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Ah, Chacos. The UGG boots of summertime.
I got my first pair on sale at REI some ten years ago or so. They were plain black with the toe loop. I didn’t wear them much at first until I started traveling after college.
They were perfect for Bangkok’s rainy season: they were the only shoes that could withstand the downpours and not have me slipping and sliding while walking down the sidewalk. I was a teacher then and even wore them to school – until the school told me I needed to wear nicer shoes :/ haha.
All the non-Americans I met on my travels thought these were the ugliest shoes they had ever seen. They made fun of me – and admittedly they weren’t wrong…
I lost my plain black Chaco sandals at my fourth Full Moon Party after taking them off to dance in the sand. I mourned this loss for a long time.
It was only this year, four years later, that I decided to replace my Chacos. That then led me down a long rabbit hole of trying to decide: WHICH ONES SHOULD I BUY??
I decided to research all of my options. Then once I had narrowed it down to two types, I ordered them both and took them for a spin. So here’s what I learned:
An overview of the Chaco Z Series naming system
The first thing to trip me up when I was trying to pick which ones to order was the Chaco naming system. What was even the difference between the Classics and the Pros? The Yampas and the Clouds?
It’s super confusing. Sometimes Chaco uses letters, sometimes they use numbers, and sometimes they use names of rivers.
I think most people just pick the Chaco model with the strap design they like the best. But my sneaking suspicion is that most people also aren’t wearing them for water sports or adventures…
Knowing that Chaco originally made these sandals for the outdoors and water sports, I knew there had to be important functional differences between all the types of Chacos. I wanted to understand, what are all these weird words, letters, and numbers??
WHAT DOES THE Z MEAN?
The Z refers to the prototypical Chaco sandal with a colorful strap and rubber bottom. There are different versions of these, but they all fall under the umbrella of the “Z Series”. Chaco carries other shoes, including leather sandals, sandals without ankle straps, and even boots. Those are all different from the Z series sandals.
What are the differences between the Classic v Cloud v Yampa v Volv v Pro Chacos?
These names refer to the footbed and sole of the shoe.
And just to break that down, the footbed is the “inside part of the shoe that runs under the bottom of the foot, and is more commonly referred to as the insole. It may have layers of construction and structural elements added for better fit and comfort, and may have a removable sock liner. Other synonyms are inner sole and innersole.” (Source)
The sole is “the outsole, also known as the sole, is the bottommost part of a shoe that comes in direct contact with the ground. The outsole can be made out of a variety of materials, including leather and rubber. Certain types of outsoles provide more traction than others by using specific materials or designs.” (Source)
The Classic is, as its name suggests, the classic version of the shoe. It features a very firm footbed with little criss-cross indentations on the surface for grip. The sole of the shoe has deep enough tread for land and water use.
The Cloud is essentially the Classic footbed and sole but has a softer layer on top of the Classic footbed. The hardness of the Classic footbed can cause irritation or discomfort for some people, so the Cloud is a great alternative. The downside of a softer footbed is that it gets worn out easier.
It looks like Chaco is phasing out the Yampa sandal, but you might find some on sale or secondhand. The Yampa is a smoother-looking and lighter sole. I believe the footbed is the same as on the Classic.
The Volv is 20% lighter than the Classic sandal. Chaco also says the footbed is softer than the Classic footbed. The footbed has swirly indentations for traction. The outsole is their Ecotread design, as opposed to the classic Chacogrip outsole. Ecotread is made of 25% recycled rubber.
The Pro is another model it looks like they might be phasing out. Chaco says this model was “designed with river guides and whitewater athletes in mind”. I believe it has the same outsole as the Yampa.
What does the X stand for?
The X in the name refers to the number of straps. If there’s no X in the name, then there’s a single strap. If there’s an X, that means the strap is either double or triple (the only one with three straps is the ZX/3 Classic and it just doesn’t make sense why it’s named the way it is.)
What are the numbers?
The numbers refer to the presence of the toe loop. Anything with a 1 has no toe loop, and anything with a 2 or 3 has a toe loop (although, again, the three in the ZX/3’s seems to refer also to the number of straps so it’s incredibly confusing…)
Chaco sandals review: comparing the Z/2 v ZX/2
I was clearly curious enough about the different Chaco models to dig into their different features, but even then I had a hard time choosing between the single strapped toe-looped sandal and the double-strapped toe-looped sandal. So I ordered both and put them to the test.
I originally planned to keep one pair and return the other after wearing them around the house, but my mom ended up wanting some Chacos after she saw mine and we happen to be the same size so we got to keep and test out both pairs.
I think when most people pick out a pair of Chacos, they aren’t as concerned with the functional differences between the models as they are with the differences in aesthetics.
I was more attracted to the design of the ZX/2’s. I felt like the double strap was more feminine and delicate looking. And I preferred the print options of the ZX/2’s to the Z/2’s. (It’s sort of frustrating that Chaco has different strap prints for every single model. So if you like a print but want it in a different model, it’s not an option.)
When I asked Chaco on Twitter what the difference was between the Z/2’s and ZX/2’s, they responded that people with high arches should avoid the ZX/2’s and stick with the Z/2’s instead. The toe loop is known to self-tighten in the ZX/2’s on people with high arches.
I read the reviews on Amazon for both models and noted that the reviews for the ZX/2’s featured a lot more people complaining of the toe loop self-tightening. None of them mentioned that this self-tightening was due to their arches though (because I don’t think they knew that was the reason).
I have a pretty average if not flat-ish arches, and I did notice that one of the double-strapped sandal’s straps around my toe seemed perpetually too tight no matter how many times I loosened it.
I also have bunions. I noticed I had to adjust the toe loop over my bunions every time I put on the single strapped sandals. With the double strapped ones, the two straps split over my bunions and I didn’t have to adjust them with my hands, which was nice.
Getting things adjusted
As you may know, the straps on Chaco sandals are actually all one strap. You can pull them to adjust the straps to your feet. It’s a bit of an art trying to get all the strap sections just right, and I definitely found it was more of a challenge with the ZX/2’s.
The adjustment instructions say to treat the double straps as if they were one so when I pulled them I always tried to pull them together. But this wasn’t super easy – sometimes one would pull tighter than the other. Kinda like when you pull the strings for the window blinds and you accidentally pull one harder than the other and get crooked blinds. It’s that feeling.
Getting the double strapped pair adjusted to my feet wasn’t impossible but it was more difficult than the Z/2’s.
And I did notice one of the toe strings seemed to forever be tighter around my toe – although not unbearably so – after walking around a bit and no matter how many times I loosened it. You see this if you look closely at my foot on the right in the above photo, or on my left foot in the photo above that.
Either way, in both pairs I ended up with an extra long “tail” dragging on the floor. I didn’t have this problem with my original Chacos because, I think, they were a child’s size. I haven’t figured out how to remedy this yet. Let me know if you have any ideas.
All in all, the Z/2 and ZX/2 fit and feel was almost exactly the same for me. Upon close inspection, I noticed some teeny tiny differences that technically shouldn’t be there since both shoes are the “Classic” and the only difference is the 1 versus 2 straps.
The Z/2’s were “softer” all over. The footbed had slightly more give and the straps weren’t as rigid as on the ZX/2’s. Also, if you looked closely, you could see that the footbed of the single strapped sandals didn’t have as much of a shine as the footbed of the double-strapped ones.
This to me seemed like possibly a difference in manufacturing plants? I ordered the ZX/2’s from Chaco.com whereas I got the Z/2’s from REI, because REI didn’t have the size I wanted in the double-strapped sandal. Either way, the Z/2’s did feel ever so slightly more comfortable to me because of this.
Compare Chaco sandal models: So which one did I pick?
In the end, I had to choose one pair and one pair only, and give the other to my mom. Honestly, it was incredibly hard to make this decision.
The functional differences between the two models felt so minute to me that I wanted to go with the double-strapped pair just because I preferred it aesthetically.
But in the end, I chose to keep the Chaco Z/2’s. As much as I loved the pattern and design of the double straps, the other pair just felt a touch softer and more conforming to my feet. Plus, I didn’t have any issues with adjusting the straps or the weird self-tightening toe loop.
I also have this weird feeling that the single strapped version is the original version, so it must be more durable/better. I don’t know, this is just my feeling.
In the end, they are truly *so* similar, I probably could’ve gone with either and would’ve been fine. So now we know!
Do you wear Chaco sandals? Which model is your favorite?
Other travel gear I love:
Some more Chaco resources: