It’s been three years now since I completed my first 150 kilometer trek in Chaco sandals and I am more than convinced that they are the way to go for me.
This past year my wife and I completed walking the Way of St. Francis in Italy–500 kilometers–completely in Chacos. This included some tough, “technical” mountain trails: lots of climbing, loose rock, mud, steep descents and stream crossings. Daily temps in the spring (April) were in the 50s and 60s F. We both wore sandals 99% of the way.
I’ve been wearing Chacos since 2012, when a local running shop prescribed them for my flat feet. My first pair finally wore out after 10 years, but my second pair–bought in 2017–have been retrofitted with new soles and straps and are good for another. They are on my feet continually during the summer months, so my feet are well broken-in to them. As they are my “essential” footwear, I own two pairs.
I’ve even trekked the mountain trails near where I live in the Shenandoah Valley, including the Appalachian Trail in them. I was passed by lots of hikers in heavy boots.
Sandals have several advantages that make them perfect for me:
- They keep your feet cool and dry. This is key in blister prevention.
- There is very little touching your feet (just the straps), especially your toes and heels, places where blisters (aided by moisture) form.
- Chacos in particular have rugged soles, good for gripping surfaces. Since the heel is close to level, it’s difficult to turn your ankle. I’ve done that in my Oboz hiking shoes.
- While socks are advised for cooler temps (50s F. or 15 C.) you otherwise don’t need them. Less laundry!
- Chacos have the best arch support and if you are someone like me, with flat feet, they are the most comfortable thing to wear. I’ve never had sore feet walking in them, even after 25k (15 miles.)
- When descending, your toes don’t bump against the inside of your shoe. This can be painful and cause issues with toenails and blisters.
We walked in our sandals in the rain and while I was previously worried about chafing from the straps, I had none. An option in that case, however, is to don a pair of socks. Chacos have adjustable straps so that you can loosen them for make more room for even a heavy pair of socks.
Stream crossings were no problem in our sandals–we just waded across and then dried our feet with a small towel. They also clean easier if you encounter deep mud or puddles. In fact, they clean easier than shoes.
There are some downsides–snow or really cold weather might be a problem, but I don’t usually trek in that anyway. The other major downside–and this can be really annoying–is that pebbles and sticks can get caught under them. This requires periodically stopping to let them fall out. I’ve found that the tighter they are on my feet, the less this happens.
With Chacos as my main go-to footwear, closed-toed shoes now are my backup. To cut down on weight, I carry a pair of Xero shoes, which weigh less than one pound per pair.
Lastly, walking in sandals can dry out your feet and cause painful cracks in your heels. I now carry along a tube of Burt’s Bees foot cream and put in on each night and my feel remain soft and crack-free.
Rocks, pebbles, dirt, mud, puddles, streams–we can do any surface in our Chacos!
(Full disclosure: this is NOT an advertisement for Chacos, or any other brand. I’m not paid by them. Just happens to be the brand I’m wearing and I’m sure pilgrims can also find something else suitable.)
Russ Eanes is a writer/walker/cyclist from Harrisonburg, VA and the author of The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago. He has a forthcoming book about walking the Way of St. Francis.