Concerning the Outdoors Sandal

Us outdoorsy folk tend to be a pretty relaxed group. We’re none too worried if a couple snags show up in a synthetic; and we’ve all, at some point or another, dusted the dirt off of dropped food and called it “good ‘nuff”. Despite our grit, we can’t help but be just a bit picky, especially when it comes to footwear. (And by picky I mean die-hard convert, will sacrifice our first-born for the cause–okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.)

It makes sense. If your feet are wet, swimming in a size too large, or rubbing wrong within your shoe, you’re going to have a miserable trip. Still, mere particularity shouldn’t draw such adverse judgement within the outdoors community. This bias surrounding different outdoor footwear makers really needs to be put bed (a comfy, contoured foot bed, that is).

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The marvelous adventures of Gwen O’Brien’s hiking boots, featuring the Desolation Wilderness. 

Outdoor sandals, in particular, elicit an undue degree of tension between the different brands’ loyal fans. Podiatrists’ historical records place the earliest sightings of the socks with sandals combo in the Northwestern United States in the early ‘70’s, so it’s no surprise that today’s generation, from urbanite to crunchy mountain child, all partake in the trend. Tevas, Chacos, Kavus, and Keens: there are a variety of hiking and water sandals hanging off REI displays worldwide. Each flavor has its own unique features but around the Outdoor Pursuits office, you’ll almost exclusively see Chacos and Tevas.

We have a mix of both tribes around the Milky Way, but as a whole we tend to favor Chacos. As a born-and-raised Teva gal myself, I found this intriguing. Upon further research, I found a dense, global fanbase behind the Chaco brand. This #chaconation took their footwear seriously, and I was intent on finding out why.

First, some specs. Tevas and Chacos are both international brands who carry everything from sandals and hikers, to fashion boots, but for the purposes of this exploration we’ll be looking at their most popular water sandals. Chaco’s Classic style and Teva’s comparable Vera sandals. Both utilize similar crisscrossing straps to hold the foot, and contoured foot beds for comfort.

Since there’s only so much internet sleuthing can tell you about a product, I decided to get my hands, or feet rather, on a pair of each for a side-by-side comparison. My trusty Teva Terra – Lites which I purchased just over two years ago are a bit well-loved but I believe I’ve worn them right with dirt smudges, good company, and a grin. Within the last few months, I purchased these ZX Chacos with a toe strap from an REI gear sale. Initially, their straps would not budge, but with some nifty tips from Chaco customer service (those guys are great!), they’re cinching like a dream.

Step One: Cut a hole in the box.

Looking at the shoe construction itself, we see a couple distinctive differences between the Chaco and Teva brands. Chaco’s signature strap and buckle-cinch style wraps webbing through the foot bed itself to really hold tight. In contrast, Teva’s trademark Velcro straps seem better suited for those claustrophobic of foot. Adjustable fit offers respectable hold with a bit less clinginess than their Chaco counterparts. Chacos do take longer to set up for the initial wear and continue to adjust while being worn (read: kind of chafe-y) while Tevas can strap on easily, straight out of the box. As far as ease of set-up, Tevas take the title of Most User-friendly.

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Tevas anxiously waiting to romp in the mud. 

A Quick Walkabout.

When I took both these guys for test drives around campus as an everyday day shoe, I was pretty pleased with both. The leaner sole on the Teva sandals lent them better to wearing with ‘real people clothes.’ If you dust ‘em off, they can play nicely with cute clothing, so if a multi-purpose shoe is what you’re hankering for, then Tevas are you best bet. The dense sole and vibrant strapping on the Chaco sandals are great for the ‘off-duty Patagonia model’ look, but are a bit clunky to pair with less rugged clothing. Still, hopefully you’re not looking for a red-carpet-and-rafting shoe hybrid.

Walking around flat Forest Grove, I had little complaint with either shoe. I was warned in advanced that the Chacos might rub until the appropriate callouses developed, but I had no issue whatsoever. Even so, I found the Chacos’ plaint foot strap more comfortable than my Tevas. The Terra style has a small plastic, triangle strap joint which sometimes rubs on the outside of foot uncomfortably. However, I have boney feet so normal folks likely won’t take issue. I rather liked my new kicks.

Take a Hike!

Now for the real test: into the wild. I went on a short hike up through Forest Park on my way into Portland on a sunny day. Fairly steep, mud puddled from recent rains, and bestrewn with small rocks, I thought this would be a good course to test out my new Chacos. And I just have to say that… I really liked them. I liked them a lot. Normally, I’ll wear my lug-sole, leather hiking boots even on the most sweltering summer days just because I’m a klutz and want to protect my toesies. I’ve hiked in my Tevas, but only on known, tame trails. The increased airflow and lighter weight just haven’t been worth the risk.

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Chacos on the trail for the first time. 

Even on just this short hike I was very impressed with the supportive density of the Chaco soles. They hugged my feet like a friendly, but not cloying, companion. I clambered over large stones and craggy roots without tripping over a loose foot bed or having my tender underfoot stabbed. The snug soles even kept out those pesky pebble crumbs, which slip inside your sandal to prick excruciatingly at your foot bed. I felt just as protected by my Chaco sandals as I did by my over-the-ankle hiking boots. My only complaint was slight chaffing from the toe strap in the vulnerable space between my big and second toe, but it was an early wear.

Tread Lightly

I love my Tevas. I am loving my Chacos. I don’t think there’s one clear victor, but each of the analyzed shoes very clearly has their niche. If you’re the intrepid outdoorsy type who knows with that odds are you will be traversing two rivers, hiking up six gravel-trails, and maybe summiting a mountain or two, then get yourself some Chacos. At around $100 the more expensive sandal seems worth the investment. If you’re a more civilized folk who prefers being able to explore encountered creeks, and climb trees on a whim without changing shoes, you’re more than adequately covered by the less industrial-strength, more versatile Tevas. It’s your life, you know what you need. For now, I’ll happily promote both.

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Gwen once again not repping her sandals while adventuring in Central Oregon.

Gwen O’Brien is a sophomore biology major working here at Outdoor Pursuits. She has been with our program for nearly two years now and continues to blow us all away with her strength, dedication, and work ethic. She is also the appointed maker-of-delicious-treats and can be found at Portland’s Circus Project gym flying through the air in her freetime. 

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