BLOG 71. Best Wilderness Canoeing Footwear I’ve Found
If you want to start an argument on your next wilderness canoe trip, just float the subject of boots. Everyone has his or her own ideas what’s best, and bantering will go hot into the night. But when the smoke clears, all will agree that there is no such thing as the “perfect” shoe for wilderness canoeing.
In the first edition of my flagship book, EXPEDITION CANOEING (originally titled CANOEING WILD RIVERS) I preferred LL Bean Main hunting shoes (boots) and knee-high rubber “farmer” boots. In subsequent editions, I preferred Chota Nunavut mukluks, then most recently, Chota Quick-Lace mukluks. The Quick-lace version is slightly lighter and more flexible than the discontinued Nunavut's. For the past two years, I’ve been wearing Chota Caney Fork wading boots with knee-high, neoprene/Gore-texsock waders. This combo is very comfortable and dry even while wading icy water for hours on end—that is, as long as water doesn’t come over the knee-high tops. But if the neoprene socks do flood, I just remove them from the boot and turn them inside out to dry. It takes just minutes on a sunny day. Quick-lace mukluks cannot be turned inside out, so they take much longer to dry.
I recently tried a pair of Chota “Hippies”, which are designed for trout anglers. Hippies are essentially ultralight neoprene/Gore-tex hip waders. They are identical to the popular Caney Fork socks but can be extended to the hips or rolled down and secured below the knee. Rolling/unrolling takes just seconds and the rolled Hippies stay put even during rugged portages.
I just returned (June 22) from a week long canoe trip on Ontario’s Kopka River, which is one of my all time favorites. I’ve done this river five times (at various water levels) with groups from the Science Museum of Minnesota. This time, I went with close friends—five adults and three teenage boys. The water on the Kopka was at least four feet higher then my highest previous run. Rapids that ordinarily rated Class I were now II+. Snags and sweepers dotted the river. Nearly every portage was flooded, non-existent or choked with impassable debris. We brought two three-quarter length axes and three large frame folding saws—and we used them all. Making “new” portages was the rule of the day.
It was raining when we flew into the river and the rain continued sporadically for the next three days. Day temperatures were in the 40’s and 50’s; high 30’s at night—text book hypothermia weather. Then came two cool but sunny days followed again by three more days of hypothermic rain.
Fortunately, I chose to wear “Hippies” on this trip. I rolled them just below the knee for the infrequent dry portages, and secured them to my hips for rain and wading deep water. I was the only one in the crew who always had warm, dry feet and legs. Hippies weigh only a few ounces more than knee-high Caney Fork Socks, and they occupy about the same amount of pack space. I brought rain pants on this trip, but I never wore them. The hip-length Hippies were enough. My occasional wet butt was a small price to pay for the comfort, breathability and versatility of the Hippies.
Cliff wearing Digital Camo Hippies. Another flooded portage. The water here is thigh high!
Bottom line: I’ve used a lot of different boots on my wilderness canoe trips, but I think these Hippies are by far the best. If you will wade deep water, paddle in rain and make tough portages, you’ll love ‘em.
Nitpick: The Hippie sock secures to your belt with an elastic cord. It’s not secure enough. A Velcro or snap strap is needed. You can easily add one.
Coming up: In a future blog I’ll tell you about a new lightweight, no-sweat (it’s not Gore-tex) rain jacket that I recently discovered and wore on the Kopka River trip. My friend's Gore-tex jackets all leaked when the rainy hours turned to days. My new jacket didn’t leak a drop. Really! I was mightily impressed. Stay tuned!