Photo: Nickolaus Hines

The Malibu Sandals Latigo Is the Perfect Adventure-Ready Summer Travel Shoe

Technology + Gear
by Nickolaus Hines May 31, 2024

I typically approach packing for a trip like a featherweight boxing match weigh-in: ruthlessly cut any unnecessary weight. As someone averse to checking bags (though having a kid has softened me on this point unless I’m traveling solo), I normally will only bring the shoes on my feet. Weddings and other special occasions where I need nicer footwear are the exceptions. After testing out the Malibu Sandals Latigo during a week in Jamaica, more adventurous and walking-heavy trips in warm weather locales are on that exception list, too.

Malibu Sandals, as the name suggests, makes sandals and shoes that are purpose designed for the sand and cliffs of the California coast. The initial inspiration for the brand came from huaraches — a woven leather sandal style that dates back centuries to pre-colonial Mexico, when it was was the defacto shoe for people in what are now the states of Jalisco, Michoacán, and Yucatán (the modern name comes from kwarachi, of the Tarascan language spoken by the Purépecha).

Time has seen huaraches go from historic, to trendy, to somewhat maligned, to back in mainstream conversations. Fashion trends, as with most things in life, go in endless circles. It’s also a category that’s impossible to pinpoint the exact dates of when trends start and who is wholly responsible. According to the backstory that Malibu Sandals cites as its inspiration, what is clear is that the 1960s Beach Boy era saw the first modern surge of huaraches in the United States, starting with surfers and hippies on the West Coast. They even earned the moniker “surfer sandals.”

The name came from surfers on the Pacific Coast who moved down to Baja California to escape the crowds that had found just how enjoyable the previously surf-only beaches are. The surfers came back from Baja wearing huaraches — a shoe that breathes easy on hot days, is durable and stable enough for climbs to hidden beaches through little-traversed crags, and exudes a sandy beach life (though how much those surfers cared about their footwear aesthetics is up for debate).

Malibu Sandals has a number of different styles — slides, moccasins, mules, open-toe, etc. — but I went with the Latigo, one of the brand’s most popular designs.

The Latigo’s higher edges protects your toes, and the sculpted arch and deep-basic heel feels like something that was designed from a molding of my foot. The thee-piece midsole is wrapped in grippy, 100-percent natural Malaysian crepe gum rubber. Plus, the PETA-approved vegan materials can withstand the sand and water better than true leather. In short, it keeps the genre-defining, hand-woven aspects of traditional huaraches while adding in Malibu Sandals’s commitment to vegan materials and science-backed ergonomic designs.

Tested: Malibu Sandals Latigo

Photo: Malibu Sandals

These shoes are true to size, and fit the same as a pair of sneakers. The brand suggest sizing up if you plan on wearing with socks, but these are beach shoes through and through and regular socks are not in the books for any use case I have (though I did put on some thin no-show socks with no sizing issues to avoid standing barefoot while waiting to shuffle through airport security).

I had some initial reservations that these were far from my typical style while looking at pictures online. They ended up fitting naturally with pretty much any type of casual resort wear, be that shorts, linen pants, or jeans cuffed high above my ankle.

My new Latigos proved their value before I even hit the sand. I am nothing if not optimistic, and the first time I put these on was on the way to the airport without considering I might need a break-in period. Thankfully, they fit like a worn-in custom shoe from the start and I remained blister-free.

They quickly slide on and off while staying more secure than typical laceless shoes thanks to a sliding tightener on top. Walking around the Denver airport waiting for my delayed flight to Jamaica, the shoes lended a bouncy step that didn’t tire out my feet no matter how many times my toddler daughter wanted to go from snack spot to bar to outside seating on the far end of the terminal (luggage in tow).

When we arrived at Moon Palace, our resort in Ocho Rios, my feet felt fresh and ready for more exploring. These are far from formal wear, so my pair of loafers came in handy for the nicer restaurants. Which means packing some more professional looking shoes is a must for any multi-purpose trip. Other than that, my Latigos took me everywhere — the beach, the pool, the town, quick ventures downstairs for coffee or a drink, a cannabis farm walking tour.

One walk went from the beach and into town with a quick stop at a foot washer. Even when wet from washing off the sand, my Latigos were stable and slip-free while carrying a worn-out kid on my shoulders.

Back home, my Latigos have transitioned nicely to everyday wear the past couple of months now that warmer weather is here. Looking forward to upcoming trips to Türkiye and the rocky beaches of the Pacific Northwest, I already know that these shoes will once again be the reason to drift away from my one-shoe packing policy.

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