How to Adjust Chacos: Loosen or Tighten Your Chacos to Get the Right Fit

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Need to know how to adjust Chacos, how to loosen Chacos, how to tighten Chacos, or how should Chacos fit?

We’ve got your back.

We are big fans of Chacos and believe everyone can learn to love these sandals, given the right education. That’s because when you buy your first pair of Chacos, it can be hard to figure out how to adjust Chacos and how to make Chacos fit.



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Today we’re going to cover a brief history of Chacos and fill you in on what is so special about these sandals. Then we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to loosen Chacos, how to tighten Chacos, and how to find the right size Chacos for your feet.

By the end of this article, you’ll be slipping into your new Chaco sandals just like Cinderella and you’ll never want to take them off again.

What Are Chacos?

Frequently talked about as best travel sandal, the best backpacking sandal, and the best all-around sandal, Chacos are real multitaskers and the ideal footwear for many outdoor adventures.

If you’ve been swapping out between sneakers, boots, and sandals for your daily adventures, then you’re late to the party. Chaco sandals have been an essential part of an adventurous load out for decades.

Unlike other sport sandals, Chacos are made to have bulletproof strength and super-powered support for your feet. Furthermore, the company holds to a strong ethic of repairability and sustainability.

Every pair is manufactured to last for years and Chaco has a re-sole and repair program setup to bring aging Chacos back to life. The company is a leading role model of what sustainable retail can look like.

As for the secret to the shoes themselves, well, you’ll learn more about them later. But the critical ingredients are threefold:

  • A sturdy, podiatrist-approved sole that supports your arch and cradles your foot.
  • A single, Z-strapped design that both prolongs sandal life and increases comfort.
  • One adjustable buckle, no Velcro, that loosens and tightens the entire sandal.

All of these features speak to the Chaco with which Mark Paigen founded the company. Foremost was utility and simplicity.

Mark knew that on the rivers, more parts meant more problems. He knew that the best sport sandal would have the fewest number of necessary parts and that each of those parts would be of the highest quality.

It took him a couple of years to perfect the first model- the Chaco Z/1 and many more to forge the business which Chaco has become today.

If you buy a pair of Chacos today, you’re going to be holding their patented LUVseat footbed with a Chacogrip sole. It will feel lightweight but undoubtedly durable. The strap is made from polyester webbing and the single buckle is a durable plastic.

All around, Chacos are impressive sandals. Whether you wear yours with a toe loop or not, and whether you prefer double or single straps are decisions you’ll have to make for yourself. However, all of Chaco’s lightweight sandals are some of the strongest you will ever own.

The Chaco story

Chaco was founded by Mark Paigen, a white water rafting guide back in 1989. Up until the mid 80’s, the word sandal was synonymous with leather. It was just a couple years after the first models of river sandal had begun to be manufactured that Mark had his big breakthrough.

Mark was born to revolutionize water-friendly-footwear. Already interested and experienced in producing custom footwear, when he found himself living the life of a seasonal rafting guide in Colorado, he was right where he needed to be.

That’s because up until then, sport sandals had limited utility because they lacked quality design and manufacturing. Teva sandals had begun to make strides in the right direction, but none of the sandals that Mark’s co-workers wore were very well made or supported the foot. Mark could feel the need for something new.

The way Mark tells the story, he decided to focus on these five most important factors:

  • Synthetic materials
  • Anatomical strap placement
  • A continuous pull-through strap
  • Top shelf components – especially outsoles from Vibram
  • No Velcro

Initially, he just made a couple pairs for himself. They were time consuming for him to make by hand, but they revolutionized his lifestyle on the Colorado river. It wasn’t long before his clients were ordering their own custom pairs from him and he wound up with his hands full. Chaco started as Mark’s own little operation but the quality of his product quickly caused Chaco to grow.

In 1991 they began producing their footbeds from polyurethane molds and then in 1993, with the help of a pedorthist, Mark revolutionized the sandal industry again.

This time, it was by designing a supportive footbed that draws the foot to the center. No longer would feet spill over the edges of sandals on all sides.

Chaco Sandals has since grown, and redesigned their sandals several times over. Today they can be found in all sorts of stores all over the country. But the original ethic that first made a Chaco a Chaco hasn’t changed. Each shoe is manufactured to a high standard of quality and sustainability.

What Are the Differences Between Chaco Sandal Models

These days, Chaco makes a number of models of high-quality, waterproof sandals. However, unlike other shoe companies, each different model of Chaco sandal isn’t distinguished by insignificant differences and flashy design ideas.

Chacos are simple, and each model showcases one specific type of innovation. So rather than thinking about what model you want, you can just think about what features you want. There is only one model of Chaco with each specific mixture of features.

Don't know if Tevas or Chacos are better? Read our in-depth comparison of Chacos vs Tevas

For example, suppose you want a toe loop and you like the idea of double straps for an extra snug fit. Then, you would choose the Chaco ZX2. That’s because the ZX models feature Chaco’s double strap and the 2 models feature a toe loop.

This type of product design and naming holds true to Chaco’s ethic of functionality over flashy. These names aren’t fancy phrases, they are designed to tell you exactly what features each sandal sports.

Chaco Z1 vs Z2 – Toe vs No Toe Strap

One of the biggest differences between types of Chacos is whether or not they have a toe loop. How Chacos should fit depends on their design, particularly on the toe loop.

All Chacos are comfortable once you learn how to adjust Chacos. However, Chacos with a toe loop provide you with two distinct points of control– at your big toe and your ankle. Chacos without a toe loop have a single axis of control between your ankle and the ball of your foot.

Toe loop vs no toe loop Chacos are distinguished by the number in their name. It’s really very simple. A 1 means that the sandal has no toe loop. A 2 means that the sandal does have a toe loop. This is true for the Z1 and Z2 models, as well as the ZX, Z/Volv, and Z/Cloud models.

Chaco ZX1 vs ZX2 – Single or Double Straps

The original Chaco sandals had a single strap woven through the sole to create Chacos famous Z-strap design. Today many models still use that same method.

However, Chaco now also produces the ZX models, which sport a double strap that weaves through itself. Don’t be fooled though, this is actually a single strap and is simply split down the middle for where it contacts your front-foot.

Why split the strap in half? Well the answer is simple and subtle. With two, thinner straps providing tension around the perimeter of your foot, you can get a more exact and tighter fit. That’s because the straps can more closely fit to the shapes of your foot.

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For some people, this is more comfortable. Some peoples feet are shaped in ways that don’t fit well under conventional, wider straps. This allows them to get a snug fit that doesn’t rub in the wrong places.

However, the ZX double strap isn’t for everyone. Some people find that the thinner straps dig into their feet in uncomfortable ways. It’s true, the thinner the strap is, the sharper it can feel under tension.

If you’re not sure, you should go try a pair on in your local outdoors store. Have a salesperson help you find the right fit and adjust your straps.

Or read on to our guide about how to adjust Chacos. We’ll teach you how to tighten Chacos, how to loosen Chacos, and how Chacos should fit. How many straps are right for you? You’ll have to answer that one for yourself.

How Should Chacos Fit?

Simply put, your Chacos should feel like a familiar hug. Snug, sturdy, and supportive. Unfortunately, it won’t exactly feel like that right away. It’s not love at first sight with these sandals. That’s because a new pair will mold over time to your exact feet, even if you have differently shaped feet.

How Chacos should fit out of the box and how they should feel after a year or two of use are two different stories.

When you first strap on your new Chacos, you’ll have to take time to adjust them carefully. So first, find the right sized sole. The best Chaco fit leaves less than an inch, but enough to see the sole all around your foot. Don’t worry too much about the straps at first. If you get this part right, you’ll learn to use the strap like a Chaco master before long.

The most important thing when you’re finding the right size Chacos is the arch support. If the arch of your sandal’s footbed isn’t in line with the subtalar joint of your ankle, your shoes will be uncomfortable and unhealthy.

Lining up the arch support for maximum support will make you feel better than ever. If you feel unsure, ask a specialist in the shoe section of your local outdoors store. They are trained to be experts at sizing your feet to shoes, Chacos are no exception.

A lot of people worry about their toes when they’re sizing shoes, and often, that’s a good way to go about things. However, when you’re sizing Chacos, that’s not exactly the best plan of attack.

Because Chacos are open-toed shoes, space for your toebox is far less important. If you fit your heel and ankle to be correctly aligned to a well-sized sole, then your toes are going to be just fine.

The secret is in the strap.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to adjust Chaco straps, we’ll walk you through it. You can also go to Chacos website and check out their animated page about adjusting Chaco straps.

When you have your straps correctly adjusted, you won’t feel any sharp edges digging into your skin. You’ll feel the full surface area of your straps everywhere they touch your foot. Your fit will be firm and not loosen as you wear them, but will not hurt or cut off any circulation.

If you need to know how to adjust Chacos, then be sure to read on to that section below.

Smelly Chacos? Check out my guide to deep cleaning Chacos

Are Chacos True to Size?

How to find the correct Chaco size is a popular question. That’s because Chaco doesn’t sell half sizes of their sandals. Knowing how Chacos should fit is critical when you’re buying your first pair.

The general rule of thumb is that if you wear a half size in your normal footwear, you should size down. That’s because they run just a tiny bit large and you definitely don’t want a sandal that’s too big. That will make the arch support rest under the wrong part of your foot. You’ll have achy hips in no time.

If it were as simple as everyone size down, however, this wouldn’t be such a popular question. Chaco sizing up or down does depend on a couple of factors and there are some people that are more comfortable sizing up.

If you are generally squeezing into your half size, that’s your first clue that you should size up, not down.

Secondly, if you have an abnormally large heel, you may be more comfortable in the larger heel cup of the next size up.

One of the most important parts of finding the right size of Chacos is making sure your heel fits properly and that the arch support is directly under your subtalar joint (basically, under your ankle). So if you take the usual advice and size down, but find your heel spilling out or the arch in the wrong place, chances are you sized the wrong way.

How to Adjust Chacos – Single & Double Strap Models

Adjusting Chacos can, admittedly, be a bit of a hassle. Especially if your pair is brand new, or hasn’t been well cared for.

However, one of the big secrets to Chaco’s success is their single z-strap design, knowing how to use it is a game-changer. It lets you adjust your sandals so that they hug every part of your foot evenly and reduces extra parts and points of weakness where your sandals can break.

If you want a simpler sandal strap design I always recommend going with Tevas, you can read up here on the differences between the two sandals.

Learning how to adjust Chacos correctly will go a long way towards keeping you comfortable on the trails.

First things first. The injection molded, high-strength plastic buckle is how you’re going to change the overall tension of your strap.

First, use your thumb to pull upwards and outwards on the buckle. This will loosen the entire system and give you some strap to play with.

Now, things will work a little differently if you have a toe loop as opposed to if you don’t. But both work in essentially the same way.

How to Loosen Chacos

Once you have stepped into your new pair of Chacos, you want to carefully adjust them so that they are the right fit from the start.

Because Chacos are designed with a single strap woven through the sole, you are going to have to pull tension through the entire strap to get the job done. It can feel like a bit of a hassle, but once you get the fit right, very little adjusting will be needed.

Pull up on the strap that runs from the outside edge of your foot to the ball of your big toe. If you have a toe loop this will loosen it, if you don’t, this will feed extra strap to the band running from the outside of your foot up around the inside of your ankle.

If you do have a toe loop, pull on it now to loosen it, then you will be feeding extra to the next part of the system. It’s good to make your toe loop extra large so that you first time fit is an easy operation, not a tight squeeze. Pull up on the strap running from the outside of your foot to the inside of your ankle.

You’ve now made a complete circuit of your Chaco. If they’re still not loose enough, repeat the process as needed. After you do it a couple times, you’ll get the hang of pulling in the right amount of slack from the beginning.

How to Tighten Chacos

Now it’s time to learn how to tighten Chacos. This is the important part of how to adjust Chacos. This is where you get the perfect fit, if you know what you’re doing.

Step into your new pair of Chacos. You’ve already loosened them enough so there’s plenty of room for your foot.

Don’t worry about pulling on the buckle yet. First, pull all your straps tight, and then take in all the extra slack with the buckle in one, easy motion.

Once you’ve learned how to tighten Chacos correctly, you’ll not have to do it very often. All you’ll do is slide the buckle back to loosen the ankle strap and then cinch it tight again around your foot.

In order to do that, you’re going to do the reverse motions of loosening your straps. First, pull from your inner ankle out towards your pinky toe. Make sure your strap isn’t twisted and that the edges feel comfortable on your skin.

The next steps are different if you have a toe loop, or you don’t. If you do have a toe loop model such as the Z/2 or ZX/2, then pull up on the outer edge of the toe loop, this will loosen it. You can then pull up on the strap running from the inside of your big toe to the outside of your foot.

If you are wearing a model without a toe loop like the Z/1 or ZX/1, then the process is very similar, just with one less step. Instead of pulling on your toe loop, pull up on the strap that runs from the inside of your big toe, back to the outside of your foot.

Last, no matter what type of Chaco sandals you have, pull up on the strap leading from the inside of your foot to the buckle. Now, you should have every strap tight on your foot except for this one. You shouldn’t feel any pain, or loss of circulation, but they should feel snug.

Now, using your thumb to hold the buckle up and open, pull on the tab at the end of the strap. Pull all the slack out and tighten the buckle to rest comfortably on top of your foot.

You’ve done it! Now you know how to adjust Chacos. You’re ready to conquer the world.

How to Break in Chacos & Avoid Blisters

If you just bought your first pair of Chacos and they just aren’t comfortable yet, don’t worry. Chacos can take a couple of weeks or months to get broken in properly.

Yes, you could walk in them all day every day and endure pain, blisters and blood to break them in. But that just sounds terrible and painful.

Instead, take some tips on how to break your Chacos in easily, and without pain.

First, don’t overwear them at first. You have to wait for calluses to build up on your heel and the outsides of your foot where the straps rub. It will take a week or to. Calluses are best built gradually. Don’t go tearing your feet apart trying to break in Chacos.

If you’re having a hard time, try using moleskin or band-aids where you’re experiencing friction.

If you’re really into it, you can rub alcohol on your calluses once or twice a day. It will dry out your skin and help them develop faster.

One of the best and most common defenses against friction is a good pair of socks or athletic tape to protect your skin from the new materials. This will keep you from getting friction injuries such as blisters and raw spots, but will not break in the footbed any faster.

Do NOT microwave your Chacos or try any ridiculous tricks you see online to make them break in faster. All you will do is reduce their lifespan, or worse.

Just give them light use for a couple of days. Maybe an hour at a time. The slow and steady way is always the most long lasting and healthy way.

Get the Right Fit, Be Comfortable

Once you’ve leaned how to adjust Chacos, there’s nothing stopping you from experiencing the revolutionary comfort and support of Chaco sandals.

Because you bought the right size for your foot, the arch support is directly under your ankle joint. That way it can provide maximum support. You can feel the difference.

Shop Chacos On Amazon

Your heel also rests comfortably in the heel cup and is not spilling over the sides or rolling around in extra space. Because you learned how to tighten Chacos correctly, you heel is held in place firmly, but comfortably.

The same is true of all your foot. You can feel the straps keeping you comfortably close to the LUVseat footbed. It may not have molded to your foot just yet. But all good relationships get better with time. And you still have plenty of years to spend with your Chacos.

Because you learned how to adjust Chacos correctly, your toes are held snugly in place where they get maximum control over the sole of your shoe. If you have a toe strap, it may rub a bit at first. But just give it a week or two and you won’t feel a thing.

Now, when you walk, there’s a spring in your step. Cushioned by a proper pad underfoot. At last, you own a pair of sandals that don’t clonk around and get in the way. They actually are good for your feet and your posture.

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Gone are the days of poorly adjusted Chacos hurting your feet. You’ll never have to suffer another uncomfortable step. But they say that the best way to learn is to teach. So go out and teach your friends how to adjust Chacos. Teach your friends’ friends, and your friends’ mom’s friends how to loosen Chacos and how to tighten Chacos.

And perhaps one day, everyone’s Chacos will fit as well as yours do.

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About The Author

Rand Shoaf

Rand Shoaf

Introduced to traveling at a young age, Rand has since traveled to over 45 countries. Learning how to maximize credit card sign-up bonuses in college has allowed him to earn millions of travel miles and points. Using the same tips and tricks he writes about here has ultimately allowed him to explore the word for pennies on the dollar.

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, and recommendations on this site are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed or approved by any bank, card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. You can read our advertiser disclosure here.

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3 thoughts on “How to Adjust Chacos: Loosen or Tighten Your Chacos to Get the Right Fit”

  1. I just bought the double strap toe Chacos and LOVE the comfort of the foot bed first of all, but I am really struggling with the toe strap…it feels like there is something wrong on the top of my big toe and it is causing lots of pain, sharp pain, not blister pain. I’m super concerned and want to try and get to a foot doc before I wear them too much but want to find out incase I have to return…this would make me sad.

  2. Hi Rand, I have a Z/cloud sandals that I like but not using it so much coz I don’t know if it looks right on my feet. I feel like the main straps needs to be longer coz the buckle sits right on top of my foot. Is that normal? I want to ask before I send it to them to lengthen the strap. I think it fits fine, it’s comfortable except for the buckle issue.

    • Hey Darby, when I wear mine the buckle definitely is more on the side of the foot, but if they are comfortable to wear I don’t see why there would be any issue to have the buckle more on top.


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