Life is a never ending series of choices. Where will I kayak today? Which boat will I paddle? Is it a dry suit day? As kayakers we face these difficult decisions more often than we might like. Deciding what to wear any given day on the river is perhaps the most vexing question facing paddlers today. After all, it’s not about how good you are but how good you look doing it. Most difficult among these outfit decisions is the question, which shoes do I wear with this? Fear not. In this article I’ll break down the pros and cons of a few different river shoes I’ve used over the past couple of years. By the end of it you will have a much easier time deciding that you should in fact wear shoes while kayaking.
If you paddle in California, you probably know Five Ten is the preferred rubber on any shoe for walking around on that smooth Cali granite. I had a pair of the Five Ten Water Tennies a while back and I will agree that the rubber on these shoes is amazing when it comes to sticking to rock that is smooth as ice. The problem I found with these was the fit and the durability. They’re narrow in the toe, perhaps inspired by climbing shoes. This made them uncomfortable. The sharp edge at the heel also made them feel awkward in the boat. The heels of the shoe wouldn’t grip the floor of my kayak. When I’m in a boat, only the balls of my feet are on the bulkhead so I need the shoes to get traction on plastic as well as rock. The other big problem I have with Five Ten is durability. My shoes completely fell apart in less than a year and from talking to others that doesn’t seem to be too far off from the average.
After I wore out my Five Tens I got the Astral Brewers. These were the first shoes that Astral made and the ones I had were made with Five Ten rubber. I really liked these shoes. I love how the heel is made to fold down so the shoe converts to a slip on. I found a similar issue with the heel shape making an awkward feeling in my kayak but otherwise loved these. My first pair started to come apart just slightly after about 9 months. I contacted Astral, and they immediately sent me a new pair. The replacement pair survived over two years of kayaking, mountain biking, and daily wear.
Once my brewers were getting a little old I decided to check out the new Hiyak by Astral. I was excited about the low profile soles and the fact that they were hi tops. The higher coverage around the ankle goes a long way to keep dirt out of the shoe. Getting dirt in your shoes is a quick way to wear holes in your dry suit socks. These shoes were awesome. Super comfortable in my boat. They were also my first experience with the new G rubber from Astral. I’d say it is slightly less grippy than Stealth Rubber but worth it to me for the gains in comfort and durability. After a few longer walks I did start to see the advantages of having a more sturdy sole. I was contemplating switching shoes when a raccoon ran off with one of my Hiyaks. He saved me from having to make yet another hard choice as a kayaker.
With my Hiyak lost and in need of a shoe I decided to try out the Rassler. I only needed one shoe since the raccoon only took one of my others but Astral was running a special, buy a left shoe, get the right one free. Well who am I to turn up my nose at a deal like that. I bought both. The Rassler is my favorite river shoe so far. High-ish tops with grippy rugged soles, and that desert combat tan (affectionately known jihad stomper) reminds me so much of my old combat boots how could I not love them.
Well now I’ve done for you what the raccoon did for me. You no longer have to decide if you should wear shoes on the river or not. The answer is yes. Phew, one less hard choice to make today. I feel better. Don’t you? Now all that’s left is to choose which shoes you should wear….
Feature photo: Ethan Howard