Despite having a specified target market, we still chose to review the Xero Z-Trail within the canon of all-purpose or multi-sport sandals. For the most part, this model remained competitive throughout the testing process. However, the hyper-light construction and minimal support pose apparent drawbacks in the way of stability and traction.
The Xero Z Trail has started to turn heads in the barefoot running community. Whether or not zero-drop minimalist shoes are your thing, there's no denying that its one of the lightest sandals on the market.
The sole of the Xero Z-Trail consists of two layers of ultra-thin foam fortified with what Xero calls FeelTrue rubber grip pods. At only 10mm thick, this outsole provides enough protection to walk over sharp rocks or pine needles, but still translates plenty of contours onto the bottom of your foot. An extremely pliable sole may benefit barefoot runners, but it doesn't necessarily provide the best traction.
We found that the rubber grips on the bottom of the Z-Trail didn't perform as well as other tread patterns or sole materials. Perhaps if the entire sole were rubber, it would have received a higher score. We found ourselves slipping on slick rocks when the foam portion of the sole was in contact with the ground. With limited stickiness and very subtle tread, the Z-Trail isn't quite as capable of scrambling like the other sandals, though it does provide enough grip to hike or even run on moderate trails.
In the spirit of minimalism, the sole of the Z-Trail is extremely modest. Accordingly, it received a modest score in the traction metric.
Comfort is the highest-scoring metric for the Z-Trail. The lighter-than-air feel combined with dual-density foam and ultra-thin webbing made it easily one of our most comfortable sandals to lounge in. Folks with high arches or sensitive feet may find more comfort in something with a bit more substance (like the Chaco models), but in most cases, our testers found them suitable for a variety of foot shapes. Another bonus, there is virtually no break-in period for the foamy footbeds.
The plush webbing loops directly through the footbed, allowing for a secure fit with minimal pressure points. A minor annoyance documented by some was that the velcro on the heel strap tended to rub and chafe if not secured carefully. Though you could offset this by wearing socks, it could pose problems for wet feet on longer slogs. The Chaco Z/1 Classic features a similar webbing style but doesn't have any pesky velcro in the heel.
Lightweight, flexible, and with ample adjusting capabilities, the Z-Trail is a very comfortable sandal that can pack easily in a variety of settings.
Stability is perhaps the biggest weakness of this pair from Xero. But are you surprised to hear that an ultralight, barefoot-inspired sandal couldn't hang tough like the beefy Chaco? Of course, a sole that is only 10mm thick will have more bumps-in-the-road, so to speak. But again, this is intentional. The Z-Trail was conjured up by and for people who would prefer to feel each foot strike as opposed to having a girthy, supportive sole.
Even though it lacks a genuinely supportive midsole, the Z-Trail has some redeeming qualities contributing to stability. The webbing that runs across the top of your foot is conveniently attached to the sole material by the instep. This ensures that the straps hug the foot into a secure position. Additionally, there is a "spoiler" wrapping around the back of the sole which helps to cup the heel in place. However, the super low-profile of this sandal won't protect you from toe jams and stick jabs. A more stable option for high arches would be the Teva Terra Fi 4.
We sometimes felt a little vulnerable in the Xero Z-Trail. But we can definitely see the appeal to the lighter-than-air barefoot feel.
The buckle and heel strap configuration of the Z-Trail is pretty straightforward out of the box; it doesn't take long to dial in and keep a secure fit. Similar to the Chaco models, the Z-Trail utilizes an adjustable strap of webbing that doubles-back through the sole and over the foot, while also including an adjustable heel strap similar to what's typically found on Teva products. Our testers agree that they are easy to slip in and out of after the initial adjustments are made to accommodate foot shape.
Because of how the webbing interacts with the rubber sole, there is a bit of give when you crank down on the straps. This makes it difficult to get a snug fit for those extra-demanding trails. The friction between the webbing and the strap can also make more substantial adjustments a bit challenging without taking the sandal off entirely. Ultimately, we feel that the Z-Trail has adequate but not totally ergonomic adjustability.
Not only can you adjust the straps running over the top of the foot, but you can also tighten the heel strap of the Z-Trail, a feature missing from the Chaco lineup.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that the Z-Trail is a shoe specified for a particular crowd. Minimalist design and ultralight construction are great for certain people, but not everyone. However, that doesn't mean that the Z-Trail is a one-trick-pony. Even with less-than-stellar traction and stability, our testers found it to be fully capable of handling moderate pitches and technical trails. It is also the sandal of choice for our testers who prefer trail running to hiking.
We don't recommend running in this model without first training and strengthening your feet to prepare them for barefoot running sandals. Without proper preparation, you risk injury. Head to our Barefoot Shoes review for more information
along these lines.
With limited rubber coverage on the outsole, the Z-Trail had trouble keeping grip on slick or wet rocks, taking it out of the running for a watersports sandal. But outside of heavy-duty hiking and wet rocks, this uber-minimal and lightweight sandal was able to roll with the punches of our testing gauntlet. We especially like how easily they could be stowed in an already brimming backpack or day bag. The stealthy profile and negligible weight of the Z-Trail make it a tremendous option for a secondary shoe when margins are tight on the packing list.
Due to the nature of the barefoot niche, there are just certain things the Xero sandal can't do. But that doesn't mean you can't try.
Specializing in footwear that provides freedom and natural motion of the foot, Xero shoes is dedicated to creating "barefoot inspired" products for their devout following. There is no doubt about it; the Z-Trail is decidedly marketed towards barefoot enthusiasts and gram-counting minimalists. Trail runners and ultra-light backpackers alike will find a friend in this sandal. If you're looking for a sandal so light that you forget you're wearing it, look no further than the Z-Trail.
Ringing in at $80 MSRP, the Z-Trail is a relatively inexpensive model in our lineup. We believe that this price accurately reflects its value as a multi-sport sandal.
For how light and supple it is, the Z-Trail is quite an impressive shoe. You'll certainly love it if minimalist footwear is your jam.
Despite not having a barefoot inclination or ultralight obsession, we grew quite fond of the Xero Z-Trail during our trials. It is comfortable, stylish, and super easy to bring along for any occasion that may warrant open-toed footwear. Though it didn't perform quite as well as some of the sportier sandals in our lineup, the Z-Trail has lots of potential as a packable camp shoe or natural-feeling barefoot running shoe. Furthermore, it's a great low-cost and lightweight option for those who don't need high-performance out of their sandals.