Here’s the disclaimer: I was provided a pre-release product for this review, free of charge. I don’t work for Xero Shoes. I’m writing this review because I like their gear. I legitimately like their gear because I legitimately find it to be useful and well made. I would have no problem whatsoever saying everything they makes is complete garbage if that were the case, which it is not. Anything else I’m supposed to say here? ☺
If you’re into minimalist/barefoot footwear and haven’t heard of Xero Shoes yet, it may be time to open a new tab and do some reading. The cool thing about a lot of the minimalist footwear industry is that the people behind it usually care a whole lot about their products, their customers, and their overall mission. Well, Steven and Lena from Xero Shoes are no exception. Unless you consider going even above and beyond the industry norm in customer service, satisfaction, warranty (5,000 miles!) and overall design of their final product. This isn’t your grandma’s huarache!
The overall evolution of Xero Shoes just over the past few years has been exciting to watch. As a gear nerd and overall efficiency enthusiast, I am always excited to see a product making leaps and bounds, rather than incremental changes.
To give you a brief overview of Xero Shoes models, they started out pretty simple. If you’ve seen their pitch on SharkTank and look at their lineup now, you’ll see they’ve come a long way in product development. They still have their DIY and Amuri Venture models, which are essentially rubber and string, but from there is where I got most interested.
My first set of minimalist sandals were the Xero Shoes Amuri Cloud sandals. These are not just one piece of rubber, but two! They’ve taken the Venture model and added a 3mm layer of foam to the top, and while that doesn’t sound like much, the comfort difference is night and day for me. Now, these sandals, the Amuri Clouds, are the absolute closest thing you’re going to get to walking around purely barefoot. As far as I know, they are the only sandals that 100% move with your feet and do not restrict movement or function whatsoever. And these sandals even float. So if you’re out on the lake and one slips off you can just swim over and grab it.
Last year (2015) they announced a little bit beefier version of their sandal, the Amuri Z-Trek Sport. They beefed it up, albeit minimally, in a few ways. The straps are now thick pieces of webbing instead of just strings. There’s no longer a prong between the toes, but a strap over the top of the foot instead. The sole is a little thicker and chevron lugs on the bottom seem a hair deeper. It is still a very flexible shoe, but the way the strap secures around the ankle makes for a much more secure fit. I’ve hiked and ran in every model discussed here today, and while rough, gravel trails are doable in the Amuri Clouds, I found my feet to move around a little too much on steep inclines, declines are gradations and I ended up with a few too many rocks and pine needles between the sandal and my foot. The new strap system and thicker sole of the Z-Trek Sport addresses much of that.
And now, for this year (2016), the evolutionary process of Xero Shoes has finally reached a place where I think the rubber now not only hits its own road, but is starting to hit the same road as other big name competitors. I’ve always hoped and wished (and even emailed and requested) that Chaco or Teva would come out with a sandal that isn’t bigger, thicker and heavier than my stinking trail runners (that I use for hiking). I liked the idea of Chacos, but couldn’t bring myself to pay money to strap a giant brick on each of my feet. I’d wear boots if I wanted that kind of weight and heft.
Well, I am happy to say I’ve been wearing Xero Shoes newest addition to their minimalist sandal family, the Umara Z-Trail, every single day for almost a month now. And I think my search for the perfect do-everything travel sandal has finally come to an end!
The Umara Z-Trail is much like the Z-Trek, but instead of one layer of rubber between your foot and the ground, there are now three layers, each with a specific job. They also carry Xero Shoes 5,000 mile warranty (that I can just about guarantee you won’t find anywhere else)!
I will do a more in-depth comparison in the future, but I have worn these side by side with not only Xero Shoe models, but also side by side with my Luna Leadville Trail sandals. I even wore one on each foot for entire days at a time (No one has noticed yet) to compare them directly! So, I’ll cut right to the chase for those who don’t like to wait.
Spoiler: The Z-Trails win. Hands down.
The newest addition to the Xero Shoes line is aimed squarely at a whole new market, and I think it will do a great job of taking its share from that market, simply because these sandals rock!
The Umara Z-Trail, while minimal by most standards, is a relatively thick and stiff sandal compared to the Amuri Cloud. If you want the most barefoot experience a minimalist sandal can offer, while providing some protection and comfort, give the Amuri Cloud a try. It can’t be beat.
But if you’re a Chaco or Teva wearer who would like to try something that isn’t, you know, a heavy brick on each foot, this is the sandal to consider. While size and weight are relative, and the Z-Trail is much larger than the Cloud, it is also something like 3.5x lighter than a Chaco in the same shoe size. Let me put it this way. If you’re the type of person who weighs your gear in ounces (or grams) rather than pounds, check these out.
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty here. I’d like to emphasize the Pros of the Z-Trail over its competitors, as well as some of the Cons that I would like to see improved a little further. Although, I’ll be honest right now, I had to really dig to find Cons to list.
The new lacing system did take me a bit to get adjusted and get used to. Now that I have it dialed in and my feet are used to them they’re as comfortable as can be, and like all good minimalist gear, I forget they’re even there. I will say there is one downfall to this more secure lacing system, and that is the time it takes to put them on. It’s not like we’re talking minutes here, but they’re not quite slip on sandals like the Clouds. I have found that the fastest and best way to get them on and off is to simply use the Velcro heel strap. If you undo and loosen the strap to take them off quickly, all you have to do is slide your foot into the top straps, get those in place, and once you’re good to go synch down the heel strap to your desired tightness. On the Xero Shoes video for the Z-Trek lacing system (same as the Z-Trail) they show a few ways of taking the sandals on and off. One is to leave them loose enough to be slip on, but that doesn’t work for me as I want them snugly adjusted to my feet. The other is to use the adjustable strap on the top to loosen and tighten the sandal. That doesn’t work for me either because loosening and tightening that strap affects the tightness and fit of every strap on top of the sandal. So if you loosen and tighten it every single time you take the sandal on and off you’ll spend a lot of time dialing in the right tightness and fiddling with the watchband style retainer to keep the strap in place. For me, the most efficient way to go about taking the sandals off and putting them back on is to get everything else adjusted just as I like it, then use only the heel strap from then on.
The great thing about this lacing system is that you can really control how tight the straps are across your toes, the top of your foot, around the heel and specifically how the top straps hug your ankle. By adjusting just the heel strap alone I can decide if I want to leave the laces a little looser for leisurely walking or if I want them really synched down so my feet down move around in the sandal at all when running up and down steep inclines or on loose surfaces. The triangular pieces of nylon on each side of the sandal are perfectly comfortable and hold the straps in their place just as well. Comparing directly to the Luna Leadville sandals that I have, I find the Z-Trail straps to be more comfortable, stay in their place better, and secure my foot to the sandal better as well. In particular, my foot is not only not able to move side to side nearly as much as in the Luna, but it is unable to rotate on the sandal as easily as well, which has happened to me a few times on cambered terrain.
Where the Z-Trail differs from the Luna Leadville and the Amuri Cloud is that it does not have a toe post. This can be a pro or a con based on your own comfort and preference, but it also does not keep your foot from sliding forward when on a decline as well. At first I felt a little uneasy about my toes sliding forward a little. But after pretty extensive downhill, loose dirt and gravel testing I’ve found that the ankle straps do more than enough to keep my foot in place and my toes have not exceeded the edge of the sandal at any point so far.
I’m not sure if it is a function over fashion thing (if that is the case I wholly support it), but it does seem that the placement of the front strap seems a little too far forward. I’ve grown used to it, but at first it both looked and felt strange to have the front strap over the base of my toes instead of over the top of my foot. The only reason I can see for the placement of the front strap being so far forward is to help keep the foot from sliding forward as well as side to side. Because of its forward position the strap connects with the sole of the sandal just in front of the ball of my foot where my foot gets wider. This (functionally speaking) is the perfect little notch between the ball of my foot and my toe to keep the sandal securely in place, or my foot in place depending how you look at it. Aesthetically it took some getting used to, but perhaps that was their thinking functionally.
Fit and Finish:
I will say the materials, multiple rubbers (same case on the Amuri Cloud), and final fit and finish are a grade above any other sandals I’ve tried. The people over at Xero Shoes aren’t in the business of coming up with some idea and then putting it into production the next month. You can tell very specifically that every little detail was thoroughly scrutinized and the design and testing stage had to be meticulous. I’m a very honest person. If I felt the fit and finish of these sandals was subpar or unimpressive I would sit here and tell you how much I think they stink and need to be refined and taken back to the drawing board. But you can just tell by every little material and detail that this is already a refined and finished product.
I will note that the top rubber layer, the part your feet contact, has a more comfortable feel to it on the Z-Trail than it does on the Z-Trek. (The Amuri Cloud is in a class of its own with its foam top) But the Z-Trail is surprisingly comfortable and has a nice tactile feel for a harder rubber. It is noticeably more comfortable than my Luna Leadville sandals, at least for me.
One the bottom side of the sole you’ll find two types of rubber; one softer and one harder. They advertise as three rubber layers but it’s more like two and a half. The third layer, the one that contacts the ground the most, is a harder layer of rubber only found on the high abrasion points of the sole; the toe, ball, and heel. These should do well to bring even greater longevity and abrasion resistance to an already long lasting product (based on previous products).
One concern I have about the sole is that the soft rubber of the mid-layer does make up some of the bottom, and while it is not on the main wear areas it does not feel hard enough to live up to heavy use. I will test this over time and let you know if there is any unusual wear, but so far I’ll leave it as a “remains to be seen” item. As an upside, the softer rubber should conform to uneven terrain better. On a final note about the bottom of the sole, I am a big fan of the chevron pattern on the soles. Coming from motorcycle and truck tires down to trail runners I’ve found this pattern to perform well. The only thing I’m not a fan of is that the depth of these lugs is already less on the harder, high abrasion areas than on the soft rubber. That’s fine for now, but as those areas begin to wear over time I can see there being an uneven distribution of lugs left. Again, we will see how that goes over time.
I’ve put in a lot of miles on in these already. Mostly walking with some trail and road running as well. I can say right off that the thickness and level of protection is just perfect, at least for me. When I walk a lot on pavement in my Amuri Clouds, no matter how lightly I walk, I’m still pavement pounding for too long and end up with sore feet. This worried me for long-term travel use as I tend to walk everywhere, especially as a photographer. The Z-Trail thickness leaves me plenty of padding for the streets as well as trails. The small amount of cushion from the soft foam midsole makes a big difference in absorbing those endless steps. Surprisingly, when going over golf ball sized rocks, protruding quite a bit from the trail, I found that it not only felt like a foot massage, taking up the majority of the beating my feet would usually get, but I still had quite a bit of trail feel left as well. I was able to contour my foot to grab uneven terrain still, even with the thicker rubber. I’m going to start calling these sandals Goldilocks. Not too thick, not too thin, just right. ☺
It is also worth noting that these sandals are great for wide feet. I have wide feet and short toes and almost no shoes fit me correctly (except LEMS which are amazing). When discussing what size I should ask for in order to review these sandals I even had a conversation with Steven letting him know my usual dilemma. He said to just order based on the length of my foot and the width should be fine. Since my pinky toes hang off the Amuri Cloud sandals I was a little skeptical, but went ahead and ordered based on my foot length. To my surprise, it was as if these sandals were specifically molded to my feet. The shape is perfect and I would not hesitate to recommend them to someone with wide feet.
I was not near any body of water this month but sandals often are. So after a long, dusty hike in some dry foothills I took the hose and soaked my feet and Z-Trails in water for a while to simulate water use. I found a small pro and con to be found in this exercise. Firstly, the comfortable sole material that I like very much gets very slippery when wet. You’re not going to fly out of your sandals or anything, but I was surprised at how slick they got. But I also found out these sandals dry very quickly (which was to be expected). I can confidently report, so far, that these sandals are also just like other Xero Shoe models in that they do not stink (at least not yet). I’ve also thrown these Umara Z-Trails into a full tub of water. They float really well! The foam midsole didn’t even allow them to dip and bob under the surface. I doubt you’ll be walking on water, but if your sandals ever fall off at the lake it should be easy enough to swim over and grab them.
-Harder rubber in high wear areas
-Very comfortable top rubber coat
-Just the right amount of protection on rocks
-Unmatched 5,000-mile warranty
-Good for wide feet
-Take a little longer to get on and off
-Lugs are more shallow where they matter
-Slippery when wet
If you’re looking for a pair of minimalist sandals that are versatile, comfortable, can be worn for a long time on varying terrain, are lighter than traditional sandals while still offering protection, and that will last a long time and never stink, you may have just found them.
If you want something much thinner or much thicker, look elsewhere. If you want something just right, some Goldilocks sandals, these are the best all around, happy medium sandals I have found to date. These are the sandals I plan to take with me to S.E. Asia and South America.
If anyone is wondering what a self-professed minimalist is going to do with four pairs of minimalist sandals, I’ve decided to keep two. The Amuri Clouds will be my day-to-day, ultra light, genuinely barefoot, slip on sandals, as well as my ultralight backpacking camp shoes. The Umara Z-Trails will be my more versatile, heavy use, long distance walking and travel sandals. I intend to take the Z-Trek and Luna Leadville sandals with me on my travels to S.E. Asia to give away to whoever might need them. The Z-Trek would be a good in between, for someone who wants the merits of both the Amuri Cloud and Z-Trail all in one sandal. The Luna Leadvilles are just too similar to my new Z-Trails, and less comfortable or sophisticated, for me to keep.
So there you have it. This is one guy’s opinion on Xero Shoe’s newest offering to the minimalist sandal world, and as I see it, the sandal that will convert a lot of people away from their traditional (gigantic) sandals. I’m excited to see how they hold up over years of use (hopefully just as good or better than my Amuri Clouds) and will chime in again if anything of note comes up!
The last thing I will mention is that Steve and Lena at Xero Shoes aren’t just helpful while making a sales pitch and then suddenly disappear like a lot companies tend to do. They are glad to answer your calls, emails, even video chats, to not only talk about their products, such as how to fit them, but even answer any questions you have about barefoot walking, running, pains, training, myths, or whatever type of support you need. I’m big on this and need to voice it. I only give loyalty to businesses who are loyal to me. I’ve even paid more for gear in the past because I’d rather give my money to good people than to crooks. With Steven and Lana I feel like they are loyal to me, the customer, and that certainly does sway my opinion of their company. I’ll be clear, I’d still have no problem saying good or bad things about their products, because product quality is separate from customer service quality. But as an aside, their customer service quality is just as spot on as their sandals. Don’t just take my word for it. Email them any question you have and they’ll help you out and treat you right.
You can read more about the Amuri Cloud and Luna Leadville Sandals in This Minimalist Sandal Review if you’re interested.
Until next time, my fellow sojourners, adios!