Picks

The Only Summer Shoe You’ll Ever Need

Black Chaco sandals
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Chaco.

Our vaccinated summers are going to involve a lot of time outdoors. You may have young family members who still aren’t eligible for shots, lingering pandemic anxiety—or just a desire to be out and adventuring. Maybe you’re traveling somewhere exciting; maybe you’re getting drinks on patios with friends. Whatever you are doing, may I recommend doing it in Chacos?

Chaco sandals were born in 1989 in western Colorado. Designed by a rafting guide who wanted a shoe that was water-friendly and supportive—and who sought a way to make more money than he was as a raft guide—the sandals consist of a thick rubber footbed and a nylon strap. I have never been rafting in Chacos, but I have worn them to go on short hikes; to the beach; on walks in the park; on dates; grocery shopping; furniture shopping; to yoga class, lunch, dinner, and even, back when offices were a thing, the office. They are versatile because they are both sturdy and unassuming (unless you pick one of the purposefully loud colors they now come in, like “flame scarlet”). Because they are exceedingly practical and not cute, per se, wearing Chacos to a nice-ish meal or a business casual workplace always makes me feel like I am getting away with something. In my opinion, they are the perfect transitional footwear out of the pandemic, because they are not “real” shoes that hurt or constrain your feet. In case you doubt my fashion sensibility, in pre-pandemic summers my foot wardrobe involved rotating among Chacos, a pair of slides from Madewell, and a $200-plus pair of Frye heels. I’ve come to believe, however, that if you set your mind to it, Chacos are really the only shoe you need in weather above 60 degrees.

I say “Chacos” like they are one homogenous thing, but they are not: The brand offers an increasing number of styles and an infinite number of colors. The original Chaco sandals to hit stores consisted of one thick strap zig-zagging across the foot, called the Z/1 Classics—“Zee One!” in Chaco lore. I have steered clear of the brand’s second edition, the Z/2 Classics, which have a toe strap that I’ve heard can cause weird blisters, and haven’t tried out the more recent ultralight Chacos or “cloud support” shoes, which sound a little gimmicky. I’ve opted for the ZX/1 Classics, which have two delicate straps instead of one, and in black because my sense is they look ever so slightly fancier, though they currently come in 40 different color and pattern options. No matter what particular Chaco sandals you choose, you will need to adjust the strap to fit your foot, as it threads through the footbed of the shoe. Do not be intimidated. It is slightly confusing to figure out, but there is an entire illustrated guide on the Chaco website, and you will only have to do it once—unless, of course, you wind up owning more Chacos.

I have now owned two pairs of the exact same style. After three years of what could be reasonably termed excessive wear, the footbed on my original pair snapped in half. Chaco has a repair program to mend straps and outsoles for a fee, but I do not believe that this covers “the shoe broke in half.” After three years of slightly less wear (perhaps because I have not been many places lately), my second pair is still in great shape. This is a fine rate of shoe death, in my opinion—especially for sandals that I consider superior to their biggest rivals, Tevas. Tevas have thick Velcro straps, which make them feel a little bit more juvenile to me (remember, I wear Chacos to work and on dates), as well as a flatter footbed, and I have high arches.

You might be wondering: Are Chacos comfortable? Yes. And they are supportive. They are firm (or maybe not so firm, if you get the “cloud” version). They might give you a very specific tan line. They do not require care or stain removal themselves. They will protect your body from whatever is on the ground. They will carry you places. They do exactly what sandals are supposed to do.