Chaco Z1 Sandal
Tester: Coy Starnes
Item supplied by Chaco
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I will be testing the Chaco Z1 Colordo sandal in size 12. This is the original open toed design the company started with. The pair I am testing was not shipped in a retail box but there was a note explaining that this was a special release in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the original Z1. After some digging on the website I found that the shoe will be available starting in June 2014 (more info here). It utilizes the same design as the present Z1 except for the retro straps and the use of the non-marking Colorado sole. Apparently this sole is no longer an option for the standard Z1 (the Unaweep and Yampa are listed). However, I saw that the Colorado tread can be resoled to the sandal. Adding new straps is also an option if needed. They call these repairs ReChaco. The z1 features the same LUVSEAT footbed all the Chaco sandals use. They do offer some lighter models constructed of different materials, stack height, tread design, texture of the footbed area and of course the webbing style, but the Z1 and Z2 are the backbone of the Chaco sandal line. The Z1 is the more open design while the Z2 adds a toe loop for the big toe. The footbed is contoured more than any shoe or sandal I have ever worn. By this I mean it has a very high arch support and the heel area is more rounded. It really does cradle the foot. The entire surface area is covered in a diamond pattern that remind me of the checkering you might find on a gun stock (see above photo).
The webbing on the Z1 is a single continuous strap that goes across the foot three times in the front in a Z like pattern (thus the Z). It is tightened by pulling on the straps on the inside edge of the sandal starting at the one nearest the big toe and working back towards the heel of the shoe. Each strap can be tightened to different tightness. This allows the user to customize the fit to their preference and at times according to the conditions the sandal is being worn in. For example, while wearing them for a casual stroll around the yard or to town I might leave them a little loose. If I plan to traverse steep trails or wear them in fast moving water I would snug them down pretty tight. This also means I can wear them over socks in cooler weather. One thing I did notice was that adjusting the straps on this pair of sandals is pretty difficult. By this I mean the straps just don’t want to slide. I watched a couple of videos on the Chaco site and the straps definitely were easier to move back and forth on the shoes in the videos. However, now that I have the first two straps adjusted to my foot I don’t anticipate needing to move them unless perhaps loosing them a little to wear the sandals with socks. NOTE: 2 days after writing this I got the sandals muddy and washed them with the garden hose. I don’t even know why I pulled on one of the straps but it was much easier to move than previously. After they dried completely (while I was wearing them) I tried pulling the straps again but they were hard to move again. So a little tip from me, If you find the straps difficult to adjust, see if wetting them completely (not just what is above the footbed) helps. On the plus side, having straps that are hard to adjust means the straps will be more likely to stay adjusted on the trail!
Initial Impressions and trying them out
This is my first pair of Chacos so in anticipation of testing them I decided to look them up. I quickly found out that they have an almost cult like following, also know as Choconians). I will not let what I read influence my reporting but I have to say, I found them very comfortable right out of the box. When I picked them up my first thoughts were, they are a little heavier than I expected for a sandal and they appear to be very durable. When I put them them on I could immediately feel the extra arch build-up in the foot bed. My right foot actually felt like it was being crowded by the sides of the shoe in the arch area but after wearing them around a little this sensation went away some. This could be because I have a wide foot but they are available in wide sizes. However, I usually wear an 11 or 11.5 and would think this 12 might be a little wider. Anyways, I took them off and packed them in my suitcase for a trip I was going on later that day. I did not wear them the first 2 days of my trip but on the third day I put them on first thing that morning (around 7 AM). I wore them cooking breakfast and then on a short walk around the block with my daughter where she lives on the Air Force base in Jackson Arkansas. She had a minor surgery the previous day so we ended up walking pretty slow. Later that morning I wore them while riding her bike for about 45 minutes. I took a shower and put them back on to wear shopping and to eat lunch. I walked around quite a bit in 2 different stores then sat through lunch. After returning back at her house I took a short nap, then got up and visited a few more hours. I was in and out of the house several times. We packed and left for our home in Alabama at 6 PM. We stopped several times to stretch, eat supper etc and arrived home at 2:15 AM. I found the Z1’s worked very well for casual wear, walking, biking and driving.
I wore them all day again the next day. This included doing about 5 hours of yard work. I would not recommended using them with a chainsaw but I had them on when I cut down 2 small trees. However, I was out in the open with mostly grass and a few leaves underfoot. It took me a lot longer dragging everything out of my yard with the 4-wheeler. I also moved several plants with a shovel and removed a small planter. I had forgotten that we had filled it about half way full of gravel but shoveling everything was no problem with the sturdy sole on the Z1’s. I did get some debris in under my foot while doing all this but each time I was able to get it dislodged without taking the sandals off. I was surprised that they worked as well as they did for this type work. Here is a photo of me shoveling the gravel and dirt. I’m almost done at this point.
I plan to wear them mostly for casual wear but will also use them out while hiking and kayaking. Stay tuned for my next report in about a month to see how they have continued to perform.
Update: August 22, 2014
I have been wearing the Z1’s almost daily since getting them. I’ve worn them to town, to work, around the house and yard, day hiking, overnight backpacking, kayaking, riding my bike and recumbent, and even to church a few times. I normally don’t wear them to work or church but I suffered through my first ever bout of gout about a month ago and the Chaco Z1 sandals were one of the few shoes I owned that I could wear. About a week later I developed a pretty severe case of Planter Faciitis, and again, the Z1’s were put to the task of helping me get well. I’m still suffering a bit but it is much better than just a few weeks ago. I found that these sandals and my minimalist shoes both offered relief but the high arch on these sandals were more comfortable in the early morning hours. But enough about my foot problems.
Hiking in the Z1
I went on a 7 mile overnight hike to the Walls of Jericho in early June. This trail, though not all that long, is touted as the toughest trail in Alabama. I don’t know how true that is but I do know it is about like hiking in the holler behind my house but with a lot more elevation change. My pack weigh was pretty light at around 25 lbs but that along with hiking down hill for a much longer distance was enough to cause the outer edge of my foot just below the ankle bone to develop the hot spots (one on each foot). After the 2 mile, mostly down hill section of trail, I stopped and changed shoes and continued to wear the spare pair for the rest of the hike that day and then back up the mountain the next morning. However, I wore the sandals to the holler a few days later and felt absolutely no pain. I have since put many miles on the sandals and have not experienced any more hot spots anywhere on my feet but have not repeated the hike that did give me problems. On thing I have noticed is that the Z1’s offer good traction on most wet rocks but when I encountered uneven surfaces they felt slightly less stable than some of my other shoes with less stiff soles. That may sound like a contradiction but I think it is because the sole on the Colorado is so stiff that the shoes can not conform to small changes in the surface so on uneven rocks there is less contact with the rock. However they offered more protection from sharp rocks so the tradeoff is probably worth it for someone with tender feet. I also like the fact that I could wade at any time to cool my feet down. This has been really nice here lately with temperatures in the upper 90s and the heat index well over 100.
Kayaking in the Z1
I have worn the Z1 sandals on about a dozen short kayaking paddles so far. I have really liked wearing the sandals for this type activity. I did find that the size 12 is a little cramped inside my sit-Inside kayak but it was not a deal breaker. Fortunately, I used a sit-on-top kayak most of the time, either my OK Prowler when going solo or my Jackson Big Tuna when paddling with my wife or daughter. Here I am paddling solo.
Biking in the Z1
I have worn the sandals on both my regular bike (if you can call a Rans Dynamix a regular bike) and my recumbent. This is one activity that the stiff sole was a major plus. My regular tennis shoes and especially my minimalist shoes do not have a stiff sole like the Z1 sandals and I could tell a difference in how they allowed my whole foot to apply pressure to the pedals as apposed to just the ball of my foot in the flexible shoes. As a bonus, they were much cooler on really hot days. It was about 90 F when I was on this ride of about 16 miles.
Summary so far
The Chaco Z1 Colorado sandals are great for most summertime activities and I find them to be my go to sandal when a sandal is what I need. I do wish the sole were a bit more flexible but they do make lighter versions of the same style sandal. On a side note, my wife was so impressed with how much I liked mine that she went out and bought a pair. Then a few weeks later another. She says she needs them in different colors so I would like to personally suggest that they only be offered in one color…
About the Author
I am from northeast Alabama where I spend a lot of my time divided among several activities that include backpacking and dayhiking, canoeing and kayaking, hunting and fishing and just getting out enjoying nature.