Keen Owyhee Hiking Sandals

Keen 1  © Dan Bailey
Dan Bailey steps out into the brief British summer wearing socks and sandals, as you do. He's testing the Keen Owyhee, a rugged sandal for hiking, watersports and general summer fun.

  • Upper: synthetic, polyester webbing, neoprene padding
  • Sole: rubber
  • Sizes: 6-12 (men's); 2.5-8 (women's)
  • Weight: 704g (pair, size 8)

When it comes to walking footwear you could be forgiven for not taking sandals seriously. I certainly didn't, until I tried to slog up Kilimanjaro in mountain boots some years ago. A quick rethink was needed before my feet softened and blistered to a pulp in the heat, so I followed in the locals' footsteps and switched to sandals for all but summit day. It was a welcome breath of fresh air; for me and my pals.

In the hills of home it's only in summer that sandals are likely seem a good idea, and even during a heatwave you've got bogs, scree and midges to contend with. Most sandals I've worn have just been soft bits of rubber with an imprecise floppy fit - too unstructured and unsupportive for long tough hill days or heavy load carrying. Still the more robust models do merit a space in the gear cupboard, I feel, particularly for less-rigorous lowland walking in hot dry weather when a boot or even a shoe might be overkill. They're also good for the seaside.

Keen 4  © Dan Bailey

There's nowhere better than the West Country to combine a bit of clifftop striding with some beach mooching, so for a family trip to the Culm coast of North Devon and Cornwall I packed a pair of Keen Owyhees along with my swimmers. The name could've been dreamed up by a focus group of Hawaiians and Geordies, but I can't hold that against these robust, comfortable and well thought-out sandals. Keen's range of models is extensive, and I reckon these are among the best of the lot for off-road walking.

We spent a fair bit of the week doing very little on various beaches, as you do, and the quick-drying, foot-protecting Owyhees were just the thing for paddling in the surf and poking about in barnacle-encrusted boulders and rockpools. But with its spectacular cliffs and deep dank wooded coombes this stretch of coast is also an ideal walker's destination, and the Keens proved their worth as more 'serious' footwear on several half-day stretches of the South West Coast Path. The ground underfoot might be fairly benign but this is still one of the hilliest stretches of the Atlantic coast, and in a few hours you can notch up as much ascent as on a reasonable mountain walk. Out on the trail the Owyhees offered a good fit and decent support, and I never got hot feet or blisters.

The Sole has plenty of springy forward flex (a rigid sandal would feel weird) but retains a degree of lateral stiffness for foot support - more than on some trail shoes, indeed. The sole tread is reasonably chunky with a greater depth than you might expect on a sandal. There's a lot of flat rubber in contact with the ground however. This seems fine on wet rock if my beach wanderings are anything to go by, but might not be so fun on steep wet muddy grass. How often would you encounter that sort of ground on a sandal day though?

"I wouldn't want to traverse Aonach Eagach in Owyhees but I did feel that the sole had enough grip and support for some gentle exploratory clambering..."

I wouldn't want to traverse Aonach Eagach in Owyhees but I did feel that the sole had enough grip and support for some gentle exploratory clambering. To test this I pottered up and back down the stream-side rocks to the base of the waterfall at Spekes Mill Mouth - a scramble that must be about Moderate grade. That's about as far as I'd want to push the Owyhees, but it's a lot further than I'd go in most sandals. The one drawback of the robust sole is its weight; at 840g per pair (size 12; my figure) Owyhees are heavier than some trail or fell shoes. It's liveable-with, but does seem slightly inappropriate for a piece of footwear that's half air gaps.

Keen 2  © Dan Bailey

There's a built-in anti-odour footbed, which actually seems to work. Contrary to my previous experience with whiffy sandals the Owyhees can still be tolerated in a hot car after a long walk. The footbeds are also comfortably cushioned, and don't get unduly sticky.

How many times have you stubbed a toe when mucking about on rocky beaches? If you're a lumbering oaf like me then Keen's trademark rubber toe bumper is a huge improvement on the standard open-toed sandal design. The only downside is that it's harder to shake gravel out of a closed-toed sandal.

Fit-wise the Owyhee is also typical Keen, a brand known for generous broad-toed footwear. Personally this shape suits me down to the ground at the front end, but if your feet are pointy you may feel there's a bit of excess room at the toe. A softly elasticated cuff holds the heel in place gently, while a more snug fit around the whole foot is given by a series of webbing straps - one around the heel, more towards the middle and front end. The lace runs as a continuous band through all of these straps, allowing the whole arrangement to be tightened or loosened as one using a little sprung toggle.

It's a neat-looking arrangement, but I do have one or two criticisms. Firstly the lace tail; there's nowhere definitive to secure it, and even tucked under the laces it's long enough to whip around annoyingly when you're running. Secondly, the fact that the Owyhees tighten in a one-er means that you can't tailor the fit to suit different parts of the foot, as you can with the simpler series of independent straps found on a standard sandal. You cannot have a tighter heel and a looser toe, say; it's both or neither. For me at least this means that when everything else is fitting well there's slightly more space in the mid-foot than I'd like. Wearing socks went part way to fill the excess volume. It also looks cool (that's my story and I'm sticking to it).


I think seventy five quid is as much as you could reasonably be asked to pay for a sandal, but then the Owyhee is as well-made as many a shoe. I'm pleasantly surprised by how well they perform in the great outdoors, and if we actually get anything resembling a summer this year then I'll be keen (ahem) to get them back on.

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