This is a tale of two feet – KEEN style.
For quite a few years, I’ve been looking for the perfect – or at least tolerable – paddle boot.
Ontario’s Georgian Bay and its surrounding waterways are where I do all my paddling. The bay is renowned for its cold, cold water. Even on the hottest, most humid summer days, the bay’s temperature is unlikely to be much over 60 F in most spots – except for the shallowest, sun-drenched beach areas. And even there, all you have to do is drop below the sun-kissed first foot or two or water before you hit what seems like glacial cold.
I’ve tried various footwear over the years, striving to find that perfect blend of comfort and practicality, with only moderate success. I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to equipment, so I’ve steered way from anything too hi-tech.
When the weather’s warmer, I’ve had some luck with the so-called off-road or hiking Crocs, a model which has never really seemed to catch on here in Ontario. The grip is good on them, the comfort is acceptable, and the durability is not bad. But I’m not in any hurry to use them in genuine cold weather situations.
However, the last two years I’ve had much better luck with KEEN’s Cimarron amphibious shoes. The grip is awesome, the support is perfect for almost all situations and styles of walking, and comfort level is generally very good as well. The only two criticisms I would offer is that these shoes tend to rub on my Achilles tendons after only moderate use, and they don’t dry as quickly as they could.
So I was quite interested in trying out a pair of the KEEN Gorge boots, specifically designed for paddling. Without exaggeration, these boots have been a Godsend.
Made primarily of neoprene, the boots are light as a feather and fit like a second skin. They’re perfectly comfortable without socks on, and just as suitable with socks. The support is superb, the grip is awesome, and they handle water like a duck’s back.
That’s not to say, though, that they’re waterproof per se. You’ll be mistaking the purpose of the boots if you expect that. Some water will penetrate the boots – mostly if you step in over high-ankle height – but not a lot. Neoprene repels almost all of the water, while keeping your body heat in. What water does penetrate is warmed by your body heat to maintain comfortable – and then some – temperatures for your feet.
I’ve been so impressed with these boots I’ve taken to using them as everyday footwear as well. The longest I’ve walked in them was five miles along a local rail trail on a warm day. Wet conditions were intermittent on the trail, and the boots handled them with aplomb. The only problem – such as it was – was my feet quickly grew very, very warm in them. It was nothing a quick wade through some puddles couldn’t handle for a periodic cool-down.
I’ve had no problems with traction, support, or discomfort in the Gorge boots.
The first few days I tried them out was during our March heat wave when the snow disappeared like an illusion conjured by Harry Houdini. Even the worst sloppiest, coldest snow melt couldn’t touch these boots or detract from my enjoyment.
As for actual water conditions, well I can only say ‘Wow’. I ordinarily don’t take my kayak out until sometime in May when the weather and water conditions improve, but the Gorge boots mean I don’t have to wait anymore. They will also help extend my season into the fall.
I have had absolutely no problem with the boots while paddling so far. Instead, they almost feel luxurious and possibly a little decadent. I’m looking forward to trying them out while doing a little wading and fishing in the next few weeks.
I’m also looking forward to trying them out for snorkeling – they seem ideal for treading around something like a coral reef.
I seriously doubt any outdoorsy person – whether beginner, recreation or adrenaline junkie – could find much to complain about with these boots.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a soggy piece of trail calling my name!