How to Choose Healthier Flip-Flops

Keep Your Warm-Weather Feet Happier

Flip-flops are popular as summer comfort shoes, but they aren't the right type of footwear for every activity. They aren't made for running, walking long distances, or lifting and carrying. In addition, you should steer clear of poorly-made flip-flops and choose those that give your feet appropriate support and cushioning. Learn what to look for in well-constructed flip-flops that won't fail your feet.

Choose Flip-Flops that Bend Only in the Ball of the Foot

Flimsy Flip-Flop Bent in Half
Flimsy Flip-Flop Bent in Half. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Cheap flip-flops usually lack any kind of structure or support for the foot. If you can bend them in half or twist them into a pretzel, they aren't going to help prevent foot fatigue. A good flip-flop bends only where you need it to bend when walking—in the ball of the foot. "This minimal flexibility indicates the proper balance, arch support, and alignment for healthy feet," says podiatrist Phil Vasyli.

Get the Right Size

Flip Flop Doesn't Fit
Flip-Flop Doesn't Fit. Wendy Bumgardner

Your heels and toes should not be hanging off the edge of the sole, inviting rocks and toys to give you a nasty cut or stubbed toe. One walker calls this "shrimp cocktail toes." Likewise, don't just slip into an oversized pair with edges that can catch on uneven surfaces and cause you to trip. Take special care when driving while wearing flip-flops. The sole can get trapped under the accelerator and cause an accident.

Replace Worn Out Flip-Flops

Worn Out Flip Flop
Worn Out Flip-Flop. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Flip-flops aren't forever. Before you slip into them, look for cracks in the sole and uppers or signs that the post is coming loose. You don't want a blow out to trip you up. If there is a deep foot indentation in the sole or you can see the outlines of your toes from last year, it's time to replace them.

Where Not to Wear Flip-Flops

Switchbacks on Multnomah Falls Trail
Switchbacks on Multnomah Falls Trail. Wendy Bumgardner © 2010

You'll quickly find that going downhill on a steep slope is a bad idea when wearing flip-flops. The toe posts can bite into your feet. They aren't great for going uphill, either, as you can slide right out of them.

Flip-flops change your walking gait because your toes flex to try to keep the sandal on your foot. Flip-flops do not allow you to achieve a powerful walking stride by striking with the heel and pushing off with the toe. You end up with a shorter stride and just clomping along flat-footed.

The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) says that you shouldn't wear flip-flops for distance walking. Also, don't wear them for gardening or while playing sports. Wear athletic shoes for walking, hiking shoes for hiking, and garden shoes for gardening.

You can wear flip-flops at the pool, beach, party, or around the house for light walking.

Avoid Foot Irritation

The toe post and straps can cause rubbing, irritation, and blisters. These minor injuries can be prevented by using an anti-blister lubricant or pads until your feet have developed tougher skin in those areas. However, if you have diabetes you need to be vigilant in preventing blisters and sores that can lead to an infection.

Check for the APMA Seal of Acceptance

The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recognizes flip-flops that provide proper foot support and promote good foot health with their Seal of Acceptance, which they have been awarding for more than 50 years. To get the seal, the product is reviewed by a group of podiatrists and they examine the evidence the company provides on product testing for safety and quality control. Products that don't have thorough documentation or that don't promote good foot health are rejected. The seal is awarded for up to a three-year period and renewal must be requested by the manufacturer.

APMA has a complete list of flip-flops that have received the Seal of Acceptance on their site. You'll note that only a few companies have received this recognition. Here are representative models from these manufacturers, in alphabetic order, with the features that make them superior choices.

ABEO Sandals
This ABEO line is the store brand for The Walking Company. If you visit one of their stores you can get your foot scanned to determine which of their sole designs is best for your foot and gait. They have neutral soles with arch support, posted soles for motion control, and soles with metatarsal support to relieve pressure on the ball of your foot. The ABEO Balboa Neutral is an example of a flip-flop design for people with a neutral gait.

Chaco Flip-Flops
Buy from Amazon.com
Chaco has numerous designs with the APMA Seal of Acceptance. The basic Flip Ecotread has straps that are anchored at the mid-foot to keep them on your feet better (less flop in your flip-flops). Their shaped footbeds support your feet. They also have an antimicrobial application that helps prevent stinky sandals.

FitFlop
Buy from Amazon.com
FitFlop sandals have a microwobbleboard technology, which basically gives your feet mini-massages all over as you walk. They provide excellent cushioning. FitFlop also received the APMA Seal of Acceptance. They are a good choice to wear after a long walk, or for wearing on a long day of shopping and standing. They don't have the arch support you find in the Vionic designs, which suits those who have lower arches.

SOLE Flip-Flops
Buy from Amazon.com
SOLE makes sport flip-flops for both men and women. They have the APMA Seal of Acceptance. The wide strap spreads out the pressure on the top of the foot, while the contoured cork footbed provides support for walking.

Vionic Flip-Flops 
Buy from Amazon.com
Australian podiatrist Phil Vasyli designed his Vionic line to prevent overpronation. If you wear motion control shoes for sports and fitness walking, his flip-flops can continue to provide the guidance your feet need to correct for this gait problem. Vionic has both beach styles of flip-flops and dress styles for those parties around the shrimp on the barbie.

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