New to our review in 2019, we named the Xero Z-Trail our Top Pick for Camp Sandals because this feather-weight, comfortable option is the first thing we want to change into after a long day in hiking boots. The Z-Trail has a super thin, flat footbed, so this is not a cushy or supportive sandal, but it takes almost no time to break in, and it's easy to adjust to get a comfortable fit. It's a versatile performer, great for light hikes and bike rides or just wearing around town. Plus, it looks great. The Z-Trail was outfoxed in most of our test metrics by our Editors' Choice winner, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, because the latter has a more supportive sole, better traction, and holds the foot more firmly in place.
Xero Z-Trail - Women's Review
Cons: Slippery footbed, not cushioned, short heel strap
Manufacturer: Xero Shoes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
From the minute we unboxed the Xero Z-Trail, we were excited about this sandal. It looks great, it's comfortable, and it's almost unbelievably lightweight — more comparable to a foam flip-flop than a bulky hiking shoe. While the Z-Trail didn't hold up to the competition during rugged hikes and when carrying a heavy backpack, it's a solid option for relaxing outside or going on a mellow hike, and it makes the transition to around-town wear easily because of its low profile and high style. We named this our Top Pick for Camp Sandals because it's the perfect choice to tote along in your backpack and slip on at the end of a long day's hiking, and it's durable enough to last in this capacity for years.
Because the Z-Trail was comfy the minute we put it on, it scored high marks in this category. Right out of the box, the Z-Trail was one of the comfiest models we tested. The materials of its straps and footbed are smooth and feel great against the skin, and we didn't develop any blisters, hot spots, or points of pain as we adjusted to the sandals. Even after weeks of wear, we never developed any issues with rubbing or chafing.
The Z-Trail is extremely light and flexible, and this made it one of our favorite go-to sandals for putting on after more rigorous outdoor pursuits, like a day of backcountry skiing or a long trail run. It's easy to tuck this sandal away in a pack pocket or in your trunk and then delight yourself hours later when you remember you have such a comfortable option to change into.
The reason the Z-Trail doesn't take top marks in this category is that it's very minimalist. The sole of this sandal is significantly thinner than even the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, which was one of the thinner models in our test group. Compared to the Chaco models, the Z-Trail is like a sheet of paper. Cushy, this sandal is not. If you're looking for a model that will offer lots of cushioning and support, check out the many thicker-soled models in our test, including the Chacos, the Teva Tirra, or the KEEN Clearwater CNX.
When measuring stability, we noted our testers' subjective feelings of stability on the trail, as well as objective measurements of how far we could displace our feet within the sandals. While this isn't necessarily its strong suit, the Z-Trail scored moderately well here.
As we've mentioned, the Z-Trail's sole is very thin. It's also extremely flexible. This means that while there's not much there to cushion you from feeling the lumps and bumps of the trail, the sandal itself is able to conform to the trail's irregularities, which gives a feeling of stability. Imagine walking barefoot up an uneven granite slope as opposed to walking up the same slope wearing rigid, chunky platforms: the former would be much less wobbly. That's the kind of stability the Z-Trail offers. The Bedrock Cairn Adventure offers the same kind of flexible stability, but with significantly more cushioning. The Chaco models have much thicker, soles, but they're still supple enough to feel very stable over uneven ground.
As far as keeping your foot in place within the sandal, the Z-Trail could do better. The sandal has a heel cup and strap that prevent the heel from slipping back, but there's nothing up front to keep the foot from sliding forward. This is not a big issue on light hikes or around town, but it makes it hard to travel down steep trails, especially while wearing a pack. That's why we'd recommend this sandal as a camp shoe, but not necessarily a hiking shoe. The Bedrock Cairn Adventure doesn't have this problem because of its thong-style strap, and some of the other models we tested, like the KEEN Clearwater CNX, have closed toes to keep the foot from sliding forward.
The Z-Trail performs surprisingly well here given its shallow lugs, but it fell down in this metric because its footbed can get slippery.
The outsole has fairly shallow lugs compared to most of the high performers in our test group, so we were surprised that it held its own in our traction tests. While traveling uphill over dirt trails, scree, or off-trail, the Z-Trail felt as grippy as the Chaco models, and almost (though not quite) as grippy as the Bedrock Cairn Adventure. The downhill was more challenging because our feet kept sliding forward, as described above. But overall, the Z-Trail is much closer in performance to the best sandals on the market than it is to a basic flip-flop or a smooth-soled sandal, which is why we think it would be a great option to wear around camp.
Unfortunately, the Z-Trail's footbed performs poorly in the traction department. Even when it's bone-dry, this footbed is more slippery than most of the other models we tested. As soon as it gets wet, it's challenging to keep your foot in place. If you're going to be hopping in an out of rivers or other water activities, there are better options, like the Bedrock Cairn Adventure (for a similarly minimalist feel) or the KEEN Clearwater CNX (for a full-coverage sandal).
Aside from its annoyingly short heel strap, we were impressed with the simple and intuitive adjustment system of the Z-Trail.
The adjustment system consists of two straps: one is a classic heel strap, while the other zig-zags across the front of the foot. The heel strap is held in place with Velcro, and this is our main gripe: the strap isn't long enough, so for wearers with wider feet, there's a good chance that there won't be enough Velcro contact to hold the strap in place long-term or during rugged use. We hold that Xero makes this strap longer in future versions, as this would add a lot to the strength and durability of the sandal.
The zig-zag strap across the top of the foot is adjustable in two places: the strap across the base of the toes can be adjusted, and the other two straps can be adjusted as a unit. We appreciated the ability to tighten/loosen the toe strap independent of the other two as the situation warranted. No matter how tight we cranked the straps, we weren't able to stop our feet from sliding forward, but we did find it beneficial to have the straps tighter for hiking than for general use. Making this adjustment was easy, and could be done with one hand in a pinch.
The adjustment system on the Bedrock Cairn Adventure took a little more time to figure out, but once we had it dialed, it held our feet in place better than the Z-Trail. The KEEN models have the simplest adjustment system of all — just tighten one elastic cord, and go on your way.
While it's not a great option for burley hikes or backpacking, the Z-Trail moves well from light outdoor pursuits to around-town use.
Xero brands the Z-Trail as a sandal you can do just about anything in, from hiking to river floats to running to yoga to errands around town. We think that might be going a little bit far. Anything other than a light hike in the Z-Trail is going to be a challenge because the toe strap isn't sufficient to stop the foot from sliding forward, and hiking in this sandal while wearing a heavy pack is going to be uncomfortable for anyone who's not a minimalist footwear enthusiast. River floats may be great in the Z-Trail, but if you're going to stop floating and start clambering over rocks, your foot will be sliding all over the place on the slippery footbed.
So the Z-Trail isn't the best for rugged pursuits. But for general life use with some light outdoor recreation thrown in, we think this is a great option (provided, once again, that you don't mind the lack of arch support). Our tester wore this sandal close to non-stop for more than a week, using it to bike to work, walk around the neighborhood, garden, go hiking on the local mellow trails, and yes, to do yoga. And it felt great! The Z-Trail was comfortable and performed well in all of these situations.
The stars of our test group, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure and the Chaco models, all scored slightly better than the Z-Trail in this category because they're great for wearing around town and they can handle anything you can throw at them in the backcountry. Some models we tested, like the KEEN Clearwater CNX, are great in the wild but do not translate to town. The Z-Trail is somewhere in the middle.
This model looks great and doesn't scream "technical," so it scored toward the top of the pack in the style category.
We'll be honest: We were excited to add the Z-Trail to our test group in part because we'd seen them on our friends' feet and we wanted to look that good. This model has a simple, low-key style that doesn't immediately bring to mind hiking or climbing, which makes it more versatile than many of the geekier, more outdoor-specific models in our test group. When we surveyed friends and family, this model got one of the highest style marks out of any sandal in our group of contenders.
While these sandals would be too casual for all but the most casual of weddings, we were comfortable wearing them around town with just about any outfit, from sundresses to jeans to running shorts. By contrast, some of the other models we tested — looking at you, KEENs — made us embarrassed to leave the house. The Z-Trail comes in four colorways, all of which are on the darker or earth-tone side, so if you're looking for a light-colored sandal, you'll have to look elsewhere for now.
Because this sandal is much more durable and suited to outdoor use than an average flip-flop, and because it's feather-light, we think the Z-Trail is an ideal camp sandal to take along on backpacking trips. Slipping these on at the end of a hard day of hiking will feel like a dream, and if you feel like going for an off-trail wander while your Mountain House dinner is rehydrating, the Z-Trail is up for it. Folks who are looking for a general-purpose around-town sandal might find this model too thin, but if you're into minimalist footwear, you can wear this anywhere.
At $80, we think these sandals are priced just about right. They're much more durable than the crappy foam flip-flops that many of us lug along as camp shoes, and they can also be worn around town and home. Many of the higher scoring models in our test group also cost more, so the Z-Trail is an attractive option at a decent price point.
After seeing this super-light option on many of our friends' feet this year, we had to test it out — and we weren't disappointed. The Z-Trail is comfortable, easy to adjust, and stylish, and we think its best use is as a camp sandal you can slip into after a long day in hiking shoes. This model isn't the best option for rugged hikes or for wearing with a heavy pack because its sole is too thin and its straps won't hold the feet firmly in place. But for around-town use and light activity in the outdoors, you'll be pleased with the Xero Z-Trail.
— Joanna Trieger