When I first went in search of the best sports sandals, I was looking for a minimal sandal that would be perfect for hiking and traveling. After a fair bit of online research, I chose the Xero Shoes Z-trail. It was my first of many excellent experiences wearing footwear from Xero Shoes, a specialist barefoot company selling shoes, sandals, and boots for sports performance and everyday wear. Here’s my z-trail review of these awesome barefoot sandals (also known as ‘minimalist sandals’) designed for the trail.
Z-trail review | Introducing your new favorite adventure sandal!
The Z Trail barefoot sandals are a multifunctional lightweight sandal. They can be used as minimalist hiking sandals and minimalist running sandals. They’re also great for casual and comfortable everyday wear.
The Z trail has undergone upgrades in the years since I purchased my first pair. They’re now called Xero Z-trail EV sandals, and they are now even better than before. What I was most happy to see is that the tubular strapping on the Xero Z-Trail EV sandals uses nylon sourced from recycled water bottles. So I’m super stoked they’ve had an eco-friendly upgrade.
In this post, I’ll share my Xero Shoes Z trail review, including the reasons I chose them and anything I don’t like about them. I’ll also share a little bit of information about the reasons why you might choose minimalist barefoot sandals for both everyday use and fitness activities.
Watch the video of my Xero Shoes review above to find out why I think the Xero Z-trail lightweight barefoot sandals are the best sports sandals. Or, continue reading below!
(This post includes affiliate links for which I may earn a commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase)
What I was looking for when choosing the best sports sandals
These were the criteria I had when searching for the best sports sandals:
- I only wanted barefoot sandals that would allow my feet to move naturally. Basically, I was after minimalist sandals that could be used for hiking, traveling, as camp shoes, and for an active lifestyle in general.
- For me, the perfect sandal also needed to fit into my minimalist, traveling-centered lifestyle. So the barefoot sandals I chose needed to be versatile, good sandals for travel, and able to be worn with everything in my wardrobe.
- I was in search of eco-friendly sports sandals. This quest was more difficult than anticipated. I didn’t initially find this in the minimalist sandals I purchased. However, as you read above, I couldn’t be more excited that the Xero Z-trail EV uses recycled polyester webbing now (I have loved watching Xero Shoes evolve over the years).
Why I think the Xero Shoes Z Trail is the perfect sandal
Xero Shoes offers minimalist sandals for men and minimalist sandals for women, of which the Z-trail is one. Their barefoot sandals can be used for a wide range of activities, even multi-day adventure races. Whether you’re after barefoot freedom during a day of hiking, camp sandals, or an excellent sandal for trail runs, here are a few reasons to consider the Xero Shoes Z-Trail EV:
- The Z trail is a fantastic multi-purpose sandal with a minimal design. I primarily use mine as outdoor sports sandals for walking, hiking in hot weather, and generally being active. All Xero shoes and sandals allow your toes to spread and your feet to move naturally.
- The Z trail barefoot sandals have a flexible sole and are fully adjustable to fit your foot, whether you have wide or narrow feet. This makes them an excellent choice for a range of foot shapes. The heel strap can be done up and undone quickly and easily. When you do up the velcro strap, it creates a secure fit around your foot, perfect for walking or running on trails.
- The Z trail EV might not suit you if you’re looking for supportive shoes or you’re doing ultra-technical hiking or running on uneven trails. Everyone is different, and you’ll need to decide what terrains you feel comfortable wearing them on. However, I personally love that they give me the perfect level of support I need for many hiking trails whilst allowing my muscles to do the rest!
- The sandals have a single strap made from soft and comfortable tubular webbing. I didn’t feel it required any break-in time and never even noticed any hot spots from these particular sandals.
- The grip on the bottom of these ultralight sandals allows for excellent traction on rocky trails and other surfaces. You may still need to be careful on wet rocks, depending on how slippery their surface becomes.
- They offer protection when walking on sharp rocks. Sure, it’s possible something sharp could pierce the bottom, but that could also happen with most other footwear. I’ve worn Xero Shoes and sandals for many years now for a variety of outdoor adventures, and I’ve always had confidence in the protection the soles offer.
- Xero shoes have a very affordable price point compared to many other minimalist hiking sandals on the market. The retail price of the Xero Shoes Z trail sandals is currently $79.99 (and has been since I first purchased mine several years ago).
- The Z-trail has quite slim-looking straps. In my opinion, they’re stylish sandals that look perfectly acceptable with a dress or another smart-casual outfit. They have a similar look to the Chaco Z Cloud or the Teva Hurricane, for example, but have the barefoot features they lack, such as zero-drop, thin, minimalist sandal soles.
- You can get the soles replaced on all Xero footwear for a small cost. Plus, they have a 5,000-mile warranty on the soles, which shows the company’s confidence in the extreme durability of their footwear.
The ultimate trail-friendly sandal award could certainly go to either the Z Trail or Z Trek sandals, which are two similar offerings from Xero Shoes. Although you may choose not to wear them on really technical terrain, they’re fantastic for many types of offroad adventures.
Xero Z-trail sizing
Note that the Xero shoes Z trail (women’s and men’s style) fit “true to size,” so if you’re ordering, just select your usual US shoe size.
Z-trail vs Z-trek
If you have been considering purchasing the Z-trail as your choice of barefoot sandal, you may have noticed that Xero Shoes offers another very similar sandal called the Z-trek. I haven’t done a Xero Z-trek review because I haven’t tried them yet. However, here are a few key points to note:
- Both are lightweight, versatile zero drop sandals that can be used as men’s and women’s running sandals, hiking sandals, or everyday women’s and men’s minimalist sandals.
- The Z-trail offers a little more protection than the Z-trek and is also a little more lightweight.
- Xero Z-trek currently retails at $20 less than Xero Z-trail (it’s $59.99), and I’m guessing this is because the Z-trail has been designed with these extra performance-related features in mind.
Xero shoes barefoot sandals review: What I didn’t like about them originally (hint: not much!)
I decided on the Xero Z trail sandals as the best sports sandals with a minimalist design. When I first purchased them, I was disappointed that I couldn’t see any evidence of sustainability values within the business. It’s important to me to make eco-friendly purchasing choices whenever possible. (Edit to add: they have definitely evolved in this space over the years!)
When it initially came to purchasing my sports sandals, I did not find any great options that also had strong sustainability values. There were some emerging eco-friendly footwear brands, although performance-based barefoot options (trail sandals) seemed to be hard to come by.
I purchased my Xero Z trail sandals because doing so would mean I’d get the most multi-functional pair of sports sandals. And in terms of environmental sustainability, it’s definitely better to have less than more (I only own two pairs of footwear).
Plus, minimalist sandals like the Xero Z-Trail EV eliminate 70 percent of the unnecessary materials used in modern sports sandals, another environmental win that made me super happy to support this company. I’ve also found them to be very long-lasting, negating the need to purchase footwear regularly.
A holistic look at my purchasing decision for the Xero Z Trail women’s barefoot sandal
I was happy to select the Xero Z-trail as my performance-based sports sandals suitable for the trail despite the (original) apparent lack of sustainability values. This was because I thought they were the best overall option.
I needed womens trail sandals that would allow for natural movement and basically be used for any activity. Their minimal and lightweight design provided the perfect option for me. (And yes, the Z-trail is also available as a men’s sports sandal).
I also had to be happy wearing them with anything in my wardrobe, including a dress! The z-trail looks perfectly acceptable with a dress or skirt (IMO). Xero shoes later released the Jessie sandal, which is not a trail sandal, but it replaced the Z-trail in my wardrobe for a while. They looked a little cuter with a dress than the Z-trail (see further down the post).
Several years on, as I update this post, the Z-trail remains my favorite overall sandal from Xero Shoes. For me, it’s unbeatable in terms of performance and comfort.
It took me a bit to get used to the freedom of wearing an open-toe sports sandal. This was mainly because stones and things can easily get wedged inside, but I got used to them! I don’t notice any problem with this anymore and definitely prefer the freedom of an open-toe sandal.
Other important values at Xero Shoes
I’ve gotten to know more about Xero Shoes and their values over the course of time. Although I originally couldn’t find evidence of sustainability principles to give them the “best sandals brand” award, I’m now aware of other key values they hold. These form part of the reasons that I am happy to recommend them and promote them as a great business to purchase your hiking shoes, hiking boots, and athletic sandals.
Here are a few values-related reasons that I choose to purchase from Xero Shoes and that I give them a thumbs-up rating as a company and the best sandals brand:
- Although they are not vegans themselves, all Xero sandals are currently vegan. This is for both performance-based reasons and also from the perspective of wanting to offer sandals that are suitable for vegans. They do have footwear that is not vegan-friendly, but there is a wide range of vegan options.
- The Tarahumara indigenous tribe was one of the original inspirations for Xero Shoes. This tribe has been plagued with challenges, from food shortages to lack of medical care. Xero shoes donate to the Tarahumara Children’s Hospital, which has been providing help in these areas for decades.
- They’ve partnered with several organizations to donate their shoes to communities in need.
Why choose a barefoot minimalist sports shoe or sandal?
Minimalist sandals such as Xero Shoes Z Trail and Z Trek allow your feet to move naturally. These types of sandals are part of the zero-drop footwear category, meaning the shoe is flat the whole way across. (I’m guessing their brand name is a play on the words “zero shoes,” meaning the zero drop between the heel and the rest of the shoe).
Wearing built-up shoes all day, every day, year after year, may have negative consequences for posture and muscle balance. A barefoot-style shoe or sandal will help the muscles in your feet to start working again!
Sandals like the Z trail (and even more so the z trek) have very thin soles, which allow for maximum connection with the ground. At the same time, they still offer the support and protection your feet need.
They do not have arch support, as this would negate the barefoot effect.
Have you been wearing highly built-up sports shoes your whole life? Do you suffer from foot, knee, and back problems that you suspect are exacerbated by your choice of footwear? If so, minimalist shoes are worth considering.
Speak with a podiatrist about trying less built-up shoes if you think your problems might be related to your choice of shoes. You may need to ease into wearing minimalist footwear by starting off with very short distances. Overall you’ll need to listen to your body and see how it adapts to a change in footwear.
The science behind the barefoot choice
Barefoot styles of footwear like Xero Shoes, sandals, and boots can offer the ‘next best thing’ to being barefoot. This is due to the thin soles that still allow you to ‘feel the ground.’
Research around the health benefits of going barefoot is relevant to being completely barefoot (i.e. no shoes or sandals at all). Obviously, sometimes it’s not appropriate to go completely barefoot, so for those times, you might opt for barefoot shoes or sandals (the next best thing!)
Let’s look at a few basic (science-backed and health-focused) reasons you might want to go barefoot as often as possible.
Why go barefoot?
- Direct physical contact with electrons from the earth (also known as “earthing”) has been shown to produce both physiological changes and subjective health benefits, such as improvements in sleep and pain levels. To receive the benefits of earthing, you probably need to be completely barefoot rather than wearing barefoot shoes
- Your feet contain a huge number of sensory receptors, including mechanoreceptors, which detect changes in pressure and tension. These sensory receptors offer feedback to your brain on how to move your body and can play an important role in natural movement. If you’re wearing thick-soled shoes or chunkier hiking sandals, this feedback mechanism may be less effective.
- One foot alone contains over 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Just like other muscles in the body, they need to be worked in order to stay strong and flexible and offer your body a good base of support. A thick, rigid shoe or sandal doesn’t allow your foot muscles the best chance to stay strong and flexible. The same goes when you’re constantly relying on your shoes for support. It will lessen the need for your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to provide that support themselves.
What activities can you use the Xero Z-Trail EV for?
Barefoot sandals such as Xero Shoes Z trail sandals and Z trek can be used for a range of different activities. I use mine for walking, hiking, and an active lifestyle in general. I’ve also worn them in place of water shoes, and out of all the sandals I’ve worn, I’d rate the Z-trail as the best sandals for walking on a wide variety of terrains. I certainly prefer the Z-trail as a beach sandal as opposed to flip-flops, which aren’t always great for feet!
The photo of my daughter and me on this page shows us at the top of a volcano. This was the first real test for these trail sandals (about four hours of hiking in total), and they did well overall.
I’d probably prefer to use a shoe for really steep tracks. This is because I find my feet slide forward in the sandal a bit when I’m heading down really steep terrain. I find that they’re the best hiking sandals for most hills and trails, though.
In case you are wondering, YES, a four-year-old can climb a volcano!
Before I continue with my Xero Z-trail sandals review, if you are more interested in a closed-toe shoe for running or hiking, click on the picture below. The range at Xero Shoes extends beyond sandals into minimal shoes, hiking boots, lifestyle shoes, boots, and related gear such as lock laces and socks.
I may try using my Z-trails for running in the future, however, I’m currently quite happy running in the Zelen (see further below – one of the minimalist shoes from Xero Shoes). I haven’t really run in any sort of sandals before, so I can’t comment on whether they’re the best running sandals. If you have used Xero Z trail sandals as barefoot running sandals, then make sure you leave a comment about how you found them for running in the box below. I’d love to hear your views!
It’s very important to progress slowly if you do choose to go with minimalist sports shoes or sandals. I’ve been wearing everyday minimalist shoes for many years now, and when I started running in them, I moved through very slow progressions to ensure my body responded favorably.
Xero Shoes expands its offering to kids’ barefoot shoes!
My xero shoes review (sandals) continues…
I always go back and update my posts and add to them to keep them as current and valuable as possible. After wearing my Xero Z trail sandals pretty much every day for about six months, the tread on the center of each heel wore out/smoothed over. They started to look a little scruffier with a couple of nicks and one or two bits peeling back. The straps were still strongly in place and looked as good as new.
The straps are definitely well attached because I tripped up on a big U-shaped nail one day, which wedged itself right through the front of my Xero sandals. With my body weight flying forward, there would have been a fair bit of force through the strap attachments, but the sandals seemed to cope just fine!
Up until we left NZ, I hadn’t worn one pair of footwear almost exclusively like I did with the Xero Z trail sandals. I don’t usually wear shoes out very quickly, although I guess it’s hard to compare wearing the same pair with rotating a number of pairs.
So I thought the tread on the bottom of these would last a bit longer, but perhaps it’s realistic to see them wearing out a bit now, considering the amount of use they get. I don’t know – what’s your opinion? Do you wear one pair of sandals or shoes exclusively or almost exclusively? If so, what are they, and how long do they last?
Xero Shoes review update one year after wearing them, almost exclusively
A year after wearing my Xero Z-trails almost exclusively, it was finally time for a new pair! I wore a hole completely through the right sandal and almost through the left one too. I spoke to the team at Xero Shoes all about their Z-trail lightweight hiking sandals. They said that they now use a different type of rubber on the heels, so anyone who buys a pair from now on should experience a more durable heel on their Xero Z trails.
More Xero shoes reviews – Cassie, Jessie, Terraflex, and the Zelen
Update: Beyond this Xero Z trail review, I have also reviewed the Cassie shoe now. It’s a cute lifestyle shoe that is a functional version of the classic Mary Jane shoe. You might even be able to wear them to the office!
Update: I have reviewed the Jessie minimalist sandal. Not so much a performance-based sandal like the Z-trail is, but I love them since they’re so cute and versatile. I have been wearing them almost every day for the past year. Click here to read my review of the Jessie sandal.
Update – Xero Shoes Terraflex review: If you prefer hitting the trails in a closed-toe shoe, check out my review on the Terraflex barefoot running and trail walking shoe. And here’s my review of their upgraded version, the Terraflex II. It’s another great performance-based option with impressive traction that will get you set for all your off-road adventures!
Update – Road runners will definitely want to check out the Zelen sustainable barefoot road running shoe. They’re my current favorite shoes for everyday wear and road running.
Join the conversation about barefoot shoes, barefoot sandals, and natural movement below!
What are your thoughts about the best performance-based minimal sandal for women and men? Best running sandals? Best hiking sandals? Best durable sandals? Do you have a favorite pair? I’d love to hear what you think, so please leave a comment in the box below!
I hope you enjoyed my Xero Z trail review. Stay tuned for more Xero Shoes reviews:-).
P.S. Out of the three sandals I have currently tried from Xero Shoes, the Z-trail is definitely the most comfortable sports sandal (for me) and my sandal of choice out of the three pairs. The Cassie is more of a lifestyle-type sandal (still comfortable, although it requires a lot of wearing in). And for me, the Jessie needs a little more support if I was going to wear it as a proper sporting sandal on uneven terrain. It’s more of an everyday type of sandal for me.
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