Canyoneering is a complex sport, it involves hiking/scrambling at times with heavy packs and climbing and diverse environmental conditions. This will take a toll on most boots. Over the years I have tried a lot of boots canyoneering, some I tried once and never again, others I would swear by but had a limited lifetime. Below are a list of shoes/boots that I have either used or enough colleagues have recommended that I thought they should be mentioned. Some of these boots are better suited to dryer class A/B canyons and others are better suited to Class C and very wet class B canyons. Due the diverse nature of the sport don’t expect to find “One Boot to Rule them All”. Chose a boot for the terrain/canyon type that you spend most of your time in and most likely it will work reasonably well in the other canyons.
Have a boot that works well for you that is not listed? Let us know in the comments, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are the go to canyoneering boot and are particularly adapt at class B/C canyons and canyons that have significant stretches of creeking (hiking & down climbing an uneven creek bed). These include the Stealth rubber soles one of the best and stickiest sole materials around. They are designed to be worn with Neoprene socks and incorporate drains to help minimize the amount of water they carry. Unfortunately they are not necessarily the best boot for hiking long distances in and have been known to take off toenails if they are not fitted properly. You can find detailed reviews of the Canyoneer-2 and SAR at the Fat Canyoneers Club’s Bush Guide.
New for 2012!. La Sportiva’s replacement for the Exum. More of an approach shoe then one made specifically for canyoneering. They are light at 13.4 oz which make it relatively painless to pair these with the canyoneer’s above using the Xplorer’s for the approach and the Canyoneers in the canyon. The Xplorers have Vibram Idro Grip X-Traction, which while not Stealth rubber is reported to be as good.
Also new for 2012 from Vasque is the Scree line of approach shoes/boots. I was extremely disappointed when Vasque discontinued their previous line of approach boots (Catalyst). They were by far the best Class A/B canyoneering boots I have ever owned and they did well in Class C as well. They have stealth soles and while very comfortable when hiking they have a flexible sticky sole that makes climbing a breeze. The scree come in both low and high top versions as well as Woman’s Sizes.
The Exum line of approach boots use the same basic foot bed as the canyoneers/SARs. The sole material is a slightly different type of Stealth Rubber, with a more typical upper boot construction. Compared to the Sree above it is stiffer and not quite as good for climbing but will likely wear better then the Vasque’s. The Camp Four is a low top version, that uses the same basic sole with a lower top.
This is a lightweight water boot that has Aqua Stealth soles. With a thinner foot bed these guys won’t be quite as comfortable when hiking down uneven creek/river beds like the Zion Narrows, but they should climb easier.
A slightly less stiff approach boot. I don’t have any experience with this line, but with a Stealth sole and a robust construction it is a reasonable candidate for dry canyons and canyons with limited water.
These are a fly fisherman’s wading boot which is a bit of an odd choice for canyoneering, however they work well for certain canyons. I tried these as a replacement for the Vasque Catalysts when they were discontinued and they worked reasonably well. They are very stiff and therefore not great for climbing, but have good traction in the streambed. You can also change the sole material from Klingon (stealth like rubber) to felt or other materials. I threw these in mainly as an alternative for Hawaii canyons where having a sturdy felt soled boot would be an asset.
Recently available in the US, these boots are probably mostly directly in competition with the Five-Ten Canyoneers and SARs. Given their recent stateside arrival not much is known about them.
This is not a comprehensive list of shoes/books that are can take the abuse of canyoneering. One thing to keep in mind with all of these boots is that canyoneering is tough on boots. The repeated saturation with water, and drying, along with the abrasion that comes with climbing/downclimbing will wear out shoes faster then normal boots. If you get 20 wet canyons out of a set of boots you have a found yourself a fairly robust set of boots…
In addition to the boots/shoes above there are several European boots that are specific to canyoneering that are worth looking into. These include canyoneering boots from Bestard (Guide), Vade Retro (Triton), picture below in the same order:
These are all competitors with the Canyoneers/SARs, unfortunately not readily available in the US.