Lowa Elite Desert Boots
Rounding it all up over the years and my packboating footwear has narrowed down to:
Teva Omniums for light duty day paddles and
Lowa Desert Elite boots for heavier tramping with loads.
Otherwise, this is what counts
- No membrane
- No mesh uppers, but a tough, quick-drying fabric that can take the knocks and is salt water tolerant. Durability is more useful than the lightness and wet grip.
- Good draining – particularly at the heel rather than the instep, as that’s how you drain a shoe when sitting down in a boat with your legs sticking out over the sides.
- A thick, chunky sole, ideally from a boot not a trail shoe. One that offers solid support over rocky terrain and good grip in mud or wet grass. Custom insoles for comfort tuning can always be added later by the owner.
- Proper laces. Forget velcro and cinch-cord locks – that’s for cag cuffs and stuff sacks. Laces may not be high-tech, but they’re field repairable and still the best way to get a shoe or boot to fit a varyingly sized human foot securely.
- A wide fitting (for me).
- Some provision to stop stones getting in and possibly wearing holes in a latex drysuit sock (though wearing socks over drysuit socks is probably a better solution).
- And great build quality.
Until that distant day comes I’ll stick with my Teva Omniums (now on my second pair), even though they’re rather more for day-use than overnighting. Update here.
With an IK you hop in, paddle away and hop out. You’re not normally tramping for days carrying your gear. Even Neoprene booties will do, or just an old pair of trainers. Packrafting footwear (that is, trekking the moors and paddling the lochs, usually with a camping payload) requires an amphibious boot which will drain and dry quickly while giving you support on the trail.
Of course you can just use any old boot and let it get wet. But anything with a membrane (GoreTex) can take quite a while to dry.
On my first ever overnight packraft trip I used Keen Arroyos (left) and paid the price. I made the mistake of putting water duties (drainage/easy drying) above ground support for trudging cross-country with an 18kg load. With the thin soles and feeble, slip-prone lacing Still used by Keen), I didn’t feel at all secure in the rough, and when I got to a long, road-walking stage the feet soon got sore. On any kind of rocky terrain or path they’d have been worse.
Having said that, when my current Teva Omniums wear out, I may give the Keen Newport H2 a go. They’d drain a lot faster from the heel.
I then adapted a pair of less flimsy Karrimor Meridian trail shoes (left) I got for 30 quid, by pushing draining holes through with a red-hot poker. Shame, as they have an eVent membrane, of which I hear good things. They weren’t a great full-on hiking shoe and under my 95kgs the sole got mushy and the tread offered little grip in steep or wet Scottish conditions, partly why I find a packstaff so useful. But they were better for loaded, rough-country walking than the Arroyos. And it has to be said they’re survived a regular sea-water soaking, rinsing, airing and drying pretty well for a pair of cheapies. Nothing came apart but it can’t be far off.
Brasher Lithiums (left) fitted me OK, had an usually stiff sole which also happen to make good MTB boots and they passed a test on the Fitzroy in Australia, although much of the time we were wading or even sinking in quicksands which were easier to get out of barefoot.
After a couple of nights I poked through drain holes (below) on the instep and above the heel so they drain as the feet point up in a boat. Back home on regular day walks the Brashers turned on me, rubbing blisters at the heel and then squishing the small toe as they were too narrow.
Another idea could be some Crocs. Remember the Croc Craze a few years ago? Their Swiftwater Mesh Deck Sandal (below) is an acquired look, like regular Crocs (left), but goes for under 40 quid on ebay and weigh less than the Tevas. For something which gets squeezed out of a tube every few seconds in an Asian factory, with that mesh upper I’m no convinced they’ll last very long.