See also: Packrafting shoes or boots
Not much packrafting going on here in southern Utah, but a little hiking and easy canyoneering (or maybe just ‘canyowading’ in the fabulous Zion, Canyonlands and Escalante NPs. I’ve had a chance to try out a couple of new water shoes I picked up: Teva Omniums to replace my worn-out Keen Arroyos, plus a goofy pair of Vibram FiveFingers. My g-friend was also using a pair of Keen Whispers (similar to Arroyos, but quieter).
Not least because they were going for just $40 at REI, I’m rather pleased with my Omniums. Like it or not, much of how something performs depends on what it costs – well it does to me. As a replacement for my old Arroyos, the Omniums hold my foot much more securely, with a velcro adjustable heel strap, a velcro adjustable clip buckle strap over the top, plus those dubiously effective cinch lock laces over the front. It’s the over-the-top strap that makes all the difference to holding to foot securely and which the Keens (and other Teva water shoes like Kimtah) were missing. On the Arroyos (and the Whispers) the cinch lock laces loosened as you arched the foot so that they needed knotting to stay put (or reconfigure the shoe for conventional hand lacing).
The Tevas also have no removable insole, with no exposed and wear-prone threading underneath attaching upper to sole, and a solid and chunky-looking plastic-rubber footbed derived from one of their sports sandals and doubtless designated with some snappy acronym.
By the way, a closed toe water shoe is much better for wading than a sandal, because the open front of a sandal drags through the water as you wade. Closed toe ‘sandals’ like Arroyos or Omniums work much better here and elsewhere, plus on land or water the toe protection is welcome. They’re still only new, but the Omniums also feel more sure-footed than the Arroyos ever were, mostly down to the fitting straps, but also due to what feels like a thick and less flexible sole which have not compressed and lost cushioning over time, as my previous Teva sandals used to do.
We walked a couple of hours up The Narrows at the top of Zion park (left and below), following, crossing and wading along the Virgin River countless times. The Tevas gripped as well as anything here, drained readily and felt agile and secure when boulder hopping.
For regular dry walks up the side of Zion canyon and on a couple of longer dry desert walks in Canyonlands (below), they performed well enough, the softer-than-a-boot soles gripping very well on dry slickrock at the cost of letting some sand in in the washes. Lifting a foot behind you once or twice was an easy way to let the sand spill around the toe holes. At the end of a hot, 11-mile desert walk there was only a little soreness, but that could be due to my desiccated feet after a fortnight in this very arid climate. I feel that under the weight of a pack and clad in some seal skin socks, they’ll work well in northwest Scotland, though for an overnighter I think I’d sooner use the proper hiking boots.
With their wide snouts the Omniums are a bit clog- or Croc ugly, but wide shoes suit my feet much better. I haven’t read them all, but the reviews on Teva.com did complain of fast wear; no great surprise there with modern sports shoes. I do wish they’s put a chunkier tread on their soles, but another plus: they float – always a good thing in the water.
So, I give a paddlepacking thumbs up for the Omniums. At less than half retail price, I presume they’ll be being superseded by the Schmomnium GT, or maybe REI just had too many lying around. In fact water shoes are no longer listed on Teva’s website but [remnants?] are still sold widely in the US. If you can grab yourself a pair for what I paid, I do believe you’ll have a great water shoe. We’ll see how long that adds up to, but I got a couple of years out of the Arroyos so two years from the Tevas will do me.
Two years later and my Teva Omniums are getting regular use for day paddles and are still hanging in there with no actual signs of breaking up. The soles are now too smooth to be useful on mud, but were never that good anyway. All in all, tougher than the similar Keens, but still limited for loaded overnight, all-terrain treks. I might get a Vibram sole stuck on them.
Four years later and nothing much more to report. Decay is gradual but they’re still hanging in there. Nothing has actually broken or worn out. The soles are getting quite thin and have lost just about all the tread. I bought some stick-on Vibram-like soles (left)
but I’m not convinced they will stick well to the curved surface without a lot of work and the right sort of press and tools so I just take it easy on wet grass slopes. To be fair most of the time these shoes are in a boat or on a pushbike which may explain how they’ve lasted so long. So a short time later I used them on a three-day walk in Italy – about 80km – as an alternative to my heavier and stiffer Lowa desert boots. I found the Tevas extremely comfortable on the mostly road and gravel track train (once I put some socks on). The thick squidy heel really helped and the front sole wasn’t too thin for the gravel. They breath well of course (temps in the high 20s) and are easy to take off.
In 2016 I bought another pair in the US for about $60 and by 2020 the sole was peeling off here and there and I’ve just glued them up a second time. But they’re still my go-to paddling shoes.
Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport
I like to go barefoot so when I spotted Vibram’s FiveFinger ‘glove slippers’ a while back I thought they looked fun. Recently I took the plunge and selected the TrekSport model, thinking they were the most heavy-duty and hike-worthy of the range. The price is nuts, up to £100 or more in the UK, and as it is I’m still a bit shocked I actually paid $85 (£55) for these.
A BBC article shows how Vibram hit the jackpot when a bit of in-house experimental fun coincided with a barefoot running craze in the US. Sales went through the roof, and with success came the attack of the clones which the article describes.
Outside of California, you might feel a bit silly going shopping in a pair of 5Fs, but it has to be said they do raise a smile, and where possible, less clumpy footwear is always better. I’ve read rave reviews about the improved feel and ‘back to nature’ ergonomics of 5Fs, allowing the wearer to reconnect their feet with the [mother] earth so as to run not unlike the virile, loin-clothed hero from the 1980s Countryman movie (brilliant reggae soundtrack, btw).
Out the box the TrekSports don’t exactly slip on like a pair of well-oiled Crocs. It took a lot of fiddling to get my smaller toes into the corresponding pockets. Once done, you tug on the velcro band to secure them round the ankle and step out. On the first walk, heading into Willow Gulch down in Escalante, the baking sand on a 105-degree day burned through to my feet, but at least the close fit stopped any of that sand getting in.
Later on, in the shallow creek, they gripped reassuringly on all surfaces, even wet and slimy, and were certainly better than bare feet; the studded tread worked well. But for boulder-hopping they weren’t quite as secure as the Omniums, feeling a bit like the rubber-soled socks that they are. And after a couple of hours of wading some grit did get in which required a rinse out followed by a repetition of the tedious refitting dance. If there’s a knack to putting them on, I haven’t got it yet because next day up in the cooler Box Death Hollow forests, it took Five Minutes to get each Flipping Foot’s Five Fingers into Freakin’ Place. Tracking and crossing the rushing stream along the faint path for a few hours, the inevitable toe-stubbing plus head-on or side glances meant each time we crossed the stream I lingered a bit to let my throbbing toes numb a little in the cold water. I ended that walk deciding that while clearly not pretending to be a hiking boot, the many-toed TrekSports were too flimsy to be trekky after all.
The Emperor’s new shoes?
And so we must ask the five thousand finger question: do individual toe pockets on slipper-like footwear give any actual advantages in comfort, agility and performance against a regular water shoe?
Short of being a chimpanzee, I have to say not that I could tell. Had they been just a pair of snug-fitting, ten-dollar plimsoles or even a wetsuit ankle boot, they’d have worked as well on the trail and in the river. As it is, the thin soles transmit sharper rocks and maybe I’m clumsy, but in particular, the lack of toe protection bashed my toes as painfully as I recall back in my Teva open-sandal days.
But that is for boatless creek wading. For something like a day paddle in my packraft, with its tight foot area for my size 11 feet, the Vibrams may have a use, being light and robust enough to deal with put-ins and portages. On cooler UK paddles where socks can’t be worn, they may not be warm enough.
And then you have to ask: how long will something this thin and stretchy last? About as long as some of my socks I suspect. I did also wonder if just two toe pockets – a ‘foot mitten’ – might satisfy the anatomical ergonomists who believe in the benefits of full toe articulation while making the shoe a whole lot easier to put on?
It seems so with Vibram patent dodging 3T Barefoots from Bodyglove with three toe pockets. They seem to be pitched at SUP paddlers and not trekkers, but if I’d seen them earlier, I may have gone for them instead. I’m pleased to have tried the Fives but since sold them.
It’s worth remembering that you can’t wear socks (including drysuit socks) with such shoes, so for warm weather only.
The Keen Whispers (left) seem a bit more casual canal than a water shoe and are too narrow in the front to fit well (as other reviewers have found).
Down in Willow Gulch I did spot a finely made Paiute Reed Sandal (right), the original Mesozoic flip-flop which goes to show that even the ancients needed footwear of some kind.