Cycling SPD Sandals: The Most Versatile Touring Shoes

After hundreds of thousands of kilometres in SPD sandals, I certainly don’t wear them for their looks. The thing is that SPD sandals are unrivalled in warm-to-hot conditions as there isn’t a more ventilating cycling shoe. In addition, they dry almost instantly which is perfect after it’s been raining or you’ve waded through some river crossings.

People tend to have the perception that sandals are for summer cycling only. I’ve actually found them to be excellent in winter too. That’s why I’m using them on my latest bike tour: CyclingAbout The Americas.

Let’s discuss why SPD sandals should be your next touring shoe!

spd sandals

Comparison to Conventional Cycling Shoes

– Drying. When sandals get wet, they dry out much quicker than a closed shoe.
– Ventilation. The more holes, the more airflow.
– Versatility. You can wear sandals with no socks, thin socks, thick socks, waterproof socks and any of those sock combinations with overshoes. This makes sandals suitable for all-weather conditions, including snow.

Why Not
– They’re not exactly known for their looks.
– You can’t put shoe inserts or orthotics in them (provided your podiatrist recommends them).
– Foot movement inside the sandal. Shoes have more surface area to hug your foot, making them feel a little stiffer and more secure under significant pedal power.
– Your feet need to adjust to sandals. Some people may experience blistering from walking in their sandals. Take it easy!

Cycling Sandal Versatility

SPD sandals are the most versatile touring shoes. They are great in the desert and just as good in wet/cold conditions.

Cycling sandal review versatility weather conditions

How are they good for all weather conditions?

1. Wear your sandals without socks in conditions over 15 degrees Celcius.
2. Wear your sandals with thin, ventilated cycling socks for a bit more warmth/comfort.
3. Wear your sandals with thick, waterproof socks in cold or wet conditions.
4. Wear your sandals with socks AND booties/shoe covers in super cold and wet conditions.

Why Should You Clip In?

– It’s better for steep climbs
– For short bursts of power
– To maintain optimal foot and body positioning
– For foot stability on rough terrain

For more information, read my article A Look At The Advantages And Disadvantages of Clipless Pedals.

Shimano sd65 SPD cycling sandal bicycle touring

Open vs Closed Toe SPD Sandals

I travel with open-toe sandals which combine excellent ventilation with interesting tan lines. I’ve never felt like I’ve needed my toes to be enclosed (over the last ten years I’ve never injured them).

A great thing about open-toe sandals is that the sizing doesn’t need to be perfect. and therefore there’s no hitting your toes at the end of the shoe if they’re a tad short. I’ve found that it’s best to size down a little

How Long Will They Last?

Cycling sandals are really durable. My last pair (Shimano SD-65) gave in after eight years of heavy use. They would’ve done over 100,000km, including some seriously long tours which are always pretty tough on gear. If I get that kind of mileage out of my current Shimano SD-66 sandals – I’ll be super stoked!

Shimano SPD Sandal Broken
My Shimano cycling sandals lasted eight years of heavy use before eventually busting.

Can You Walk in SPD Sandals?

Walking in SPD sandals is similar to walking in casual SPD shoes: they’re stiff and perhaps a little bit noisy. The metal cleats ‘click’ on hard surfaces when I walk which can be mildly annoying. You don’t want to spend all day walking in them, but if they’re the only shoes you’ll carry on tour, they’ll be fine.

What Cycling Sandals are Available?

Shimano SD5 – Size 39-48 – Amazon Special for US $73

spd sandals

My take: The latest offering from Shimano. They’ve lost the same level of stiffness as previous editions but they are better suited for walking. I like the open-toe design of Shimano sandals as it provides optimal foot ventilation.

Shimano SD66 – US $99 – Size 39-48

spd sandals
Shimano SD66 Sandals

My take: If you can still find a pair, I’ve found the SD66 to be perfect for bike touring, but not the best for walking due to the stiff sole and the metal cleats which will scrape the ground.

Keen Commuter 4 – Size 40-49 – Amazon Special US $114

spd sandals
Keen Commuter IV Sandals

My take: The most famous adventure sandal company also manufacturers an SPD sandal which is in its fourth generation. No velcro on these puppies, instead they are tightened with an elastic cord. The Commuter sandals are known to be on the narrower size, so if you have wide feet you’ll be better off with Shimano.

Exustar E-SS503 – Size 37-48 – Amazon Special US $87

spd sandals
Exustar E-SS503 Sandals

My take: They may be less popular than Shimano or Keen, but Exustar has been making sandals for some time now and rebrand them for other companies.

Rose RMTS 03 – £69 – Size 39-48

spd sandals

My take: The Rose sandals are almost identical to the Exustars at the same price point. Find them and let me know what they’re like.

Nashbar Ragster II – US $69 – Size 37-48

spd sandals
Nashbar Ragster II Sandals

My take: Super affordable. Often found for under half the price of Shimano or Keen sandals, they could be worth a try if you’re on a budget. 

Have You Used Clip-In Cycling Sandals?

  1. FLATS>>> FLATS>>> FLATS>>> You can ride in ANY shoe… You can WALK, you can run, you can wear thongs or sandals if need be. I like SPD’s for mountain biking but for touring I say NO WAY. 1 pair of shoes is all you need… day, night, ride right… if really required you can take a pair of thongs. SIMPLE!

  2. Having ridden clipped in for so long, I can’t stand riding more than about 2km on flat pedals! I wish it were as easy as having one pair of shoes…

    Riding clipped in allows Kat’s dodgy knees to track better too.

  3. I agree with Alex. The only time I ride with flats is for my 5km commute to work each day (5km in, 5km out), and even then I sitll miss my cleats! For anything more, it has to be clipped in. Cleats and clipped in shoes are more comfortable, particularly since I have one very dodgy knee, and also more efficient. I also feel much more in control of my bike, which is great on ascents and descents. I have always used Shimano 33 shoes for touring, but my pair are REALLY old (14 years old!) and need to be replaced. As much as I do not like the look of sandals (“friggin’ ugly” is an accurate statement) I cannot argue with the versality. Them and a a pair of thongs and a pair of ballerina flats, and I should be good for a year on the road…..! 😉

  4. I’ve ridden with the Shimano SD66’s for 3 years, but have just finished breaking my second pair. The attachments at the front eventually snap and Shimanos guarantee doesn’t cover it as it’s classed as wear & tear. They’re great for that year, and I love the funky tan-line I get but it’s definitely frustrating to have them give up again.

  5. Sorry about the late reply, missed this one! I’m interested in exactly where you’ve broken yours – a photo would be great. I’m also wondering if you can let us know how much you walk in them. We wouldn’t walk more than 100m a day in ours. Kat’s SP66 seem to still be going strong after 10000km and mine have over 20000km. Cheers.

  6. I also think sandals are perfect touring shoes. I’ve done two trips across the US (one west to east, one north to south) in my Keen cycling sandals. They worked great for all the reasons you mention. My only complaint is that I wish the soles were a little bit stiffer. My feet do get fatigued and develop hot spots on my longest days in the saddle from flexing over the pedal all day. But that is the price to pay for more comfort when walking.

  7. Had the Nashbar sandals for over a year now and really like them, for the price they are tough to beat, comfortable off the bike and very easy to clean. Expecting to get lots of use out of them. I like having flats on my commuter bike when I have to ride with work boots. Flip flops are not a packing issue when touring and nice to have to slip into at the end of a day of riding. Thanks for the info. BTW aided my decision to purchase sandals last year as I had recently moved to a hot, humid climate. Link for review if anyone’s interested.

  8. Great article, but the only ones I can find on-line are the nashbar and the SD66s. Why has everyone stopped selling sandals?

  9. I hate the ridge on the Shimanos between your toes and the ball of your foot. It is placed horribly for me and caused a numbness in the balls of my feet. Two years ago, I got a pair of Keens. They are great. There is no ridge and the sole is much softer than the Shimanos. They are very comfortable to walk around in and my feet last a lot longer when riding. I am having trouble finding a new pair at the moment. No online company seems to have my size in stock. Weird.

  10. I used to love my two strap Shimano sandals, until… I met the Keen
    Commuter lll’s. They are every bit as comfortable as regular Keens and are sized the same. They are great for touring as they are as comfortable on a bike as off.

    Anyway, at the present time Keen is no longer making cycling sandals. However
    they will be coming out with a cycling sandal again, in the spring of
    2015. They are not committing as to whether those sandals will be like
    the Commuter lll or an entirely different design.

    The problem with the Keen cycling sandals is that they were not sold through the
    traditional cycling stores. BIG mistake. Most riders buy their cycling
    footwear from a LBS, NOT REI, Dicks, Campmor, etc.

  11. Bought some Keens at REI in SF April last year as my old Shimanos were toast after a year and a half on the road on my world tour. Sadly they did not last more than 2 months. Returned them at a store near Detroit and got some new Shimanos.

  12. Using SD-66’s all the time. In winter with thick, long Sealskinz socks. In cold and wet some thin ditto ankle socks. Only problem is the self-styled fashion police in Denmark that deem socks in sandals to be bad. 😉

    I have been touring the world on my recumbent for two years, almost done.

    On my second pair of Shimanos now, but first pair were used when I left. Had to sew the heels in Oz. (See pic). Between first and second pairs I tried Keens but the straps came apart after 2 months.

    Walking in them is fine, but not on old ruins. Slipped on quite a few in Greece, Turkey and China. Not the best for trekking terrain either. And they tend to give me smelly feet if used all the time, so sporting regular sandals for playing tourist.

  13. Thanks for the reply, but what I would like to accomplish from sandals is freedom of movement for my toes. I don’t think the Keen Commuter IV will accomplish that for me.
    Yeah, unfortunately the SD-66 use real leather according to the Shimano website. :-/

  14. Most of these sandals go up to size 48 ( roughly size 12.3 American).
    I have size 49 feet (size 13 American).
    Should I just get the Keen size 49, or is there anything people with long feet should consider?
    Is there a reason why sandals are not made for long feet?
    (Should sandals be avoided by people with long feet?)
    Also, since you’ve been so thorough,
    do you have any suggestions on waterproof socks/booties?
    (I can’t tell which socks in the picture are waterproof and which are regular,
    and I can’t tell if the booty is worn over the sandal or if the image is of a booty
    which has not yet been placed in a sandal.)

  15. I reviewed the Exustar sandal on Amazon years ago and outlined the exact same benefits for touring. Sheldon Brown realized the benefits long before any of us. A sandal combined with a merino wool sock, Skinz waterproof breathable socks and an overboot and you will be good for any place except for maybe Siberia. Once you try sandals I doubt you will ever go back to shoes. Knowing what I know now, it kills me to think I spent 9 months touring in Australia wearing shoes.

    I have a pair of Nashbars going on 10 years now and there is nothing questionable about the construction. They refuse to die. They are also made by Exustar but have one less strap of course.

    I found the Shimano Sandals to be excruciatingly uncomfortable and ran into others of the same opinion. Good for few miles but after that they apply pressure to all the wrong places. Glad they work for others.

    Years ago I decided to do a tour with some flat pedals and nice sandals. It was great. If you can’t get used to it after 5km, then try 10km. You might be surprised. But as others have said, the downside is they don’t allow for lateral rotation. But it is nice having one sandal that does it all. SPD sandals are OK for walking around until you want to go for a hike and are scrambling on rocks and the cleat causes you to slip.

    SPD sandals are heavy and your feet are the last place you want additional weight but it’s worth the sacrifice.

  16. I weighed my Shimano ’07 sandals and they are the same weight as my Sidis. Of course, I took a hacksaw to the sandals years ago, but …. Still going strong (thank you Mr. Shoe Goo).

  17. Same thing happened to me with each pair I had but I still love riding with sandals.
    Will try a new brand for the next ones.

  18. had the keen commander for long tours and now i even use it or everything, just wear proper socks for different condition, my SIDI Dragon is collecting dust.

  19. I had a pair of Shimano SPD sandals some years ago. They only had very occasional use. Sitting

  20. how do these work with the smelly decomposing feet issue you get when skin is next to plastic/rubber for extended periods of time.

  21. I am on my second pair of Shimanos – the first pair lasted around 5000km touring before the strap nearest the toes detached from the body of the shoe. Love them and rate them as best touring footwear ever (except that they are indeed UGLY).

  22. the shimanos are (sorry) just too ugly, and unprotected toes in terrain is a no-go for me.

    the keen commuters are not sandals any more, they are now shoes with holes. small rocks and debris entering them are effectively trapped, so you need to take a break regularly to empty them.

    and the exustar clones look extremely cheap.

    why cant the market produce some decent alternatives? early spd keens were nice in their look and function, but have been reported to break easily.

    for hot days i keep using a pair of meshed shimano spd shoes, but really long for proper sandals.

  23. lucky you! i hit roots and other stuff all the time. one thing you slightly touched in you report is the advantage of biking with sandals in wet or rainy conditions, as long as temperature is not too low. just carry on, get wet, who cares? as soon as it dries up, feet and sandals do too.

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