I’ve recently realized that quarantine is the perfect time to rehabilitate my feet. Why do they need rehabilitation?, you may ask. Well, I’m lucky enough not to have any pain, but I have pretty pronounced bunions, which I was sad to realize are actually a bone deformity I have inflicted on myself by wearing un-foot-shaped shoes (this site has some great articles and information, if you’re curious.) I’ve never worn super high heels and thought I was being pretty strict about only wearing comfortable shoes, but I have done a lot of research lately and have become much more aware that even my comfortable shoes have narrow toe boxes and usually at least a slight heel. Neither of these things are what nature intended for our feet.
All that said, I am now embarking on a journey to see if my bunions can slowly be corrected (slow and steady – kind of like braces), by doing three things: 1) wearing CorrectToes as much as possible, 2) going barefoot as much as possible, 3) wearing foot-friendly shoes when shoes are required.
I already know that office- and foot-friendly shoes are going to be the biggest challenge. Thankfully, with quarantine, I have a bit more time to figure that out. In the meantime, the main things I needed right away were 1) sandals for strolling around the neighborhood, 2) hiking boots. (Somewhere in the back of my mind, I realize how ironic it is that my first instinct, in deciding to go barefoot, is to buy shoes. I’ve decided to just park that for later contemplation.)
I did my usual hours of research, reading reviews, and comparison shopping. If you’re curious, here were some of the most helpful resources: Correct Toes shoe reviews, Anya’s reviews, Nutritous Movement shoe list.
From those extensive lists and reviews, I chose two sandals to try out: Unshoes Pah Tempes ($72), and Xero Z-Trails ($80). Both have excellent reviews, although Unshoes is a much smaller company, so there are fewer reviews to read through. This one is super compelling, though (and what a lifestyle that guy leads!)
I ordered both in my usual size 7. The Unshoes are usually made to order, which can take about a week, but I got lucky and they had my size and color in stock, so they shipped they day after I ordered them. Unshoes uses 3-day Fedex delivery, so the sandals got here nice and fast. The Xeros shipped out the same day I ordered, but they use Fedex Smartpost, so it took a few extra days for them to get here.
Even before I ordered, I knew that one of the major differences between these sandals would be the appearance. The Pah Tempes are much chunkier — they use big buckles as fasteners, and have thick straps, which are flat black (with the Xeros, I got their multi-black, which has some lighter shades mixed in.) Unshoes does offer a version with thinner straps, but it’s considered a custom order, and non-returnable, so I wasn’t ready for that sort of commitment yet!
A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll start with some comparison pictures between the two sandals:
First, the Pah Tempes, which you’ll see later were my ultimate pick and thus have had a lot more use:
Then the Z-trails:
And a few more comparison shots:
(Pah Tempes top row, Xero Z-Trails bottom row)
The first thing to notice is how free and open my toes are in the Pah Tempes, especially my pinky toes! While both sandals are quite comfortable, the first time I tried on the Pah Tempes, my reaction was, “Ahhhh, these feel amazing!” With the Z-Trails, I was constantly fussing with them — trying to get the ankle straps adjusted, feeling like my toes were hanging off the front edge when I was walking, and struggling with putting them on, especially if I had my Correct Toes spacers on. The pinky toe thing is more important than I realized though — if you want to have proper toe splay, you need to be able to spread that pinky toe out! That side strap holder by the pinky on the Z-trails was pretty stifling in that regard.
The next thing to notice is the textured footbed. It took me aback when I first tried on the Pah Tempes. It was so pronounced, it was almost uncomfortable. But after reading Whole Body Barefoot, I have a new appreciation for stimulating the rich sensory system that is housed in my feet, so I figured the texture would be a good thing. And after a few week’s wear, I honestly don’t notice the texture anymore. I took a walk in the rain at one point and can echo what I read in other reviews which is that, when wet, your feet don’t slip on the footbeds at all. I don’t have direct experience of that with the Z-Trails, but I read a few reviews that said the footbeds get really slick when wet.
The third thing to notice is the straps. Obviously, they are a lot thicker and visually heavier on the Pah Tempes. The benefit of comfort is way outweighing the chunkiness for me. The straps feel like they are gently hugging my feet at every step, and they are really soft too. The Z-Trails straps are a bit rougher, although they didn’t irritate my feet in any way.
And the final thing is the closure: the Pah Tempes use a plastic buckle – the kind you find on backpacks and other hiking gear. The Z-Trails fasten with velcro behind the ankle. I find it way easier to put my sandal on from the top and buckle it, than to trip to slip my foot through all the straps from behind and fasten behind the ankle. I also feel like the buckle will last longer than velcro. I was initially worried that the plastic buckle on the Pah Tempes would be uncomfortable, but I honestly don’t feel them at all.
Both sandals have thin and flexible, zero-drop soles (i.e., no height difference between heel and toe), grippy treads, and nice width at the toes. The Pah Tempes feel a slight bit heavier in my hands, but I don’t notice any difference once they’re on my feet.
Aesthetically, I wondered if the chunkiness would be a deal-breaker. However, I’m finding they work fine with my outfits.
So, I’m sold on the Pah Tempes. I have been taking long walks all around the neighborhood for several weeks now and have found nothing not to love. I’ll have to consider trying them on a hike in the future. I’m usually a boots girl as I’m not the most graceful person and I’d be afraid of stubbing my toe on a rock in sandals, but I might give it a try.
I also looked more into Unshoes as a company and found more to love! They are a small company, and handmake all of their sandals and shoes in Utah with a small team of people. The founder’s story is great — he couldn’t find running sandals that he liked, so he fiddled around with making his own until he made just what he wanted. His wife suggested he try selling his sandals on Etsy and voila, the rest is history. I already have two more styles of Unshoes on the way and will post reviews when I get a chance.
So that’s it. For me, the Pah Tempes were the clear winner, but if they hadn’t been an option, I’m sure I would have been happy with the Z-Trails as well. Both are excellent, comfortable sandals, that follow the principles of minimal footwear and being foot-friendly. Thanks for reading, and let me know if you have any questions!