Elise Otto is a wilderness ranger and river guide based in the rocky mountains and southwest. Read on for Elise's guest post detailing her entertaining perspective on river footwear and insight from a seasons worth of product testing our new PRO IIs.
Being asked to review a pair of shoes, I discovered two rather interesting observations:
- First that sans the occasional glance down to my feet to note how cute they look, I want to spend absolutely no time thinking about my feet and whatever adorns them.
- I think about my feet and what goes on them All. The. Time.
My feet and the shoes I wear are a subject of constant concern. Through all my seasons they are my weak spot in my otherwise strong and resilient body. In the winter it’s rubbing on my narrow heals in ski boots. In the summer, where I guide river expeditions in Idaho and the Grand Canyon, its comfort versus capability, health versus safety. My feet are a big problem.
Don’t let the scenery fool you––the Grand Canyon is home to some of the deepest foot discussions on earth.
RIVER SHOE CATCH TWENTY-TWO
Water shoes are one of those infinity problems for river guides, similar to concussions for football players or water bloat for supermodels. No shoe is perfect for everything, and sans self-control, some could spend an eternity mulling over the perfect river shoe.
A flip that occasionally flops
The 4WD Flip flop is the chosen footwear of the ancient species Grand canyon guidus. Guidus: Chiseled, timeless faces, tan, but scaly skin, wrecked hands. Joyously youthful yet also look as though they might return to the dust from whence they came at any moment. This species adorns these flips since they stopped wearing converse all stars. Flip flops have their benefits; they are easily removed and thus allow the bottom of feet to dry quickly, and for pebbles and sand to be quickly kicked away. This can prevent infections and abrasions.
However, unintentional whitewater swims can result in complex decision making conundrums. For example, do I first grab my flops that are floating away or swim back to the boat which may very well be full or dangerously empty of children, angry billionaires, or aging relatives.
Science experiment for safety: the closed toe river shoe
Closed-toed shoes are considered most appropriate for: big water, Middle Fork dead heads, and any situation where you might end up foot entrapped or running along a rocky shore setting up to swim for a wind-stolen poco pad, or float-away child. Closed-toed shoes are considered most appropriate. However, they are also fungus and infection petri dishes. ‘Rot’, ‘tolio’ or ‘the funk’ are no joke; Several painful varieties fester in small cuts and abrasions and can lead to evacuations or simply 15 day trips of painful walking.
The water sandal: a worthy compromise or the great duplicity?
The water sandal might seem like the perfect solution. Like Beyoncé said: “if you like it than you shoulda put a back on it” Unfortunately, water sandals have long been plagued by design flaws. Oscillating between too slippery and too burly, both extremes lead to sprained ankles, broken noses and a general lack of coolness. Also, water sandals rarely last. Velcro loses vigor and soles come unglued after sitting on metal decks in 115 F heat. Every time a good water sandal company emerges it sells out to some retail giant and morphs into a lesser, poorer quality version of itself.
THE NEW (BEDROCK) DEAL
For years, I was a guilty, irresponsible flip flop wearer, knowing that I was one swim away from having to choose to save my mom or my shoes. I didn’t question the Guidus way until a rafting client––part podiatrist, part shaman healer––suggested that the clawlike-way my toes curled under was a result of spending 200 plus days a year in 4WD flip flops. “that’s probably why your back hurts” she pointed out.
Then, my friend Tyler returned home to find his rolfer roommate cutting up all of his flip flops, after having read Dr. Kelly Starrett ‘s Becoming the Supple Leopard.
“They are ruining your life” he told a befuddled Tyler in front of a trash can full of decapitated flops.
Several poorly produced fitness guru youtube videos later, I was convinced. Wearing flip flops all the time was ruining my posture and my gait, but what’s the alternative? Wear toe stubbers or petri dishes? Get an office job? Start collecting baseball cards instead of going boating? There had to be something better.
So I bought a pair of Bedrock 3D Pros. I found the sandals to be durable, with sticky soles, tight and adjustable to accommodate my tiny Cinderella heels. I could jog, move agilely as in a closed toe water shoe, without any of the petri dish effect.
Furthermore, when I occasionally glanced down at my feet I couldn’t help feeling a smug whiff of satisfaction about how cute the shoes are. It is nice to look down at your feet and think, “damn I look good!” rather than “I wonder what extremophyles are growing down there?” “or what floats faster, a flop or Aunt Julie?” “or “which toe I’m about to stub?”
The author, wearing the Grand Canyon company-issue uniform (photo by John Wilkins).
The Velcro on the old 3D pro was an issue in the Colorado mud. There are fixes to be sure… a rubber band or hair band, or simply sewing it with a speedy stitcher, but definitely a bit of an Achilles heel situation. Needless to say I was stoked to hear Bedrock would be releasing a hook heel strap for its pro models making it a COMPLETELY VELCRO FREE SANDAL!!!
Bedrock’s new hook heal strap: sturdy and reliable even when adorned in mud and blood.
But, me,test it? My friends only started calling me “Grandma Hands” a year ago. I needed a true Grand Canyon guidus to test the sandal, a wise and wizened soul, someone old enough to have seen the elephant-sized horsetails of the Devonian (about 40). Someone who’d been wearing flip flops, since before the Grand Canyon even existed.
My friend Ruth Ann skeptically agreed.
A skeptical guidus examines strange Bedrock shoe contraptions, while also checking for over-ripe oranges.
I stuck with the Cairn 3D Pro IIs, while RA was issued a pair of Cairn Pro IIs. The primary difference is that the 3Ds have a contoured bottom. While I like the 3D sandals for a little more support and because I think they get a little less gravel and sand stuck under the foot bed when they are fully tightened, Ruthann found that the flat soles seemed to drain and dry faster, a huge plus for those that work in the Canyon, and perhaps what makes the Cairn’s a competitor with the flop, in the category of flip safety and health.
In order to truly test the new Cairns we released 15 grandmas into the tail waves of Lava Falls and swam after them, wearing only our Bedrocks and life jackets. Unfortunately, I couldn’t secure rights to the photos from the tests, and am currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the three Grandmas from Iowa, but its fair to say the new Cairns performed really well in both the categories of ‘shore running’, and ‘not falling off’. (Note: if the Park Service is reading this is a joke. No Grandmas were injured in the testing of this shoe)
Sandals: 3D Pro II on left and Cairn Pro II on right. Little Colorado Confluence, center.
Honestly, I expected RA to put the sandals on for the bigger rapids, and then begrudgingly return to her flip flops. As she tells it, she put flops on in kindergarten and hasn’t taken them off since. As far as I can gather, kindergarten happened somewhere around when the dinosaurs went extinct (40 years ago) but it is hard to get any solid details. Solid details are not what theguidus species is known for. Kind of like how chimps are bad at publishing romance novels.
A Guidus’knowledge has no end. Here she teaches the secrets of the Zoraster Granite.
Anyways, I was pleasantly surprised to see her keep them on for several hikes, and for whole days of whitewater. Perhaps not the ‘one shoe, one nation’ vision of Bedrock, but progress nonetheless.
Leading the shoed and booted.
We both found that once adjusted the heel strap was good to go. Any adjustments, especially when the sandals are caked in mud, will take a bit of time, so be careful about lending them out right before wearing them through lava.
For a guidus in its natural habitat at dusk.
All in all, with the heel hook strap, Bedrock is one step closer to creating a jack-of-all-trades river shoe. It is that much closer to creating a shoe that I don’t have to think about. I can trod up trails, run rapids, cook meals, and clean toilets without ever thinking about my shoes except for the occasional shake to get out a pebble or some sand.
No I don’t have to think about my feet at all. Except every once in a while, when I look down and notice how rad they look in those cute sandals.
A guidus ,dressed in the traditional colors of the river washes her hands of all foot-related concerns.
Special thanks to RA for modeling, and to Ruth Lammers for editing all of the above photos.
All photos and words © Elise Otto.