Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 7

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Amphibious shoes
Keen Sandals, $70+

Keen sandals have a solid shoe-like toe covering that I’ve never seen in Tevas-like amphibious sandals. This covering keeps the sand out and eliminates stubbed toes. They’re warmer than Tevas and almost not sandals at all. I think of them as very sturdy water shoes. They have arch support and sturdy, gripping soles. They lace with an elastic gizmo that fastens easily and securely. Best of all, water runs right out of them and they dry very quickly. No more dreading the wet footwear as I head off on my daily trek on the beach. I’ve put about 300 miles on the current pair and they show little sign of wear. My beach has some steep vertical climbs that I traverse without fear of slipping. They seem to carry me easily between the water and the land. It took a little while to adjust to the idea that I could wear socks with them. – John Sumser
Open-toed hikers
Chaco Sandals, Price varies

When weather permits, I live in sandals. Over the years I’ve tried all the major brands. A few years ago a friend suggested that I try a brand, Chaco, that I had never heard of. Initially I balked at the price, but when I found a pair that was closeout priced I decided to give them a try. I’ve never looked back.

While I own a variety of Chaco sandals, I primarily wear the general purpose Z/1. The primary advantage of these sandals is their unique means of attachment to your foot; a single slide buckle. The strap for the front of the sandal is one continuous length that is threaded through slots in the sole. You initially adjust the sandal to your feet by pulling until you’ve got the fit you want. You then take the sandal off and on by using the slide buckle. To put the sandal on you slip in your foot and pull down on the buckle strap. To loosen the strap to remove the sandal you pull up on the buckle bottom. This is so easy and natural to do that with reasonable balance you can take them on and off while standing on one foot, then the other. This design provides a superbly comfortable fit, primarily through the elimination of the typical stiff Velcro closures.

Another feature of all Chaco sandals is their unique contoured footbed. First, it has an aggressive arch support (that the manufacturer claims counters pronation). Second, it has a deep heel cup that helps your foot stay centered. For my foot, they are more comfortable than any other shoe I have ever worn. This is, of course, a very personal observation, and you should probably try a pair on before buying. Also, the company has recently switched to a newer footbed material that I haven’t yet tried.

While they aren’t marketed as such, I consider them a hiking sandal. They have a stiff Vibram sole with a very aggressive tread, just like what you’d find on a hiking boot. The slightly oversize footbed protects toes from being stubbed. I wear them for everything: strolling around town, driving, canoeing, biking and hiking. In all these roles they are every bit as comfortable as well-fitting shoes, while also providing the glorious open-air experience. As added bonuses, they float, and can be re-webbed or re-soled.

In competitor Keens, your feet are quite confined. I don’t really think of the Keens as sandals; they are really quick-dry athletic shoes with cut-outs. The Keen’s soles are similar to those of an athletic shoe, while the Chaco’s are more similar to the soles on hiking boots.

Keens definitely offer better toe protection. Still, I’ve put many hundreds of hiking and biking miles on my Chacos and have never once stubbed my toe. I think that the thick, oversize soles are what provide the protection. If you don’t seek the open-air feeling of true sandals such as the Chacos, the Keens would be a fine choice for everyday use. However, for serious hiking and river travel, Chacos are the answer.

As far as cost, the sandals list for $95, but annual design updates result in numerous Internet closeout opportunities in the early spring, and I’ve never paid more than $65 for a pair. – Dave King
Heavy duty flip-flops
Reef Sandals$24+

I’ve worn several pairs of Reef sandals for more than 10 years now, and they are simply the most solid “flip-flops” I’ve owned. I’ve tried other brands, but they fall apart in stressful conditions or delaminate after a few months of wear. Reef consistently holds up, and I usually wear mine until the rubber is paper thin on the bottom. Right now I’m wearing the “Leather Smoothy” in black – the leather top seems to hold less odor. They have many different styles and colors to choose from for guys, girls, and kids. – Camron Assadi
Kevlar-soled moccasins
VIVObarefoot Shoes, $100

I’m fascinated by feet, their function and potential, particularly. For the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the “barefoot running” scene, and found a wealth of information regarding footcare and advice for those who wished to traipse ’round unshod. Unfortunately, without the proper sensitivity and calluses, it’s near impossible to walk/run in urban areas unafraid.

Thus, I went looking for a shoe that would emulate the foot as closely as possible. I tried the famed “ninja” tabi-boots as well as Nike’s much hyped “Air Rift” running shoe, without satisfaction. I wondered, what would be the most effective material to construct a sole that would make for a thin, yet durable shoe…and hit upon the jackpot: kevlar. I googled “kevlar sole”, and came across a mention of the company “VIVO barefoot” in a podiatry forum by the CEO and creator.

Vivos are without a doubt the most lightest and most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Their lack of “arch support” and elevated heel is actually a boon, as it allows you to walk/run normally and regain natural posture. They also have a wide toe-box, to accommodate your feet without crunching, even have a zippered sole so that you can just replace them when they wear out, instead of buying a new pair! While the zipper tab does have a tendency to snap off, (a design flaw I hope will be remedied in future runs) I’ve never felt any discomfort from wearing them, and surprisingly enough, they even kept my feet darn warm in the most recent Maine winter time with their removable “insulated sole insert”. They also come in a variety of designs from slip on loafers to casual tennis shoes and look like totally normal shoes. While they generally run on the more expensive side, I managed to find a pair on eBay for forty-five bucks. – Josh Samuels

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