Shopping for the Perfect Sandal Fit

Mar 15th, 2008 by keelyh | Be The First To Comment

The first day of spring is less than a week away and summer won’t be far behind it. Now is the time to think about sandal shopping.


Shopping for a comfortable sandal can be very different than shopping for a properly fitting shoe because sandals are constructed using entirely distinct principles. In a shoe, the vamp (top part of the shoe) fully covers and constricts the motion of the foot. To ensure comfort and prevent foot injury, special attention must be paid to the size of the toe box and the shoe’s overall depth. In a sandal, particularly an open-toe sandal, the attention shifts to the footbed and outsole because that is where the majority of your foot’s support will come from.

Another thing to remember when shopping for sandals is that sandals tend to come in whole sizes. In most cases that means that you will need to go a half size larger if you usually wear a half size, for example if you wear a size 7 ½ in shoes you would wear a size 8 in sandals.

Here are a few other things to think about when looking for a sandal that will fit comfortably.

Heel Height

In order to ensure best comfort, Blog recommends wearing sandals that have between 1 inch to 1 ¼ inches of heel height. A slightly elevated heel accommodates the natural shape of the foot and decreases your risk of arch pain.

High heeled sandals may be at the height of fashion, but they aren’t healthy for your feet. Over time the increased pressure on the calf and ankle brought on by the unnatural downward motion of the foot can permanently tighten and shorten the Achilles tendon. Excessive high heel wearing can also lead to ball of foot pain. If the high heel sandal has a closed toe, particularly if the toe box is pointed and narrow, women also run the risk of developing bunions. High heeled sandals also increase the risk of twisting an ankle.

Heel Fit

Make sure the edge of your heel has a few millimeters of space between it and the rim of the shoe to allow for movement while walking. The rim is where the footbed is stitched onto the outsole or the access point for removing a removable insole. Because the rim of the shoe is an uneven surface, continually treading upon it can lead to blisters. For maximum comfort your heel should have a smooth strike zone.

The healthiest sandals have a heel cup; an indentation beneath the heel that is anatomically shaped to allow the foot to lie naturally. The heel should fit fairly symmetrically into the heel cup, sinking comfortably into its center.

Toe Positioning

When fitting shoes we often tell people to allow a thumb nail space between the end of the toe box and their toes to avoid damage to toe joints and black toenails. However, because open-toe sandals don’t restrict toes in the same way that shoes do, the toe can rest almost at the edge of the sandals. As with fitting the heel, be sure to leave space for the stitching at the rim of the shoe. Resting your feet against an uneven surface all day can lead to blisters beneath your toes.

Bottom of the Foot

After you’ve made sure that the toes and heels are properly positioned on the footbed, don’t forget to check how much space you have on the sides of your feet. Hanging over the edge of a sandal is rough on your ankles and destabilizes your base making it easier for you to trip. Likewise your foot should not move side to side in the footbed while you walk. This contributes to excessive pronation and supination, as well as general instability. Tightening adjustable sandal straps can compensate for an overly wide footbed to a small degree, but it is usually better to select a narrower sandal.

A Word about Sandal Straps

After you have found a sandal with a properly fitting footbed, there is one more fitting test for the sandal to pass, the sandal strap fitting test. Two factors are involved with sandal strap fitting: positioning and snugness.

The three main types of sandal straps that affect fitting are ankle straps, forefoot straps, and quarter straps.

Ankle straps should fit neatly in your Achilles notch (the inward curve on the back of your heel). The quarter strap should be perpendicular to the heel; neither too long nor too short.

The forefoot strap should be snugger than the quarter strap, but not so tight as to cut into the skin. The forefoot strap is responsible for keeping the sandal on your foot, while the quarter strap should be loose enough to allow the heel to lift slightly off the footbed. If you have a bunion; then you should buy sandals with a wide forefoot strap and the bunion should rest squarely in the center of it, sort of like a sling.

If the sandal has an adjustable hook and loop closure, such as a buckle or VELCRO® Brand Fastener, pay special attention to the extra strap length after the sandal has been fastened. There should be about an inch of strap left after your sandals have been fitted, to allow for adjustments to accommodate any end-of-the-day foot swelling.

If the extra strap length is longer than an inch many people prefer to cut off the extra length of strap. If the strap is made from a single strip of leather, feel free to cut it wherever you like so long as you leave enough length for proper fitting. If; however, the sandal has a VELCRO® Brand Fastener or internal padding you will have to be more careful to ensure the seam holding the different parts of your strap together does not unravel. Many sandals have multiple seams perpendicular to the length of the sandal for the purpose of permanent length alterations. Be sure to make your cut just beneath one of these seams.

Happy Sandal Hunting!


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