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Xero Z-Trail Review

One of the most comfortable and secure featherweight sandals that we reviewed
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $80 List | $80.00 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Crazy light, very packable, minimalist design with good ergonomics
Cons:  Little to no support, thin webbing
Manufacturer:   Xero Shoes
By Nick Bruckbauer and Rob Woodworth  ⋅  Jun 1, 2020
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59
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 11
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Traction - 25% 5
  • Stability - 20% 4
  • Adjustability - 15% 7
  • Versatility - 15% 7

Our Verdict

While the Xero Z-Trail isn't the highest-scoring option we tested, it caters to a particular niche and has a respectable place among our award-winners. Weighing in under 12 ounces for a size 10 pair, it's one of our lightest, most flexible, and most packable options, winning it the Top Pick Award for Ultralight Touring. There is no doubt that this model is decidedly marketed towards barefoot enthusiasts and gram-counting minimalists. Trail runners and ultralight backpackers alike will find a friend in this sandal. If you're looking for a warm-weather so light that you forget you're wearing it, look no further than the Z-Trail.

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Our Analysis and Test Results

Despite having a specified target market, we still chose to review the Xero Z-Trail within the category of all-purpose or multi-sport sandals. For the most part, this model remains competitive throughout the testing process despite its minimalist design. However, the hyper-light construction and minimal support pose apparent drawbacks in the way of stability and traction.

Performance Comparison


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 it's one of the lightest sandals on the market.
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 it's one of the lightest sandals on the market.

Comfort


For having such a thin and lightweight design, the Z-Trail scores surprisingly well in our comfort rating metric. The lighter-than-air feel combined with dual-density foam and ultra-thin webbing make it easily one of the most comfortable sandals in our lineup to lounge around in. Folks with high arches or sensitive feet may find more comfort in something with a bit more substance and support, but in most cases, our testers found them suitable for a variety of foot shapes. Another bonus is that there is virtually no break-in period required for the thin, foamy footbed.


The plush webbing strap material loops directly through the footbed, allowing for a secure fit with minimal pressure points. A minor annoyance documented by some is that the velcro on the heel strap has a tendency to rub or chafe if not secured carefully. Though you could offset this by wearing socks, this could potentially pose problems for wet feet on longer slogs.

Lightweight  flexible  and with ample adjusting capabilities  the Z-Trail is a very comfortable sandal that can pack easily in a variety of settings.
Lightweight, flexible, and with ample adjusting capabilities, the Z-Trail is a very comfortable sandal that can pack easily in a variety of settings.

Traction


The sole of the 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 the feel of the earth's contours onto the bottom of your foot. The extremely pliable sole material 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 don't perform as well as other thicker 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.
In the spirit of minimalism, the sole of the Z-Trail is extremely modest. Accordingly, it received a modest score in the traction metric.

Stability


Stability is perhaps the biggest weakness of this pair of kicks from Xero. But is anyone going to be surprised to hear that an ultralight, barefoot-inspired sandal can't hang with a beefier Chaco or Keen model? 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 the foot is conveniently attached to the sole material by the instep. This ensures that the straps hug the foot into a snug, 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.

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.
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.

Adjustability


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. 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 most Teva products. Our testers agree that these kicks are easy to slip in and out of after the initial adjustments are made to accommodate your 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 perfect 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.
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.

Versatility


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 necessarily for 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 some of 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 could risk injury. Our Barefoot Shoes review can provide more information along these lines.


With limited rubber coverage on the outsole, the Z-Trail has some trouble keeping grip on slick or wet rocks, taking it out of the running for a true watersports sandal. But outside of heavy-duty hiking and wet rocks, this uber-minimal and lightweight sandal was able to roll with most of the punches of our testing gauntlet. We especially like how easily they can 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.
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.

Value


With a list price pretty close to the middle of our lineup, the Z-Trail is relatively inexpensive for a high-quality sandal. While some users will find more versatility and better value in a heavier duty model, minimalist users looking for a near-barefoot experience will love this model. 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.
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.

Conclusion


Despite not necessarily having a barefoot inclination or ultralight obsession, we grew quite fond of the Xero Z-Trail during our trial period. 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 burly technical performance out of their sandals.

Nick Bruckbauer and Rob Woodworth