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River Shoes (Keen and Mion)

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The esoteric nature of water sports like canyoneering, rafting, riverboarding, and whitewater swimming calls for equally esoteric footwear. Indeed, to acquiesce with eddies and tumbling submerged stones and nasty currents, companies have designed shoes that guard toes, give grip underwater, and generally protect your feet once they’re submerged.

This month, I tested two new water shoes, including the Fast Canyon from Mion Footwear (www.mionfootwear.com), which is an odd fish.

Swathed with a neoprene-like material, formed with rubber and foam, and lashed tight on the foot via Kevlar lacing, this highly-engineered hybrid sandal-bootie is rugged and protective. It seals shut above the ankle via a strong Velcro closure. Its foam footbed, the company says, forms to your foot shape after 12 hours of use.

Fast Canyon River Shoe

I’d bring the Fast Canyon along for serious whitewater tromps, including canyoneering. The shoe has great traction underwater. Unlike some sandals, it won’t budge on the foot either, even in the strongest swirling currents.

Debris like sticks and sand has trouble making its way inside the Fast Canyon. But once sand or pebbles do weasel in — as they did in my tests after a half-hour of tromping upstream — you have to take off the whole shoe and dump it out, which is inconvenient.

Other complaints: At $140, price is quite high for the Fast Canyons. Also, these are not the lightest water shoes ever made, coming in at about 1 pound per foot.

Second up was Keen Footwear’s (www.keenfootwear.com) Hood River II, which go for $85. These are more like sandals, though with a big signature Keen toe-guard and nylon mesh outers that cover the front and top of the foot.

Keen Hood River II

Debris easily found its way into the Hood River IIs, as the foot is not fully enclosed. While annoying at first, I began to appreciate the design as I went further up my test stream: Debris went easily into the Hood River IIs, but it also flowed easily out. Whereas with Mion Footwear’s Fast Canyon, what got in stayed in until you took the whole bootie off.

For grip, the Hood River II is fine, though it lacks the knobby tread of the Mion model. Keen’s offering is a couple ounces lighter, at about 12 ounces per shoe.

A simple nylon-strap system with a buckle keeps the Hood River II on your foot. I found the setup to be adequate, even in fast whitewater.

Finally, in the crossover category, Keen wins hands down. I got comments on my “good-looking sandals” from friends while wearing the Hood River IIs out to dinner. The low-profile build and wide webbing straps make for a classic look.

The Fast Canyons, in contrast, elicited comments of awe and confusion even from some whitewater-inclined friends. They are odd-looking, no doubt. They’re expensive. But a shoe like the Fast Canyon will get the job done underwater, and then some.

(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)

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