Chaco Sandals

Open-toed hikers

When weather permits, I live in sandals. Over the years I’ve tried all the major brands. A few years ago a friend suggested that I try a brand, Chaco, that I had never heard of. Initially I balked at the price, but when I found a pair that was closeout priced I decided to give them a try. I’ve never looked back.

While I own a variety of Chaco sandals, I primarily wear the general purpose Z/1.The primary advantage of these sandals is their unique means of attachment to your foot; a single slide buckle. The strap for the front of the sandal is one continuous length that is threaded through slots in the sole. You initially adjust the sandal to your feet by pulling until you’ve got the fit you want. You then take the sandal off and on by using the slide buckle. To put the sandal on you slip in your foot and pull down on the buckle strap. To loosen the strap to remove the sandal you pull up on the buckle bottom. This is so easy and natural to do that with reasonable balance you can take them on and off while standing on one foot, then the other. This design provides a superbly comfortable fit, primarily through the elimination of the typical stiff Velcro closures.

Another feature of all Chaco sandals is their unique contoured footbed. First, it has an aggressive arch support (that the manufacturer claims counters pronation). Second, it has a deep heel cup that helps your foot stay centered. For my foot, they are more comfortable than any other shoe I have ever worn. This is, of course, a very personal observation, and you should probably try a pair on before buying. Also, the company has recently switched to a newer footbed material that I haven’t yet tried.

While they aren’t marketed as such, I consider them a hiking sandal. They have a stiff Vibram sole with a very aggressive tread, just like what you’d find on a hiking boot. The slightly oversize footbed protects toes from being stubbed. I wear them for everything: strolling around town, driving, canoeing, biking and hiking. In all these roles they are every bit as comfortable as well-fitting shoes, while also providing the glorious open-air experience. As added bonuses, they float, and can be re-webbed or re-soled.

When I travel to warm countries this is the only shoe I pack. My sandals have experienced Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Death Valley and Petra. The only concession I make for exceptional conditions is to also pack a pair of lightweight neoprene socks. The only place I seldom wear the sandals is hiking in heavily forested areas, where exposed tree roots can be toe-killers.

In the (previously reviewed) Keens, your feet are quite confined, and I can’t imagine that they feel anything like sandals. I don’t really think of the Keens as sandals; they are really quick-dry athletic shoes with cut-outs. The Keen’s soles are similar to those of an athletic shoe, while the Chaco’s are more similar to the soles on hiking boots. I wouldn’t want to do any serious hiking or rock scrambling — where stiff soles are important — in the Keens.

The Keens definitely offer better toe protection. Still, I’ve put many hundreds of hiking and biking miles on my Chacos and have never once stubbed my toe. I think that the thick, oversize soles are what provide the protection. If you don’t seek the open-air feeling of true sandals such as the Chacos, the Keens would be a fine choice for everyday use. However, for serious hiking and river travel, Chacos are the answer.

As far as cost, the sandals list for $95, but annual design updates result in numerous Internet closeout opportunities in the early spring, and I’ve never paid more than $65 for a pair.

-- Dave King 11/16/09

(I don’t know whether or not a sponsorship deal is involved, but National Geographic Explorer in Residence J. Michael Fay walks in Chaco sandals throughout his epic journeys. Not a bad endorsement. – es — editors)

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