Review of the Xero Z-Trek sandals

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This review is a bit different from the usual one I would do after buying a new gear… I’m writing this after using the Xero Z-Trek for about 8-9 months in various situation from walking, hiking, road running, trail running and for various distances and paces… In fact I own 2 of these. So this review will give you a pretty good view of what the sandals are capable of, how they handle mileage, terrain and what’s annoying with them. With the most recent pair, I clocked 576km running while with the other pair of sandals I clocked about 150km running and probably a good 100km walking (as a casual walking pair of sandals).

How did I end up getting the Z-Trek ?

I was looking for a pair of running sandals after being disappointed with my Luna Venado (fitting issues, regular chaffing, blisters). I was browsing for running sandals and found that apart from Luna Sandals, the second most advertised and talked about was Xero Shoes. They started making huaraches sandals (basic models and do it yourself kits) then did some more sophisticated sandals specialised for running and for hiking.

At that time, I found that they were much cheaper to buy in Australia and I was going there very often, which allowed me to buy them for much cheaper than the cheapest of the Luna Sandals. At that time, I ordered a Xero Sensori Venture and Isaw that they had the Z-Trek which I ordered in size 10 US for walking. I was looking for a good pair of slippers for walking which would be zero drop, not with a huge cushioning and no toe post. Usually the hiking/walking sandals are always a bit bulky.

My plan was really just to buy one pair as leisure sandal for walking over the week end when you can’t be barefoot. Moreover as I was buying a first pair they had an additional 25% discount on the second pair… deal !

Basic feel wearing the Z-Trek

My friend (whose address I was borrowing) received them very quickly and few days later when I went to Sydney for meetings he gave them to me. That evening I went to try them in the park nearby my hotel. The Sensori Venture were more like the Luna with the toe post but with a thinner and heavier rubber sole. Tightening the laces was easy but running always feels weir for me with traditional huaraches design. On the way back I swapped them of the Z-Trek and immediately they felt comfortable and I was able to run easily naturally and relatively fast. Good surprise.

First the strapping is very different from other sandals and is in the shape of a Z (hence the name). In my experience, it is critical to have the right tension on the lower part, especially for downhill sections. If you wear it too tight, you can have the need for the skin on the side of the strap to be tougher to avoid some blisters (my first race wearing them was a 23km where mid race I tightened the right sandal a lot (I was using the size 10 which was too big for racing), much more than what I was used to and after the race I realised I had a time blister that had developed between my small toe and the strap). So it’s pretty important to experiment on the tightening of the sandals strap. As a matter of example, the tightening you need for running and walking is very different – by that I mean that if it’s too loosely tightened it won’t be good for running.

To be noted, like most of the Xero sandals, they have that back heel support at the bottom of the sandals. It’s very different say from a Luna sandal where there is none, but once you get used to it, it’s great to keep your foot from sliding a little bit toward the back.

Walking and Hiking

This is a really great pair of sandals. It holds well the foot while allowing you to move totally freely all your toes. The sandals is thin enough to feel everything that’s on the road (barefoot feel) while protecting you from all these small little things (small stones, …) that keep your eyes very busy when totally barefoot. The sole is all in rubber and will protect you also from bigger pieces such as a sharper bigger rock. You will feel it and feel the pain but you won’t get hurt.

Since I bought my first pair of Z-Trek, I nearly exclusively walked outside with them (hence the high mileage for walking). I used it on various type of surfaces and it’s really a fit all surface sandal. The rubber is very resistant and there is barely any wear and tear on them. I took one which was one size bigger for walking but after months running with one size smaller, I would go back to the smaller size even for walking.

Road Running

I have to say, to run with these you need to be a barefoot runner pretty much. The sandals are relatively thin and allow you to “feel” well what’s under your feet while being protected. It’s less forgiving than say a thick pair of Luna sandals or those Nike, Teva, … sandals. I ran as said earlier 576km as of this post with the size 9. Make sure you have the right size fitting your foot, not too big as you need to have the straps quite tied while running and if the sandal is too big, it’s less practical to tie it well and there would be some movement.

I like the sandal and use them as my main go to “running shoes”. You need however to get some proper training to be stronger at your feet and calves level, like barefoot running. Except that I ran longer distances and right now, I run up to 45km with these sandals then to maintain a decent pace, I need to move to thicker cushioning with the Z-Trail sandals. At that level, cushioning is well needed !

The sandals needs to be well tied on your feet behind and in front of the ankle. There should not be much free space at the toes level, so that the strap sits on the toes and does not move while running, but it should not be super tight. However the top strap should not be too tight, because it then pushes your toes more forward and while running and having your toes close to the ground, you could feel the sides of the sandal, which is ok but over long distance is not comfortable.

Performance wise, for me, it took me few months to get stronger and be able to get back to my speed wearing shoes. Be real, transitioning takes time. However now, I’m very comfortable with the sandals to run faster. This month – august 2016 -, I even ran my PB for half marathon (Men’s health half marathon 2016) and for full marathon (Standard Chartered KL 2016). One thing to be noted, for fast races or long races, I tend to wear socks (sometimes not, I ran longer races also without socks !). When it comes to water, the sandals dry very quickly obviously and I enjoyed being into streams wearing them.

 

Wear and tear, below are pictures of the sandals after about 500km on road. Honestly just a little bit of wear and tear, which you would think for shoes that the sandals are just a 100km mileage. The threading at the soles level is pretty much identical as when I got the sandals. They guarantee the soles for 5000 miles (assuming you have proper running form). I don’t think it would last until 5000 miles but even if I just reach 2000km with those, I’ll be extremely happy and the investment would be very worthwhile !

Trail Running

Well, yes I did try trail running with those. It happened 2 times: once in Kiara because my Z-Trail strap was broken and a second tie in France because I had a 10km trail/10km road run and I brought only this pair of sandals. Surprisingly, the sandals are great on trail, the grip is quite good despite the relatively thin threading (actually it’s nearly the same as the Z-Trail minus the bigger ones). On a downhill or uphill where the trail would be a little wet, they were gripping very well. A good surprise indeed.

Like any other sandals (or barefoot) running on trails, you need to be extra careful of where you land your feet. It can be treacherous and you have nearly zero protection. This being said, it worked well. The only drawback I can see is that as the sandals are relatively thin, you “feel” everything under the sole of the sandals: rocks, small stones, irregularities, … This lack of cushioning results in direct effect on your run: your pace will be lower than say in Z-Trail or trail running shoes. Also it has to be absorbed by your feet and calves, and that creates tiredness. Also just like the Z-Trail, if you sweat or the trails are very wet, then you will have less grip in the sandals, which I usually workaround by wearing hiking socks.

In summary, this is definitely not the best choice for trails. I’d avoid using it on rocky trails but on cross country type of large trails (I’m thinking of King of Sungai Lembing for example) I think it would work well. As a backup sandals to carry it’s also a good idea.

The small issues I can see with the Z-Trek

Having ran 576km, I think I have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t ! There are mainly two issues I have with them (I can live with them would would love those to be fixed):

Issue 1: strap loosening while running

The strap on top of the foot is not holding well enough to the tension while running. As a result, the sandal becomes looser after a while and you need to tighten it again. I did not try but I’m wondering if an elastic holding it more tightly would do. The core of the issue is the lack of strong dents to hold the strap at the looping.

To be noted on the more recent Z-Trail, they have updated the dents to be bigger and hold well the tension. Maybe a future Z-Trek upgrade ?

Issue 2: metal loop moving, reducing tension

This is again on the top strap. The metal piece serving to loop the strap on the inside of your foot is twisting on my right foot sandal. As a result, it creates more movement and a less tight grip. The first time it happened was on a long run and after 45km, I had a small tiny blister because of that. Now, it just moves, makes the strap loos, which I then have to tighten.

I basically workaround these 2 issues by tightening more on the right side the straps. For the first problem, no choice I have to tighten it regularly but also I learned how to run with less tension. These aren’t showstopper for me and even as is, I would still buy another pair if I needed it.

Conclusion

This is a must buy for me. Whatever minor issues I have, I would definitely recommend this pair of sandals. One thing I like with their Z design is that I an also slide in the trade for my Runscribe devices. These are tiny devices measuring a lot of different metrics when you run such as pace, cadence, contact time, flight ratio, foot strike type, pronation angles, shocks, … More to follow on this later !

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