Stream Crossing Footwear

Mountain Education Resources
Stream Crossing Footwear

There is a lot of effort to have as light a pack as one can create and for obvious reasons. However, some of these “reasons” don’t really pan out for everyone.

Let’s consider the current topic of ultra lightweight footwear for creek crossings. Got to have something on your feet, right? Why? Because you might injure your feet between two rocks, while stepping blindly anywhere, maybe into a sharp and pointed rock or branch, or just stubbing a toe. So, the idea is to carry an extra pair of “shoes” for just this purpose, something that looks like a pair of “flip-flops” on steroids.

They may be fine for mid and late season fords where you can choose the depth, width, flow rate, and amount/size of rocks on the visible bottom where you cross, but for early season whitewater, forget it. Not only do you have poor choices where you can cross safely, but you usually can’t see the bottom enough to differentiate where the obstacles are–you literally have to “feel” your way across and stay safely balanced while at it!

When the current is trying its best to dislodge your feet and mis-direct each step in mid-stride, where you put your foot down becomes a matter of guess, aim, and hope. If your foot gets cut, bruised, or seriously hurt in this process, the chances of you going reflexively into the water are pretty good. What happens thereafter is no longer a matter of hope, but prayer. So, cover your feet up with something as durable and protective as your hiking boots so you don’t suffer pain and fall in mid-stream!

What is wrong with cruising in with your hiking boots on, making a confident and balanced crossing that doesn’t threaten to take your life, and simply changing your socks once on the other side? I’ve been doing this for 35 years and for the most part with the same pair of boots. Talk about durable suckers! Walk your boots dry! Novel idea?

Maybe the problem with this idea is the construction of modern, accepted trail footwear, not built well enough to endure (in the effort to be lightweight) or too soft (for minimal break-in period) to prevent injury. Ah, but the kind of boots I’m talking about were those big, nasty, heavy monsters which, according to current fads, are considered BAD for hiking these days! Does an aspiring hiker assume all the other lemmings are right and do what they do (for whatever risk comes with it) or does he go out and test crossings for himself, choosing a safe design of footwear for the overall hike and maybe the sensitivity of his feet (from a practical, not theoretical standpoint)? Why carry two pair of shoes, anyway? I thought the current craze was to avoid specificity and select items for multi-purpose use?

I understand that “a pound of weight on the foot is like 5 pounds on the back,” but from a thru hiker’s point of view, by the time I get to the early season nasty, dangerous creek crossings of the High Sierra along the PCT, my legs and overall strength will be like The Hulk’s, able to carry most anything I’d ever want (especially for safety’s sake) and not even feel it! So why would I chose to put on my feet, where the rubber meets the rocks, some flimsy, weak, membrane of a shoe that will not protect my feet from scree, dirt, mud, water, sharp sticks and rocks, toe stubs, and major side abrasion, allow my ankles to roll sideways and strain, not have the stopping power of a vertical heel, have one-piece soles that work well as skis in the snow, and wear out so fast (comparatively) that I’ll have to leave the trail several times to buy new ones somewhere (hopefully)? Think of the time lost to do this, not to mention the risks taken while the shoes are wearing out!


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