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Footwear Options for Canoeing the Boundry Waters
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Jon Franklin
(Junto01) - F
Footwear Options for Canoeing the Boundry Waters on 03/13/2012 11:50:24 MDT Print View

I'm going on a week long excursion to the boundry waters in August. I'm sure most are familiar with the conditions, but I'll be in a canoe half of the time, hiking through mud/sludge/water and doing some light hiking/exploring. Weight is not really an issue, although I'd still like to keep it as light and simple as possible, but It's looking like I'll need two pairs of shoes. I have a pair of NB Trail Runners which are my go-to backpacking shoes and a pair of Teva watershoes which are fairly comfortable.

I'd wear the Teva's in the canoe but I don't know how well they'd drain the water in that condition and I don't want my feet to be rendered soggy and prone to blisters. However, if I purchase a pair of sandals(chaco's?) I don't see things working too well when I have to shlep the canoe through mud/rocks etc. Maybe I'm making this overly complex but since I haven't dealt with these conditions before and we'll be in the middle of nowhere for 6 days I don't want to get myself into a situation which will take away from the enjoyment of the trip. Any ideas on which conbination of footwear to bring? Thanks in advance.


nanook ofthenorth
(nanookofthenorth) - MLife
... on 03/13/2012 12:01:46 MDT Print View

I think Chacos 90% of the time tripping.
I also have a pair of neoprene socks, and sometimes trailrunners. Was looking at getting a pair of TechAmphibians as a more durable/less stinky/wet pair of paddling sneakers.
Know people who love Keens though.

j lan
(justaddfuel) - F

Locale: MN
Re: Footwear Options for Canoeing the Boundry Waters on 03/13/2012 15:13:37 MDT Print View

I use trail runners for paddling and chacos/flip flops for camp shoes. None of the portages are going to be over a mile (unless you are doing grand portage, and if you are, very tough!) so you won't have to worry about blisters. But the chances of you cutting your foot are great while portaging a canoe when you can't always look where you are stepping. I wear sandals most everywhere but in the boundary waters it's always long quick dry pants, long wool socks and trail runners.

Might want to bring an old pair because BWCAW really chews up some shoes.

One of my trip partners who has been going since birth wore solomon water shoes a couple years ago. They didn't dry that fast, they weren't as good on portages (letting in sticks/pebbles/sand/rocks) and they made her feet stink.

You would be fine with the water shoes, just don't know how superior they are to trail runners.

Edited by justaddfuel on 03/13/2012 15:16:50 MDT.

Michael B
(mbenvenuto) - F

Locale: Vermont
water shoes on 03/13/2012 15:29:07 MDT Print View

I haven't been to boundry waters, but I like both your footwear options. I would bring both if that is the question. I like having the option to put on light boots for long tough portages. I like having protection for my feet more than open toe sandals getting in and out of the boat, since cutting your feet is more of an issue then wetness in the boat IMO.

robert mckay
(rahstin) - F

Locale: The Great Land
Tevas on 03/13/2012 16:24:13 MDT Print View

Teva sandals rock!
-Easily adjustable for wearing thick socks in camp
-If you hike in trail runners, the tevas are barely a step down in comfort
-They dry quickly
-If you dont wear socks in the canoe you will get the sweet teva tan
-They are very cost effective
I had a pair last 5+ years and thats with about 15 trips to the boundary waters and a few long river trips.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Shoes in BWCA on 03/13/2012 16:42:57 MDT Print View

I did two trips into BWCA years ago. If I were doing another I would take tight fitting water shoes and then trail runners to hike with. Some of the Portages were very mucky and you can easily loose a shoe. While I love my Tevas, the pair I have would be suspect in the deep muck.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Footwear Options for Canoeing the Boundry Waters on 03/13/2012 17:14:35 MDT Print View

For warm weather like you can expect Salomon Techamphibian shoes work well in the canoe, for wet foot landings and portages. I like to take spare (dry) shoes for camp too.

For shoulder season I like any kind of sneakers and rubber overboots (from Fleet Farm).

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Water shoes on 03/13/2012 18:53:08 MDT Print View

Call me crazy but I wear socks inside my watershoes. Sure they get wet but they help keep my feet from chaffing when the shoes inevitably get sand or mud inside them. I use cheap polyester socks from Wally World for this, no need to ruin good smartwool. I have some nasty socks at the end of the day but my feet are happier. I used this system on some nasty canoeing trips with good results. However I always kept dry shoes to change into for the prolong dry sections.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Jungle boots on 03/13/2012 18:53:54 MDT Print View

You may want to consider U.S. made military jungle boots.

>they are made with instep drain screens
>sel-draining Saran multi-layer mesh insoles are standard
>they dry relatively quickly (air moves in and out the drain holes and mesh insoles)
>the "Panama soles" are purpose made to release mud but give good traction

I've used them in Quebec's Kippawa Game Preserve, Ontario's French River and the Magnetawan River with good results.

Jay Klustner
(jklustner) - F
Jungle Boots on 03/18/2012 11:51:39 MDT Print View

x2 on the Jungle Boots. They drain easy, offer a ton more support than sandals, and will keep your feet protected from all of the jagged rocks. I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to get through the mud up there with sandals on. When I went there a few years ago, someone had to be airlifted out of their because he cut his foot on a rock really badly. I used boots from a company called Altama. Great boots. I got mine for about $70, but I just looked on their website and they were on sale for $33. They have GREAT customer service.


Ben F
(tekhna) - F
Keens on 03/18/2012 12:15:43 MDT Print View

I use Keens and wool socks.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Footwear Options for Canoeing the Boundry Waters on 03/18/2012 19:05:29 MDT Print View

Concerning sandals for portaging ... that's a yes and a no. Depends on the route. There are heavily used routes where many of the portages are just half a step below sidewalks and then there are portages where every step is a foot/ankle/knee wrenching experience. My own preference is to have no exposed skin below ankles.

I often take sandals for camp shoes though.

What route do you have in mind?

Chris Rothwell
(heelix) - F

Locale: Midwest
Rubberish sandles on 03/27/2012 19:17:34 MDT Print View

I do most of my camping in the BWCA. One A teva style sandle really works well for portaging. Some folks use crocs. As long as they are not leather, they usually dry out. Most areas have the potential to be knee deep and you will be much less likely to dump a canoe loading/unloading if you are wearing something you can get wet and not care.

One year I tried water socks - seemed like there was not enough padding on the soles. Might consider that again since I've switched out to Five Fingers on the running side.

I pull out my trail runners after I make camp.

Reginald Donaldson
(worth) - MLife

Locale: Wind River Range
My progression on 03/27/2012 20:12:24 MDT Print View

LL Beans are too hot and will take forever to dry if you get water in them. They have poor traction on wet granite.
Jungle Boots dry fast but have poor traction on wet granite. You will be slipping and sliding.
Chota Quetico Trekker better than jungle boots but dry a tad slower.
Merrell Amphibian's dry fast and have better traction but no ankle support.
I now use the OTB Abyss boot favored by the Navy Seals. Good ankle support and traction. Dries somewhere between jungle boots and Chota's. The multi-layer foot bed allows you to customize the fit depending on how thick your socks are.
I wear Crocs in camp and while swimming.

I am a wet footer and do not bother to try and keep my feet dry. I also prefer Smartwool socks because I believe they tend to be drier than other brands come morning.

Nick VanBurkleo
(EnvyBee) - F - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Safe and comfortable on 03/28/2012 00:46:42 MDT Print View

I'm up there quite a bit. If I were in your shoes (yeeehaw puns!), I would find a relatively fast-drying hiking boot with good ankle support instead of one of your choices. In a normal August it's pretty dry and most portages aren't too bad but that's nothing a good storm wouldn't fix. We all know what a little rain can do to a hiking trail, now picture the worst of those with a canoe over your head. There is always a chance that a simple 40 rod portage could turn into a dirty, painful, wet, and grueling experience after rain. Unless you're lucky enough to use a kevlar canoe up there, most canoes aren't even close to being lightweight or easy to maneuver on most trails so in my opinion, ankle support and fast drying are the two important pieces. That said, I have friends who only wear sandals. I think they're nuts, but they also make it up there a dozen times per season, versus the four or so trips that I'll make per season.

Around camp what you wear isn't quite as important. I'd go with a decent sandal, but let's be realistic... You'll probably go barefoot if you wade into the water or if you take a casual paddle on the lake, "light hiking" after a full and exhausting day of paddling and portaging is normally defined as a trip between the fire pit and the latrine, and not that weight isn't important in the BWCA but it doesn't seem like you are hardcore ounce counting this time so unless it's significant by your own standards, weight shouldn't make or break this one particular decision. Keep it simple, relatively light, and keep it comfortable! Trail runners, water shoes, sandals, high heels, or whatever you prefer to wear while enjoying breathtaking scenery. If you do choose sandals, I don't see anything wrong with Chacos (I'm assuming you aren't considering flip flops by any manufacturer), but in my opinion Teva makes a better product. I've done weekend hikes in mine without issue and they'll work fine if you do find yourself with a spare day, some extra energy, and a trail nearby.

Have fun! Also, do you know which lake you'll be starting on?

Edited by EnvyBee on 03/28/2012 00:48:43 MDT.

James Wall
(jimmyjam) - F

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Footwear for the BWCA on 03/28/2012 06:13:55 MDT Print View


It's been awhile since I went, but I just wore my regular mid hieght light weight hiking boots. I had no issues and they worked good on the muddy/rooty portages. Take some fishing gear as it is some of the best fresh water fishing to be found. Also take a good rain suit as afternoon T-storms come up in a hurry.I spent a week in the Iron Lake area.