Regular readers of this blog should know a few things by now: 1.) I have a penchant for writing ridiculously long term reviews (like my One Million Step Review of the Arc’teryx Bora Mid PART 1 and PART 2), 2.) I am really hard on my gear, and 3.) I am a sucker for any joke involving a marmot. They should also know that I just got back from three days in what I am convinced is the most underrated destination in North America, Aravaipa Canyon.
Aravaipa is a perfect canyon. In the Spring and Fall, it is crisp and breathtaking. In the Summer it is an oasis. With a unique ability to turn from otherworldly to subtle in an instant, it has so completely captured my imagination that I wrote the place a love letter. Best of all, it is a canyon for everyone: the uninitiated can stick to the creek for easy walking in the stream, while those looking for a little more adventure can canyoneer to their heart’s content in the side canyons. And, if you are worried you are going to be swamped by people in this wonderland, don’t be: only 50 people are allowed in the entire wilderness, and permits almost never sell out in the winter or summer.
On my last trip to Aravaipa, after spending some 24 of 36 hours hiking through the water, I wanted to run up one last side canyon before we lost the light. It was really late in the day, I knew that I only had minutes before the the sun passed, and that several wet, long, exposed scrambles sat between me and the canyon rim. I decided to go for it, and minutes later I was standing here:
At that moment I looked down at my brand new shoes and a question dawned popped n my head: Did Arc’teryx accidentally make the perfect canyoneering shoe?
Backing up for a second, we need to address exactly which shoe I am talking about. The Arc’teryx Acrux FL, are the sister shoe to the Arc’teryx Bora Mid’s I am doing the long term review on. These two pairs of shoes share much in common, so I will not rehash it all here (if you are interested in how these boots are constructed, check out Part 1 of the Bora Mid Review HERE). In short, like the Boras, the Arcuxs are essentially a double boot design– an incredibly tough laminate outer boot is matched with a soft breathable inner. Depending on which model you by this inner may be waterproof, or not, and removable, or not. Specifically I own the non-removable, non-waterproof version.
Given the question at hand, it is interesting that as far as I can tell, Arc’teryx has not actually advertised these as canyoneering shoes. That probably makes sense since canyoneering is a small market. However, with the exception of the 5.10 canyoneer, there really aren’t many canyoneering shoes out there. Instead most people use a shoe designed for another activity (e.g., a water shoe, a tennis shoe, and approach shoe); and, if it lives up the the requirements of canyoneering, use them. With this in mind, lets take a close look at if these shoes fit the bill.
A CANYONEERING SHOE MUST BE TOUGH
Canyoneering is a brutal game. Murky pools invariably hide the biggest, nastiest, sharpest boulders just out of sight. After a few miles your shins will be bloody, and, if your lucky, you’ll only have tripped a few times. Because they will be kicking all the annoying rocks you can’t see, your shoes are going to take most of the damage.
This is one of the primary areas where Arc’teryx use of laminates makes their shoes stand out. These things are tough. Outrageously tough. Take a while to break in, tough. After three days of kicking every rock you can imagine, the boots still look brand new:
A CANYONEERING SHOE MUST GRIP WELL
Canyoneering, by definition, requires scrambling. As such, most dedicated canyoneering and approach shoes utilize incredibly sticky compounds, such as Stealth Rubber, usually reserved for climbing shoes. The cost of this grip, however, is decreased durability. Arc’teryx may have bucked this trend by choosing Vibram MegaGrip, a new sole compound from that claims to deliver great grip with boot-like durability. If you are worried that these might not be ready for serious climbing, the rand (e.g., rubber on the toe) of the boot is smearable.
While I cannot comment on long term durability (the soles below have about 150 miles on them), I can say this: these things grip. Good Lord, these things grip. I am not a climber by any means, but I have never felt more confident scrambling up a wet, exposed slope than I do in these shoes. Shoe design, as well as rubber choice, help here as well. While nothing Earth shattering, the Arcux’s sole design does a good job of mixing surface area and water shedding.
That being said, mid sole is not super flexible. While this helps with hiking and carrying loads, but a serious climber might want a little more control over the shoe.
A CANYONEERING SHOE MUST KEEP ALL THE ANNOYING ROCKS OUT
Dedicated canyoneering shoes usually contain some sort of an integrated gaiter to keep all the annoying rocks, sand, and mud out. These gaiters are great at doing their job, but can be really annoying on long approaches or canyons that include long walks. As they are designed to be an approach shoe, the Acrux’s eschew this gaiter design, and in their place use a small elastic band around the heel.
Combined with a good sock, I found the band to be surprisingly good at keeping the gunk out. On a 15 mile, 100% in the water, day I was only stopping once or twice to clean the shoes. What more, there were no annoying, hot gaiters to deal with. Gravel did build up between the inner and outer boot, but my foot was so well protected that did not notice it until I got home days later.
A CANYONEERING SHOE MUST LET THE WATER OUT
If you are going to be in the water all day, water is going to get in your shoes. So you don’t go insane and tear up your feet, probably the most important thing that canyoneering shoe can do is help get this water out once you are on dray land. As the Acrux is really two shoes in one– an inner and outer– it is probably best to describe how they deal with water individually.
The outer shoe is made of a hydrophobic laminate material. This means that the material literally cannot absorb water– water simply beads off. Unlike a soft shell jacket, this is not due to a water resistant coating, which can wear; rather, it is a fundamental chemical property of the material the shoe is made out of. Therefore, you will never have to deal with the outer shoes starting to absorb water.
Since these outers cannot absorb water, they need some sort of a port to let water out once it gets in. Arc’teryx has addressed this by adding circular perforated panels along both sides of the shoe. These don’t look like much, but I found them to be incredibly effective at draining the shoe. Before leaving on the trip I was concerned that the drains might be too high, leaving a layer of water below the drain line. However, in practice I did not notice this.
The inner shoe is made of a well padded, but incredibly breathable synthetic mesh material. This material dried as quickly as any other water shoe I have ever owned, while still keeping my feet protected from any rocks or mud that made it between the boots. Depending on which model you buy, these inners can be removable, or not. Obviously a removable inner will dry more quickly when removed from the boot.
On the subject of drying, the included insoles are worth mentioning. Arc’teryx includes a set of ortholite insoles with the shoe. While these are not my favorite, they are completely appropriate on a approach shoe like this. In the water, however, they tend to suck up water and hold onto it. For my next trip I will switch to something that will absorb less water, like a set of SuperFeet.
By now it is probably pretty obvious that I like these shoes a lot. With that in mind, it is worth mentioning that in a world of universal off the shelf comfort I have found that Arc’teryx shoes/boots require significant break in. The laminate material the outer boot is made of is tough. Your feet are not as tough. As such, you are going to have to spend a couple of hikes softening up the material before you are ready for a big trip. During this time the boots will bend in weird places and might make a clicking noise as they try to figure out where to bend. This is the price of having such a ridiculously tough outer boot. Don’t worry, your feet will feel better in a few trips.
SO DID THEY PULL IT OFF?
Arc’teryx sells the Acrux FL as an approach shoe. In all their promotional materials I have seen, there is no mention of canyoneering at all. This makes it all the more surprising when I say that for most canyoneers I think this is the perfect shoe.
Now, there is a limitation to that statement. If your time in the canyon is strongly biased towards climbing, I would buy something that is more flexible. However, I am the first to admit I am a terrible climber. I spend more time walking in canyons than I do bouldering. As such, that nice stiff midsole protects my feet from more than enough nasty rocks to make the climbing penalty worth it. What’s more, I’m willing to bet that most people interested in canyoneering fall into my camp.
I started this post with a story about my trip to Aravaipa, and I should probably end with one. There were three people on that trip and we each had different shoes. My brother-in-law, Pat, wore sterotyical water shoes, his friend, Hoover, wore tennis shoes, and I, by pure luck, decided to give the Acrux’s a shot just before walking out the door. By the end of the trip, Pat’s feet were torn up, Hoover was going nuts trying to keep the rocks out of his shoes, and they both swore they would buy a pair of Arcux’s when they got home. If that isn’t a big enough endorsement, I don’t know what is.
SEE THEM IN THE FIELD
All photos are courtesy of Patrick Kelly. Go visit him at Cliff Grove to see more of his exceptional work.
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