Are boot outsoles like tires?

Are outsoles like tires? Do you have to sacrifice stickiness for long life? I own a pair of Vasque Wasatch GTX boots, and while I rate them for dry terrain, their Vibr soles slip quite a bit on wet rocks. On my next pair of boots, how can I get an outsole better suited to the wet trails of the Northwest? Mark Portland, Oregon


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Yes, outsoles are like tires. And yes, you do usually have to sacrifice stickiness for long life. That’s why some rock shoes have soles that may not last more than a few days. But in return, you get a grip like Spider-Man. Sole patterns can add grippiness for a better combination of wear and traction, but there are limits.

Explorer Explorer

And face it, wet rocks are going to challenge any shoe. That’s because they’re usually not just wet, they’re also slimy—covered with a thin layer of bacteria, moss, algae, and other substances that can turn any rock into something akin to wet ice. The only real antidote is a very soft sole substance such as neoprene or felt that can wrap itself over the rock to create the maximum contact area. But neoprene doesn’t make for an especially durable shoe sole. Same for felt, although it’s popular with fly-fishers, who aren’t covering a lot of ground in a day but are treading on wet rocks.

So what to do? From a practical standpoint, you’re just not going to find a pair of boots that works well on a trail but sticks like a gecko to wet rocks. So all you can do is exercise caution. Safe boulder-hopping is a matter of keeping balanced so your weight is straight down, not pushed to one side. And trekking poles help—a lot. Try the Exped Explorer poles ($85; www.exped.com), beefy sticks with a push-button locking system to keep you upright.

Anyway, like you, I’m a Northwesterner. I’ve skidded on plenty of wet rocks, soaked my butt in a creek on more than one occasion, and viewed many a stream crossing with trepidation. It’s the nature of the terrain around here—and no sole is going to remedy that.

For more gear inspiration, check out Outside‘s 2005 Buyer’s Guide.

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