Tuesday, May 19, 2009
No, not that kind of protection ... this kind
It’s that time of year when winter has faded away and the rivers are filling up with excited kayak, canoe and raft paddlers again. It’s time for you to enjoy the thrill of the whitewater rapids. Hopefully you have been schooled on the importance of the essentials for paddling: boat, paddle, helmet, personal floatation device and sprayskirt (for kayakers). I would like to add another river essential, for your own personal safety and comfort, proper footwear.
Studies and river stories have shown that the place where many injuries occur is on shore while either scouting or running down the river back to help rescue someone or something. It is also essential to have proper footwear when you encounter an “out of the boat experience” yourself and have to perform your own rescue. One of the best ways you can prevent injuries in these situations is to wear sturdy but comfortable booties or other supportive footwear designed for watersports.
To help you better protect yourself from injury and provide for a more comfortable trip down the river, we looked at several good options for your feet. We have chosen the best models for kayakers, canoeists and rafters. The footwear was tested in various boats on the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s local rivers such as the Nantahala River, Ocoee River, Chattooga River, Cheoah River, Pigeon River, Nolichucky River and French Broad River. Because there is footwear for a broad range of paddlers, I will give my overall impression of each one then include information about their best specific use(s).
Teva Sling King
This is a very comfortable yet stable low top booty that provides good contact with rocks and reduces the slippery feel that other footwear might not provide. This booty works equally well in a playboat (best in that category) or river runner. It is light weight and even though it doesn’t have drainage in the sole, this booty doesn’t fill up and make it feel like you’re standing in water all the time. The Sling King works well in most kayak applications but I like a stiffer sole when paddling a canoe. These will work well for c-boaters that don’t use toe blocks.
Teva Cherry Bomb
If you don’t see the booty, here’s a hint: they come in stylish camo. This high top booty from Teva is very stable and supportive for the active creeker and river runner who enjoys extra support when scouting rapids or setting up safety. The Velcro top helps keep water out which is helpful since these booties don’t have drainage in the sole. Personally, I’d prefer not have drainage in a booty rather than one that lets grit and sand get between my foot and the comfortable sole (as has happened with some other booties). An added bonus feature of the Cherry Bomb is that it has thicker neoprene than the other booties which makes it nice on cold rivers or for winter paddling. Although the booties worked OK for a few minutes in my AllStar (I have size 12 feet by the way), they seemed a little too bulky for an extended session of playing. The Cherry Bomb did work well in a canoe with and without toe blocks.
The NRS Attack provided the best traction of any of the booties that I tested. They were very stable and supportive while offering very good grip on just about any surface I could find. Surprisingly they were the easiest booty to put on and take off with a quick latch buckle which offers rapid access while providing solid support. The Attack also has the best drainage system that allows water to run out quickly without letting in sand and grit. That’s a big plus in my book. Although they work fine in a playboat, they are a little big and stiff for a full day of playboating (for my taste) but were my favorite booty for river running and creeking. In a c-boat, they were also my favorite booty and were comfortable with or without toe blocks.
The Keen Payette has been a favorite of NOC instructors over the past two years and was my booty of choice last year. It offers solid support and is incredibly comfortable. I like the fact that if I get them large enough, not only will they fit well over drysuit socks but the also have the adjustability to give solid support and be comfortable without an inner sock in the same size booty. Although all of the straps give a really solid, stable feel, the top strap has aggravated me enough to cut it off because the Velcro was sticking to everything in sight. I guess if you’re a little more careful, you may want to keep the top strap but I think the booties are very secure without the top strap (it’s hard for most people to “modify” brand new gear). One added bonus of the Payette is they offer exceptionally good drainage so you’re not standing in water after getting out of the river. These booties excelled in comfort and usability in every boat. I was most surprised that they fit easily into the playboat and yet still worked well in c-boats (with and without toe blocks). If you paddle a lot of different boats, this is one booty that can do it all.
Salomon Techamphibian 2
Although not technically a booty, I’ve fallen in love with this impressive footwear for water and land. Offering solid traction on all surfaces, the Techamphibian 2 gives good support when worn as a shoe. For colder water or weather, you can add a set of Neo Socks (shown on the left foot in the photo) for a booty feel offering a comfortable and versatile combo. This is the top choice of our raft guides because they drain quickly and offer good protection from rocks and other river hazards. If you are rafting with NOC, this is an excellent choice since you can take them home to enjoy other activities as well. For boaters, these just won’t fit into a playboat and may even be a little tight in some of the river runners but work well in higher volume river running boats and creek boats. If you wear the Neo Socks, you can clip these into the back of your boat but remember if you need to hop out for a quick rescue (or swim), you’ll only be wearing the neoprene sock that doesn’t have good protection or traction. I was surprised that the Techamphibian was one of my top two favorite picks for an open canoe with or without toe blocks. If you’re going on a multi-day trip such as the Grand Canyon, these would be hands down the footwear of choice giving you one shoe that does it all and does it with support and comfort.
I have used the Techamphibian 2 for boating, hiking, biking (no clipless pedals) tromping around in creeks and hanging around at the house. I’m even wearing them as I type this blog entry because they have become my daily shoe choice. They will even function as a sandal by stepping into the back of the shoe. Unlike other shoes, the back comes right back into place and gives good support for your next boating or hiking trip.
All of the footwear that I tested provided exceptional comfort, stability and protection. To help you get started in finding the best one for your style of boating, here are my top picks in each category:
Playboat - Teva Sling King
River Runner / Canoe - NRS Attack
Creeking - Teva Cherry Bomb, NRS Attack (tie)
Overall Winner (hard boats) - Keen Payette
Raft / Multi-sport - Salomon Techamphibian 2
Now get out there and enjoy some big boomin’ fun on the river and remember to protect your feet!
For more info or to order any of the above booties, plus many more,
call the NOC Outfitter's Store at 800-367-3521