By Al Kesselheim
You could say that I've spent the last 30 years in search of the best footwear for river trips. The quest has taken me from Maine guide boots to Chuck Taylor high-tops; from rubber boots to Crocs, and the full spectrum from flip-flops to neoprene booties. There is a time and place for damn near every one of them, but I've rarely found footwear that covers large swaths of river trip terrain over the long haul.
Keen comes close with two of its product line. Often as not, I take a pair of each.
First, and favorite, the Newport H2. It's been out for a few years, and a few tweaks have improved the design over time, but it stood out from the start. It is rugged, sturdy, fits comfortably, has solid traction, and a bomber toe box to protect against rocks. The footbed is comfortable enough that I often forget to change out of them at the end of the day. These shoes and I have suffered through many a portage together. The toe protection is a huge bonus when you're hauling upstream and stumbling over boulders. As for drawbacks, bugs can get at your feet in the gaps between webbing straps, which I mitigate by wearing synthetic socks. Also, they have the annoying tendency of river sandals to pick up gravel. Eventually, if you're walking in streambeds, you just have to sit down, take them off, and dump.
Second, the Gorge Boot. A newer addition to the Keen line, the Gorge is the choice for long, cold slogs. Going up the Yellowkife River in Canada's Northwest Territory comes to mind. Ankle-high, neoprene uppers, solid traction sole, and easy, secure Velcro closures make it snug and comfortable. Great, all-around protection in uncertain surfaces and warm comfort for those days spent as much in the water as in the boats. Downside, these babies are built for warmth and protection. They can become pretty ripe if you wear them day-in, day-out. Bring a backup pair of camp shoes, and let these boots–and your feet–breathe.
Intel: www.keenfootwear.com; Newport H2 – $100. Gorge Boot – $80 (Keen is remodeling the Gorge Boot. Older models are available if you shop around, and the new version will be out in 2015 – stay tuned.)