Can I Thru-Hike in Chacos?
Short answer, probs. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is chiefly a personal endeavor. From the gear you buy to the beer you pack out, it’s 100% up to you. Some people spend more time weighing their gear than writing their PhD thesis, others leave it to chance. Any gear advice taken from people such as myself should be tested thoroughly before you go on trail for reals. I’m an actual mad man when it comes to Chacos and them being on my feet. I did the AT in Chacos. My trail name Chaco, a hiker, S.L.A.M., blessed me with this glorious moniker early on. I’ve experienced ups and downs. Calluses? You bet, and they hurt, let me tell you. Were they worth it? YEP. Kicked a few rocks? OH YES. In this post I’ll walk you through the theories of Chaco hiking and then maybe you eager hippies out there can decide if the shoe less life is the life for you.
How Chacos Don’t Wreck Your Life
Most Chacos and other hiking sandals like them, function on the basic principles of ankle support, arch support, and custom fittings. This is how people such as myself are able to live in them. Often people look at high topped boots and immediately associate them with superior ankle support. In the world of hiking footwear this can be misleading. Ankle support stems from the foot and how it’s physically supported in the particular type of footwear you’re wearing. Check out Diagram 1 to see more! This is why we’ve seen a shift from boots to trail runners. Notice they dip below your ankles? Simplifying it, the heel cup is king. A large portion of ankle support is derived straight from your heel cup. Chacos have a generous heel cup, thus giving the wearer equal support to your comparable trail runner or boot. Sure, in Chacos you might get some ankle rolling but your ankles will strengthen after some time, especially if you break them in properly with the correct strap adjustments.
Straps on Straps
Speaking of straps, let’s go over them. Chaco offers two basic varieties of strap configurations, the Z1 and the Z2. The differences being, Z1 has no toe loop while Z2 does. What you choose is up to you and what your socks want to do through out your hike (more on that later). Both offer their advantages and disadvantages, I tend to go with Z1’s myself. All straps should be adjusted prior to hiking for a secure, but not overly tight fit. Check out this sweet ass diagram on how to properly adjust them! You can also visit the Chaco website and learn how to adjust your specific model here. Take them for more than just a spin before your thru. Hike in them, live in them and adjust as needed. Once you’re on trail and get that sweet sweet AT trail dirt between those straps and your sandals, they’re almost impossible to move. Same goes for those who convert their Z2’s into Z1’s by hiking on top of the toe strap. You can’t come back from that without sending them away for repairs.
Repairs? Glad you asked loyal reader. Chaco offers a great service to their customers known as ReChaco. With this paid service, your spent Chacos are sent away and come back to you repaired. They offer re-treading, re-strapping, and re-soling. Say you can’t move your straps and you need them adjusted? Chaco has you covered. Send them away to the Chaco hospital and they’ll come back home rested and ready to adventure. I went through two pairs of Z1’s on the trail. My existing pair I started in was sent home around Pennsylvania for my new pair. I then had my first pair retreaded post trail and I still wear them today, right now actually as I’m typing this. I probably have over 1000 miles on the soles and straps, just with new treads. Still feels great. This is a fantastic option for those environmentally/budget conscience as you really just need two pairs. Check out ReChaco and learn about the glory.
Ok, but rain.
You’re wondering about the rain? Don’t. Hiking with Chacos in the rain is the absolute best. Dry feet within 45 minutes of the last puddle you stepped in even in socks. No trench foot worries. No swimming pool in my shoes, and best of all, no smelly feet in my hammock at the end of the day. Now, rain hiking with your esteemed Chacos does have it’s draw backs. Rocks, sand, and dirt become your worst enemy. Early on, all of this can slip between the strap and your skin and cause blisters and little rub-raws. Eventually, your feet will callus over and these little buggers will be no worry of yours. OR you could wear socks. Convert your Chacos into Sockos and you’ll be protected from the rub-raws. No worries, even with socks, your feet dry quickly while hiking.
Right, But What About YOUR Feet?
My feet felt fine, on the inside. Apart from normal hiker hobble, which you can read about from my girl Kate Waite, everything was 100. Externally, on my skin, it was a different story. If you do your research, which you should, you’ll stumble upon cracked feet. Your feet WILL crack. Wearing socks can help curb this, but I haven’t met many Chaconians that haven’t uncounted cracked feet. They dry out when exposed to the air for this long and it hurts. Every step is pain. How to combat this? Bring foot cream. Moisturizing foot cream will save your life. No need to hike with literal open wounds like my dumb ass until Dartmouth. Get foot cream. O’Keeffes Foot Cream worked best for me and it’s well worth the extra weight. Apply twice daily for super cracked skin or every other day to prevent that shit.
But the snow though.
Don’t even talk to me about snow. As a native Clevelander, I’ve worn Chacos in the snow many winters and I still love them. Your feet need proper socks to stay warm hiking wise. That means, polypro and wool socks out the wazoo. If you’re going the way of the Chaco on your thru or any other hike that might take place near winter, test them out. Wear your Chacos and the socks you have in the snow and cold and see how your feet react before going ten miles into the back country. If you find your feet getting too wet or cold, try out some water proof or neoprene socks. Sealskinz make great waterproof socks that are shockingly breathable. Now, everyone’s results might vary from hike to hike. Please wear these sandals in the winter with caution. Make sure to test your limits and tolerances with Chacos in the snow before you go out.
Z1’s – What’s Up?
Z1’s are Chacos tried and true line of hiking sandals.
Also known as Chaco Classics, these bad boys will run you anywhere form $105 – $150 depending on the customization you make. You’ll want to get the Unaweep configuration for more aggressive tread as some Chacos are water shoes. I found mine on sale for $50 and so can you if you’re willing to buy a previous years model. The primary difference between the Z1 and Z2 lines are the toe loop. As I’ve said before, I prefer the Z1. Hate that toe loop, it’s blister city for me and my big toe . What you’re sacrificing with the Z1, ironically enough is the toe loop. Some say it offers more support while keeping small pebbles and dirt out of your sandals. This avoids stopping every once and a while to empty out your sandals.
Z2’s – Represent
Z2’s come in a variety of different styles now a days and have even branched off into the Z2 Cloud, Z3, and the ZX/2 series. These all have varying degrees of support and webbing styles, but primarily come with toe loops.
These again can offer more support for some Chaconians. If you find yourself in the Z2 camp, which is fine I guess, you may want to purchase toe socks. Limitless companies make toe socks for blister reduction anyway they’re just a little harder to find and outfitters along the trail. Injini makes impressively comfortable toe socks that will allow you to take full advantage of your toe loop.
Say you start out Z2 and want to go Z1? You’ll be able to adjust the straps and tighten the toe strap thus converting your Z2’s into Z1’s but that’s the point of no return. You 100% cannot un-tighten the toe strap on trail. It’s like the Maniac Magee knot ball thing of on trail Chaco problems, except Maniac Magee isn’t here to do his thing.
My Chaco Love
Most of my 2016 thru hike was made in Chaconian bliss.
- My feet were never wet for long, even in our 72 hour rain stent in the first miles of Vermont.
- I needed zero camp shoes. I brought Walmart crocs because that’s what you do. I hiker boxed them in Franklin,NC because my feet were never sore enough to warrant them. I’d usually take my socks off in camp and continue in my godlike Chacos.
- River crossings? No problem.
- No smelly feet.
- Money saver. I went through two pairs of Chacos, One I already owned, and another I picked up at REI. Freaking spectacular.
- No need for gators.
My Chaco Hate
I mean, it wasn’t perfect.
- I broke one toe and jammed another.
- I broke my first one in the Smokies as I was switching podcasts on my phone. Hung it right on a tree root as we were going downhill. The Podcast was Welcome to Night Vale . 100% recommend for those interested in well told Sci-fi stories from the point of view of a small town podcaster out West. The other, I kicked a rock in New Hampshire. Luckily, with most toe injuries, no hospitalization was required. Most doctors tell you to stay off it or tape it to the other stronger toe. Sandals are perfect for most toe injuries. **Disclaimer** OMG I’m the farthest thing from a doctor there ever was. If you think you need medical attention, you better get it. I’ll be really mad at you otherwise.
- My socks didn’t hold up well being exposed the entire time. Roots, thorns, and rocks will catch on your socks and they won’t hold up the greatest.
- This’s why Darn Tough socks are important. Lifetime warranty, no questions asked.
- Rocks sometimes got in-between my foot and my sandals causing me to do a quaint little jig every once and a while on trail. It was P cute to be honest.
Chacos are more than doable for your thru hike! As with LNT, know before you go. If you’re an aspiring Chaconian, test these babies out PLEASE. Nothing sucks more than having to hike with a piece of gear that doesn’t work for you. If you’re starting early, March or February, hike with them in the cold and plan accordingly. Neoprene or waterproof socks might want to be in your pack until warmer weather. Watch yourself and take care of your body. Don’t blindly take my advice, everyone is different.
Have a Chaco story of your own or want to talk sandals? Email me at [email protected] to be featured on my blog. I’d love to write about you wild and crazy kids.
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