For almost a decade, the Z/1 served one tester as a true do-it-all shoe: sea kayaking in Baja, backpacking in Arizona, river running in California, and even a wedding in Glacier National Park. (“I’ve used it for everything but snow hikes,” he boasts.)
Thanks to its supreme versatility, the Z/1, launched in 1989, changed our expectations of what a sandal can do. “Before the Z/1, I always packed sandals as camp shoes, and couldn’t wait to put them on after a long day,” our tester says. “But when I got my first pair of Chacos, I simply started and ended the day in them.”
To be clear, our tester is a little extreme in his commitment to the Z/1. But you don’t have to be a fanatic to appreciate its performance. It starts with a rigid, boot-like platform with a PU midsole and 3.5mm lugs. A textured footbed reduces foot-slip when the Z/1 gets wet or sweaty, and polyester webbing provides a super-snug fit, enabling forefoot fine-tuning even though there’s only a single buckle. It means the Z/1 hikes like a shoe, conquering moderate loads and rougher terrain, while allowing the wearer to enjoy the benefits of toe splay and dry feet.
So what’s the catch? The Z/1 is heavy for a sandal, and doesn’t have the cushion of a trail shoe (like the models on page 46). And unlike flip-flops, break-in is required. But in return you get a sandal that will last for years (or forever, when you consider Chaco repairs or replaces every part for a reasonable fee).
$105 ($130 with Vibram sole); 1 lb. 13 oz. (m’s 9); m’s 7-15, w’s 5-12