I recently took a pair of the Amuri Z-Treks from Xero Shoes to Hawaii with me. I took them up volcanoes and hiked on steep, muddy trails in the wettest spot on earth. I swam in the ocean in them and I bounced across lava shores containing tide pools.
Here’s the long and the short: I love these shoes more than any I’ve ever worn, but they need a little fine-tuning. Their greatest pro and their greatest con is that they are thin enough to roll into a ball. These are about as minimalist as running sandals get.
- Thin, flexible sole
- Lightweight (6 ounces for men’s size 9)
- Fairly versatile
- No “flossing”
- Thin, flexible sole
- Front strap too far forward
- Sole flaps while swimming
- Hard to put on quickly
- Strap can turn around in one badly designed guide
The Xero Shoes Backstory
Xero Shoes was launched in 2009 by husband-wife team Steve Sashen and Lena Phoenix, who sport the same haircut – shoulder-length dark, curly hair. The shoes came about as an alternative to barefoot running, which Steve says helped cure his injuries from sprinting. Still, uneven terrain and obstacles left him wanting a layer of protection between him and the Colorado elements. So he went to work on the idea.
Steve started with a huarache style – think halfway between a thong and a Chaco, with a lot less weight. The style seems to me like something only a hippy can pull off, which is pretty much what investors on ABC’s show Shark Tank told them, as they mostly shot Xero Shoes down, when Steve and Lena appeared on the show.
They also said anyone savvy to the shoe market could easily produce the product without investing in Xero Shoes.
During the show, Kevin O’Leary offered them $400,000 for a 50 percent stake in their company. Steve confidently turned him down and counteroffered with the same offer he first extended: $400,000 for 10 percent of the company. He and Lena walked off the show in their comfortable hippy shoes without any money or any regret.
It’s not surprising that Xero Shoes launched with a hippy style shoe. Steve and Lena refer to themselves as “aging hippy athletes,” and they’re pleasant as all get out. But since not everyone’s a hippy, the company’s branched out into more stylish shoes that more people would be likely to wear.
The Xero Shoes Amuri Z-Trek versus the Chaco Z/1
It’s impossible to not draw parallels between the new Xero Shoes Amuri Z-Trek and the similarly named Chaco Z/1. In fact, it was the resemblance between the two that stopped me in my tracks when I saw the yet-to-launch product at a massive tradeshow in Salt Lake City last January. I immediately noticed that the Xero sandal’s design eliminated the one element of Chacos that I hated: the need for flossing.
For the uninitiated, flossing is an ancient Chaco ritual that involves angrily threading an almost immobile piece of webbing back and forth 100 times to try to remove sand and grit from inside the sole of your Chaco. My flossing sessions can last 30 minutes and leave my hands blistered while I’m physically exhausted. Chaco webbing runs inside the sole to allow for easy fitting when the sandal is new, while keeping one continuous line on the webbing. It is the Achilles heel of Chacos.
No matter how vigilant I am with a new pair of Chacos by both avoiding sand and dirt as much as possible and flossing after every major outing, my adventure treks always produce so much grit inside the sole that the strap gradually immobilizes and begins to break down at the worst wear points. Before long, the webbing breaks and I reluctantly buy my next $100 pair of sandals. I average a year per pair of Chacos, but I’m the kind of person that summits mountains in them.
I told Steve about my tendencies when I met him, assuming he was just a friendly salesman at the time. He said he knows of people who do all kinds of things in his huaraches, so he didn’t think my adventures would be out of place in the Z-Trek. And the wonderful thing is he’s designed tabs that raise from the sandals for the straps to feed through, eliminating the under-foot route.
Steve offered to let me test out a pair of the Z-Treks. I took my new sandals to Hawaii with me. At the beach, I awesomely didn’t have to worry about flossing afterward. I took them up volcanoes and hiked on steep, muddy trails in the wettest spot on earth. My foot occasionally slipped out of place, as the slippery mud caked the surface between my foot and the sandal, but the experience wasn’t much worse than other sandals I’ve tried. I swam in the ocean in them. I bounced across lava shores containing tide pools. In most circumstances I loved them.
Still, I wasn’t shy about pointing out to Steve at the tradeshow what I saw as his product’s fatal flaw: Velcro. The lack of Velcro on Chacos is what made me make the leap from Tevas’ Hurricane Sport Sandal in the first place. Since my feet tend to get wet when I wear my sandals (basically whenever I’m outside in both winter and summer), the Velcro breaks down on Tevas until it’s ineffective.
“We hate Velcro with a passion,” Steve told me. Even so, design decisions backed him into a corner.
Where the Amuri Z-Treks need fine tuning
When I’m wearing the Z-Trek, I don’t really want to take it off. You almost forget you’re wearing shoes. But it’s not just about the comfort; I know it will take me annoyingly long to get it back on once it’s off. I’ve experimented over the past weeks with myriad methods for removal of the sandal that would allow me easier access the next time I put it on, but all have failed.
I find myself usually having to adjust the Velcro, the top strap or both. The system’s not quite smooth enough yet. By contrast, I’ve honed a system for Chacos that requires no hands and no adjustments unless I really need more tension for a hike or something higher-impact.
Steve pitches the shoe as “barefoot plus protection” and that’s what it feels like most of the time, which can be both a pro and a con. It’s wonderful to feel the ground beneath your feet, and you do find you rely less on your soles than your natural defense mechanisms and gaits for protecting feet.
This means, however, that stepping from heights is taboo since you’ll feel it a lot more. Stepping on something sharp could also mean a significant amount of pain. I’ve stepped on rusty nails in my one-pound Chacos that never made it to my foot, but found myself wincing occasionally while rock-hopping on lava rocks in Hawaii.
Additionally, if you’re a shuffler you’ll occasionally trip as the tip of the sandal bends underneath your foot. Remember, these sandals are thin enough to roll into a ball – their greatest pro and their greatest con.
For river rats, I can’t see the Xero Shoes Z-Trek truly replacing Chacos because of the inclusion of Velcro that loses its grip over time. Also, the sole is thin enough that a light current can bend it fore and aft. This makes shallow crossings on river rocks more burdensome and treacherous. It also means the sandal flops around a lot while swimming.
One last niggle is that the front strap should either be angled more or sit farther back, because my pinky and ring toe sit underneath the strap on the outer edge, leaving me feeling slightly constrained when walking.
Bottom line: Annoyances aside, the Amuri Z-Treks from Xero Shoes is the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn – and this comes from someone who hates shoes and virtually lives in sandals because of it. While I hope the problems are ironed out on future revisions, it’s perfectly worth picking up right now. They really do make other sandals feel large and clunky. That’s almost always a good thing, but the sandal lets heat, cold and pain make it to your foot a lot more readily, which could be a turn-off for some.