops. The company also has a repair program, which lets you send your worn out Chacos to them for repairs that extend their life. They’ll also make custom Chacos with your unique specifications.
Here’s a video with details on how Chacos are made:
These vegan sport sandals for women have textile straps and rubber soles. Colors include black, tangerine, aqua, blue multi-colored, and more.
8. Chaco Z Cloud Sandals
Chaco’s Z Cloud Sandals come in styles with toe rings or open toes. The cushioned heel makes them comfortable for action sports or walking on rugged terrain. And, they’ve been treated with an antimicrobial application for odor control.
9. Chaco Ecotread Zvolv 2 Athletic Sandals
Here’s another style that has the recycled Ecotread soles. The heel on the Zvolv is about 1” and the platform is 0.75”.
Women’s styles come in color combinations including green multi, gray, blue and coral, black, and more.
The men’s styles come in brown, tan, and navy multi-colored patterns
With a name like that, these vegan sport sandals should be hard to resist. Skechers has also gotten into the vegan sport sandals scene and offers a variety of styles that are lightweight and easy on your budget. These have super flexible soles and a buckle clip for easy on and off.
Another design by Skechers, these vegan men’s sport sandals have padded, adjustable Velcro straps. This style comes in black or gray.
This women’s style by Skechers is available with both black or white soles, which make them perfect for boating. Like all of Skechers’ athletic sandals, they’re super lightweight. This style comes in black, charcoal, natural, and navy blue – all of which have a light-colored sole. The black style is also available with a black sole.
Merrell’s is known for making a lot of leather sandals, so I was happy to see they’re now producing more styles of athletic sandals in animal-friendly, vegan materials. The Women’s Twist Strappy Sandal has a faux leather upper and a soft microfiber lining. The soles have the signature Merrell air cushioning, making them perfect for wearing on rugged terrain.
The women’s Terran Sandal, also by Merrell, has a vegan leather straps that are padded with neoprene for extra comfort. The rubber platform is 0.5” and the white soles make these sandals perfect for boating. This style comes in black, gray and green, or red and blue – all with white soles.
Famous for their flip flops, it’s great to see that Reef offers a vegan sport sandal for women. This style has a comfortable elastic ankle strap for easy movement and an EVA footbed. The toe post and t-strap are made with vegan faux leather.
17. Oso Vegan Sport Sandals for Men and Women by Luna
Inspired by the sandals worn by the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyon in Mexico, which were made famous in Christopher McDougal’s book Born to Run, Luna Sandals are designed for action. They have Vibram Flexmor soles and high-performance, adjustable laces for the perfect fit. The Luna Oso sport sandal is perfect for traveling, day hiking, kayaking, or just bumming around town.
18. Xero Z-Trail Lightweight Vegan Sport Sandals
Xero’s ultra-lightweight sport sandals are prefect for anyone who loves to go barefoot but wants a little extra protection. According to Xero, these sandals are 76% lighter and thinner than other sport sandals, but with all the protection and comfort you need. You can roll them up for traveling, and roll them out for sightseeing, stand up paddle boarding, outdoor yoga, and more.
Men’s styles come in blue multi, royal blue, black and gray, or mocha brown.
New Balance offers this super comfortable athletic sandal for men with padded, adjustable neoprene straps. They have a lightweight EVA outsole and a Rapid Rebound comfort footbed. They’re available in black, navy blue, and brown.
Closed Toe Vegan Sport Sandals
If you need a little more protection from your athletic sandals, here are some vegan styles that will protect your toes.
20. Lightweight Amphibious Sport Sandals by Clorts
Is it a sandal or a hiking shoe? It’s both! These lightweight semi-amphibious athletic sandals by Clorts have a Lycra mesh lining, Velcro straps, and protective rubber toe caps. They’re perfect for hiking, playing on the beach, kayaking, rafting, and more.
The men’s style comes in gray or pale green.
21. Vibram Athletic Vegan “Toe Sock” Shoes
The first time I ever saw a pair of Vibram toe shoes I was reminded of when I was a kid and my brothers and I put gloves on our feet and play Planet of the Apes. (Yes, we actually did that… hours of entertainment!)
It can be argued that Vibrams are more shoes than sandals, but I thought they deserved to be in this post. Not only are they vegan, but they’re perfect for outdoor wear in the water or on land. Vibram now has a variety of men’s and women’s styles. And all are made with the famous Vibram soles and stretchy vegan-friendly uppers.
22. Toe Cap Trail and Water Shoes by Atika
Atika is another brand I found that’s making affordable semi-amphibious sandals for both men and women.
The women’s styles come in light gray and turquoise, dark gray, brown, and red.
The men’s styles come in a wide variety of color combinations, including green, gray, mustard, bright orange, navy blue and more.
23. Faux Leather Closed Toe Sport Sandals by Northside
If you like the look of leather, but want to go cruelty-free, Northside makes men’s and women’s sport sandals with faux leather and faux suede uppers that are designed to get wet. They’ve got neoprene padding and enclosed toes to keep your feet safe and comfortable in any activity. Plus, they have an easy on and off bungee lacing system.
The women’s style comes in a variety of fun color combinations, including pink, light gray and turquoise, black, tan, maroon, and purple.
The men’s style comes in black, olive, and charcoal.
Alright, this post has reminded me that I really need to get back on the river. See you there!
Looking for some sandals that are a little more relaxed? Check out: