Xero Z-Trail Review
Cons: Little to no support, thin webbing
Manufacturer: Xero Shoes
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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