Chaco Sandals: Butt Ugly, But Damn Worth It

black chacos

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: โ€œIt looks like you wrapped your feet in ribbons!โ€ 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.

Written by Brooke

Brooke Schoenman runs the show at Her Packing List. Inspired from years of travel experience, Brooke decided there needed to be a travel gear site focused on the needs of a wandering female.

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Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


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Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


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Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

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Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Anastasia 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. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Brooke says

      Haha, that’s so funny ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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. bethany 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. ayngelina 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. Lisa 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. Deidre 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?

    • Brooke 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!

    • jessica says

      i had that, actually the toe peice is better for like hiking because your feet may tend to slip forward in a pair without the toe strap you just need to take them to a outdoor store like woodlands and they will floss the straps to fit your feet perfectly. your supossed to do that when their new

    • Lauren says

      Actually I am currently suffering from the Chaco blister revenge. I have the ZX2 Yampa Sandals and 3 blisters on each foot: at the toe strap junction, arch, and outer heel… This SUCKS. I’m backpacking Costa Rica and was planning to use these for basically everything… guess I was wrong. I’ve read other websites and it sounds as if it just happens to some unlucky folks? Perhaps I need a wide size?

      • Brooke says

        Sorry to hear that Lauren! I wore Chacos on my travels for years and never had a blister. But everyone’s feet are different :/

      • Mandy says

        Lauren, it seems like there is just an unfortunate few of us who suffer from the Chaco Foot Mangle. Which really does suck because they have so much going for them. I’ve been a Keen worshipper for the last 7-8 years. I have found that their wider toe space works very well for my foot. I have yet to try their sandals but I have a ton of their other shoes (flats, casual, hiking shoe, hiking boot, and tall boots). Their hiking boots were the first boots that I had ever worn that didn’t make my toes goes numb. I haven’t looked back since.

      • Corrie says

        Always wear them with at least a finger width of space around toes and the top of your foot. Been wearing the, for years and never had a blister.

  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  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. Lily 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. Emily 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 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. Britt 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.

    • Mark Paigen 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.

  16. Sarah says

    Chaos are super fashionable here in the PNW. The depth and complexity of one’s chaco tan is a mark of respect. I designed my pair on the Chaco website and I wear them all over the place, even backpacking through the mud the Olympic coast of Washington. Chaco love is real. They can handle pretty much everything, and there is definite cuteness potential when you design your own. If you want to get extra outdoorsy with it, you can wear knobby wool socks underneath on chilly days and rock the “socko.”

  17. Sue Anne Schoonderwoerd says

    Prior to a 3 week trip to Europe last summer, I went with 20 teenagers to Belize for a mission trip with our church. It was fascinating to observe the girls wear their Chacos in the shower, and everywhere all day long. And, such cute styles and colors. When we returned home we had 2 days before flying to Europe for our 30th anniversary, I quickly bought a pair for $108 at a beach store near where we live and then drove 3 hours to our capital city. My husband was so excited to tell me about the best sandals ever that he found at REI . . .Chacos! Together we wore ours 3 weeks, always saying what a great decision it was to buy them. We put them on and never wore any of the extra shoes we brought with us. I have the light grey soles with royal blue trim with the high, firm arch and LOVE the support as a former Plantar Faciatis sufferer. My husband has the black soles version but I feel the lighter colors are more feminine than the black and donโ€™t make your feet look so clunky. When we returned I bought another pair with blacksoles this time (couldnโ€™t find the grey option) with bright orange sherbet straps that wrap around the big toe. They were not fitted properly at REI and have never felt good to my feet for more than 5-10 minutes but look the prettiest on my feet. I need to go back to REI and speak to a different sales assistant to adjust the straps because the pain of the tightness in my toe is not worth wearing them as it is. We walked miles and miles in all types of terrain with my traditional ones with open toes. When the weather was chilly and rained a few days, I wore bright funky socks with mine and got so many compliments! Sue Anne , North Carolina

  18. Britt says

    I’m a Chaco hater and not just because they are ugly!

    I got the worst blisters of my life trying to wear in my Chacos. I tried everything from adjusting the straps to stretching them out but they still were not even close to be worn in.

    They are also quite a narrow shoe which means the sides rub against your arch really easily.

    Big no from me! I now have the Merrell Hennas and they are lifesaving (and way better looking too).

  19. kenna says

    hi! I’m looking into purchasing my first pair of chacos, and can’t decide if I want a toe loop pair, or not. any suggestions, or likes/dislikes on if you have a pair? thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Brooke says

      Hi Kenna! When I was shopping for mine, the guy at the shop recommended without the toe loop as it can be irritating on some people. I’m glad I went without the toe loop, not only for that, but also because it would have kept me from having a shoe I could quickly slip on… with socks if necessary!

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