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A River Guide's Review

In early Spring of 2017 I started receiving e-mails and calls from different guides on the Grand Canyon and beyond. They'd heard word about the Cairn Pro Sandal and had some questions about how they preformed in constant water, what our warranty was etc. This group of people, as I'd just come to learn from reading Kevin Fadarko's Emerald Mile, puts gear through its paces on multi-week trips through the rugged Grand Canyon. Living on and in the water for season after season, they've also amassed quite the laundry list of gripes against traditional sport sandals available on the market, often opting for cheap flip flops instead of overbuilt "river sandals." Most I spoke with were eager to try our Vibram soled and easily adjustable lightweight adventure sandals but approached the purchase with a dose of skepticism because of their past experiences with other footwear. 

Could our Cairn Pro be the answer to river guides footwear woes? I waited a full season to find out. Here are some of their reviews and photos below.

Jed Tarlow

I'm a river guide and moonlighting conservationist.  I look for the rugged places, the wet places and try to inhabit them until they feel like my backyard.  I bring people to these places, share them and try to protect them.  I cover a lot of ground over each river season.  I split my time trying to protect the rivers of western China and taking in the ultra classics of the American West.

I've been guiding for 7 years in Grand Canyon, Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon, and a mash of rivers in Montana, Quebec, and on the Tibetan Plateau.  I've been dissatisfied by my footwear for 6.75 of those years.  As a car-living, dumpster-diving, zip-ties and bailing wire bonafide dirtbag I was bummed when I blew through my first pair of $100 sandals in two months.

Guiding puts a pretty fair amount of stress on footwear. My sandals face a constant attack of muddy rivers, desert sun, and being shoved in sandy rig bags and odd corners of shuttle trucks. I started looking for an alternative to those clunky short-lived river sandals. Shoes lead to foot rot, flip flops pose a moderate safety concern, and river sandals were tearing my feet and wallet up. I ended up coming across Bedrock Cairn Pros and decided to give them a try. 

I do everything in my sandals. I lead long side hikes in rugged canyon country, that can easily morph into scrambling, canyoneering adventures. I run, swim, and climb in them, sometimes for fun, sometimes out of necessity. It's nice to have a shoe you can trust.
After 7 months of back to back river trips in my Bedrock Cairn Pros, here are my thoughts:

-Weight: Rafters are not minimalists.  Most of my gear is military surplus steel, aluminum, and ash.  My clothes are denim, canvas, and pearly-snapped.  Lightweight usually means short-lived in my world.  I'd never thought of the benefits of light weight footwear.  The light weight of Bedrocks means no strap chafing, longer hikes,  and higher high kicks and heel clicks.  I took my approach shoes out of my bag after one river trip, and have more room for toenail polish and disco lights.

-Sole: This is the grippiest sole I've ever had on a sandal or shoe.  It is head and shoulders above the competition at gripping on wet rocks.  This sole brings more confidence in technical rescue situations and recreational river side bouldering jams.

-Straps: They stay on. They don't tear my feet up or require a break in period like sandals I've had before.

-Longevity: 7 non-stop months and they're still functional.  I'd go another month before a resole and gladly take them out another year after that.

Buckle: Dry crusty straps don't slide through the buckle.  I think a looser buckle would be optimal for a river version.

Velcro: When I loan my bedrocks out to other guides for a trial day the first thing they ask is, "Does the velcro fail?" I would love a pair where the back strap has the metal hook system like the other adjustable straps.

All in all these are the best sandals I've ever had.  They've broadened the spectrum of what I'll do in sandals, and inspire confidence doing it.  

Lindsay Hale 

I just finished my 11th season guiding in Grand Canyon, and my 99th trip! I run motorized boats through the canyon so, I have managed to get a lot of trips in a fairly short amount of time. This summer I ran 11 trips, which is more than I usually do in a summer, so it was a big year for me.

So often my coworkers and other river guides in the canyon will talk about footwear, it's crazy! Why is this even a topic of conversation? Why are we concerned about what is on our feet, half the time we are barefoot anyway. Well, it's become a big topic lately because our sandals have started to fail on us, constantly. Few things are as tragic as a flip flop blowout halfway up a long hike with no duct tape to salvage them.

I wore flip flops for a few reasons:

1. Easy to kick rocks and gravel out, when you are leading a hike this comes in handy.

2. My feet can breathe and dry out, which eliminates foot rot and keeps me moving without pain between my toes and on the balls of my feet. Those reasons play a big factor in what type of footwear I choose.

The never ending flip flop, sandal saga went on for years, until I found what looked like an answer. I saw a photo of someone wearing Bedrock Sandals, I looked up the company and I was so excited! Could this be it? Would I finally be able to buy a solid pair of sandals that gave me what I needed? I was doubtful, but hopeful that this could be it, the solution. Did a little research and ordered me a pair of the Cairn Pros before the river season started. This will be the test, 11 trips. I usually go through about 3 pairs of expensive high quality flip flops down in the Grand Canyon, so if I even got one season out of these sandals, I would be stoked.

Trip 1, surely I'll get some blisters, they are new, I always get some rub spots with new sandals.

NOPE. Trip 2, these are so comfortable, but being this comfortable they can't possibly hold up. Trip 3, 4, 5, 6, going strong! Trip 7, monsoons are starting, this silty muddy water is going to eat right through the webbing in no time. NOPE. Trip 8, 9, 10, I love these shoes. Trip 11, they have done it. barely look worn, yes the velcro on the back strap comes undone sometimes, but these sandals have everything I want. Durability, support, comfort, breathability, I can wear them loose enough to shake rocks out without any problems, and tighten them down and climb up rocks with ease, they are so grippy, I'm not constantly second guessing how my feet will respond on potentially slippery rock surfaces. It's nice to feel surefooted.

Ahhhh, finished this season, didn't have to replace any shoes this season, what a delight. I'm still wearing my Bedrock shoes for all my hiking, canyoneering, and everyday living. I love them and can't say enough good things about them. 

Howell Usher 

The Grand Canyon has been a part of my life for 54 years (+/-).  I have been working on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon for 40 years and guiding on the River for 38 of those years.  Nearly all of my Guiding career I have worn nothing more than some sort of flip flop. About 5 years ago I had a medical emergency that rendered my left foot incapable of holding a flop while walking.  As a result, and much to my chagrin,  I had to start wearing flops with an ankle strap. I tried several different options and found none of them satisfactory; They were either bulky, uncomfortable & painful, difficult to put on, fell off during a swim, or quickly fell apart, and or did not stand up to the rigor of Canyon and River life; rowing boats, fording streams, mucking thru the mud, hiking steep rocky trails, and the occasional unplanned swim in a big rapid. 

Early in the 2017 season I was introduced to Bedrock Sandals.  From the moment I put my new Bedrocks on, my "dogs" began to smile once again and have not stopped.  The back strap was comfortable and not an issue.  Bedrocks are as close to going barefoot as footwear can get. Bedrock's are sleek and comfortable, go on easy and stay on, their soles grip the rocks like glue, and so far (4 trips in) have held up nicely to Canyon and River life...only time will tell.  

Yes I have taken them on some challenging "walks" in the ditch and they have responded reasonably well.  On some occasions however the thin soles might feel a little too much like bare feet.  Even so they got the job done.  I am heading up to Mt Lassen Volcanic Park for a week in mid October and my Bedrocks are coming along so I must be on my way.

West Howland

Grand Canyon is beyond hard on gear. It’s a place where equipment is put to the test, and more often than not, it falls apart fairly quickly especially for footwear. The exception to this rule, are my Bedrock Cairn Pro sandals. Flip flops are the uniform standard down in the “big ditch” and most barely last a season, don’t stay on while swimming whitewater, and aren’t preferable on long, hot, desert hikes. The Cairn Pro’s excel at all of these points in addition to being nearly as sticky as climbing shoes, drying quickly, and not chafing when wet and covered with sand. After a full season rowing boats, my Bedrock sandals are still going strong with very little apparent wear, and I’m stoked to be wearing shoes that can stand up to the abuse of life in the canyon. 

Joe Bennion

I divide my time between making wood-fired pottery and guiding on the Colorado and Salmon rivers. Grand Canyon is my most common haunt. At sixty five I am still putting in between sixty and ninety days a year on the water. I have done a lot of this. I have gone through a lot of sandals and flips on my way to Bedrock. Why did it take so long to find these great river sandals?
The main problems with foot gear for warm weather boating are strap wear, traction especially on wet rock, durability and of course comfort. The Bedrock Cairn Pro excels on all points.

When I first discovered this river shoe I was skeptical simply because of repeated
disappointment over the almost three decades I have been on the water. The biggest complaint has been durability. Soles coming off has been a constant issue. Sure they take them back and repair or replace them, but in the middle of a trip when a flip flop or sandal blows it breaks your stride so to speak and then the repair job usually fails anyway. I had finally taken to buying the most bomber flips I could find, gluing climbing shoe soles on them and jerry rigging some sort of heel strap so I don’t lose them in an unscheduled swim.

I saw an ad for Bedrock and contacted the company to see about giving them a try. I was really ready for something new. I had just returned from a Grand Canyon trip where my resoled flips had come off in deep sand in the mouth of Havasu Creek. I was unable to retrieve one of them and was reminded that a heel strap is a necessary thing.

The first thing that struck me on the river was how comfortable they were. I expected a brief break-in period, you know, a little redness from strap wear on a different part of my feet. Nada. They felt like something I had always worn. I wore them on six consecutive trips and more or less forgot I had them on, or at least that they were new to my feet.
This first season I was very pleased by how these sandals performed on hikes. Being a “senior” boatman I don’t like slipping and tumbling. My “landing gear” isn’t what it used to be so traction is very important. I need to be able to trust the soles to grip and hold me when leaping from rock to rock on trail or when crossing a stream. I give Bedrock’s Vibram soles very high marks. Speaking of soles, at the end of my season getting off a three week Grand Canyon trip I noted there was absolutely no sign of separation from the sandal....a first in my experience. The kind of wear I put on sandals on the trail and on the river usually results in a least some signs of this. One manufacturer when confronted with a pair of sandals delaminated after one season said that Grand Canyon river guiding goes beyond what their product is designed for. Kudos to Bedrock on a very utilitarian sandal.


All photos courtesy of guides: Jed Tarlow, Lindsay Hale, Howell Usher, and West Howland as well as friends and photographers: Meredith Meeks, Rafa Acuna, John Mohar, and Adam Schallau

1 Response

George Frrokaj

George Frrokaj

August 06, 2018

Unbelievable, best damn sandals ever. I hope bedrock stays in business forever, because the the Cairn Pro is the only sandal I will ever wear. Unparalleled quality brings tears to my eyes.

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