Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Make your own stream crossing sandals


I hate wet feet.  Enduring sloppy, soggy shoes while hiking can make an otherwise enjoyable hike a slog to be endured.  Wearing a pair of sandals for crossing streams helps keep my feet drier and protects them from sharp rocks and sticks - not absolutely necessary but very nice.  Here's how to make your own lightweight stream crossing sandals.


What you need

  • A sheet of vibram - we used a  10mm Vibram 8870 Newflex rubber soling sheet.  This rubber is light, durable and had pretty good traction on slippery rocks.  The 10mm thickness gives my foot a little more protection than a thinner sheet would and I could conceivably hike in them.  Looks like Vibram 6mm 7175 "cherry" soling would also work, it is supposed to be good and sticky.
  • Narrow gauge webbing - about 6 feet per pair of sandals
  • Box cutter (aka utility knife) with a sharp blade
  • Scissors
  • Lighter
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Pencil (a flat Carpenter's Pencil which makes a strong line is nice if you have one) 
  • A board or something to cut on
  • Your feet
  • Good lighting


The tools I used: a cutting board, box cutter, lighter, scissors and needle nosed pliers.  I did not use the screw driver, but it might come in handy for pushing webbing through the slits in the sole.

Step 1: Trace your feet

There are two ways to do this: trace your feet directly on the vibram or make a pattern on paper first.  I traced my feet directly on the vibram for simplicity.

Place the square of vibram on a hard, flat surface that is well lit.  Next, place one of your feet on the vibram. Start in a corner or near an edge to maximize your vibram and get multiple pairs of sandals out of one sheet. 

Ryan's foot bed has nice rounded toes that follows the shape of his foot.  Note the extra vibram around his instep.  He is marking the spot for a webbing slit between his toes in this photo.


Trace around your foot, staying quite close to the foot itself.  Round the toes.  Keep a little extra space around your instep (don't trace tight to your foot at the instep) and below/just in front of your ankle bone.  You will be cutting slits in the vibram at your instep and just in front of your ankle bone and a little extra vibram in those areas will keep the slits stronger.  One of Ryan's sandals ripped at the instep slit because he cut the slit too close to the edge - it was easy to fix in the field with a good knife but better to avoid the problem.

I am a person who likes a little bit of toe buffer because I tend to stub my toes on rocks, but adding too much extra at the toes for these sandals will make them unwieldy in fast water.  The key to a manageable toe buffer is placing the slit for webbing in the right spot, not adding a bunch of extra rubber to the front of the sandal.

Step 2: Cut out the footbed

Now place the sheet of vibram on your cutting surface and use the box cutter to cut out the footbed you traced.  I had to press quite hard and gouged my cutting board to cut through the tough vibram.


Step 3: Cut 3 slits for webbing

The webbing straps will hold your foot quite securely if you put the holes for webbing in the right place.  One goes between your toes, one at your instep and one just in front of your ankle bone.

Red arrow points to the toe slit that sits between your big toe and second toe
Blue arrow points toward the ankle slit that sits just below or in front of your ankle bone
Green arrow points to the instep slit that sits at your instep just in front of your heel

First, place your foot on the footbed.  Place a mark with the pencil between your big toe and second toe (see photo above).  The trick is not to place your mark too far forward.  I angled the pencil back and down toward the ball of my foot to make a mark slightly under my foot.  This will keep your foot from sliding too far forward when you are walking.

Place the mark at your instep just in front of your heel at the narrowest part of your foot.  Keep a little space between the edge of the footbed and your mark.  

Place a mark on the outside of your foot at the narrowest spot, about opposite of the mark you made for your instep.  This will be below or just in front of your ankle bone.

Use the box cutter to punch through the vibram and cut slits at all three marks you made on the vibram. The slits should be just a tad longer than your webbing is wide.

Step 4: Thread the webbing

Tie an overhand knot in the end of your webbing.  Make the knot as flat as possible by removing twists in the webbing.  Pull tight.

The overhand knot pulled tight against the vibram sole

Begin by threading the webbing through the slit between your toes.  Start by pushing the needle nose pliers through from the foot side to the sole side.  Grab the free end of the webbing and pull the webbing through until the knot hits the sole.

Pliers punching through from the sole side to the foot side.

Now push the pliers through the footbed at the instep slit, from the sole side to the foot side.  Grab the webbing and pull most of it through, leaving a couple inches of slack between the toe slit and the ankle slit.  Release the webbing from the pliers.  You can slip your foot into the sandal at this point to help with adjusting the strap.



Take the webbing  in your fingers and wrap it up and around the webbing near the ankle slit.  You may wrap it once or more times depending on how high you want the straps the rest on your foot.  I wrapped the webbing twice.

Wrapping the webbing at the ankle slit

Pull the webbing up from under the sole


Wrap the webbing around itself

This is the finish of one wrap.  Wrap around a second time if you would like to the webbing strap to end up higher on your foot.


Time for the last slit.  Push the pliers through the footbed from the sole side to the foot side at the ankle slit. Grab the webbing and thread it through, leaving a little bit of slack.  Release the pliers from the webbing.

Take the webbing in your fingers and wrap it once or twice around the webbing coming straight out of the slit at the instep. 

Step 4: Tie the knot

Your sandal is almost complete.  Next you want to fit your sandal before you cut the webbing to size. Slide your foot into the sandal and adjust the straps to comfortably and snuggly fit around your foot.

Tie the finishing knot before you cut the webbing so you don't cut too short.  My women's size 7 foot ended up with 14 inches of webbing for the strap between the instep and the finishing knot.  It is a little bit long, but gives me extra to tie a good knot.

The finishing knot is a slip knot.  Tie a slip knot around the strap leading from your toe to your ankle.  I tried to write directions for this knot but it got complicated quickly, see photos below for visual directions.

Cross the loose end of webbing over the strap leading from your toe to your instep

Thread the webbing under the toe strap

Cross the webbing over the strap you just made from our ankle to your instep.  Loose end points toward your toes.

Make a loop in the loose end of the webbing.  The one in this photo is a bit large.

Push the loop through the space between the straps at your ankle.

Cinch down and tie tightly


I find that the sandal is most secure when I tie my knot up high on my foot closer to my ankle rather than close to my toes.

Now, very carefully take your lighter and lightly melt both ends of the webbing so that they don't fray.

Congratulations!  You have a new custom fit sandal.  Now, go through the process for your other foot to make a pair.  We got the idea for these sandals from Luna Sandals and the Backpacking Light forum, and of course the original huarache sandal/running shoe from the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico's Copper Canyons.





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