Gear that Works: Flip Flops

Flip-flops are my everyday footwear unless there is some rule, like a workplace dress code, that forbids them. I have been wearing flip-flops for at least 58 years, maybe longer. My earliest remembrance of flip-flops was wearing them at the public plunge (swimming pool for you young-in’s) at the age of seven. These days a pair of flip-flops last me several years of urban walking and day hikes on our camping trips.

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When modern flip-flops wear out, it is the straps or strap connecting point that usually fail, leaving you with a now useless foot bed that could still go on for hundreds of miles had the strap not failed. Last week I noticed my Reef brand flip-flops were about to expire. Strap failure. Damn. Good news is that Nicole, my daughter, had bought me a pair of Chaco flip-flops last Christmas.

I hear so many hikers and backpackers complain about foot problems and they are constantly trying to find all kinds of gimmicky sole inserts, pronation control shoes, and other quackery to make their feet feel better. I don’t have any of these problems and backpack in minimalist shoes. I attribute this to lots of miles and daily walking in flip flops. Flip flops make your feet strong!


In the 50’s and 60’s we called them go-aheads.

This past weekend Joyce and I had to move a couch to the garage, to make room in our living room for a new sofa. I was leading the way, walking backwards, while Joyce carried the other end. And of course I lost a flip-flop. You see, you can’t walk backwards in flip-flops. I explained this to Joyce and how we called them go-aheads decades ago. This was news to her – but what does she know? She’s from Chicago. Go-aheads, like surfboards, were a California thing. Surfboards from a Hawaiian influence, go-aheads from Japanese Zoris introduced by WWII servicemen.


Two things happened in the 1970’s. The cheap rubber go-ahead of my youth morphed into a more robust configuration with more substantial soles and straps made from nylon webbing, leather, and other robust materials. Go-aheads now lasted years instead of weeks. The other thing that happened, in 1977, was the Jimmy Buffet song, Magraritaville…

Wasted away again in Margaritaville,

Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt.

Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame,

Now I think, – hell it could be my fault.

I blew out my flip flop,

Stepped on a pop top,

Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.

But there’s booze in the blender,

And soon it will render

That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

So, go-aheads became flip-flops. But what does Buffet know? He grew up in the South and had no inkling about the cultural importance of go-aheads. But I’ll give him a pass on this since he did write a song about my favorite food titled, Cheeseburger in Paradise.

As I mentioned earlier, go-aheads evolved into more robust footwear in the 70’s and my Reef’s have a unique feature I discovered last year when I stepped on a pile of dog shit. Joyce has a bad attitude about tracking in dirt or other organic debris, like dog shit, into the house. Fortunately I noticed the dog shit before making my domicile entrance, and commenced cleaning the bottom with a stick, when I noticed a steel nub in the bottom. I checked the other one and also found a steel nub. Having no idea what they were for, so like the resourceful American I am, I Googled it.

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Who would have known?

For you namby-pamby hypochondriacs, no – the germ boogie man isn’t going to get you. Drink up!

So now I am breaking in my new go-aheads. This is the part I hate with modern go-aheads – the no pain, no gain process for new straps ripping into flesh. But in a few days the skin will toughen up and I will be good to go for several years in my new go-a heads.

breaking in flip flops

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