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?

Wrong.

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?!?!

Nope.

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.

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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45 Comments on “Why Chacos are the Microsoft of the sandal world”

    1. Keens are comfortable, but they usually have those extensive straps over the top, so they’re even bulkier than Chacos. I’m looking for something with the minimal but functional strapping system of Chacos, but at a lower weight, and I don’t think Keens has anything like that at the moment. And for getting the smell to go away, you can just take them off and wait for 20 minutes. But the point is that if they just used an anti-microbial treatment, that smell would never be there at all. So why not just do that?

      1. I have the same preferences as you. I currently own Teva Zilch which I love — toe loop, comfortable straps and extremely light — but they have been discontinued, and now I can’t find ANY sandals that I like. I just ordered a pair of Chaco Rex hoping that they are adequate.

        1. If they don’t work, try the Chaco Updraft 2. They have exactly the same fit as the standard Chacos that everyone knows (though I avoid the toe-loop version, since it has thinner straps), and they’re lighter. The Rex changes the strap layout in a way I didn’t like.

  1. As someone who desperately wanted to buy a pair of Chacos last summer, but couldn’t for the life of me find a pair that worked, this made me chuckle quite a bit. I eventually went with a pair of Tevas. Not the prettiest, but so, so functional and comfortable.

  2. Just my opinion but this was pretty much a joke. While I agree with many things (the newer updrafts and other mediocre version attempts), most of what was said has no affect on the fact that I’ve been able to continue to get great sandals from them. I just don’t order the ones I have no interest in. Let them experiment for all I care, just keep making the ones I want. As for the weight of the sandals, I like them with some weight and they aren’t that heavy – especially compared to other footwear (get yourself some muscles!) That’s a personal preference, of course, but I have no issue with the weight at all. Regarding the foot odor issue: wash your freakin’ feet, wash your sandals and make get some medical help! Yeah, the anti-microbal treatment would be great, but is this even anything close to an issue? Nope. Not for me. The strap softness? Really? I’ve never, ever even noticed the straps as too harsh in any way. So the main gripes of the weight, the odor and the straps are just laughable. If I were to criticize Chaco, I would say to bring the construction back to the USA because the custom “MyChacos” are awesome and I’ll be buying MANY of them. Other than that, this sounds just like someone who just likes looking at their own words. Oh, and complaining with no actual data to back it up. But I get it. I’m sure I’ve written rants just like this where others have thought the same… :D

    1. Sounds like a large person going on short walks with tough skin. Entirely unsuited to evaluate the problems experienced by smaller people with less pack space, continuously wearing their sandals for 8 hours at a time before removing them (doesn’t matter how clean your feet were when you washed them last), and more sensitive skin. The last time I took a walk in them I ended up with giant blisters on both feet in several places. If those aren’t good signs that they could be better, nothing is. These aren’t made up problems, and they all have easy solutions.

  3. You should totally check out Xero SHoes.

    I just got a pair of their Z-Trek, which look a lot like Chacos but are LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT and super-comfy.

    I’m taking them out on the trail next week.

    1. I have trouble with barefoot shoes, as apparently I’m a weakling who can’t handle the lack of cushioning, but for everyone else out there, they’re great. I did see a good one recently called the Olukai Ohana Pahu, which is a hybrid flip-flop/sandal that looks like it would work nicely.

  4. Agree, I’m a River paddler and recently bought a pair of Chaco Z2 to see what all the fuss is about. I took them on the river a few times paddling. Yes, way to freaking heavy. These things are monsters. Also way to thick of a sole. It is like you are on high heels. Almost busted my back stumbling on a rock. Harder to balance on white water rocks. Another thing was it took a while to get the strap to fit. Now they are stretching I have to keep adjusting which is a nuisance. I have better things to do keep fooling with my shoes. Finally I was expecting comfort. No it just feels like too many straps tieing down a foot.
    My Tevas work much, much better, although their only weakness is in mud. I haven’t tested the Chacos in mud but I believe Chacos would be better.
    Both are now owned by giant shoe companies.

  5. To be honest I even have problems with the Unaweep and Yampa models. The loop that the strap passes through under the ankles starts to chafe against the skin there, I mean rubs it red raw with every step. I’ve tried adjusting the straps in all sorts of ways and it still happens. I end up having to put Band Aids on my feet there, and of course they work their way off during the day and I have to reapply new ones. I got my first pair of Chaco’s about 12 years ago and I’ve only had this problem with the ones I’ve bought over the last 4 years (both Unaweep and Yampa). So I don’t know whether they’ve adjusted the design, but whatever they’ve done it’s horrible. There’s no way I could hike in these now.

    Also, I had big trouble telling the difference between the Yampa and Unaweep models. In fact I weighed them both and they came out exact the same – the Yampa’s aren’t lighter. So I called Chaco, and the guy admitted to me that there wasn’t any discernible difference in the weight, but that the Yampa has a “slightly thinner sole.” I asked him what the point of a thinner sole was if it’s not any lighter. And he just mumbled what sounded like ad copy about them being “for someone who wants a slicker, urban sandal.” Looking at them side to side, I can’t even tell the difference visually. If the Yampa is any thinner on the sole, it’s a matter of a millimeter or so.

    1. Hmm, that does seem a little annoying. Any company that tells you there’s a difference when there isn’t one is probably doing all sorts of things wrong.

      I did just find out about another hybrid flip-flop/sandal called the Olukai Ohana Pahu, which looks like it could work either way. I haven’t given it a try, so I’m not sure if the instep strap is in the right spot, but it definitely looks like it has softer straps.

  6. I usually just swap between my chacos and my Luna Mono’s http://lunasandals.com/collections/lunas/products/luna-mono. But now my Chaco Z/2 Classics are falling apart and I have had them refurbished twice (over 9 years total) so I am thinking of getting the Z/Volv http://www.chacos.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/37281M/93557/Mens/Z-Volv-2 what do you think of those? They look very similar to the classics in the strap design and are lighter.
    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Yeah, they look like they’d be fine, though I don’t know why Chacos now has two lightweight versions instead of just one; the Updraft and the Z/Volv. But oh well.

      I prefer the ones without the toe loops, though. For some reason the toe loop versions use a thinner strap, which distributes the pressure over a smaller area and is thus less comfortable for me, and I think they also make the strap longer, to accommodate the toe loop, so it can’t be tightened as much. If you’ve tried it before, then it’s fine, but I think the non-toe-loop version is better for people with slimmer feet, so they can tighten it more, and the wider straps are more comfortable, in my opinion.

  7. Hi there, after I read the following comment…I can’t decide which model to buy, the updraft or the zvolv . I looking for light and basically day use sandals. I have kinda narrow fit, if it matters anything.
    Thanks for your reply .

    1. Hmm…it says the Z/Volv is slightly lighter, and it looks like it has more serious treads. It’s probably good. It’s weird how their products are all so similar though. Drives me crazy.

  8. I urge you guys to goto Etsy or other website to connect with local sandal makers outside the western commercial conglomerates. You can usually find just as good if not better quality products there. Greece has a long tradition of making sandals and a very original style, so do the Turks. I recently had a custom made leather sandal that I semi designed myself made and shipped for under $100. It has a rotating swivel rivet that allows the back support to swing around which turns it into a slipper. I had them install two extra loops on either side to tuck in the leather back straps if you unhook it so it looks like the natural design. I also had them upgrade the sole to an ultra light material with hiking treads. Its beautiful, Ive gotten tons of compliments and I can wear it on the trail or to dinner. Don’t support factory shops in southeast asia, put your heart into your gear and you’ll only blame yourself if it fails.

    Heres a link:

    https://www.etsy.com/search/shoes/mens-shoes?q=leather+sandals&page=8

    1. That’s a good idea. Custom-made gear is occasionally the only way to go, though it’s kind of a gamble if you have to buy something from the other side of the planet without getting a chance to try it out first, but in some cases it’s worth the try.

    2. Leather sandals are great, unless it’s at all wet or you need to wear them in the shower in a skanky hostel bathroom, then they are worse than useless. Leather sandals pretty much never have any arch support or padding either, which for many people makes them really uncomfortable to wear when you have to be on your feet for several hours at a time.

      That said, I have some leather sandals that I love to wear when I’m just kicking around the house or yard, but I’d never, ever take them travelling.

  9. I know I’m super late to this party; but I had to throw in my .02.

    I’ve been buying/wearing Chacos for almost 20 years. I’ve been a river guide for about that long as well. One thing I didn’t see totally spelled out was Chaco’s decline once acquired. There was a HUGE shift once Wolverine bought them out, for the first few years the quality went down the toilet. They changed materials to make them cheaper to manufacture and didn’t realize that the new cheaper material didn’t adhere like the older “more expensive” material. This caused HUGE issues with delamination of the foot bed and the sole- an issue that was so easily solved. They were still in the process of transitioning to Wolverine and Peoria, CO (HQ) was still up and running- you called, they shipped me a new pair no questions asked (didn’t even need to send in the old pair)

    Fast forward a year, Peoria is shuttered, and everything is now off a 1-800 number. They decide to again try and go for cheaper material, this time targeting the strap that goes under your heel, connecting the strap around your heel and the rest of the straps around your foot. Now being a River Guide, I’m around these sandals A LOT- so I see the same issue I’m having, that strap is wearing through and breaking in under a four month season! Within 2-3 months the strap is wearing out and breaking. Here’s my rub: upon calling the 1-800 number and explaining the issue, I’m told to send in the sandals to be repaired, for $40 each sandal. I explain to the person on the phone, I don’t have time to send them in as I need something to wear on the river, I’m told this is my only option even after I explain that I’ve seen the problem with 20+ other sandals. They also haven’t made a great sole since the 5-10 rubber soles, they don’t have a sole out there that does well in water or on wet rocks.

    I know this makes me sound like a hippie- oh, my local company is now big and they don’t care; it’s not just that, it’s the lack of quality in the product. The best part about Chacos 10 years ago was that they were simple. So. Very. Simple. I’ve even taken down an Executive of Wolverine for a week long trip, before the trip started she tripped- on the rocks getting on the boat- breaking her wrist, all while in her new Chacos. We spend that trip mending her broken wrist and chatting with her about Chacos, where they had come from, where they were currently and so on. Typically we form quite a bond with guests on our river- but we never did hear from her again. In the end I hate that I still buy them, I wish there were some sort of alternative- but there just isn’t.

    1. Ugh. I’ve seen photos of the delaminating problem, and it’s insane. We’ve been making footwear for thousands of years. How is this a problem that cannot be solved?

      I’m going to complain publicly about how everyone is doing sandals wrong at some point or another, because everyone is so incredibly stupid that they don’t know how wrong they are when they put that damn strap right over the hinge of the instep, and they deserve a public shaming.

  10. To top it off, they now discontinued their lightweight designs, the Rex and Mighty. My pair of Rex’s are wearing out, but now they only offer their Huge Heavy designs. I see they added a ‘pillow top’ comfort line. WTF. When you have size 47, you need something lightweight for traveling, not pillow top moon sandals!!!

    Are there any alternatives out there?

  11. You can’t even get decent Chacos in Canada any more. The new “urban chic” versions just don’t cut it for real outdoors people. The footbeds seem smaller, the straps thinner and the feel is just terrible. Why is it that once you find something that works, like Chacos of 12 years ago, that they change and ruin a good thing?

  12. This may very well be the stupidest article I’ve ever read. I challenge the author with two thoughts… First, you understand the strategy of change for business success (read the book) or the innovators dilemma (read this book also)? Second think of the companies that have stayed stagnant after introducing an excellent product (Ashton Tate, Novell, Borland, etc.). I wonder if those visionary companies wonder what would have happened if they had read the two books above and followed that wisdom.

    I’m sure you’re part of the iCult and may not know that Microsoft does indeed innovates quite successfully. Did you know they spent $8B on Skype? Or just yesterday tendered an offer of $26B for LinkedIn? Probably not.

    Again, this is now in my “Top 5” stupidity list.

    1. I challenge you to read further on this thing called “the internet.” There’s a lot of garbage out there, and if this is the pinnacle of stupidity as far as you have experienced, then you’ve been living a pretty sheltered and comfortable existence.

      As for Microsoft, its legacy programs such as Office can be easily replaced with free alternatives, and although operating systems aren’t likely to get turned upside down that quickly, Chromebooks and other systems that used browser-based apps can offer an alternative to Windows that could eventually be hard to compete with. They have plenty of money and sources of revenue, but two of the biggest are more vulnerable than any incumbent would like to think. It’s hard to point to a scenario in which Microsoft is getting itself out of this predicament. Spending $8 billion on Skype isn’t “innovating.” People generally buy up products they weren’t clever enough to invent themselves.

  13. I have you checked out Bedrock Sandals? I’m not at all an outdoors person, but I like a comfortable, durable sandal – especially if I’m going to pay $100 for them. I wore the same pair of Chacos for over 11 years and they finally broke. The style is discontinued and can’t be repaired, so I’m looking into new pair. I know that the biggest complaint about Chacos I’ve heard over the years is that they’re bulky and heavy, but this never really bothered me. But as I’ve been reading reviews and comparisons to other brands it seems that they are not made to the same standards as they used to be. I’ve been looking into these Bedrock sandals and they seem to be pretty promising – much lighter, but very durable and comfortable. I’ve yet to find a side by side with them and Chacos though.

    1. The strap layout looks promising, as it doesn’t have a strap over the hinge between the foot and the leg. I’m generally skeptical of “minimalist” footwear, as I’ve always found thin shoes painful, but they might be thick enough or sturdy enough that it’s fine.

        1. Hmmm…I wouldn’t want to pick one without having tried both, but lightweight versions of Chacos have been pretty reliable for me. I just have to toughen up the skin by wearing them for short periods day after day to get my feet used to them again each summer.

          1. Oh, I just meant in general. Out of all the sandals you have tried, what are you favorite?

          2. I can’t remember the name, but it’s an older model of Chacos that were lighter than the original design. The Z/Volv appears to be quite similar.

    1. I think the Classic and the Unaweep are the same thing, and they’ve simply switched the name so they’re now called Classic. They also keep changing the names of the lightweight options, while also failing to list the weight of any of their products. Argh. It looks like the Z/Volv is the lightweight one, though, and perhaps also the Z/Cloud.

  14. Chacos are going stronger than ever. If anything they mirror Apple as a must have item for all ages. It is not unusual for ppl to have 3-8 pairs in their closets.

    Zvolv is the lighter, less supportive style.
    Zcloud is the latest with support and a soft footbed. Decent weight also.
    Thing is, everyone wants support, durability, comfort, style…and at a light weight.
    I suppose you could make a carbon fiber shoe to do everything for 500 bucks.
    Until then, Chacos do very well. Teva is a good alternative but they dont really do anything better than Chacos. They are just different. Also, any shoe can smell bad. Usually the brands that claim they dont. After selling hundreds if not thousands of chacos, customer complaints are virtually nil. Also very unlike Microsoft.

    1. I still love them, but I want to keep the pressure on so they’ll address some of those issues. I literally can’t wear anything else, so I need Chacos to be glorious, not just mostly good. Complaining is the first step toward progress!

  15. I bet you feel stupid about this post now. Chacos are huge and awesome and everywhere and millennials love them. Lol on you!

  16. I am an adult woman with a very tiny foot. When I was younger I was a size 5 but now I am a size 4 or 4.5 (as shoes are now made bigger, in my opinion) and in Chacos I am a size 2 youth/kids. I’m guessing about 12 years ago I bought two pair of Chaco kids ZX/1 sandals at REI. Love these sandals! In the last two years I have purchased several similar pairs online which were all returned. They just don’t fit the same and the quality is obviously much worse. I think they used to be made in the U.S. and now they are made in China?

    Just bought two pair online at REI in black hoping at least one would fit. Both pair were defective. The top straps near the toes much too long and did not enclose my foot. Also, had to tighten ALL the way with no slack in order to fit and the straps are super long and drag on the floor.

    Just returned them. I think I will have to look on Ebay to try to find the older styles…

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard from several people that they cut down on costs by changing production, although I don’t know the details. Kinda sad. I’m looking into alternatives, because Chacos just won’t bother doing something lightweight. Some of the barefoot styles look fine, although I’m a little skeptical of that twisted mass of nylon straps in the arch area…

  17. I couldn’t disagree more. It’s been 4 years since this article was published and Chacos are still going strong. Why? Because they are NOT the Microsoft of the sandal world, they are the Apple of the sandal world. Like Apple, they have a form follows function approach and the sandals look and work better than everyone else’s for the same reason that the Saturn V rocket looked better than everyone else’s, because it was the one the design well enough to get to the moon.

    Circling the drain nuthin. Chacos rule!

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