Several years ago, “minimalism” was in for running shoes. Companies were falling all over each other to make thin-soled shoes. That fad has mostly passed, for better or worse, but the companies left standing are the ones making high quality, truly excellent footwear. Xero Shoes is one of them, and we’ve been testing their Z-Trek Sandals on many adventures!
Xero makes a tremendous number of shoes. They started making sandals, and they still sell classic huarache style sandals (in both do-it-yourself and manufactured styles). Huaraches were big in the barefooting and minimal running community following the book “Born to Run“, but they’re a style of sandal that has existed for a very long time, and you can’t go wrong with them as a basic sandal. Not everyone likes having something between their toes, especially while hiking and running, and so Xero also makes sport sandals, the Z-Trek and Z-Trail. The main difference between the two is the sole in the Z-Trail is a bit more aggressive for tougher conditions, while the Z-Trek is thinner and lets you feel more of the ground. Xero has also branched into traditional closed-toe shoes, and like the sandals, these have thin soles for maximum groundfeel, as well as roomy toe boxes so your feet and toes can move freely. Best of all, Xero isn’t exactly a wallet-busting brand; the Z-Treks clock in at $59.99, and the majority of their shoes sit between $49.99 and $99 (a few of the closed toe models get above this range, but still in/below competitor pricing). Basically, these are as close to barefoot as you can get without being barefoot or wearing Vibrams, both of which are viable options but might also get you shamed and teased by family and friends. Or maybe I just need new friends.
In any case, I wore the Z-Treks through a variety of activities, and have fallen madly in love with them. The sole is so thin I can feel when I’m standing on just about anything (like, say, a wadded up tissue from my preschooler), but it does a great job of protecting my feet from anything that might poke or irritate them. Adjusting them was very easy as well. The strap across your toes is fixed, but the strap across the top of the foot is adjustable with a buckle, and the heel straps are velcro. I have very narrow feet and heels, so it took me a few times to settle on exactly how tight I wanted to pull the strap across the top of my foot for maximum security and comfort. Once I had it the way I wanted it, I stopped touching it, and usually put the sandals on by unstrapping the heel. You can also choose to leave the heel strap alone and loosen the top, it’s all about what fits your feet best. There’s a slight lip to the heel in case your feet slip, but that hasn’t been an issue for me, which was a pleasant surprise given my aforementioned narrow heels.
The Z-Treks were great for around town, and I really liked that they were almost “stealth” barefoot-style. In other words, anyone glancing briefly at my feet would see a pair of strap-style athletic sandals; they would have to be studying them fairly close to see how thin the soles are. I like Vibrams, but I don’t love that they’re unusual looking enough that they inspire constant dumb comments (for the record, people get very insulted when you sarcastically answer “do those hurt your feet” with “yes, but I enjoy suffering.”) Z-Treks looked at home running errands at Target as well as wandering rough terrain, and they felt great no matter where I wore them. One other neat effect due to the thinness of the sole is that you can get a feel for texture and temperature differences in terrain. I could feel the warmth when the sidewalk was quite warm, and could definitely tell where the grass felt uneven and soft in spots. It’s a very cool experience that lets you be that much closer to the world around you.
By far, though, my favorite was when I took the Z-Treks out on a hiking/fishing expedition. It wasn’t terribly technical, as my son was with me, but we were scrambling over rocks and on sandy/rocky/grassy terrain, and my feet stayed nice and secure. As an added bonus, when I waded into the water to fish a bit, I felt equally secure and sure-footed, plus the sandals dried very quickly once I was out of the water. Xero doesn’t specifically state you should use these as water shoes, so be careful in especially slippery environments, but for wading up to my knees in sandy and rocky banks they worked great. Sadly, I didn’t catch any fish, but I still got to enjoy nature and feel as connected as possible without tearing up my feet! Most importantly, even with wet shoes, the Z-Treks were grippy enough that I could keep up with an enthusiastic and perpetually moving 4-year-old, all without my feet slipping or causing any hotspots with the sandals.
It actually kind of amazes me how well the Z-Treks fit my feet. I don’t know if it is the thinness of the soles or the design of the straps or some combination, but I felt very, very secure wearing them. I have a pair of sport-strap style sandals that I wore all of last summer, and they have major wear by the big toe, where the shoes would get caught due to slippage as I walked. The Z-Treks are thinner and with less material but somehow manage to conform to my feet better.
Being barefoot is awesome, but when you need shoes, it’s even better to have shoes that don’t screw with your natural foot motion. Xero’s shoes work with your feet, not against them, and let you really feel the ground beneath you. If you’re looking for a pair of tough, stylish, and comfortable sandals this summer be sure to check out Xero Shoe’s offerings — your feet will thank you!
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Easy to adjust the fit; sole gives maximum groundfeel; stylish; excellent traction and grip; straps are reinforced for extra durability at key points; provides abrasion protection without interfering with natural foot movement.
What Needs Improvement: Color choices are limited; a buckle system on the heel would be more secure than velcro.