Want to start a debate around camp? Make a firm statement behind your choice of footwear for canoe tripping and claim it's better than anyone else. That will definitely get the opinions rolling in. Proper footwear for canoe tripping is one of the leading camp debates and one of the top ten gear questions asked. This shouldn't be a surprise; after all, it's your feet that get you around most of the time out there. Problem is, answering the question, or solving the debate, of what footwear style is best isn't easy. There are just too many variables, ranging from the season you're out to the individual's body type. There's also personal needs, preferences over fashion statements, and just far too many opinions on what brand is best.
In an attempt to keep things simple, it can be at least agreed upon by most trippers that two pairs are definitely needed: one for traveling and one for wearing around camp.
Let's start with choosing footwear for wearing around camp. It's the easiest selection. Just pick something light weight and comfortable. Top preferences are moccasins, old sneakers, and what's titled "amphibious shoes" or sandals (Crocs, Teva, Chaco or Keen are top companies).
Now, what to wear during the time spent paddling and portaging? The list is endless, from high-top canvas sneakers to Neoprene booties. In general though, if you're planning on a spring outing, then old running shoes aren't going to cut it. Your feet will definitely be numb from the cold. Yes, you can wear sneakers with neoprene booties, which will work great keeping your feet warm when wet. But good luck with foot rot and blisters if you plan on wearing them throughout the entire trip. Rubber boots might warrant some attention. But stay clear of cheap ones that are wide open at the top. If you go overboard, water will quickly fill up and sink you to the bottom.
Models like the L.L. Bean Boot or from Chota Outdoor Gear are great. These products are especially designed for canoe trippers treading through a mud-filled portage or wading in and out of a portage take-out and put-in. The Chota "Quetico Trekker" is a top seller, being a knee-high rubber or neoprene boot which laces tight up top to stop water flooding in. But they also get hot and uncomfortable to wear if the weather warms up and can create a nasty case of stinky feet.
Next are ankle-high hikers, either leather or Gore-Tex. The idea behind the Gore-Tex, which is more expensive, is that it will keep your feet dry. Forget it. Your feet are never dry on a canoe trip. Get used to it. The Gore-Tex, however, is more breathable then the leather. If you do choose leather then make sure they are not foam-lined or they will take forever to dry. Unlined leather boots are the way to go. And make sure the soles have some bend in them or you'll curse wearing them while kneeling down in the canoe.
The overall view with most experts in the field is that the advantage of the ankle-high hiker, whether it's Gore-Tex or leather, exceeds all other models due to their ability to keep a sure foot on slippery terrain. It's crucial to keep a steady foot while walking across the portage. A badly sprained ankle can cripple you out on trip, which is why the amphibious sandal or tennis shoe just don't cut it out there.
Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including "The Happy Camper: An Essential Guide to Life Outdoors" and "Wilderness Pleasures".