Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals: 800 Miles in Baja
Bikepacking in sandals? And non-clipless ones, at that? Cass Gilbert rides 800 Baja Californian miles in a pair of Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals to see what all the Instagram fuss is about… and reports back on how they felt for long distance bikepacking and whether he stubbed his toes…
If you’re an Instagrammer, you may well have noticed the popularity of Bedrock sandals within some realms of the bikepacking community, a little like the way sandals have taken a foothold (sorry, I couldn’t resist) amongst thru-hikers and even ultra runners.
Bikepacking in sandals, you might ask? No, they don’t have a cleat. No, they’re not especially stiff. No, they’re not cycling specific, except for the fact that they’re comfy, tough, and have withstood the many miles I’ve thrown at them in Baja.
Bedrock offers a range of options; I tried the Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals, one of four in the Cairn range (the original Classics are lighter, cheaper, and more minimal). Navigating the various differences/pros/cons of each model can be little confusing. All Cairns share the same webbing and hardware, with a choice of different outsoles and insoles. The standard Cairn Adventure Sandals, which I tested, have a tough Regolith Vibram outsole, while the Adventure Pros have Vibram’s MegaGrip sole, which is extra tacky and grippy but less long-lasting. I imagine the latter would be a good option for those running flat pedals with short pins. There’s also a new ‘3D’ version, available with both kinds of Vibram soles, which is thicker, stiffer, a little heavier, and includes a sculpted footbed that’s contoured with arch support and a moulded toe triangle. Which is best for you is largely down to personal preference, but given that I ride in especially spiky flat pedals – in this case, the Kona Wah Wah 2’s reviewed here – the standard, lighter, and hard-wearing model seemed like a good choice for me.
Vibram is well known for the quality of its footwear. In the case of the Regolith, I liked how rigid the lugs felt on its tread, connecting well with my pedals without wiggling around. Those same lugs do a good job digging into the earth when pushing the bike, too, which I did plenty of in Baja. As for rough and tumble descents – also a Baja staple – the Cairns stayed nicely glued to the pedals. Somewhat to my surprise given their flexible sole, they felt remarkably comfortable over the relatively long days I was sometimes riding; 65 miles (100km) represents a full and challenging day on the Baja Divide. Perhaps the broad platform of my Kona pedals had something to do with that.
Sandals do, of course, leave your feet exposed to the elements (don’t forget that suncream!). One of my main concerns before committing to sandals on the Baja Divide was the risk of stubbing a toe or skewering myself with a cacti spine. Thankfully, this proved to be an unfounded concern. Sure, I had to take care of errant chollas when straying off the route to find a camp spot – in the same way I do for my tires. But, despite various scrambles up loose rock faces and several desert hikes, I remained spike free. I admit that I did stub my toe twice, one time drawing blood, but that was off the bike rather than on it. And I lived to tell the tale.
And how about for ‘proper’ mountain biking? The Baja Divide includes the possibility of leaving gear to one side and hitting local trails, which include relatively technical singletrack in places. After riding a number of them, I don’t think sandals are the optimal mountain bike footwear for this kind of terrain, particularly given the chicanes of cacti typical to Baja. A lack of closed-toed shoes definitely made me a more apprehensive rider. But, in terms of how they ride for relatively mellow trail biking, there was no issue at all once I’d cinched them in snug and tight.
Indeed, adjustability is the name of the game with the Cairns. Given the high temperatures, I actually found myself loosening the main buckle throughout the day as my foot expanded, which allowed me to feel infinitely more comfortable than I would have in a conventional shoe. The recommended technique is to adjust the velcro heel strap when first setting the Cairns up, and then only use the ladder lock buckle to loosen or tighten the sandals, whether putting them on, pulling them off, or just making minor adjustments. Fit can also be tailored to your foot by changing the position of an aluminium side hook, but I never needed to adjust it. Initially, I was skeptical about the ‘thong’ or Y-yoke; I imagined it rubbing, chafing, and generally feeling awkward in the way it divides the big toe from the rest of the pack. In practice it wasn’t an issue at all. The Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals felt comfortable from day one, though I’ve heard others have taken longer or had the odd blister. Sizing wise, Bedrocks are said to run a little small. Apparently men might want to size up, while women will almost certainly need to. In hindsight, I probably should have done so, too.
As for bikepacking in a warm climate, sandals are absolute bliss and I’m a complete convert. My toes were able to stretch out, feel the cool breeze, and remain – for the most part – sweat and smell free. The ability to stride nonchalantly through water crossings proved welcome. Camping on the beach no longer required the tedious ritual emptying sand from shoes, though occasionally a stone would find itself trapped under my arch and need to be extracted with my fingers. Take note, though: when touring in sandals, your feet will quickly become dirty and crusty like those of vagabonds, so make sure you wash them regularly if want to look respectable (which is easy enough to do, as there are no socks to remove!).
In terms of pricing, $110 is certainly more than your average pair of flip-flops. Dig a little deeper into the Bedrock ethos and you’ll see that it’s likely money well spent, especially if you believe in the value of investing in gear that’s designed to be repaired rather than replaced. The sandals can be resoled for $60 ($70 if you want to upgrade to 3D) and you can also experiment with a different outsole and insole when you want to. Straps can be repaired if need be, though I can’t see them succumbing to much damage, being as burly as they are. The company also donates 1% of their sales to environmental non-profits and sews and assembles their sandals in their small shop in Northern California.
Bedrock’s resoling program is especially good news, as one gripe I have with modern, spiky pedals is how hard they are on the soles of shoes. Yes, the Vibram soles took a beating and a couple of the lugs are damaged, as can be seen in the images. But, all told, I’d expect to get many more miles out of these sandals before they need to be sent back to Bedrock for some TLC.
After a solid month and a half of daily use, I can’t claim to be the committed year-round sandal wearer that some have become, donning them with modified socks for cold conditions. In my mind, at least, they’re definitely more suited to touring in warmer climates, though I can see myself wearing them more often for daily riding, especially now that I’ve overcome my fear of putting in big miles in a non-SPD sandal. They even feel good on short trail runs, which is about the extent of my repertoire of non-biking activities. And I may be imagining it, but I have the impression my feet have become stronger, too. Maybe I’m just using my toes more, now that they have room to stretch out and join in the fun.
- Tough build with a durable Vibram sole
- Lots of adjustability for a snug fit
- Resoling program makes the Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals a solid investment and gentler on landfills
- Airy! Begone, smelly feet
- Save weight on socks!
- Significant cost upfront
- Potential to stub toes when trail riding
- Model tested: Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals
- Sizes available: Men’s 5-14, Womens 6-15
- Average weight: 241 grams (8.5oz) per size 9 sandal
- Strap colors: Seven to choose from
- Price: $105
- Resole: $60
- Place of Manufacture: California, USA
- Manufacturer’s Details: BedrockSandals.com
Buy at REI
Now that my riding in Mexico is complete, it’s time to hang up the Bedrock Cairn Adventure Sandals while I head for colder climes. Which is not to say I won’t miss them, because they’ve been surprisingly enjoyable and capable to tour in during my time in Baja California. Tough. Grippy. Airy. Easily adjusted. And comfortable! Finally, my poor, light-deprived toes can stretch out and enjoy the scenery as much as I do. Several years ago, if you’d have suggested that I embark on a long tour wearing non-bike-specific sandals, riding up to 65 miles in a day across rocky jeep tracks and trails, I’d likely have declared, “I don’t think so! Sandals are too bendy for real cycling, my toes will get beaten and bruised, and they’re just not efficient!” Who’d have thought it. Turns out my former self would have been dead wrong.