Some Stinky Sandals

posted by: Emma

During most of my backpacking travels I hadn’t put any thought into what went on my feet, always opting for the basic kiwi jandals – known as thongs to the Aussies and flip flops to the rest of the world. But to ensure I could cope with walking up mountains at a moments notice, crossing river beds and completing other extreme cycle touring critical movements which required superior grip, I caved. Just before we left London a year ago, I brought my first ever pair of hiking sandals – also known as mountain jandals.

Canoeing Down Gorges de L'ArdecheEmma bathing near Iznik

Most hiking sandals are as ugly as they are practical but I found a compromise in the Pretty Rugged 2 Teva sandals which I brought based on Teva’s reputation in the water sports world coupled with a leather upper which didn’t immediately scream outdoor pursuits. If it was good enough for people clambering up and down slippery rocks all day, I figured they would have enough grip for wet pavements and should be durable enough for cycling.

After one particularly hot day in Croatia we packed our cycling shoes away and wore sandals exclusively until the hills defeated us in Turkey three months later. After wearing real cycling shoes for the first few months, it was sweet relief for sweaty feet, but my relationship with my footwear has been far from a love affair. There are a few things I wish I had known when I took these to the sales counter twelve months ago:

Teva Sandals

Despite being advertised as having waterproof leather uppers, this doesn’t mean you should submerse the Pretty Rugged 2 sandals.
This definitely rules out going swimming wearing them. Even if you’re crossing a slippery ford to see if the camping on the other side looks better. Or in the sea if you can see through a borrowed snorkel set that there are hundreds of spiky sea eggs underfoot. You really shouldn’t laugh at your partner when wearing these and brag about your superior grip while he hobbles barefoot across a rocky foreshore.

Why? For this model at least, its something to do with the cushioning ‘waterproof leather’ fabric under foot. Apparently that doesn’t stand up to a soaking, eventually absorbs water, starts to rot and smell. According to Teva they’re not meant for full time river or backpacking use. Wish I’d researched that first.

Teva sandals are well documented for getting stinky
Here I was figuring out that weeks of sweating into sandals and questionable showering habits might have been the cause of a little foot stink. But Google it and you’ll find a whole sleuth of complaints from people who haven’t done anything out of the ordinary with their sandals.

Why? According to comments by a scientist in the comments of this article its a problem with the materials used in manufacturing:

  • “The smell is actually caused by the waste excreted by the bacteria as they feed. Through taking swabs from the Tevas and growing the bacteria found on agar we were able to isolate the strains of bacteria present. Although several strains were found, the predominant strain was Corynebacteria. This bacterium is known to thrive only in acid conditions, and a simple litmus test confirmed the Tevas to be slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5.”

Richard T on June 23rd 2010

Personally I’m surprised that this is the case with my sandals because according to the box they were protected with “Microban” which provides zinc-based anti-microbial protection. That’s supposed to “inhibit the growth of microorganisms that can cause stains, odors and product degradation” according to the Microban website. It certainly sounds like it should keep sandal stink at bay but I’ve emailed Teva to ask about this and haven’t heard back

Empty roads in Bulgaria

Once they’re stinky its pretty hard to get rid of that smell
Unfortunately for me and others around me, the bad news doesn’t end with giving them a good scrub. I tried a number of solutions over the summer – scrubbing body soap into them, repeated rinsing, soaking them in chlorinated water and leaving them in the sun as often as possible. Nothing seemed to work for more than a few days.

I have recently read about this scientifically tested solution: Marmite. Why?

  • “Marmite is slightly alkaline with a pH of around 8 but also acts an antiseptic due to the high salt content. Marmite is just alkaline enough to neutralise the acidity, and the mild antiseptic effect is all that is needed to kill the Corynebacteria bacteria.”

Richard T on June 23rd 2010

Worse than the thought of sacrificing some of my marmite for the cause, is that treatment may only work for about three months before needing to be reapplied. At my typical marmite consumption rate, I’m unlikely to have any left by the time the smell returns.

On the whole, marmite smothering seems a little extreme. Instead I’ve coated the offending items with baking soda and left them in a plastic bag for the last few weeks. If that doesn’t last I may have to mark my foray into the hiking sandal world as failed experiment and throw them away. I might finish this trip with a pair of cheap plastic jandals after all.

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2 responses to “Some Stinky Sandals”

  • I do hope you don’t end up wasting precious, highly superior NZ marmite on the offensive footwear! Maybe you could try the English brew instead… and if you’re very good maybe you could convince the infamous Marmarati to help! http://www.marmarati.org/

  • Cat on February 9th, 2011 at 9:36 pm
  • Hi Emma
    Debs and i can confirm that it happens with all walking sandals, not just Tevas. I Have had all sorts of makes and no matter what the scientific claims it makes no difference. We usually just keep bunging them in the washing machine until we can stand them no more and then go and buy another pair. It’s a shame they are so bloody comfortable!
    Hope you are looking forward to getting back on the road, spring is approaching!
    Take care
    Matt & Debs

  • Matt Cross on February 11th, 2011 at 3:01 pm

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