Z-Trail sandal by Xero Shoes
Lowdown: surprisingly disappointing
After owning my Xero Shoes Z-Trail sandals for less than a month, I had both of them blow out on a recent backpacking trip in Grand Gulch, the left foot on Day Two, the right on Day Four. The same thing happened to both: a small metal 'clip' thingy that attaches the main strap to the back velcro heel strap simply snapped off. I was able to adapt: the main strap was long enough that I could run it around my heel in kind of an old-school huarache wrap, though it was not at all sturdy or tight.
I was excited to see Xeros being stocked at REI, and though the price there was about $20 more than at the Xero website, I bought them. They look good: Xero's answer to sport sandals like Tevas and Chacos, with a way-thinner sole—still flexible like a huarache, but made of tougher material than their huaraches: Still bendable, but you can't, for example, roll them up. Very comfortable for walking around town and looking stylish.
I ran in them, both pavement and trail. I would be careful running in them on pavement, and if you're running on pavement you'd be better off just running barefoot anyways, but the toughness/hardness of the sole made them a little clunky: the first time I ran on pavement my heels hurt a bit after, but the second time I really concentrated on not heel-striking. For trail running they were good: the toucher sole makes them better for gravel, where even the Xero huaraches can leave my feet a little battered-feeling.
The Xero claim for the Z-Trail is “Adventure Everywhere”, and I was hoping they'd be both a running sandal and something I could take backpacking. So, I took them on a four-day hike in Canyonlands National Park, then a week later on a five-day in Grand Gulch, where they blew out—again, after less than a month.
One of the main ideas for the Z-Trail seems to be to get away from the 'thong' of the huarache: instead of a strap or lace between the big toe and the second toe, this new design instead runs a wider canvas strap across the toes, then flipping around to go across the top of the foot. I know some people hate the huarache thong, so they may like that (though I will say I used to be one of those people, but you get used to the thong, I swear). I will say that, at least at first, the sandals felt snug and comfortable, more than the Xero huaraches, though one problem with the strap across the toes, for my feet at least, was that my little toes got scrunched and irritated, though this happened more after I had to adapt the sandals after the blow out.
Another new thing Xero has introduced is a sort of 'heel cup'. I'm not sure why: if your heel hangs off your huarache, you should be wearing a bigger size. Maybe it's purely for looks, to make them look more like a sandal? In any case, what the 'heel cup' really does is catch pebbles and sand really well, and make sweeping them out harder.
So if you just want a thin-soled sandal you can wear around town this summer, with zero-drop and no toe thong, the Z-Trail is way better than Chacos or Tevas, and even more comfortable than a Luna sandal (which hurt my heels if I just walk in them on pavement). But I would not guarantee them to handle any kind of trailwork. Or to last long. I've been a fan of Xero, and would still recommend their minimalist running shoes over anybody's, but the same thing happening to both sandals within two days shows a lack of quality care.