Sandal Showdown: Chaco or Keen?

I bought my go-to pair of Chaco sandals in 2003 when preparing for the Global Semester at St. Olaf College. I wasn’t the only one. Most of the students on the trip had Chacos so our matching footwear would cause quite the stir in Egyptian markets or Thai beaches. Some were even brave enough to sport their Chacos in winter with Smartwool socks. (Being from Florida and knowing sandals and socks is the ultimate faux pas, I remained pure.) But this is all to say: I literally traveled around the world in my Chacos and still wear them consistently six years later. Chaco makes some quality sandals.

But, after much hemming and hawing, I recently purchased not another pair of (brown) Chacos, but Keen Newport H2 sandals.  And I have to say, I’m smitten. Though I have been a strong advocate for Chacos for many years, I may be switching my allegiance to Keen. Yes, I know. What will the world come to next!

I, though, am not a quick decision-maker. I am a thinker. An analyzer to the extreme. So, scroll down to check out my Chaco/Keen showdown.

Chaco Z2


  • very comfortable (high arch)
  • feet feel secure but not claustrophobic
  • washable (dishwasher and clothes washer)
  • come in a fair variety of colors
  • great for hiking (I even know folks who run in them)
  • replaceable soles/treads (though I liked my lighter tread before I replaced it)
  • no back heel bump to bother you
  • rocks easily slip out


  • not the best for ugly feet (lots of foot showing)
  • the new soles are too heavy
  • they do get smelly quicker than they used to a few years back
  • toes are vulnerable to mean rocks when hiking
  • not good for rock-hopping in Montreat (toe banging issue)
  • straps sometimes move a little
  • dangerous on the beach (can get sand in the canvas straps)
  • tan lines


Keen Newport H2


  • cushier than Chacos, more comfortable even
  • snug secure feel
  • washable/waterproof
  • good (more) color choices than Chaco
  • toe protection (this is huge)
  • good for slightly uglier feet (mine included)
  • easy to dress up a bit


  • feet feel a little hot sometimes
  • rocks get stuck inside and must stop to pop them out
  • more mainstream? everyone and their mother and law has Keens (I love you LouAnn)
  • tread perhaps tracks more mud than Chacos
  • smelly possiblities
  • the elastic cords may wear out one day
  • even crazier tan lines (not sure about this yet)

After hashing that out, I’m still not sure if I have a favorite. My Chacos will always have a special place in my heart, but I have to admit I’m wearing my Keens more this summer. If you’re looking to purchase a pair, you can’t go wrong, but maybe this is my advice: for free spirits with a variety of footwear needs and wants, the Chaco might fit your personality best. For those who like things a little more ordered and comfortable, perhaps the Keens are up your alley. Or…. just buy is on sale at Amazon.


  1. camstory says

    I will be loyal to Chacos. I love them and I don’t feel like the Keen is even a Sandal. Looks more like a shoe to me. And the Chaco tan is a prize, not a con!

  2. says

    chaco’s will always win. but how can you compare them to keen’s. keen’s are not sandals. they are shoes that are missing some material. seriously. those aren’t sandals. they don’t have any characteristics of sandals. they are shoes.

  3. says

    Interesting….two comments for Keens as not sandals. I guess I think they’re sandals because they function the same as Chacos in my wardrobe. Also, you don’t wear socks with them. Oh, and they feel like sandals when on your feet. I hear you though: Keens are clunkier and have a different personality than Chacos. Keep the comments coming folks. :)

  4. Travis--the hippest brother-in-law says

    Adam, Clunkier? I disagree….As soon as you put them on, they become “one” with your ugly foot. I’m a Keen guy, but only because I found a pair for under $20. Besides, what other footwear can you use for hiking, mowing and/or horseback riding?

  5. libby says

    i require both in my life. (keep in mind i also own 5 pairs of black heels and wear them all) hike in keens, stroll in chacos. can’t wait to see y’all next month!

  6. Nicole says

    I had a pair of Keen’s. The anti-smell vanilla soles they used attracted legions of red ants. No joke. I would wake up with shoes covered in them. The soles seems to have less traction than Chacos. And, they are so wide I feel like I’m wearing clown shoes. Ultimately, I brought them back to REI, and bought a pair of Chacos. I wear them continuously. And I agree that the tan line is a pro, not a con.

  7. says

    Wow, that’s strange, Nicole. So glad I haven’t discovered the ant problem. Anyone else experience that? Now the clown shoes thing doesn’t phase me — I wear size 14 — everything feels like clown shoes.

  8. says

    My Chaco brethren, lend me your ears! Chaco is a variable way of life. Even apart from the functionality and comfort, nothing can beat the “air through my toes” ecstasy that IS Chaco. My encouragement is for you to come home, return to Chaco and be freed from your Keenly clever oppressors. The world of “almost but not quite” wants to pull you down and bury you with more than 50% foot surface coverage. Chaco is our William Wallace to the foot world. Be brave my friend. Have heart, endure and if nothing else, get chaco hiking shoes. This way the sockos and chacos epidemic can be avoided. Peace be with you, the ever Chaco redeemed.

  9. Jesse says

    I just read this and realized it was from a year ago! I also have a pair of Z/2’s that I bought in 1998 for a variety of water activities. They are now sitting here in the garage and I’m not sure what to do; buy a new pair or go for a pair of keen’s! My old Chaco’s would be too expensive to repair. The footbed is worn and the straps are really stinky! This definitely helps me in my decision though. Basically, I can’t go wrong with either brand! I live in MN as well and have to say that friends don’t let friends wear socks and sandals!

  10. mcstache says

    as a fourteen month owner of keens, i vote chaco for all your cons above and the general clunky weight of keens. also the dorky dad sandal factor, although that would likely remain for me with chacos.

  11. oceantraveler says

    I’ve been a Chaco wearer since 1998. I really like them. I do also have pair of Keen Arroyo’s and a pair of H2’s that I wear when I want more foot protection. The Arroyo’s have washable leather trim and looks like some of their shoes. The only thing I don’t care for, my feet tend to sweat in them badly wearing the Keen’s. The Arroyo’s have a running shoe type insole in them and they can start to smell. Someone even gave me a pair of no-show smart wool socks that I was traveling with noticed that my feet had to be sweating badly enough to create odor.

  12. Amy Sayers says

    I have both Chacos and Keens in my closet, but for my six days and nights on the San Juan coming up next month, it will be my Chaco-hands down (feet down?) As a teacher with foot issues, the Chacos resoloved them, not just for me, but two of my colleagues as well, and so the Keen’s see little use these days.

    I agree with the person that post that stated how the sandal becomes a part of your foot—–so true. Once a Chaconian, always a Chaconian!

  13. Emily says

    Another con to Keens: they don’t come in wide. I have very odd feet, my arches are strange (my mom has high ones, and my father has flat feet) plus ballet for 11 years didn’t help. Chacos have such wonderful arch support, and THEY COME IN WIDE. Do you have any idea how few shoes come in wide?

  14. says

    I’m trying to decide if I want a pair of Chacos (I’ve never had any before) or if I just want to invest in my fifth pair of fivefingers.

    I like the lack of material in the chacos (all my VFFs are STINKY! – easy to wash though) but I’m weary about the arch support and thick/heavy sole. I wish they had a minimalist design (although, I suppose I could just get a pair of hurraches)

    I suppose I should keep researching.

    Great article!

  15. Robin says

    Do the Keen’s have good arch support? Love my chacos but would like some variety but hard to do without the support.

  16. S says

    I know this is a super old article, but figured I would add my thoughts in case any other flat-foot types read this. I have tried wearing Chacos, twice, and really gave them a fair chance. Because the foot bed is so constructed, they are incredibly painful even after just 15 minutes when you have low arches, or less-than-average (I assume?) placed arches. I definitely have arches, they’re just low. Also–depending on how long your toes are, the arch hits in completely the wrong spot sometimes. eg: I have longer toes so even though I need a size 7 chaco, my arch would probably hit in the right spot in a size 5 or 6. So maybe you need short toes or something when it comes to Chacos. Chacos are super cute, and I thought maybe their new, lighter model would be less constructed, but no.

    I wore Keens for about 5 years and loved them. They were a little wide for my narrow foot, but super comfortable and also cute in their own way. I’m looking for a new sandal now, though, as I want something lighter and airier, and after trying on many pairs, I’m going with birkenstocks. Interestingly, these also have a contoured foot bed, but it seems like they get the arch placed correctly, and the arch isn’t so long as in Chacos. They also come in narrow, which is great.

    Bottom line: I know lots of people love Chacos, and I wish I could, too, but they HURT.

  17. Kris says

    Of course, a simple google search brings up an Ole! I work there, and currently have a pair of each shoe in my house, needing a decision. Thanks for the fun conversation.

  18. mellington says

    It should be note that Keen switched to a water-based adhesive due to health concerns in their factories, and the Keen shoes are now nowhere near as long lasting as they used to be. My two newest pairs had the soles falling off after about a season and a half of use. Keen said “too bad, it’s a year warranty”. I’m searching for something new……


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