Gear Guy

What are the best boots for slippery rock?

I was out hiking in the west Texas desert a few months ago during a delicious spate of rainy summer weather. I was wearing a light pair of boots and found myself slipping and sliding all over the wet rocks. Crawling on my hands and knees over boulders is not my idea of fun, and it really ruined my week. I'm now in the market for a pair of light "day hikers," with soles that'll give me some traction on wet rock. Any suggestions? Paul San Antonio, Texas

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No real good ones. I think you're asking a lot of boot soles. Wet rocks can be akin to greased rocks—chances are they have a thin coating of dust and moss and bug crap, and when that mix gets wet it's like pouring a can of 30-weight oil over the boulder. The lugs on the boot sole are already not much use if the rock is smooth, and few materials on earth can withstand days of hiking without crumbling, while also providing traction on slippery surfaces.

The discontinued Montrail Vercors ($190, when available) are a fine boot. I have touted them on many occasions, so perhaps that's why they're being shelved. I thought they were almost the perfect all-around boot, but I guess most consumers felt they were too heavy and expensive to use as day hikers and not heavy enough for rough terrain backpacking.

What you need is a sole that's fairly soft and that has lots of small knobbies and ridges for as much traction as possible. Think gecko feet. You might find what you're after in the growing class of semi-aquatic footwear, shoes designed for use on the beach or along the shore when kayaking, portaging, things like that. One I like a lot is the Adidas Hellbender ($90), which has a very traction-friendly sole and a design that works well in wet weather. Not a great hiking boot when carrying a load, but maybe your ankles are better than mine. Alternatively, look into the several models of approach shoe, designed for rock climbers who want a sticky but comfortable shoe for getting close to their routes. Five-Ten makes some good ones, such as the Mountain Master ($90), a low-cut shoe with a sole made of C4 climbing rubber. Either the Mountain Master or Hellbender are about as good as you'll get for wet, slick rock.