XEROSHOES Z-TRAIL SANDAL
TEST SERIES BY DAVID WILKES
September 06, 2017
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5' 11" (1.80 m)
200 lb (90.70 kg)
I started backpacking in 1995 when I moved to Washington State. Since then, I have backpacked in all seasons and conditions the Northwest has to offer. I prefer trips on rugged trails with plenty of elevation gain. While I continuously strive to lighten my load, comfort and safety are most important to me. I have finally managed to get my basic cold weather pack weight, not including consumables, to under 30 lb (14 kg).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2017
Manufacturer's Website: xeroshoes.com
Listed Weight: 5.4 oz (153 g) ea size 9
Measured Weight: 5.6 oz (160 g) ea size M10
For full disclosure I would mention that I have been following XEROSHOES since I discovered them while looking into minimalist footwear. They produced a do it yourself (DIY) sandal kit under the name Invisible Shoes. Following what I could find about their product and other sources I made my own version. They were not very practical or comfortable, but it was a fun project and I have been following the companies evolution ever since. In addition to these sandals, I own one other pair of their sandals and two pairs of their shoes.
The Z-Trek sandal comes in Men's and Woman's versions. Size US6-14 M 5-10 W. The Woman's version is available in 3 color combinations; Charcoal/Multi-Sky, Coal Black/Black, Mocha Earth/Coffee Bean. The Men's are available in Charcoal/Multi-Blue, Black/Multi-Black, Black/Multi-Brown, Charcoal Black/Charcoal/Black, Coal Black/Charcoal/Red Pepper (the color I received).
The Z-Trek is a lightweight sandal starting with a 10 mm (3/8") 3 layer sole consisting of a top "comfort layer" (gray), a red "force protection" layer, with 3 black rubber grip sections. The red and black layers are the outsole and include a mix of bar and chevron treads for traction. The sole also includes a heel cup. Like all XEROSHOES, these have a zero drop sole.
The webbing strap system form a Z shape across the toe and upper foot (hence the name) and consists of two primary sections the main strap is anchored into the inside side of the sole next to the big toe, crosses the forefoot at a slight angle where it passes through two slots in a tab molded into the sole. It then crosses the top of the foot, passing through a nylon loop and then directly across the ankle to a second cinch buckle. The tag end of the strap is held in place by a rubber strap. The heel strap connects to the main strap and the sole via cloth Y shaped sections. The heel strap is attached to the Y sections by way of two more nylon loops and adjusted by way of a hook-n-loop fastener.
|Image courtesy of XEROSHOES
READING THE INSTRUCTIONS
The sandals came with a card that had a note from the founders on one side talking about the company and on the other "Here’s how to have the most fun in your Xero Shoes...". This has some fitting information and more including where to get more information online. And there is lots of information about these sandals, the company and much more available through the manufacturers web site. Steven and Lena are huge proponents of barefoot and minimalist footwear and it shows from their products and the volume of information available via their web site.
TRYING IT OUT
As of the time of submitting this report I have worn the sandals a few times. The sandals fit well and have been easy to adjust. I will talk more about the fit and adjustments in my Field Review after I have used them more.
I am a big fan of minimalist footwear and try to use the lightest shoes and boots practical. When doing trail work where we are required to wear leather boots, I have been known to hike in minimalist shoes and my boots strapped to my pack. So I am really looking forward to lightweight sandals that I can hike in. I intend to wear these for as many of my hikes as is practical and carrying them to be used as camp shoes when wearing them for the other trips. I will also be wearing these for daily wear at home, around town and at work (my job allows me to dress casually so these will be totally appropriate).
Likes: Light, simple, well constructed.
Dislikes: None so far
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Daily wear: (at least 3 days a week)
Day hikes: 4 day hikes in the foothills of the Eastern Cascades
Backpack: 1 short overnight hike Umtanum Creek Wa
Multi day camping (camper): 3 day weekend in the Hood River Oregon / White Salmon Washington area & 4 day camping Central Washington
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
My daily wear has been for work, around town, and for walking my dog. The weather has been mostly hot and dry but I have experienced some wet grass and rain.
The day hikes were in areas considered 'shrub steppe' (similar to high desert) with a mix of rock, talus, dry powdery dirt, sand, dry grass and brush. These trails involve a mix of gentle rolling terrain and steep gullies with narrow, sometimes treacherous, trails leading in/out of them. These have been mostly in hot dry conditions.
The overnight hike involved a heavily used trail with a mix of dry exposed/packed dirt, soft damp to wet dirt when in the trees, and 2 stream crossings. There was also some dry grass and brush across the trail in some places. For the 3 day Hood River / White Salmon it rained most of the time, while the 4 day camping trip it was very hot and dry.
Since receiving the sandals I have worn them at least a few times a week to work and for daily activities. I have basically worn them except when I was required to wear other foot ware (e.g. shoes for mowing the lawn, or when my wife insisted sandals were not acceptable for a given event). During my first few uses I was adjusting the fit and did find that they could be made uncomfortably tight as well as too lose. But a bit of initial fidgeting and I was able to find just the right balance resulting in them being quite comfortable.
On the day hikes as well as a few times with daily wear I have experienced the occasional rock, dirt, or debris getting lodged between my foot and the sandals. But this is on par with just about every other pair of sandals I have ever worn and in my view a small tradeoff for the comfort that these sandals provide. I have been quite pleased and occasionally surprised at how securely these sandals fit. Little to no sliding or shifting of my foot even in very uneven conditions. Given the thin soles and minimal lugs on the bottoms I did not expect the firm traction these sandals have provided. They have exceeded my expectations in all the conditions I have experienced so far.
|Check out the sexy tan lines!
A note on these sandals: I have worn many pairs of sandals over the years. Most are too narrow resulting in me having to choose a larger size and that normally means a length of the sandals extending out past my toes, which looks silly and is a tripping hazard. This is not the case for the Xero Shoes Z-trail's. And what little material does extend past my toes can be trimmed if I wish for a custom fit.
A couple of times I have experienced the sandals and my feet getting wet such as crossing wet grass, stream crossings and puddles. I did find that when wet my feet will shift and move within the sandals, this was no more than I have experienced with other sandals, and after the first occurrence I have had no fear that the sandal might be damaged by this (I have had my feet slip in wet sandals in the past with resulted in one or more strap being ripped out).
One of the features of these sandals is a lip (heel cup?) around the heel of the shoe. I got wondering if this lip might make it more likely for debris to get stuck between my foot and the sole and/or make it more difficult to remove once it does. So I was curious if this was cosmetic or could possibly have a functional purpose such as reducing foot movement and/or making the shoe more durable. I used the Contact Us link on the manufacturers web site and asked. About 5 days later I received the following reply: "The heel cup can help decrease the amount of small rocks and pebbles that can get into the shoe from the back, and also can help keep the foot centered on the sole." So I was partially right and partially wrong...live and learn.
The sandals are showing significant signs of wear. Some wear is apparent on the bottom of the soles and the edges of the soles are scuffed and nicked, but this is consistent with the amount of wear and conditions and is not excessive. My only concern is that the black sole insert under the ball of the left shoe is starting to separate from the rest of the shoe. Xero Shoes offer a 5,000 mile warranty where they will give a 60% discount if the sole wears down to "less than 1mm [0.04"] thick at the ball or heel of the foot" as well as a 12 month guarantee against manufacturer defects. I suspect the problem I am experiencing is probably a defect and so sent the manufacturer a message asking about repair/replacement. On the day of posting (a couple of days after posting the question) this I received a call from Xero Shoes in response to my message about the sole separation. The rep (Andrew) said this is not a common problem, but sometimes things happen, and he was very sorry this occurred. [I would note that he did sound genuinely sorry. And as an engineer I know all too well that even the best system is subject to at least a small percentage of failures.] He said this is certainly covered by their warranty so they will replace them. He said they did not have any of the red color that I was using on hand and so I could wait a few days for them to get a pair from the warehouse, or if I did not care about the color he could send me a pair right away from the stock they do have on hand, and asked if I had a preference. I looked at the available colors on their web page and since I found none of them objectionable I said while I would prefer a lighter color due to the heat here if possible I really did not care. So he said he would see if they have a pair of the blue since they have the charcoal sole like the red ones I have been using (vs the black sole), and will send me a replacement right away. He said he will also include a return label that I can use to return the damaged ones. At the conclusion of the call he again expressed regret that this happened and asked that I contact them if I have any further problems. Within an hour or so of the call I received an e-mail notification that my replacement sandals were shipping.
NOTE: Had I purchased the product myself, I might have simply attempted to repair it. There are some good products on the market for just that, and experience has shown that often dealing with some companies warranty process is more trouble than it is worth. However since evaluating customer service and warranty is part of our review process, I went ahead with contacting them to see how that would go. And I have to say this was a very positive customer service experience.
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
Daily wear: (at least 3 days a week)
Day hikes: 4 day hikes in the foothills of the Eastern Cascades (on the few days when the air quality was bearable)
Backpacking: 1 overnight, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Central Washington State
With the weather forecast for record high temperatures (>100 F / 38 C) and dense smoke resulting in very unhealthy air quality in the valleys, my dog and I are headed into the mountains for a weekend backpacking trip in cooler, cleaner air. We stop at the ranger station and learn that the highway closed due to two separate fires. There is some good news; we have a backup trail and it is just outside the forest closure area. But then I talk to the sheriff he informs us that we are welcome to hike our backup trail if we are willing to assist in the rescue of another group of hikers on that same trail. Also that the air up there is not much better than in the valley. So with my mouth tasting like an ashtray, we sadly returned home for a weekend indoors.
This has been a very disappointing session so far. Weather, fires, unhealthy air quality, and some unexpected travel...its like there is a conspiracy to prevent me from getting some dirt under my feet.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
Since the last report I have continued to wear the sandals on an almost daily basis. I have also worn the sandals on 4 day hikes in the Cowiche Canyon Trail system including the canyon and the adjacent upland trails. The canyon is an old railroad line converted to a hiking trail. It consists of a mix of packed dirt, loose river rock, and sections of basalt talus. The uplands trail are a mix of old dirt roads, and packed hike/bike trails, mostly packed dirt but with sections of rock and gravel. The one overnight hike, I took my dog along on A scouting trip on the section of the Pacific Crest Trail that I am the steward for (Washington, South of Chinook Pass). We got a midday start, hiked to the first lake (~3 mi / 5 km), set up camp and spent the rest of the day exploring trail and lake area. The trail is in rather good shape but involve various conditions including crossing a few seasonal streams and late season snow fields. There were also sections of dry sand/dust, and talus.
I received a replacement pair of Z-Trail sandals a few days after receiving the shipping notice. I received a new pair in the blue/gray color. When I first put them on the straps seemed a bit stiff. I realized there is a bit of a break in period that I had not noticed with my first pair. Over the first few uses the straps stretched a bit and became much softer. After about the 3rd day of wearing the new pair they had become as comfortable as the previous pair. As with the previous pair, these also quickly showed obvious signs of wear, but these are entirely cosmetic.
I did notice one minor thing that I would change about these sandals. I couple of times I ended up having the hook-n-loop fastener slightly misaligned. This brought to my attention that it is constructed with the scratchy hook side facing toward my foot and so if it is misaligned it can rub uncomfortably against my skin. I would like to see this reversed so that the softer loop side of the hook-n-loop fastener is towards the user.
The PCT hike was a good trial of the sandals. I was impressed at how well they performed in the various conditions. They provided very good traction in dirt and rock, and provide far more traction on the ice/snow than I would have expected from sandals. They gave me very good feel on unstable terrain such as loose dirt and talus greatly enhancing my comfort and security. One thing I love about minimalist footwear for hiking, and these are about the "minimalist" possible, is how nimble I feel while hiking over rough terrain, even with a heavy pack, and these are no exception. I also discovered a quite unexpected advantage of these sandals over other footwear, especially other sandals I have used. A couple times during this test I have caught the toe of my sandals on protruding roots. Rather than tripping or stumbling, the toe of the sandal simply folded back allowing me to proceed.
Despite having to return my original pair, my overall opinion of these sandals is very positive. They fit and have performed quite well. And I was pleased with the customer service I received. Of all the various brands of sandals I have tried over the years these are by far my favorite in both fit and function. After the conclusion of this test I fully intend to continue wearing these through out the rest of the summer and as long as the weather permits.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
Thanks to Xero Shoes and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to test this product.
Read more reviews of Xero Shoes gear
Read more gear reviews by David Wilkes