Sunday, November 20, 2016

Xero Shoes Umara Z-Trail Sandal

FINALLY! A quality minimalist sandal that doesn't have the toe-post straps! I've been waiting a long time for a company to make a zero-drop, minimalist sandal with modern sandal straps that can still hold up to adventures on the trail. 

Introducing the Xero Shoes Umara Z-Trail sandal, sibling (or cousin?) to the Amuri Z-Trek sandal, both sporting a modern Z-strap system as opposed to the huarache style straps that come up between the first and second toes. The Z-Trail, as the name implies, is a slightly beefier trail version of the lighter, more minimal Z-Trek.

In early September I was lucky enough to be the winner of the Barefoot Runners Society contest for a pair of these, and I couldn't be more excited. I had been eyeing these since they came out, and had planned to buy a pair at the start of the summer for a trip to Germany, but I lost track of time in my planning and preparation. Now that I have them, I regret not having had them for that trip. They would have been unstoppable and I could have brought two pair fewer shoes.

As a disclaimer, I will say two things. First, I have never been able to wear sandals with the toe-post. It's incredibly painful and I just can't do it. Otherwise, I would have bought a pair of the original Xero Shoes a long time ago. Secondly, I'll admit that I've always been skeptical about how a minimalist sandal with a highly flexible sole could work with a modern strap design. Keeping the foot from sliding forward off of the footbed or preventing the front of the sole from getting scrunched up or folding downward during the normal flexion of the foot seemed to be a big challenge, but the folks at Xero shoes have pulled it off beautifully.

The sandal bed is altogether 10mm thick with a BareFoam comfort layer footbed, TrailFoam force protection, and FeelTrue rubber grip pods. What does that mean? It means that the sandal is just thick enough to give excellent protection for adventure, but still flexible enough to provide a natural feel. It won't have the same ground feel as the other Xero shoes, but for those who need some reassurance on more technical terrain, this is the sandal for you. It also has a handy heel cup to help maintain foot placement.

The straps are made of continuous tubular webbing which means no annoying seams - a problem I had with Luna sandals previously. The straps also adjust well and quickly at that. For my skinny feet and ankles, there is quite a bit of strap leftover once I tighten them, but that's easily remedied with a trip to the gear repair/shoe repair shop in town to have them cut down.

Ok, enough of the boring part. Let's get on to how these feel and perform!

I was giddy when pulling them out of the box. They looked sleek and felt both light and soft as silk in my hands. The BareFoam footbed is like nothing I've felt before. When I put them on, it was seriously like slipping my foot onto a piece of unicorn skin! Not that I would know exactly how that feels, because I don't condone the killing of mythical animals for their hides, but imagine along with me, won't you? Thankfully, Xero Shoes use all vegan-friendly materials. In any case, it feels incredible and you hardly know it's there! Smooth as a baby's behind - also something I wouldn't choose to wear on my feet, but you get the idea.

As I mentioned previously, the straps were super easy to adjust, and they felt equally as soft as the sole. They slip through rubber grommets which hold them in place well but don't inhibit the flexibility of the sandal. Once I got them on, I could barely feel them, although there's a pleasant feeling of cushion in a way that still allows good ground feel, as if someone laid a nice piece of felt over the rocks for you to walk on. You still know the rocks are there, but it doesn't hurt.

Without wearing them more than an hour, I decided to take these out on a road run. I was just too excited to wait until I could get on trail. I did 5 miles on pavement while also pushing my two-year-old daughter in the stroller, and these were magical! I did get a small hot spot on my right foot, but I chalked that up to my wonky form while pushing the stroller, and considering I popped off five miles right off the bat and the hot spot started at about 4.5 miles, I'd say that's a solid first performance, especially since I hadn't worn any kind of sandals or gone barefoot outside for at least a month.

October was in full swing and I was concerned about getting in enough runs to truly write an accurate review, but the weather here in Minnesota has been so mild that I was able to take these out on the trail quite a bit. I chose a trail that is single-track and rolling without too much technicality to the terrain. There are definitely some rocky sections, however. The first day I tried them was even more magical than the first road run! It was about 50 degrees and the leaves had started to fall a little, but conditions were dry and perfect. To say that this run was freeing and joyous is an understatement. I haven't experienced such bliss on a run ever! The combination of lightness and protection was unsurpassable, and I floated down the trail, finishing with some of the best stats I've had yet! Here's what the trail looked like:

It's certainly not the gnarliest trail, but after only a few minutes in these sandals, I knew they could stand up to anything. I should also mention that after three or four more 5-milers on this trail, I had no more trouble with hot spots.

This was an incredible first experience with these sandals, but I wanted to know how they would do in wet or muddy terrain. Thankfully we had some serious rain after my first couple runs on this trail, and I was able to test them out in the mud, and they did not disappoint. They stayed on my feet, shed the mud well, and the grip remained solid.

Later in October I went on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and brought these with for wet entry and exits if the temps allowed. It was unfortunately in the 20's and 30's for most of the weekend, so I stuck to my rubber boots, but I did take a swim early one morning when it was sunny and calm, and I wore these to help navigate the rocks in the frigid water. Without question, the grip is phenomenal, in the water and out! Even on the slimy rocks at the shore line, these performed like a pro. They dried decently well afterwards too.

In conclusion, I can honestly say that I have found my sandal, and as long as they are being manufactured, I will go nowhere else. They have the perfect combination of groundfeel and protection, grip well in all terrain and conditions, and are some of the most comfortable footwear I have ever owned. They also look like normal sandals, which is a huge plus when wearing them out and about as I've been doing regularly when the temps permit. Whether running or just bumming around town, these are the new go-to sandals. If you want more detailed specs and information, check out the website, and thanks to Xero Shoes and the Barefoot Runners Society for this opportunity!