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Home Backpacking These $26 Homemade Hiking Sandals Are Ultra-Cheap—and Ultralight

These $26 Homemade Hiking Sandals Are Ultra-Cheap—and Ultralight

by Staff

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Last year, I paid almost $100 for a pair of ultraminimalist sandals. I spent weeks researching my options and meticulously paring down my list of must-have features. By the end, my vision of the perfect shoe resembled something you might find strapped to the foot of a masochistic ascetic with cast-iron arches and nary a bunion in sight. Basically, just one step up from being barefoot. I found that shoe, and I bought it.

A week later, my sandals arrived, and I was ecstatic. I remained so for exactly the amount of time it took me to unbox them. That’s when I realized I had just paid nearly $100 for a thin slab of plastic and a couple of webbing straps. Huh, I thought. I could have made these myself. 

Could I, though? I decided to find out. I tried four DIY camp sandal-making methods from around the internet, wore them, weighed them, and tested them to see how they performed. Each one was lighter—and much more inexpensive—than my store-bought choice, the Bedrock Classic LT Sandals, which weigh 8.5 ounces per pair for a women’s 7 and cost me $81.33 including shipping. The comfort and durability of my homemade shoes, however, vary. Here they are, ranked.

The Trash Sandal 

Pros: This sandal’s biggest advantage is that you can make it from bits of old gear you already have and were probably planning to throw away. There are only two ingredients: insoles from worn-out running shoes and scraps of paracord. That makes it among the cheapest and easiest-to-assemble shoes on this list. It’s also decently comfortable.

Cons: The knots can be moved and tightened, but adjustments are a bit cumbersome. And while these make a decent camp shoe, I wouldn’t trust them in rough terrain: running insoles aren’t designed for heavy use outside of the safe confines of a sneaker. The traction also leaves something to be desired.

Method: Use a ballpoint pen to mark points to either side of your big toe and either side of your arch. Then, use an awl or leatherworking hole-punch to pierce the material at each of those points.

Start by threading the paracord up through the central toe hole. Wrap it up and over your instep, down through one first side hole, up and around the heel, and then down through the second side hole. Then, wrap the tail of the cord back up and over your instep toward your big toe. Use two simple overhand knots on either side of your toe to hold all the cord in place. Melt the ends of the cord to prevent fraying.

Cost: $7.00

Time: 25 minutes

Weight: 1.8 oz. (per pair)

The Swim-Meet Slider 

Pros: This shoe is reminiscent of the neat, striped sliders all the other kids got to wear at swim meets growing up, but that my mom wouldn’t let me have. They’re easy to make and easy to slip on and off. They unfold to pack completely flat in a backpack, and they only require one material: closed-cell foam. Like the Trash Sandal, you can make the Swim-Meet Slider from items that most people consider garbage—in this case, old yoga mats, backpack panels, or closed-cell foam sleeping pads.

Cons: Once you’ve made your sandal, you’re committed to the fit: there’s no way to make micro-adjustments. Traction is abysmal, and durability depends on the type of foam you use. A dense, sturdy, waterproof camping mat is your best bet. Lightweight foam from an old pack’s back panel—which is what I used—won’t last more than a few outings without a puncture.

Method: Use a ball-point pen to trace the sole of your foot on a piece of foam, adding a quarter-inch to a half-inch of buffer all the way around. Then, draw on a pair of wings. Before you cut, wrap the foam around the widest part of your foot to ensure the wings are long enough for a full wrap. Cut out the shape, then wrap the wings snugly around your foot and mark them at the point of overlap. Cut out a hole in one wing and notches in the other. Push the notched end through the hole. This will act as a toggle to hold the shoe around your foot.

Cost: $5.00

Time: 20 minutes

Weight: 0.2 oz. (per pair)

The double decker sandal is made from two sandwiched-together layers of foam. The durability of the shoe will depend on the materials you use. (Photo: Corey Buhay)

The Double Decker 

Pros: If, like me, you hate having things between your toes, this guyline-and-foam number is for you. It’s lightweight, relatively adjustable, and inexpensive to make, especially if you already have some foam and guylines lying around. The double layer of foam provides more padding than the Swim-Meet Slider, making this shoe more comfortable on rocky or uneven terrain.

Cons: This model is a little complicated to make. Because it’s held together with glue, too much stress can also cause the strings to shift over time, making it less reliable than other constructions on this list. As with the Swim-Meet Slider, the durability will depend on the type of foam you use; the denser the foam, the better.

Method: Trace your foot, leaving a quarter-inch to a half-inch of space all the way around. Do this twice. Next, stand on one piece of foam and center a short piece of string beneath your instep, just forward of your heel. Tie an overhand knot on a bight on either end of this segment. Then, center a longer strip of guyline cord beneath the ball of your foot. Glue both of these strips in place, sandwiching them between the two pieces of foam.

Once the glue has dried, stand on the foam. Wrap the long string around the ball of your foot and a tight overhand knot. Then, thread the tails through the bights near the back of your foot. Cross the tails around the back of your heel, then bring them together in front of your ankle. Tie the tails with an overhand knot. Melt the ends of the cord to prevent fraying.

Cost: $23.00

Time: 30 minutes

Weight: 1.4 oz. (per pair)

The Overachiever 

Pros: Unlike the other sandals on this list, which are mostly made of trash, this is an actual shoe. As such, it’s the grippiest and most durable model you can make yourself. Ladder locks make it exceedingly adjustable, and the wide nylon webbing makes it more comfortable than any other shoe I made.

Cons: Because this is a legitimate sandal, it’s more complicated and time consuming to assemble than the others. It’s also more expensive. That said, $26 of webbing and rubber is still a hell of a lot cheaper than $100.

Method: First trace your foot on a slab of sole-replacement rubber, leaving at least a quarter-inch of space all the way around. Use a box-cutter or razor to cut out your foot shape. This can be tricky, so be careful cutting.

Next, mark the spot between your big toe and second toe, and mark a short dash on either side of your arch. Make sure each dash is as long as your webbing is wide. Use a leatherworking hole-punch to puncture the rubber at your toe, and at either end of each dash. You can then use a box-cutter to connect these latter pairs of dots, opening up twin slits to either side of your arch.

Now thread the webbing. First, poke the webbing up through the toe hole. Tie an overhand stopper knot at the bottom to hold it in place while you work. Next, wrap the webbing over your instep and poke it down through the first of the side slits. Bring it up and around your heel, down through the second slit, and then back up and over your instep toward your toe. Here, fold the webbing over itself, adding a ladder-lock to hold it in place.

Last step: Take a shorter piece of webbing and place it over the instep of your foot. Wrap the ends around each of your side straps, adding a ladder lock to each. Melt the ends of your webbing to prevent fraying. Then, flip the shoe over, and melt the knot under the sole until it’s flat and coin-shaped and seems unlikely to pull through the hole.

Cost: $26.00

Time: 60 minutes

Weight: 7.6 oz. (per pair)

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