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With summer in full swing and heat waves sweeping the country, you’ve likely been investing in items to beat the heat indoors, including air conditioners, cooling bedding and fans. But sometimes venturing outside during the hot summer months is inevitable — and if you want to stay cool outdoors, you can sport summer-friendly apparel, from light dresses to beach-ready swimwear. Sandals are another great way to stay cool — not only do they let you avoid wearing socks and sneakers in the heat, but they can also be breathable and stylish at the same time.
However, many sandals on the market don’t provide the necessary support for your foot’s arch or most other parts of the feet, which can lead to pain and even cause blisters due to friction. A supportive sandal with good arch support typically has cushioned, soft footbeds, shock-absorbing soles and a way to be fastened so it doesn’t slide around. To simplify your search and learn more about who can benefit from these sandals, we consulted certified podiatrists and rounded up some highly rated and expert-recommended sandals with arch support to consider.
SKIP AHEAD The best sandals with arch support
What is arch support and who needs it?
Your foot’s arch has several functions, from supporting your body weight when standing and absorbing shock when your foot hits the ground to helping you spring forward when walking or running. Ashley Lee, DPM, of the Northern Illinois Foot and Ankle Specialists double board-certified with the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons in foot surgery and ankle and rearfoot reconstruction surgery, noted that having good arch support in shoes “helps to evenly distribute pressure across the bottom of the foot and reduce the load on tendons and ligaments in your foot and around your ankle.”
Proper arch support also helps to prevent overpronation (when your foot rolls inward and the arch flattens out while you walk, causing pain) or excess supination (when you place more weight on the outer edges of your foot) and hold the foot in a more anatomical position, all while “supporting the tendons, ligaments and plantar fascia located across the bottom of the foot to prevent stretching and micro-tearing of these structures,” Lee said. Essentially, it’s a necessary option to help reduce and prevent pain.
However, “arch support” is a “very simplified term” and, thus, incomplete, said Michael J. Trepal, DPM, a professor of surgery at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, where he also serves as vice president for academic affairs and dean. Trepal emphasized the foot’s complex structure: “What we view as the arch is actually the configuration of how the 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons in each foot articulate and work together to, among other things, support body weight, attenuate stresses and propel the body forward in an efficient manner,” he explained.
Interestingly, the foot’s shape changes during the walking cycle, and too much or too little motion can be detrimental. “Some type of filler in the arch improves foot function: Arch fillers, by lifting up the ground surface to the foot, will spread out weight bearing — the force or pressure which is placed on the foot when one is standing, walking or running — over a larger surface area, hence reducing higher concentrations in areas such as the ball of the foot,” said Trepal.
Not having good arch support can lead to a variety of ailments including plantar fasciitis — an inflammation of tissue in the foot that people with flat feet or high arches are more susceptible to due to excessive strain — inflammation to the ball of the foot, tendonitis, arthritis to the instep (the arched area between the toes and ankle) and achilles pain, according to Lee. And too much motion, particularly when there is a lack of arch support and foot stability, “can [lead to] deformities such as hammer toes, bunions and pathologies above the foot in the leg, knee and hip,” said Trepal.
Who can benefit from arch support in shoes, sandals and sneakers? Everyone, according to Lee. “People who suffer from ball of foot pain, achilles pain, plantar fasciitis and ankle pain would definitely benefit from a sandal with a good arch support,” she added.
The best sandals with arch support in 2021
Flatform sandals are one of the biggest shoe trends of the summer, and thankfully, you can opt for a pair that’s both on-trend and supportive. This option by Vionic, which uses technology created by an Australian podiatrist for women who suffer from plantar fasciitis, “are cute and supportive,” said Lee. It provides two points of adjustable hook-and-loop fastening.
Earth Origins’ eco-friendly Saralyn Sandal features a cushioned, moisture-wicking footbed along with an adjustable and cushioned back strap to provide additional support for your ankle. The durable outsole, which has been tested for slip resistance, is flexible and made from partially recycled material, according to the brand.
Birkenstock’s classic and unisex silhouette can be a great fashion choice for the summer while providing a considerable amount of support. Lee noted they “have a rigid, supportive footbed with a great arch support” and the cork footbed is deep enough that your feet almost mold to it, which “prevents you from curling your toes to keep your foot in the sandal.”
If you’re looking for an athletic sandal for walking trails or camping this summer, the Ecco Yucatan Sandal features a contoured and cushioned footbed to keep your foot stable and comfortable with movement. It also has three-point adjustability at the back, top and front of the shoe using adjustable hook-and-loop straps, which can prevent the shoe from sliding around at any point on your foot.
Oofos is one of Lee’s favorite brands — and these basic flip flop sandals were created to be active recovery sandals. “They have a nice supportive cushioned arch support and footbed and a slight rock bottom sole to reduce pressure on the ball of the foot,” she said, adding that “it feels like a massage in your arch when you walk in them.” According to the brand, its proprietary OOfoam technology absorbs more impact than traditional foam footwear materials for added cushion and stability.
Clarks’ lightweight and supportive Cloudsteppers line is an option worth considering if you’re looking for a cushioned footbed and good arch support for everyday use. It utilizes Ortholite, a type of foam technology that helps absorb impact and provides breathability, according to the brand. This slip-on option features a hook and strap closure for proper fastening, a stylish faux leather upper and a round open toe to help beat the heat.
For a casual and feminine sandal that doesn’t sacrifice comfort, these Vionic sandals provide stability, arch support and cushioning with its lightweight EVA footbed and Vionic’s proprietary technology. It also has a rubber outsole with a patterned tread that can provide traction on different surfaces and is offered in more than various colors and styles, including White, Pewter Gold Cork and Black.
A comfortable wedge with arch support can be a great addition to a dressier outfit, especially if you’re looking for more height. Papillio by Birkenstock has a variety of wedge options, including The Samira, which features a supportive heel strap, a lightweight footbed that provides proper pressure distribution across your foot and a stylish upper made from natural leather.
How to shop for supportive sandals
When shopping for comfortable sandals that won’t be painful for your feet this summer, experts recommend considering a few key features, especially in regards to arch type, contoured footbeds and cushioned soles.
Arch type: All feet fall within three main arch types: high, low and normal arches. You should get a sandal that’ll fit your arch type — high arches typically benefit from shoes that mimic the arch of the foot and low arches usually need a low but supportive arch.
Sizing and fit: Toes that are hanging over the edge of a shoe are more susceptible to wounds, according to Lee. Likewise, “a sandal that is too big can lead to injuries such as ankle sprains due to falling,” she added.
Footbeds and soles: Investing in a pair of shoes with a contoured footbed will allow the shoe to mold to your feet, keeping them in place to prevent injury and support foot alignment. Cushioned or soft soles, meanwhile, can provide shock absorption.
Means of securing the sandal: Whether it’s an adjustable strap or a stretchy back, an effective means of securing the sandal to the foot will likely “prevent friction and blister development,” according to Trepal. “A sandal that has a back is always a better option,” Lee added, noting that in open back sandals, “toes have to curl to keep your foot from coming out of it.” But for those with bunions or bunionettes (small bumps on the outside of the foot), be careful where those straps are placed to avoid irritation.
Height: Trepal recommended a mild to moderate heel height, and Lee noted a wedge is better than a heel since it “helps to better distribute and support the weight across the whole foot, not just to the ball of the foot or heel.”