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How many pairs of footwear: in canoe vs. on portage vs. in camp?

Glenn MacGrady

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I used to consider different footwear for in the canoe, on the portage trail, and in camp. But three soon became too many pairs to bring for my lightweight taste. I was never willing to reduce my footwear to just one pair for all conditions, but I did get it down to two pairs.

As a canoe kneeler, I have to have in-boat footwear that is stretchy across the top of the foot (instep). That eliminates most all hard boots, shoes and most sandals. So, I have been a long-time user of neoprene footwear of various thicknesses and heights for wearing in the canoe.

For portages, a more substantial sole is needed than a skinny neoprene slipper, so I got a pair of over-ankle neoprene booties with drains and a substantial sole to wear both in the canoe and on portages. In warmer weather, I use these NRS Attack Shoes (though I did have to remove that grey ribbon along the instep):

NRS Attack Shoe.jpg

In colder weather for in the canoe and on portages, I use this older version of NRS Boundary Boots:

NRS Boundary Boots.jpg

For around camp, I use an old, comfortable pair of moccasin style boating shoes.

So, I live with two pairs of footwear on portage trips. If I'm just on a day trip, I wear thin, low cut neoprene slippers or shoes. And I do have one pair of sandals with a stretchy instep that I can use in the canoe and on land in warmer weather.
 
I use NRS Work Boots during the day, they are not great for kneeling but I only kneel in big Class 2 and above, they are excellent for portaging and lining. At camp I use old beat up hiking boots, they provide warmth in cold weather and are suitable for an emergency overland exit.

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For on the water in cooler temps and higher lats we get the rubbers boots out, good ones with high traction soles. Next pair I’ll probably try the NRS boundary boot. Warm summer weather it’s just a pair of fast drying runners with decent soles and support.
In camp it’s a pair of gore Tex hiking shoes, Northface Hedgehogs right now.
Lately on summer trips we’ve been packing everyone a pair of cheap neoprene swim shoes.
Coming soon for on water work lining and wading, maybe a pair of wading shoes that fly fisher people wear. They’ve really come a long way in the last couple years.

The whole family takes the same so that there is no shoe jealousy!
 
Irish Setter boots by Red Wing, good enough for grandpa and dad. They have worked out good for me since a sixth grader. Not particularly good for any one activity, not bad for all purposes. Camp wear is above ankle high smoke tanned moose hide “wrapper” top moccasins, bring along soft rubber Tingley boots for wet times. I think if I could toughen up my feet, the moccasins & Tingley’s would be all I would need.
Shoulder seasons, rubber Nokian boots from Finland. Moccasins & Tingley’s for camp. More heavy wool socks in red or other bright colors so I don’t forget them when breaking camp. Moccasins & Tingley’s don’t take up much room in the pack sack.
 
I doubt that I'll ever carry more than two (one for the daytime, one for camp) but I'm still in flux. I like sandals (but not those that go between my toes... more the "jesus slipper" kind) for camp. I'm still undecided about the daytime footwear... I love my Solomon hikers but they fail miserably at being water resistant. I'll probably be following this tread closely to see what others use for portages / wet foot entries.
 
I always paddle wearing bean boots (mid calf). Once all the camp chores are done the wet and sweaty socks are replaced with a nice dry pair and I slide into some crocs. I have been researching the boundary boots for early Spring trips and portaging. I am curious to learn about their true performance and whether or not I should indulge. Hard to break old habits though.....the bean boots have been good to me.
 
Since 2016 I use Palm Gradient boots. I'm a "wetfooter". In combination with merino wool socks my feet stay warm enough; even in Spring.
I like the good grip they provide, especially on wet rock. Usually I bring two pairs on multiple day trips. One pair (wet) is used during the day, the other (dry) pair in camp.
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Insulated Bean boots when it’s cold, NRS boundary boots if the portages aren’t too bad, and OTB Abyss with NRS wet socks if the portages are tough. I really like the Boundary boots most of the time, but they don’t offer much ankle support.

In camp, moccasins or sneakers.

Bob
 
I prefer to use my bare feet most of the year. Winter time I use thin synthetic sock under thin neoprene socks until about 20 F then I add wool socks over top and maybe toe warmers if my toes get cold. Portaging and in camp I usually just used a pair of hiking shoes. Offcourse with my method there is a need for spring training on my soft souls and in fall when my feet haven't adapted to the cold.
 
Coming soon for on water work lining and wading, maybe a pair of wading shoes that fly fisher people wear. They’ve really come a long way in the last couple years.
I'd like to hear what you get. Last summer I waded a mile up a stream filled with large round slime-covered boulders and had to place each foot carefully, heave the boat, then find a new footing. It was exhausting. I've thought about the wading shoes with better underwater traction, just not sure I want a single purpose shoe. Can you do a 2 mile portage in them when they're wet?
 
two pair: Crocs Swiftwater Mesh deck sandals; lightweight, adjustable instep strap, toe coverage, durable enough for portaging. I wear them with neoprene socks- two pair if the water is really cold.

And, in camp, my last trip I tried a pair of regular Crocs. Used ones my son outgrew! They are light & comfortable, especially with wool socks in shoulder season campsites.

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Can you do a 2 mile portage in them when they're wet?
I have had many pairs over the years including some high-end wading boots for fly fishing. The felt soles offer the best traction underwater and leather uppers for ankle support against rocks, but aren't great for hiking. I have some with a Vibram sole which I have screwed in tungsten lugs and they are a good trade off. I find the Simms non-leather boots to be the most comfortable. I wind up hiking a few miles on some outings with no issues. FYI some states and specific rivers have banned felt soles as they can transfer Didymo, (Didymosphenia geminata) or “Rock Snot”, an invasive alga of cold flowing waters from one body of water to another.
simms.jpg
 
Two pair......LL Bean Maine hunting boot, calf high, prefer the original unlined and wear wool socks for warmth. The soles grip pretty well on wet rocks and provide good support for portages and they don't get sucked off my feet in knee deep mud. they also provide good ankle/lower leg protection from pointy sticks when you have to scramble over beaver dams. I prefer the unlined as they dry out much faster than the lined versions......I wet foot and have a tendency to step in over the tops at least once per trip.....The soles are flexible enough that I can kneel without fear of trapping my size 13's under the seat, can't do that with my muck boots. For around camp, crocs.....with wool socks if biting bugs are present or it's cold...

Mike
 
Two pair......LL Bean Maine hunting boot, calf high, prefer the original unlined and wear wool socks for warmth. The soles grip pretty well on wet rocks and provide good support for portages and they don't get sucked off my feet in knee deep mud. they also provide good ankle/lower leg protection from pointy sticks when you have to scramble over beaver dams. I prefer the unlined as they dry out much faster than the lined versions......I wet foot and have a tendency to step in over the tops at least once per trip.....The soles are flexible enough that I can kneel without fear of trapping my size 13's under the seat, can't do that with my muck boots. For around camp, crocs.....with wool socks if biting bugs are present or it's cold...

Mike
LL Bean used to have a service where they'd replace the chain tread bottoms with Vibrams. I've worn out one pair (the leather), and have two pair in the closet I bought from a friend. Those bottoms last far longer than the chain tread, but are bulkier. Schnee's boots offers something similar, but you pay for them.
 
I’ve got two pair of footwear, one for portaging one for camp. Can’t remember what they are and they’re discontinued, but even my camp boots have a high top for ankle support. Turning an ankle in camp can happen, and would be a bummer. I’ve tried about everything, and when I found a water boot I liked I got an extra pair because these products don’t seem to last long on the market.
 
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