The right pair of sandals does more than hang loose at café or pub. Travel-worthy styles make multi-sport adventure possible without adding much weight to pack or duffel. Active Junky’s tried three styles on recent trips – including Baja -- with outstanding room-to-reef results. Check out our top picks, and don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for exclusive deals and cashback on your gear purchases.
There’s a reason why river guides live in their Chaco sandals. Moment to moment, they’re called upon to tote, pull and paddle even before the trip is fully underway. What’s more, life after the run isn’t any less varied or demanding – with no time to switch footwear. Twenty-five years on, the “Z” got a new outsole in Spring 2016 for even more surefooted handling in and out of the water. For non-guide types, the top sheet gets better for greater foot cushion and personalized fit. In recent testing, Active Junky admired the less rugged ride of Z/Cloud along with the stability of the non-marking sole. Included in the upgrade are plenty of new webbing options along with a microbe-munching footbed to repel hot weather odor.
Tester Comments: The frequent traveler’s pick for all-around wear in-transit and on-location, Z/Cloud dug in for dune hikes and whale watching boat excursions on inlands bays of Mexico’s offshore islands. Loose, unconsolidated beach sand showed off Z/Cloud’s flotation while strolling nearby city streets demonstrated the style’s all-day comfort. While slightly heavier than tourist models, Z/Cloud repelled coyotes trying to drag them off from in front of a tent at night; This beefy build comes with built-in anti-theft features unmatched by thinner, competitive counterfeits.
Best For: All-around wear in warmer conditions, water pursuits from river to ocean
Crafted for rafters and kayakers, Active Junky likes Zambezi for more than paddling. The one-pull adjustment, in tandem with secure buckle lock-in, gives this Keen model a breezy comfort feeling that belies its Class V credibility. A quick drying microfiber lining eliminates the swamped feeling once the wearer leaves the water, making it a superior all-day sandal. Outsoles connect solidly with most river stones and sandy surfaces while Zambezi doesn’t squeak and squawk its way through hotel lobbies. Weighing in at slightly over 9oz per sandal, this Keen lends much needed support to pre-trip loading and launching along with pushes across lower water sections. The rugged toecap helps guard feet in and out of the boat in a model built for water-based adventure.
Tester Comments: Active Junky gravitated to this scrappy model that protected feet inside a closed-cockpit sea kayak yet dried quickly in the sun. Key here; Take a few moments to adjust the straps to get the kind of scrambling power that overcomes on sketchy, rock-strewn island trails. When sure footedness is a requirement and there’s no room for half a dozen pairs of shoes and sandals, Zambezi takes the wearer up a river with plenty of exploration aptitude -- along with a streamlined look.
Best For: Paddling, beach exploration, dune hiking and in-town casual wear
The founders of this company make you think twice about your life, at least your sandals. Progressing from the string-thing versions launched some years ago, the Z-Trail Sport Sandal is more dry land than slippery rocks with a 10mm, tri-layer thickness; The Z-Trek offers a 5.5mm option to cut weight and bulk for less aggressive foot-born pursuits. Active Junky recommends the Z-Trail as a better travel and lifestyle option for most as the difference in shock absorption and all-day comfort is significant. A favorite feature is the heel cup design to amp up stability with only a few grams more in total weight. If a trip means specialized footwear and gear threaten to send luggage into overweight territory, Z-Trail is ideal way to tote legitimate sandals. While not for backpacking, even adventurous day hikers find Xero Shoes scramble through most situations confidently and safely.
Tester Comments: Freshly returned from skeptic country, now stand convicted that the upstart, anti-establishment brand is, frankly, validated. Z-Trail was more 1) comfort, 2) traction and 3) weight reduction for the money without carrying the feeling the sandals were disposable. Wear this pair around town before departing to reset your brain’s sense of what really works as you prep your legs, ankles and feet for a different striding experience.
Best For: Travel, in-camp wear, second pair to complement technical footwear