Why Chacos are the Microsoft of the sandal world

Consider for a moment the icons that have emerged throughout history that have come to represent a once great, but now flailing, and ultimately doomed creature, whose glory days have long since passed, having missed out on one opportunity after another, and are merely circling the drain of hopelessly inevitable collapse, denying their hubris and encroaching fall to the bitter end. Betamax. Blackberry. The horse and buggy. Cable television. The Roman Empire. And Chacos.

Chacos and Microsoft
Like a giant, lumbering beast, oblivious to all around him.

Yes, my friends and loved ones, I am going to badmouth one of your most prized possessions, one of your most beloved articles of outdoorsy technical wizardry, the likes of which have carried you up to the tallest of mountains, down through the deepest of valleys, the wettest of rivers, through the roughest of terrain, and the softest of grass, all to the delight of its owner, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, for many wonderful years.

Chacos are circling the drain

Chacos’ combined intransigence toward improving their legacy products while simultaneously releasing fatally flawed newer variations is the worst kind of product strategy anywhere to be found, and if they don’t make some damn good changes soon, they’ll be on the ripe-for-disruption chopping block where they’ll be helpless and vulnerable to any nimble upstart willing to challenge the status quo.

Nowadays, Chacos are a lot like Microsoft. They’re coasting off the profits of products they designed ages ago, and although they continue to release new products at a rather healthy pace, the vast majority of them are abject garbage that get discontinued shortly thereafter. They’re not all bad, but then again, how is it that any of them can turn out so badly, when all they have to do is cradle a foot properly?

The problem with old Chacos

What’s wrong with Chacos, you may ask? Well, not a whole lot. The flagship product, the Unaweep sandals, are some of the best on the market. They’re strong and last a long time, sure, but the real strength of Chacos is in the straps, which only go over the fleshiest parts of the foot, avoiding bones, pressure points, moving parts, and so on. They do a great job avoiding the more sensitive areas, which is why people brag about being able to wear them for 12 hours at a time without a problem.

Contrast this with 99% of sandals in the world, which put a strap right over the hinge between the shin and the instep, which is not only incredibly uncomfortable, but just plain stupid. That hinge moves back and forth with every step, rubbing against the strap and irritating the skin. I’ve literally never been able to find a pair of sandals that don’t make my feet bleed in this exact spot…except for Chacos. I have no idea why everyone else does it. I expect sheer stupidity.

However, this is, for the most part, the only advantage Chacos have. And they suffer from a few very annoying, easily solvable problems:

  • Chacos stink. At the end of a long day in the sun, removing them from your feet will result in the release of one of the foulest odors known to man. The sweat between the sole of the foot and the footbed gives rise to an entire ecosystem of stinky microorganisms, and it’s horrific. But this problem can be effortlessly solved by simply adding an antimicrobial treatment to the footbed. There are plenty of environmentally friendly options out there too, in case you’re worried about that.
  • Chacos are heavy. Very, very heavy. I can see why; they’re made for serious hikes. But Chacos seriously needs a lighter weight version for people who don’t need all that mountaineering toughness.
  • The straps could be softer. Plenty of other companies have more snuggly options, and although Chacos can’t really move much once they’re on, a few spots would benefit from being a little less abrasive.

So, what’s a big huge company to do when its old products have potential flaws? Release new ones, of course.

The problem with new Chacos

This is just embarrassing. I mean really. There’s a reason the only Chacos continuously available are the Unaweeps. And it’s because all the other Chacos suck.

Check out this one, which put a rubbery vertical strap holder in place of the nylon webbing. They took one of the worst parts of the Unaweeps and made it even worse. It’s called the Updraft sandal.

Chacos Updraft Sandals
Check out the rubbery vertical thing near the ankle. Did anything think something MORE abrasive was a good idea!?!?

Luckily, those were discontinued. Because they were atrocious. Chacos already had a good thing going, and they modified it in an incredibly stupid way.

But Chacos are good enough to learn from their mistakes, right?


Remember how I said Chacos were heavy, and it would be great if there were a lighter version? Enter the Rex and Mighty, Chacos that weigh in at half the weight of the Unaweeps. They’d be perfect, right? RIGHT?!?!


Check out the plastic buckle near the ankle:

Chacos Rex Sandal
“Hey guys! Let’s put plastic buckles all over the boniest parts of the foot! It’ll be great!”

As you may have guessed, that is a terrible place to put a plastic buckle. Within several minutes of walking it became obvious that it just wasn’t going to work. It was thoroughly disappointing. They had a good thing going with the strap layout of the Unaweeps, and they screwed things up by ruining the best thing they had going for them.

They rearranged the straps in such a way that the strap that goes over the center of the inside of your foot (the fleshiest part) simply isn’t there anymore. Instead they have this plastic buckle over the boniest part of the foot. Oh, and they moved the adjustable strap so it fits higher on the instep, by the hinge where it connects to the shin. Dumb.

Is there any hope for Chaco fans?

Well, sort of. There’s the Yampa sandal, which is identical to the Unaweep except that it’s lighter. Slightly lighter. About 12%. It’s fine, but why bother? They’re pretty much the same as the Unaweeps and don’t offer enough of an advantage to distinguish themselves. What they need is something much lighter, not just slightly. Plus, they have the same footbed, and thus odor problems. Ugh.

You need to admit you have a problem, Chacos

I don’t really know what the deal is with Chacos these days. These aren’t just minor errors. The products displayed above are horrific design flaws that make your feet bleed. It’s not just a weird perfectionism on my part. They’re just downright health hazards. It’s an embarrassment they were ever released, and it means someone…or several-one…is making awful product design decisions and no one has the guts to put a stop to it.

This is symptomatic of big companies doing dumb things because they don’t know what’s good for their customers, and only attempt to do what’s good for their shareholders. And I imagine that if the bosses way up at the top are the type who wear fancy suits, they’re not the type to wear Chacos. And thus, they have no idea how to make a decent outdoor product.

To be clear, I have no idea what’s going on in the Chaco think tank. I can only speculate. But I do know they haven’t updated their flagship product in a decade or whatever, in ways that would make it objectively superior, and they continue to release horrible products that cut your feet to pieces in a matter of hours. It’s awful.

And, like I said, it’s ripe for disruption, by whatever snarky upstart has a better plan, and can get it into the hands of adoring fans before Chacos can react. Laurels aren’t a good place to rest, guys.

It’s not me, Chacos. It’s you. Fix you. You’re broken.

Update: Chacos has modified the Updraft sandal to use the same straps as the Unaweeps! All is right with the world again! Yay!

I haven’t tested the new ones, but they solved the most-often-complained-about problem with the old style, and I think they’d be a damn good lightweight alternative to the Unaweeps. Some stories have a happy ending after all.

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