Xero was founded by a husband and wife team back in 2009. At age 45 Steven got back into running after a 30 year hiatus. He found himself constantly getting injured. A friend mentioned minimalist footwear might help him out and gave him a copy of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall’s book that, almost singlehandedly, started the minimalist craze.
Steven attended a local class on running barefoot and found he felt better. He pitched the idea to start a footwear company to his wife, Lena, who dismissed it. So, of course, he went right to work building a website. His first pair, then under the name Invisible Shoes, was given to Lena. After one walk in them she was onboard and, as they say, the rest was history.
Heart and Sole
The FeelLite™ sole of the Xero Z-Trail has three components:
- FeelTrue® rubber bottom for protection with grip pods for traction
- A TrailFoam™ middle for shock absorption and additional protection
- Topped with BareFoam™ to provide comfort
Let’s break it down:
The FeelTrue® bottom is a bit rigid out of the box, but that rigidity is unnoticeable on road or gentle trail. In dry conditions the grip is suitable on most trail terrain.
The TrailFoam™ coupled with the BareFoam™ top feels incredibly comfortable under foot. It was surprising to me to have such a soft surface without sacrificing too much ground feel.
First off the feel and comfort level are great right out of the box. I was surprised just how comfortable these feel whether I was running or taking a walk.
On trail, the FeelTrue® bottom provided adequate protection on rocky stretches and good grip on the wet rocks for stream crossings.
The Xero Z-Trail strap system is very easy to adjust. Pull each piece starting with the toe strap and working back and simply take out the excess using the buckle. The Velcro heel strap can then be tightened as desired to get the fit you want.
On road, the comfort level was there and I had no chafing issues with the straps on either road or trail.
I took the opportunity to get 4 miles in on some trail with varying terrain from smooth trail to rocky climbs to areas with a fair bit of mud and multiple stream crossings.
Steep climbs, steep descents and mud alike led to my foot sliding around on the footbed. Particularly mud was extra slick. Unlike other sandals I’ve run in rinsing the mud off in a stream only helped a little and ultimately I didn’t regain surefooted traction until I tightened the straps down to an uncomfortable tension. To gain stability in these conditions I tightened each of the sections of strap, but what worked was the final topmost strap closest to the ankle. The amount of tension I needed to put for stability on this terrain was far more than I am comfortable with. I have concerns about long distance trail runs in varied terrain and conditions. Once tightened the all-around performance was much better, but the tension reduced my comfort level.
As mentioned, the BareFoam™ top is incredibly comfortable so is there a downside to this? The durability of that layer. Within 2 runs the BareFoam™ top had some damage. The damage did not affect performance at all, it was simply cosmetic.
Take a Hike! (or run)
The Z pattern strap design in one I am familiar with from my days hiking and backpacking in Chacos sandals. It is an easy to adjust system
5.4 ounces (Men’s size 9)
10mm FeelLite™ outsole
Zero Drop (heel to toe)
5000 mile sole warranty on FeelTrue™ line of soles – wear them down to 1mm or less on the ball or heel and Xero will replace them at 60% off MSRP plus shipping
Comfort – Man these feel cushy, yet don’t sacrifice ground feel. I’m not sure how they make both of these things happen. Probably voodoo.
Ground feel – The ground feel on road is great. The rigid bottom loses some of the ground feel and foot flex on softer surfaces and uneven rocky terrain.
Easy to adjust straps – adjustments only take a few seconds
Instability on steep terrain – my foot slid around too much on steep terrain, especially on downhills. This can be minimized by tightening the straps up, but the tension I needed to apply to gain stability comes at the cost of comfort.
Poor traction in mud – This isn’t surprising and I have yet to find a sandal that can perform in muddy conditions. I found the Z-Trail to be unsuitable. Even after rinsing the sandal off in a stream the footbed remained slick until it dried.
The Xero Z-Trail is a great running/walking sandal suitable for everyday use or for training purposes. Care should be taken in selecting the Z-Trail for certain trail conditions, such as muddy trail and steep terrain. This aside these perform great on roads and easy trail alike. The 5000 mile warranty on the FeelTrue™ sole is an impressive statement from the company on their level of confidence in the product. Overall I rate this as a good minimalist footwear option for training and lounging alike.
Be sure to check out my other footwear reviews:
LALO Zodiac Recon (maximal shoe)