Rocks, rapids, and icebergs: Alaska puts gear to the test like few other places. For seven days, we strapped on Chaco’s newest shoes — the Odyssey Sandal and Torrent Pro — and paddled, slogged, and waded our way to this review.
With a fully loaded packraft balanced on my shoulder, I scrambled over wet rocks and trudged through bogs of glacial silt. What initially looked like a few hundred yards to the next put-in quickly stretched to a mile. My body felt strained, but my feet were surprisingly comfortable. Even under the crush of a 65-pound pack.
For one week, our team put the all-new Chaco Odyssey sport sandal and Torrent Pro cross trainer to the test in one of the most rugged and beautiful proving grounds in the world — the Kennicott Wilderness near McCarthy, Alaska. Arriving only a few days after the summer solstice, the 20 hours of available daylight gave us ample shoe testing time.
In short: Chaco’s new shoes, coming to market in spring 2019, deliver a high degree of amphibious performance. The advanced designs and carefully chosen materials open a new category of footwear for the brand but retain many of the qualities Chaco loyalists have grown to love.
Chaco Odyssey Sandal
The next evolution of the traditional Chaco sandal, the Odyssey adds an enclosed toe and a hydrophobic mesh upper for maximum support and protection. An even split between shoe and sandal, the Odyssey represents the best of both worlds. The lightweight mesh is supple, with no seams or abrasion points. And the iconic Z-shaped strap system adjusts evenly with a simple tug, feeling decidedly Chaco.
Underfoot, the soft LUVSEAT ER footbed retains the brand’s classic contours, although not quite as pronounced as the instep curves of the Z-series sandals. Tucked within the midsole package, a rock plate offers sufficient protection without compromising flexibility over uneven terrain. At only 11.5 ounces for a size 11, they’re considerably lighter than most of the performance sandals in the Chaco lineup.
During several days of self-supported packrafting, the Odyssey transitioned from boat to riverbank seamlessly. The upper offered enough adjustment to accommodate a wool sock, Gore-Tex layer, and neoprene bootie all at once. Yet they also fit well with bare feet.
The only inherent drawback to the hybrid sandal-shoe design is the difficulty expelling rocks, sand, and debris once they sneak into the toe box. It’s a compromise made in the name of added coverage and protection. On the upshot, removing the shoe and clearing it is quick and easy.
Chaco Torrent Pro
The Torrent Pro represents Chaco’s latest foray into high-performance water shoes. Co-developed with the USA Raft Team, the shoe drains, protects, and performs. On our trip, we traveled with the team’s captain, John Mark Seelig. According to Seelig, the Torrent includes features specifically aimed at boaters. The low-profile sole package and rounded heel fit into the tight confines of kayaks and packrafts and don’t impede hasty exits.
The quick-dry knit upper fits snug around the foot, with traditional laces applying uniform tension. Like the Odyssey, the mesh includes as few seams as possible for a comfortable, sock-free fit. The lightweight LUVSEAT ER footbed is soft for all-day comfort, but not so soft it sacrifices support.
When scrambling around on wet river rocks, the TPU toe cap provided welcome protection, and the siped ChacoGrip outsole was surprisingly sticky. Climbing on floating icebergs and standing atop slimy boulders were easy tasks. The low-profile tread pattern worked well in loose conditions and didn’t clog with mud.
Like the Odyssey, the Torrent Pro was as much at home on land as in water. Drain ports in the midsole combined with tight mesh kept the inside of the shoe free of water and debris. Now that I’m back home in the dry desert Southwest, the Torrents keep my feet protected and cool.
Pushed to the Max
Alaska holds no quarter for poorly designed gear. During our week of adventure, we put our Chacos through the wringer. Whether shoved deep into the footwell of a packraft or asked to portage a hulking backpack through thickets of alder, I never worried about my feet.
With a lot of summer left to burn, we’ll continue to test the Odyssey Sandal and Torrent Pro in a variety of harsh conditions. And they make for comfortable camp kicks, so they’ll probably log quite a few hours scuffling around camp.
Christophe Noel is a freelance journalist, photographer, and general vagabond. A seeker of stories untold, he can often be found with a map in hand, lost, in the most remote corners of the globe. The founder of Clean Drink Adventures, he believes in the power of the traveler and doing good as you go.