Gear Guy

What boot grips best on slickrock?

I'm planning a 14-day backpacking trip down Utah's Escalante River next month, and puzzled about the ideal footwear to pack. The route involves lots of wading, often over rough riverbeds, as well as slickrock hiking, all while lugging a big pack. Is there a boot out there that can provide good drainage as well as some serious support? David Grinnell, Iowa

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A few days ago I counseled another reader on the merits of “compromise,” and perhaps I should refer you to that (March 3, 2003). You’ll be very hard-pressed indeed to find a single boot that will handle all you ask. Aquatic shoes that are more than sandals simply don’t offer the support required for schlepping a big pack around the Utah backcountry.

So, my advice is to take a pair of dry boots and a pair of water shoes. My assumption is that when you’re in the water, you’re in the water or close to it for several hours. And when it’s dry, it’ll be dry for a while. So you shouldn’t have to swap shoes 20 times a day. Plus, most aqua shoes are so light that carrying a pair isn’t a huge burden. For example: Teva’s Gamma ($60;, an aquatic shoe that provides full coverage to your feet but still drains fast. Very grippy soles give traction on wet and submerged rocks. Better still, weight is only one pound, eight ounces per pair. The Adidas Hellbender ($90; is slightly heavier, but also a little beefier, which may be better for you on rough river bottoms. And they’ll manage the in-between sections a little better.

As for your dry boot, any good mid-weight backpacking boot should work well. Lots of people really like the Asolo FSN 95 ($150;, a light but capable shoe that has a Gore-Tex bootie should you want to indulge in some puddle-splashing. The same goes for Montrail’s Torre GTX (also $150; If you’re carrying a really large load (45-plus pounds) and will be on very rough terrain, then move up a notch with a boot such as the Lowa Trekker ($200;

Sounds like a fun trip!

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