Trying the new Xero Z-Trail running sandals

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I’ve been walking and running for months with the Xero Z-Trek sandals. These sandals are great and I feel great running with them. Early 2016, I started joining the Mont Kiara Running Club and there is a weekly night trail run in Bukit Kiara. So after many months running barefoot and in sandals, I had… to wear back my good old Merrell trail running shoes… I like trail running but it’s hard with the sandals, and the Z-Trek are great for hiking but definitely not for running. You feel everything under the sandals sole and that is too much in the case of trail running where you have roots, stones, … In short, yes you can run with sandals but on the trails, you need more cushioning. So when Xero published that they had the new Z-Trail with more cushioning and for trail running.

Purchasing the Z-Trail sandals

I usually buy the Xero sandals in Australia as it’s cheaper there (currency rates, local shipping, no risk with custom charges, fast shipping) but the Z-Trail was only available in the US online. The Australian reseller told me they would start selling it only from August. At the same time for the first 10 days, Xero was giving 20% discount on first buyers. It basically covers for the entire shipping cost, so I decided to buy it at that time.

The guidelines on the Xero web site were very good. They had updated their template to compare Z-Tek and Z-Trail, telling very clearly to Z-rek owners like me that our size might be bigger for the Z-Trail as it’s tighter on the foot. I use a size 9 US men for running with the Z-Trek so I went to check the size 10 template. And yes I was size 10 with the Z-Trail.

Looking at the cost of bringing the slipper to Malaysia, the shipping by itself is 22.34 USD ! While the actual price of the Z-Trail was 63.99 USD (now it’s 79.99 USD). It’s not a cheap pair of slipper compared to the usual Xero slippers. You also understand why if I need another pair of Z-Trail… I’ll buy it from Australia ! (6 USD of shipping and usually I get 25% discount as returning customer). For comparison, this is still much cheaper than the base price of the cheapest Luna Sandal for trails…

First look at the Z-Trail

I will let you judge… I picked up my package then headed to office. The photos are taken on my office table (forgive the mess behind).

The first thing you would notice if you already own a Xero sandal is the threading. It’s keeps most of the usual threading from the Z-Trek everywhere except at the heel part (yet same durable material). Also compared to a Z-Trek, the sole is quite thick ! A minor difference is that as the Z-Trail is for trail, the threading is thicker than the Z-Trek (road), especially in the midfoot red section of the sole. The Z-Trail is fairly rigid compare to the Z-Trek, which is much more “paper thin”… ie it follows more the shape of your foot.

If you look at the promotional materials on the Xero web site, it’s more rigid yet still very flexible. Also they have a multi layer sole.

Fitting the Z-Trail

Once I got the pair of sandal, I fitted it at home. They actually feel tighter than the Z-Trek. Also the 10mm sole gives you the impression to be more on a typical sandal where you’re insulated from the ground (yet this is zero drop, I got used to it). When I did fit the Z-Trail, I noticed that it was tighter on the sides, particularly at the mid strap level. Looking carefully, Xero decided to move the buckles more inside the sandal, explaining the tighter feel.

Also, the top strap plastic piece has been enhanced to have a better grip, which later will prove quite useful on the trails… The dents are more pronounced on the Z-Trail, which I noticed allows a stronger grip of the strap. On the Z-Trek, I actually never noticed they had these small tiny dents however during a run, you will have to readjust regularly and tight again the strap to be feel one with the sandal.

Following this, I decided to walk for 2 days with the sandals (as much as I can outside of the office hours). On the week end I went to Desa Park City with the family and walk 1 lap of the lake. I jogged very slowly there with the kids. You feel the cushioning, ie compared to the Z-Trek, it’s very forgiving. One test I did was to start running on big gravels on the side of the walk way. These are the type I would not go jogging with the Z-Trek unless I have no choice, because you can run there but you feel every stone. With the Z-Trail, I could feel there was something like small stones, but probably only because I knew the feeling. In fact, it was pretty smooth. In fact, as I did try in the past few months a pair of Hoka, I can tell you that I was feeling protected, yet feeling what was under my feet, lightly but lightly enough to have a good sense of proprioception. With the Hoka, I was literally floating, not feeling anything.

My first real run – trail run

That was in the morning. In the afternoon, I decided to go to Bukit Kiara to try the sandals. I started at the bottom of the hill, went up slowly, add some section hiking a bit. I did try to have something representative of a real trail run: some section very runnable with not too much inclination, some downhill, uphills that you can run, some that are more steep, … It tooks less than one hour and when arriving at the middle guard house, I was lacking of time, hence then ran down via the road. That was another good test. The weather was hot (it was 5pm).

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Overall, it’s a good sandal for trail I think. It’s definitely perfect for hiking if you want some cushioning (note for hiking the Z-Trek is also fantastic but with a more barefoot type of feeling). Now back to the run in Bukit Kiara, below some of my comments after running there with the Z-Trail:

  1. The sandal needs to be tighten very well. This is particularly important for the downhill section where you need to ensure you have enough grip on the front of you foot, which can slide toward the front. The ankle strap needs to be quite tight there, and thanks to the dents, it is moving less when you run than on the Z-Trek.
  2. The cushioning is perfect for trail running: you feel enough but are very protected (bottom only be careful !). As an example, I ran onto a stone I did not see. It happened with the Z-Trek once and it was painful when you hit the stone (no injury as the sole protects you but you feel the pain). With the Z-TRail, I felt the rock but no pain ! So the cushioning is good. The impact was at mid sole  (the read section). It was a sharp stone and the sole is without a mark.
  3. Like any trail shoes you need to look very well where you put your feet. It’s very important here as the sandal does not protect you front and top. So you risk hitting a stone, root, … if you are not careful (barefoot lesson 101 !).
  4. Once I was sweating, the foot can slide a bit back and front, even left and right if you do not adjust and tight very well all the straps.
  5. The sole still looks like new modulo the dust on it. I remember my Merrell shoes loosing a little bit of the crampons after my first trail run…
  6. You will overall anyway run slower than a guy with your level but wearing very good trail running shoes. Good adjustments minimise the movement in the sandal however these will still be dome and on a technical downhill where you bounce from left to right feet onto an irregular trail, you need to adjust your technique. In short I wouldn’t approach the same section similarly with trail running shoes.

Going downhill on the road, you can go fast. The sole is obviously more noisy than on the trails and I found that it would do more flapping sound than the Z-Trek (maybe I’m just more used to the Z-Trek also). It’s very forgiving… which means you better watch out your running form. You wont heel strike massively with this pair of sandals but you could be more on your back especially on fast downhills… It’s how good is the sole and cushioning…

Conclusion… for now

I feel confident going in the trail with these sandals. With the Z-Trek, I’m going more slowly and you feel the pain on a difficult and technical trail. It’s not too enjoyable, while with the Z-Trail it IS enjoyable. I still need to adjust settings for longer runs, run more trails but my first impression is really that the Z-Trail is a great trail running sandals, easy to adjust (like the Z-Trek). Hopefully I’ll be able to join the Mont Kiara Running club folks for night trail run in Bukit Kiara… running with the Merrell for few times was torture for me after going fully 100% of the time with sandals or barefoot… Finally, my plan is to use these sandals for road ultra also in the 2nd part/last third of the race, when you need more cushioning for your feet… I’ll carry them at Route 68 Challenge next week.

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