Lightweight, high-traction shoes help you stay grounded.
By Gibbs Milliken
Most day-to-day outdoors activities call for comfortable non-slip footwear, but not necessarily heavy-duty boots designed for technical climbing or the extra support required for traveling with a fully loaded backpack. Now available are shoes designed for wet and dry situations that are light and flexible, offer good arch support and quality construction, and serve as both field and casual sportswear.
In constant use, modern athletic shoes have a rather short life because the internal synthetic materials break down quickly with compression and corrosive moisture. Only a few are built to last longer like the New Balance Country Walker. This shoe has durable waterproof uppers, shock absorbing heel and forefoot, plus mid-soles featuring extra flexibility and cushioning. The thick outsoles have a wide, stable platform and aggressive edge-cleats for excellent traction on dry surfaces. ($79.95, Country Walker, Men’s #964, Women’s #746, Bass Pro Shops, (800) 227-7776, www.basspro.com)
Well-known for high-quality boating shoes, Sperry now offers the Top-Sider Billfish, a low-profile oxford featuring a molded rubber sole with razor siping (small slits that improve traction) and water channeling grooves for excellent non-marking slip resistance. Designed specifically for gripping wet deck and dock surfaces, they are built to withstand constant wetting/drying cycles and, in a short time, the supple leather tops become form-fitted to individual foot contours. This classic shoe is equally at home aboard ship, for casual dining, or on long walks down the beach and coastal trails. ($89.95, 3-Eye Billfish #0799023, Sperry Top-Sider, (800) 617-2239, www.sperrytopsider.com)
Another multipurpose shoe is the Irish Setter North Shore Navigators. These are combination boat/trail shoes that offer good airflow through mesh-covered vents in the bottom of the foot-beds and along the sides that also allow water drainage. They use two-eyelet laces for a positive fit over the arch and can still be pulled on and off as needed. The Navigators are comfortable, well made and cushioned, but have only fair traction on wet slick surfaces. ($89.95, Navigator 2-Eye Oxford, # 2892, Irish Setter, (888) 738-8370, www.irishsetterboots.com)
In a combination water and trail shoe, the Teva Ricochet II is hard to equal as amphibious footwear. They feature the advanced technology of Spider Rubber soles that tenaciously grip any surface wet or dry. Built of light yet durable materials, they are hardwearing, fast-drying, and have non-marking outsoles. The uppers are mesh fabric and have multiple adjustments for a snug fit to prevent loss in strong currents making these a great choice for paddlers and canyoneers adventuring in and out of swift waters and up extreme rock faces. ($80, Ricochet II, style #6772, Teva Sport Sandals, (800) 433-2537, www.teva.com)
For a more traditional look and feel, the Justin Field Shoe of dark brown oiled cowhide is a low-cut moccasin with a roomy square toe-box, rough textured sole, and padded ankle support. It has classic Euro-styling, sturdy construction, and replaceable soft-foam inserts. Ideal for day treks, these can also be worn as distinctive casual shoes that in a short time will age into old favorites that fit just right. ($99, Field Shoe, Style #980, Justin Boots, (800) 358-7846, www.justinboots.com)
One secret to comfort and longevity in outdoors shoes is the soft, form-fitting athletic inserts that now come standard in many brands. As the shoes age, these synthetic foot-beds compress, become soiled, and should be replaced as needed for renewed cushioning, odor absorption and support. One thing is certain, no two feet are identical, so try on several pairs of these easy walkers and then decide which will make you the most sure-footed in the field.