Chaco Sandals: Butt Ugly, But Damn Worth It

chaco sandals

Chaco sandals became an item of debate when I first started planning for round-the-world travel. When doing so (planning for long-term travel that is), you think hard about what you’re going to pack as you want to carry the least amount of stuff with the most value. Shoes, obviously, became a problematic item as I could easily see myself bringing flip-flops, walking shoes, hiking shoes and a pair of dress-up shoes to cover all possible occasions.

black chacosBut, my backpack did not like the idea… my back hated it even more. So, I made the tough decision to downgrade.

My final choice of travel shoes became shower flip-flops, Chaco sandals and a pair of Keen light-hikers (waterproof with thick soles).

Yes, Chacos made the cut on my packing list, and I stick by my decision in the face of opposition.

The Opposition:

Chaco sandals are butt ugly!
I know they are not the nicest looking sandals; the soles are big and black, and the straps can be quite chunky as well. I was apprehensive at first, too, but I actually found that I liked the way they looked more when I had them on.

chacosPerhaps it was just a matter of the look needing to grow on me (I often think fashion looks dumb until I see it on everybody, every day for a while).

They look like you’re walking on tires!
Yep, sure do, but that thick sole means you can attack just about any type of terrain and deal with it like you’re wearing proper shoes. The soles won’t wear down, they’re easy to clean, and they are actually more comfortable than you think! I definitely wouldn’t recommend hiking in these sandals, but long days of walking are generally fine. Try that in your flip-flops!

People will know I’m a tourist!
Chances are people will know you’re a tourist with or without Chaco sandals. With that in mind, I’d much rather walk around in comfortable sandals in hot countries than be suffering with closed-shoes that make my feet sweat.

They cost so much money!
True. These sandals are not cheap coming in around $100, but I payed for mine back in 2007 and they’re still going strong. These sandals were made to last, so instead of having to chuck some cheapies and find new ones at every market you hit, these stay alive.

My Position:

I think Chacos can be cute!
I might be in the minority, but I personally think Chacos can be cute for girls. I’ve sported them with jeans (of the not-too-tapered type) and skirts. They come in all sorts of lovely colors, and you get these fun little strap tans on your feet. As my friend put it: “It looks like you wrapped your feet in ribbons!” Cool, right? There’s even a Facebook group for that.

Chacos are versatile!
I wore them out to bars, to restaurants, on light hikes, to the beach, in the shower; I dressed them up with a skirt and a scarf, and I dressed them down with my cargo pants.

Chacos are worth it!
I definitely stick by my decision to buy Chacos. What about you? Be sure to share your Chaco experiences by leaving a comment.

>> Check out these Merrells for something a bit cuter.

Photo credit: 2, 3.


  1. says

    My dad loves Chacos and he always wears them when he was doing more “sporty” stuff (biking or whatever). So whenever I see someone wearing them I automatically assume they’re outdoorsy, physical adventure type people! And me? I’m not that sort of person, so I don’t want to wear them because I feel like I’ll be sending out the wrong impression. Which is crazy and weird, but there you go! (I assume the same things about those Keens sandals, too. Man, I AM really weird.)

    I do agree that some of the styles can be very cute, especially if the straps are in a “girly” color! And maybe eventually I’ll get over my weirdness about what sort of person should wear what sort of clothes, and I’ll get a pair for myself, lol. 😀

    • Brooke says

      Haha, that’s so funny 😉 I always thought people just got them because everyone else had them… but they got them because they really work. Great for casual adventures — just long days walking.

  2. says

    shoes are a definite issue on the road. I have eyed the Chaco’s a couple times but I just can’t bring myself to do it! I know I need something though because i am def. a flip flop girl and you simply can’t walk around all day looking at sites in your flip flops, you’re feet will be so tired. Randy will freak if he see’s me in a pair of these…hahaha

  3. says

    I hated Chacos for the longest time but finally succumbed to a pair of black ones with three little straps instead of the one big strap.

    I traipse all over Latin America on the cobble stoned streets for hours and my feel never hurt.

    I can’t go back to flip flops. they cripple your feet after 2 hours.

  4. says

    Took my chaccos with me around the world for a year. Still have the same pair! I think they are cute but maybe my mind is bent from all the countries! I LOVE THEM! Comfort and they can go in the water. Lisa

  5. says

    I am so on team chaco it’s not even funny. In April my parents came to visit me here in Australia, and on the first day of travelling my chacos broke. I am not even kidding, I cried.

    When people comment on my chaco tan (and they do) I always just say “zorro was here”

  6. Joyce says

    I have been wearing my Chaco’s for everything from work (I live in Colorado, this is acceptable) to hikes for the last 15 years and I think they might still have a RTW trip left in them. I’ve been thinking of leaving them home in favor of a lighter, cuter Teva option I just bought, but your article is making me think again. My Chaco’s have just been so dang comfortable and durable. They recently carried me through a coastal stroll that turned into an unplanned 4 hour rock climbing/hiking adventure and they served me just fine. I am thinking no other sandal is going to do that and then let me look at least passably cute at dinner.

  7. K says

    I don’t go backpacking without them! On my most recent month long trip to Southern India I only took my Chacos and a pair of light Merrell hiking shoes. I didn’t need anything else.

    I would recommend getting them worn in before departing, though. Wear them around the house for a few weeks. My previous pair broke, so I got new ones, and they gave me terrible blisters the first day I wore them (it was hot, so my feet were sweating). It wasn’t a pleasant first week walking around after that. You live and learn!

  8. Sarah says

    I adore my Chacos! Probably the best clothing purchase of my life. Anywhere it is summer, they come with me. So comfy, I think they are cute, and you get a rockin’ Chaco tan!

    The only downsides is they are heavy – so you want them on your feet, not in your bag, and also the traction is not super great when you hiking slickrock – I wore them when I was doing Angels Landing and I ended up going barefoot because I wasn’t entirely comfortable. But other terrain and hikes have been fine!

  9. Mandy says

    I had a really terrible first experience with Chaco sandals, that was half my own fault and half a result of the shoe design. I purchased a pair that had the thinner straps and were an open back style, finding them slightly more feminine and attractive. Well, on a long walk in the desert the straps shifted and proceeded to strangle my big toe and cause some of the worst blisters I’ve had in my life. Unfortunately this was the trip that I decided to become a lighter packer and bring only the sandals and my hiking boots. The rest of the trip I was unable to wear the shoes and was stuck painfully wearing my boots. I have since had a pair of Chaco flip flops that after some breaking in are the best I’ve ever had, but they just don’t cut it for any light hiking or longer walks. Maybe it’s time to get over my trauma and invest in another pair. This time they will be the kind with the heel strap and maybe not a toe strangler. Anybody have any similar problems with them?

    • says

      So did you have ones that had a loop that went around the big toe alone? I got the open toe version and never had issues like that. Also with any new shoe, if you do excessive walking and have extra rubbing anywhere, you risk blisters. Did you break them in enough before travelling?

      • Mandy says

        Yeah, they were the kind that went around the big toe alone, plus there was no strap that went back behind the heel. Every step I would take, my foot would lift from the foot bed, pull at the straps that went across the top of my foot and ultimately lead to straps tightening around my toe. Plus they were thinner straps, not the wide ones. So not only was my toe being strangled (painful!) but I had such horrible open blister wounds on the tops of my foot and around the toes. I had definitely worn them around quite a bit before, but the extended walk really brought out these characteristics. I loved the idea of the adjustable straps for a custom fit, but the execution of that design just didn’t work and they didn’t stay where adjusted. I really needed the heel strap to keep my foot in place and prevent the straps moving. Pretty sure they don’t make that exact design anymore anyways, maybe with good reason. Thank goodness for REI and their awesome return policy! Cause I brought those puppies back bloody and looking like I’d owned them for a year!

  10. Leila says

    I loved the idea of Chacos, but I had the same problems as Mandy though I had the kind that are pictured in the article. The problem for me is very skinny ankles and very narrow feet don’t work well in these shoes. The shoe was way to wide for my foot and when I adjusted they straps they never stayed in place. I did end up with a similar style of shoe though. I wear my TEVAS everywhere I travel.

  11. Hannah says

    I just wanted to say that I fell absolutely in love with your blog. I’m going on my first mission trip/ trip abroad in April to Guatemala and am actually going to purchase a pair of KEEN Whispers because of your amazing blog. Keep it up. I wish to travel as much as you. :)

  12. Susan says

    I broke down and bought a pair of Chacos. These willdefinitely be my goto shoes in Italy, along with my walking shoes. My 70+ mother went with me to pick them out, and she found several that she liked (she didn’t buy them, but helped pick the ones for me) I wish the store carried children’s sizes, because they are cheaper, and I can wear that size. I have the one with the toe strap, and the store manager adjusted them to fit me. Now I just have to get them broken in before I go overseas!

  13. says

    Still using a pair of Chacos I bought for a trip to the Galapagos in 2001. Twelve years, four continents, and fourteen countries later, they’re still in good shape. They’ve kept my feet comfortable from Mongolia to Tanzania to the Grand Canyon. Great for light hiking or urban walking. In the suitcase now for a trip to Costa Rica.

  14. says

    I’ve been wearing the same Chaco flips for 8 years. And I wore them ALL OVER Europe and Japan for walking EVERY day. I have a permanent tanline from them now. :)

    • Elizabeth says

      I love your blog!! I’ve done a little bit of light travelling, but I’m about to go on my first backpacking adventure in a few weeks through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile for 3 glorious months. I just purchased Teva Terra sandals yesterday at REI (my boyfriend/travel companion lovingly called them less than cute, but they were on sale and way too comfortable to pass up). Does anyone have experience with these shoes versus the Chaco sandals? Thank you!

  15. says

    I must be the odd one out as I bought a pair and absolutely hated them.

    I think my foot is too wide but I got the worst blisters of my life that were so bad I simply couldn’t push through to try and wear them in more. They were already pretty worn in too.

    I don’t think they’ll be coming with me on my RTW trip.

    • says

      Mark Paigen here. I’m the guy who started Chaco and designed the Z/1 sandal. They are great sandals but don’t work for everyone. The aggressive arch support is wonderful if it fits, torture if it doesn’t.
      I have recently developed a line of insoles that offer the same addictive feeling as Chaco Z/1, but come in multiple heights to accommodate all feet. Put them in any shoes and have the comfort of Chaco.
      They are great for adding support to lightweight shoes – perfect for traveling.


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