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Reviews > Footwear > Sandals > Xero Z Trail Sandals > Test Report by Theresa Lawrence
WOMEN'S XERO Z-TRAIL SANDALS
I have more than 20 years of backpacking experience. Day hikes and 2-3 day backpacking trips take place on most weekends throughout the year while longer trips are only occasional. I backpack predominantly in mountain terrain (Coast Range, Cascades and Canadian Rockies) with the goal of summiting peaks. Activities I use my gear with include mountaineering, ski touring, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, trail running, Search and Rescue and overseas travel. I like my gear to be reasonably light, convenient and simple to use though I would not claim to be a lightweight hiker.
DESCRIPTION & FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The Z-Trail sandals that I received are incredibly lightweight and flexible. Yet they give the impression that they will endure and live up to their 8050 km (5,000 mi) wear warranty. They came with a tag and info card explaining what they were about and directed me to the Xero Shoes website. The website provided extensive details and videos on sizing and fitting my new sandals. I found this to be of great value. I learned that the Z-Trail sandals are part of a product line called Xero Shoes that specialize in creating a barefoot and grounded experience for the wearer. The literature, research and testimonials on the website were convincing and have perked my interest.
To pick a part the Z-Trail features and get a sense of what makes these Xero Shoes, I will start with the sole. The manufacturer uses a trade-marked name of FeelLite, which has 3 layers and is 10 mm (3/8 in) thick. From the bottom up the layers include the FeelTrue rubber grip pods, the TrailFoam force protection and the BareFoam comfort layer. It appears cleanly manufactured and maintains true to a flat surface for a barefoot experience. For example, the heel is not elevated and there are no indentations or conforming textures that are seen in typical sport sandals. The tread indeed looks grippy and shows up well in the above photo. The BareFoam layer forms a cup around the heel with the intent to keep debris out and foot in place. Moving on, I will talk about the straps, which are made with tubular webbing. The idea is that there are no hard or rough edges. There is one continuous strap that forms a 'Z' shape, hence the name. It starts on the inside of the toe box and rests across the base of the toes, though a buckle on the outside of the sandal, then tracks diagonally across the mid-foot to a buckle on the inside of the ankle, then redirects across the front of the ankle to another buckle opposite the last, redirecting again and pulling tight for the finale. The excess strap which flaps around on the inside of the foot, as opposed to the outside, which I'm more familiar with, secures itself to the ankle strap with a tough little elastic band. Simple and effective. There is a separate heel strap that adheres to itself after going through a buckle with a hook and loop fastener. Also simple and effective.
TRYING THEM OUT
Before ordering them, I followed the manufacturer's website guidelines on how to measure my foot and choose a size. This included printing out a life size foot print of the actual sandal and measuring my own foot on a piece of paper. After doing this my typical running shoe size of 8.5 to 9 was sized to just barely fitting the size 9. The printed diagram of the next size up, the 10, looked good but appeared a bit roomy. I picked the larger size thinking that I may want to wear these sandals with socks if it was cold outside. I believe I picked the right size because I am happy with the length of the sandals. My only concern is that my feet are really narrow compared to the foot print and I'm a bit worried about slipping side to side. The toe box appears to be of good width as I have lots of room to spread out my toes, which is quite relaxing. However, the heel cup is way wide of my heel and this is where I wonder about my heel slipping side to side. I'm pleased that the straps are easy to adjust and straight forward to use. After fastening the straps to the correct size, I do have quite a bit of excess strap, but not bothersome and I could cut this if I wanted, as advised in a video on the manufacturer's website. My preference for getting in and out of the sandal is via the heel strap, though I could also loosen off the top strap to get in and out as well.
When I walk around my house, I notice that I feel as though I am walking barefoot and I am not in a typically supported sport sandal as is the intent of Xero Shoes. My thoughts are mixed at this point as this is all new to me. I don't walk barefoot very often. The good news is, I don't immediately feel any points of abrasion or rubbing. The FeelLite sole is comfortable and does offer padding compared to ground.
SUMMARYSo far I'm impressed with the look and feel of the Z-Trail sandals. I feel they have some good engineering to them and I will be taking them in to the field to test their claims. My only concerns at this point is that my heel doesn't fill out the heel cup and I query whether I will notice any side to side slipping. Over the next few months I will be using them for various outdoor activities. My results of the first test phase will be posted in approximately two months.
Over the past couple months I've worn the Xero Z-Trail sandals out and about on most days since I've had them, but more importantly the following exciting adventures occurred:
- trekked in sandals up a steep mountain trail that was over 10 km (6.2 mi) round trip with an elevation of almost 1000 m (3300 ft). A little bit of snow was encountered at the top.
- another steep trail was trekked in sandals to a view point of 600 m (2000 ft) over 2 km (1.25 mi).
- trekked in sandals for 5 km (3.1 mi) out of a 63 km (39 mi) 3-day, 2-night alpine trip where I was carrying a 40 lb (18.1 kg) pack. They also served as camp sandals.
- wore them around camp on another 3-day, 2-night alpine trip. On this trip I used them to wade into a lake as well. They were carried in my pack for 40 km (25 mi).
- wore them around camp on two, 3-day, 2-night car camping trips.
Temperatures during this period ranged from 9 C to 32 C (48 to 90 F). Weather encountered was mainly dry, hot, clear and sunny, with some cooler, windy evenings.
COMFORT & FITAt first I thought the lack of cushion that I was used was severely missing as I felt hard ground beneath my feet. But, it didn't take long, wearing them around to toughen up my feet, and now I don't even notice. In fact they feel extremely liberating. I also thought I'd feel every rock and tree root on the trail, but this wasn't noticeable after awhile either. I've had no hot spots or abrasions. I was able to tighten and loosen as needed to get a good fit for either descending or ascending a trail. I encountered some pretty steep terrain where on the downhill I needed to fasten them as tightly to my feet as possible to prevent slippage and it was magical. I felt like I was prancing down the trail like a mountain goat. The person in front of me on the trail said she couldn't hear me at all. One thing I have found tricky though is getting them off and on quickly. Undoing them is awkward because they take some fiddling and effort to release them. On the flip side they never come lose on their own, which is appreciated. But, undoing them and then finding the right fit again is timely, compared to similar sandals I've worn where they fasten and undo with a loop and hook fastener. These sandals have this type of fastener on the heel, but the reinforced material prevents them from loosening enough to get my foot in. I also found the straps pointing and flapping inwards rather odd as they sometimes brush my ankles when I walk and when I look at them they look backwards to me. At some point I will just lop off an inch and that should take care of the flapping, though they're not overly long, so I would rather they were just on the outside of my foot instead and leave them the length they are. Because I don't like undoing them, I just leave them fastened to my liking and then cram my foot into them without any adjusting. I wear them a bit loose just so I can do this. I've worn them a lot with socks in the evenings and this makes camp life really comfortable.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELDI've used these sandals for everything but running. Mainly because I've run all my life and I always heel strike first and reading up on these it was recommended to run only with the balls of my feet. I did experience this when hiking, especially when I was prancing down hill in them. I felt very agile in them on the balls of my feet, but once in a while I would heel strike and that was jarring to my whole skeleton. What I did find with steep trails and even scrambling on rocks, was that tread on them offers phenomenal grip. On soft trail (packed dirt) and a 40 lb (18.1 kg) pack, I felt completely comfortable walking in these sandals for about 5 km (3.1 mi). After that length of time I wanted my hiking boots. I can be described as a full grain leather with full shank hiking boot kind of trekker, where lots of protection for my feet is provided, so this was a very new experience hiking in sandals. I must admit, I was quite pleased and surprised that I didn't stub my toe once and my feet felt adequately protected. For walking around with a light pack on easy trails, these have been great companions for my feet. I especially like how light they are on my feet, which also makes them light for packing and carrying for overnights in the backcountry. I've found them very practical for this. In the hot sun they dried fast after dunking them in the lake.
So far, these sandals have held up pretty well. I've noticed some wear on the tip of the toe with some chips and abrasions on the rubber. The straps and sole are in great shape. There's some discoloring from my feet after wearing them in the water. I can see the outline of my foot on the insoles along with a slight indentation of where my foot lies.
SUMMARYAt this point in the test, with 2 months of use I am pleased with the concept of a lightweight trail sandal that performs up to par protecting my feet and maintaining a casual look and feel. The coming months will consist of more of the same including an eight day mountaineering trip where they will be my camp companions. Check back in a couple months for my final test results.
- dries fast
- aesthetically pleasing
- tread has phenomenal grip for steep trails
- works well with socks
- no abrasions or hot spots
- straps flap inward instead of outward
- not as quick to get on and off
LONG TERM FIELD CONDITIONS
Since my last report I've continued to wear these sandals as my main footwear for the summer. But, more exciting was when they were worn as camp shoes for my seven day mountaineering trip where we were base-camped just below the Nemo Glacier in the Selkirk Mountain range south of Golden, British Columbia. We had nothing but sunshine and blue skies. They also came in handy for camp shoes during a search and rescue training weekend as well as for footwear when belaying rock climbers. Temperatures encountered ranged between 5 and 30 C (41 and 86 F).
LONG TERM OBSERVATIONSThese sandals have continued to perform well on rugged camp terrain. My least favorite use was during lengthy walks on pavement. There is no give to these sandals, so my feet got really sore after about 20 minutes on pavement and after half a day I had red, swollen balls of my feet. Aside from that I felt the sandals continued to fit comfortably. The other annoying part was the strap that flaps on the inside of the foot and nips at the opposite ankle. I will be cutting the straps, which should take care of that. I have enjoyed the look and feel for light use. They allow my feet to stretch out after a long hike.
The Xero Z-Trail sandals have held up well over the past season. All the straps and mounts are perfectly intact. The only wear I see is at the toe wear the sole is starting to peel and looks a bit chewed up (the left more than the right). They look as though they will continue to hold up for quite some time, however.
SUMMARYOverall, I would say the Xero Z-Trail sandals were great addition to my summer footwear. They were light enough to pack along on a backpacking trips and durable enough for rugged backcountry terrain. I found them useful as camp shoes and were wonderful to put on after a long day of trekking. I didn't find them ideal for long walks on pavement. The design of having the straps fall on the inside of the foot is rather distracting. This may improve once I chop the ends off as for me they were too long for me. I plan to continue wearing these in the future as my go to sandals for camping. I love the look and find they are trendy looking and go with anything from a summer dress to hiking pants.
I'd like to thank Feel the World, Inc. and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to take part in this test series.
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