I was talking with a friend about shoes the other day. She works for a local outfitter and we were talking about all the new styles and materials that are coming out in new shoe lines. It occurred to me as we talked that many folks that had never hiked in the deserts and canyons knew to bring another pair of canyon hiking shoes on their hike.
I remembered my first big day-long canyon hike in Coyote Gulch. How beautiful and grand the landscape was, the breathtaking beauty of it all. We hiked across the desert, down a sandy trail at the parking area closest to Stevens Arch. Bliss! My day hiking shoes worked great, and as we approached the canyon’s bottom, I was elated by the scenery and the activity. As we hiked along that day, we splashed in and out of the ankle-deep, and sometimes knee-deep, stream of water that flowed in the canyon’s bottom like a ribbon of light weaving in and out of rocky bends. Shoes and socks got drenched, and when the time came to climb up and out of the canyon at Lobo Arch, the condition of my feet inside wet shoes and socks, climbing out into the dry desert, was not optimal.
I thought to myself that I needed a good pair of water shoes…but what would be the best for hiking in and out of sand, rocky creek bottoms, and water, with a pack on your back? The next time I hiked in Coyote Gulch, I took a pair of water moccasins that I had owned for a few years. Made of neoprene, strong elastic webbing, and a minimal foot bed, they were not ideal for canyon hiking as sand and rocks would wash in and build up in the foot bed, making stopping to remove the well-fitted shoe an ordeal. Even worse were some sandals with velcro straps. No matter how tightly you strapped the sandal on, rocks ALWAYS lodged in the foot bed, and trying to rip apart and put together wet velcro in muddy or sandy conditions was extremely frustrating and a huge time waster. Plus, having your toes exposed and open to the elements could be a trip killer if you ran into sharp rocks or a cactus when out of the water.
Enter Crocs. They were light, easy to carry when clipped to your day pack, and easy to get on and off your foot if a rock became lodged in the foot bed, or excessive sand washed in. They were also comfortable for miles, quite literally. The clog protected the toes, and the looseness of the fit made removing and replacing the shoe a breeze–even with a 30-pound pack on your back.
Now, hybrid terrain shoes have become quite popular, and hikers have so many more choices than they did ten years ago. Keen, Merrill, and many other companies now make great hybrid water hikers. But, to be honest, I prefer my hiking shoes when up on dry land, going across country. The Chaco sandals are extremely popular with many of my friends. But I would not feel comfortable hiking in them, as I prefer to have my toes covered and protected on long hikes–and once again you have to deal with loosening the straps to get the rocks out of the foot bed. I have yet to try Keen shoes for this activity, and I am hopeful that they could have a great product. Today, I would still use Crocs as they have proven to me to work beautifully for canyon hikes, especially over miles of hiking in and out of a stream bed.
Overall, what works best for me is day hiking or approach shoes to get across-country into the canyon, then you change into your wet hiking shoes once at the canyon’s bottom. When you are ready to hike out after your watery adventure, you have nice and dry shoes and socks.
Do you have a favorite water hiking shoe, or wet/dry hiking advice? Let us know in comments below.