The Scoop on Sandals
Jul/26/2012 16:02 Filed in: Gear Reviews
Spring is here. I "sprung" our clocks forward today.Time to trade ski boots for flip-flops, tennis shoes and sandals. About this time of year I start seeing my friends cruising around, chillin' out , and adventuring in their water sandals. I can't help but notice what they are wearing. I'm into shoes, they say a lot about a person, but I have particularly strong opinions about sandals. First let me be clear in that I am writing about "river / water" sandals. I have worn many different types over the years. My whitewater pursuits have spanned 20+ years so I am confident speaking about this subject. I have worn great ones and others that failed miserably. Packing light and traveling smart means picking the best tool for the job. Choosing the right footwear for your river trip, surf adventure is huge.
Velcro vs. Buckles: The real answer to this question lies in what you're doing. Are you rafting for a day or a week? Canyoneering in France or are you just cruising the beach on your townie? If your adventure is mellow and your sandals are mainly for comfort and tropical transportation then velcro is great, quick to adjust, easy to get on and off and looks good. If you're actually going to need your sandals to stay on your feet in whitewater then velcro is not the answer. Velcro will be ripped open in strong current. I cannot tell you how many velcro sandals I have chased down the river. More often than not when subjected to ocean or river current velcro fails. Losing your sandals is an unfortunate but avoidable outcome. Sandals with Buckles are superior to sandals with velcro. Tightened down they will never wash off. That being said, not all buckles are created equal, some are big, some fastex, some slide. When it comes to withstanding current and pure comfort, low profile buckles are the best.I like a flat slider buckle that adjusts easily, holds securely and lays low. Chaco makes one of the best river sandals on the market. They utilize the sliding buckle system along with a sliding strap. The sandal strap is configured so that it can be adjusted to fit the wearer's foot. Ingenious really. Teva also makes sandals that are as functional as they are fashionable. Most river guide professionals I know use one of these two brands.
It's all about the rubber! The rubber that gets plastered against that wet river rock makes or breaks you (and the sandal). These days, making good grippy rubber is a well guarded and well developed science. Performance footwear companies boast and brag about their latest products in an effort to one-up the competition. Just ask one of your rock climbing buddies. Soft rubber grips rock easily and keeps you from sliding. A lot of "cheap" sandals use "cheap rubber. " AKA "hard rubber". Hard rubber is slippery rubber. Try getting a good friction grip with hard rubber against a smooth granite boulder. You won't. The rubber will slide and you'll go with it. There are a few simple ways to determine a rubber soles hardness. Try pushing your thumbnail into the sole. If you can easily leave an indentation then that's a good sign of softness. Also, bend the whole sandal a bit and get a feel for its flexibility. Your foot is dynamic and moves every which way. Well designed footwear should do the same. Stiff hard rubber makes sandals feel stiff. Finally, in case your at a loss, just ask the sales clerk. Any clerk worth his/her salt should be able to explain at least a little bit about the type of rubber on the product the're selling.
Bottom Line. Choose your sandals with an eye on what purpose they're going to serve. If your adventuring demands reliable traction and quality performance then buy accordingly. Cheap sandals are great for cruising the beach or riding your townie but that's about it. You'll find quality sandals can take you from whitewater to extended day hikes. Below are a few links to well designed and worthwhile sandals.