Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"

River Shoes

IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTIVE FOOTWEAR FOR DOWNRIVER WHITEWATER PADDLING

In our swiftwater rescue workshops, Jim and Tim Jones, Don Harwood and I often challenge participants to "dress for rescue" when they leave the putin. This is a selling point for convincing paddlers to be prepared in case they have to work on a rescue or take part in the evacuation of a seriously injured paddler. A vital aspect of this preparedness is having footwear that is sturdy enough to protect the feet from rocks and cold weather temperatures.

Many who paddle kayaks have limited space (depending on hull style) for fitting their feet into their boat. Because of this space issue some wear rodeo socks, wetsocks, or other type sheer footwear that don't have much of a protective sole. Others who paddle open canoes, C-1's, inflatables, rafts, etc., are not as restricted by lack of room and can use river shoes with a substantial sole.

If you're going to 'park and play' rather than completing a downriver trip wearing a rodeo sock, wetsock, or other low profile type footwear (such as NRS Desperado sock) would be acceptable. If going on an isolated backcountry trip having sufficient footwear protection is wise. A few paddlers/instructors we know who paddle kayaks and wear sheer type footwear, carry a spare pair of river shoes to change into if they have to walk around on the river bank assisting on a rescue.

There are plenty of choices available in the retail market--water shoes, paddle shoes (both high cut and low cut) and slip-on type shoes that have substantial soles. If considering cost, Academy Sports, for example, has a lower profile river bootie that will fit for many kayaks and for the modest price of $22. Several slip-on type shoes have soles that are low profile enough not to take up space. Whatever shoe you choose should provide traction for walking on slippery surfaces in and along the river. In both rescue workshops and live rescues it is very common for paddlers and rescuers to be injured when falling on slippery boulders and rocks.

Whether your river shoes lace up, strap on, or slip on, an additional safety factor is knowing how to get your river shoe off your foot if it becomes stuck in a 'pock' hole, crack in a rock, or under a ledge. Getting your foot out of the shoe may be the only way you can be free yourself of the stuck situation.
If your kayak is an older model and has pedal style footbraces consider using river shoes without laces which might become entangled around these type braces. In our rescue workshops we also discourage the use of sandals or other open-toed shoes since toes can be injured by sharp rocks or by objects falling on them. Even though newer models of popular river sandals use fastex buckles the straps on the sandals (or any shoe that has a strap for that matter) can hang up on rocks or objects in the river.

Give thought to footwear that will protect your feet well if having to assist with a rescue or if taking part in an evacuation that might require walking some distances.

Jim Simmons, 6/'07, revised 10/'03. ACA Instructors Don Harood, Tim Jones and Tom Jenkins contributed to this report.

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