Xero Z-Trail - Women's Review
Cons: Slippery footbed, not cushioned, short heel strap
Manufacturer: Xero Shoes
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 doesn'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. This model earns 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 of hiking, and it's durable enough to last in this capacity for years.
Because the Z-Trail is comfy immediately, it scores 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 makes 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 very thin, one of the thinnest models in our test group. Compared to the Chaco models, the Z-Trail is like a sheet of paper. Cushy, this sandal is not.
The Z-Trail performs surprisingly well here given its shallow lugs, but it falls 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 feels impressively grippy. Going downhill is more challenging because the feet slide forward, as mentioned 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's a great option to wear around camp.
Unfortunately, the footbed of the Z-Trail performs poorly here. 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 and out of rivers or other water activities, there are better options.
Aside from its annoyingly short heel strap, we're 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 hope 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 appreciate the ability to tighten/loosen the toe strap independent of the other two as the situation warrants. No matter how tight we cranked the straps, however, we still couldn't stop our feet from sliding forward, though tightening the straps does make this sandal stable enough for hiking. Making this adjustment is easy and can be done with one hand in a pinch.
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 scores moderately well here.
As we've mentioned, the sole of the Z-Trail 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. For those that love minimalist shoes where you can really feel what's underfoot, this is a great option.
As far as keeping your foot in place within the sandal, the Z-Trail could do better. It 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 recommend this sandal as a camp shoe, but not necessarily a hiking shoe.
While it's not a great option for burly 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 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, 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 is comfortable and performs well in all of these situations.
This model looks great and doesn't scream "technical," so it scores 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 of any sandal in our group.
While these sandals would be too casual for all but the most casual of weddings, we're 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, KEEN — make us embarrassed to leave the house. The Z-Trail comes in several colorways, all of which are on the darker or earth-tone side.
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, 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 Top Pick-Winning Xero Z-Trail.
— Joanna Trieger
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