What to wear on your feet while kayaking is a difficult question to answer, you want something comfortable, cheap and with some grip. I have come up with 3 different combinations: Palm Descenders for river-running, Adidas Adilette Sliders for summer freestyle and Peak UK Neoprene Socks for winter freestyle.

Palm Descenders

I really like my Palm Descenders for a couple of reasons: first, they are really tough and durable so even jumping across sharp rocks etc my feet feel perfectly safe, and the boot itself lasts really well. This is especially useful because other shoes made primarily of neoprene have a tendency to rip and fall apart while, having owned my Descenders for a year and a half there is no sign of wear other than a bit of fading. The boot has 2 Velcro straps which hold onto your foot tightly without being uncomfortable and they do not come undone easily, when river-running I never need to take the boot off unlike for freestyle, so a boot which stays on getting in and out of the boat (or even during a swim) is very useful. My one criticism on the comfort front is that if you don’t wear socks underneath, the ankle band digs in a bit and leaves you with an annoying red mark. The inside is made of some sort of high-tech thermal material which means my feet have stayed warm even in very cold conditions. I know my Palm gloves have the same yellow material on the inside and it really does the trick: your feet could still get cold, but the material appears to be warmer and more comfortable than neoprene. The boot works a bit like a wetsuit and traps the water inside where it warms up and keeps your feet toasty, however due to the thick material even without water inside they keep your feet remarkably warm anyway. One main problem with kayaking footwear is grip: slipping on moss and wet rock, most shoes struggle with this environment but Palm have had a decent stab at this and mostly the grip is perfect. Price-wise they set you back about £50, but as protection for your feet which will last at least 2 years I think it is on the low side and they offer great value for money. To sum the Descenders up – they are durable and withstand a lot of abuse without tearing or coming apart, they are comfortable to wear and do a great job of protecting your feet due to the thick rubber sole while staying solidly attached without the feeling that they might slip off, they keep you warm no matter what (and if they don’t then you should consider a dry suit), the grip is good so there’s no slipping over when scouting rapids and finally the price is bang on for what you get back from the product.

Adidas Adilette Sliders

I know that people have many different opinions about sliders, some find them very uncomfortable and others practically live in them. Personally I hate the style that goes between your toes, sliders/flip-flops with a band across the top of the foot are much more comfortable and less likely to rub; that’s why I like these sliders. While your foot may still take a while to adapt without getting rubs these are instantly more comfortable and likely to stay on your foot. I prefer wearing sliders to boots, slippers or shoes during summer – especially when freestyling – this is because I can slip them off easily. I like my feet wedged in the ends of my Pyranha Jed and normal shoes prevent me from doing this, with sliders I can simply place them under my overthruster when in the boat and put them on as soon a I need to exit (assuming that’s not by swimming). Sliders are much cooler when walking around in both senses of the word and it means I don’t need to wear socks. I find these sliders well padded and the sole is thick enough to protect your foot from impact while also moulding itself to improve comfort. The sliders float which is of course convenient when it comes to a shoe for kayaking, I have seen many people loose footwear on swims and inevitably this is an irritating and possibly painful experience best avoided. The grip is surprisingly good, when it comes to wet rock most shoes struggle and sliders are normally hopeless – I would rate these somewhere in between not great and decent on the grip front. This does mean that these sliders are not ideal safety footwear. If hopping out of your boat quickly to get a throw line to someone might be a priority I would recommend trying something else, however if you want comfy, cheap and reliable sliders then I can’t recommend these enough. They come in at roughly £20 – I got mine from Sports Direct for even less than that so they are not upmarket by any means and they come in a couple of colours, a bright colour like the red version is probably better so that you always remember to bring them and if they fall off they don’t blend in with the water. To sum up, these sliders don’t break the bank, they are more comfortable than traditional flip-flops, they float, come in nice colours and you are unlikely to slip over on wet rock. My final piece of advice is that if you go down the sliding route for summer footwear, get branded sliders: they’ll be a bit more expensive but better quality and more trustworthy long-term.

Peak UK Socks

Onto my final piece of footwear advice; while I like stiff footwear for river-running, for freestyle I prefer to go barefoot (or as close to barefoot as possible). Sliders are perfect for summer use but over the winter my feet would definitely become hypothermic during long sessions. These Peak UK socks do the trick, they manage to keep my feet warm (being made of neoprene these socks work like a wetsuit, trapping water between the material and your skin where you body heat warms it up) while allowing me to feel connected to the boat – my ultimate freestyle goal. While I like these particular neoprene socks, any others similar to these would work. The reason I chose these is that I know for a fact they work, currently being on my fourth pair. They only cost about £17 and the Peak UK grip pattern on the bottom is really sticky creating a sock which can also grip rock. My only major criticism is that they tear/shred very quickly; a single pair should last about 3 months but then they’ll start to look tatty, however their other merits outweigh this flaw which is why I choose to wear these and why I will recommend them to anyone out there also looking for winter freestyle footwear. The socks are quite thin which is the main reason they wear down quite quickly, but it also means I feel like I’m barefoot in the boat. The problem with this is that when I have to exit the boat and scout a rapid or fetch lunch they don’t really protect my feet that well due to the lack of a sole. To solve this problem I wear a set of long normal socks as well, this not only helps prevent rubs on my toes but also adds an extra layer of cushioning and protection underneath the neoprene. With this second flaw fixed I believe that these are the best option for winter freestyle excluding a dry-suit, certainly the price is much more attractive. So these Peak UK socks have surprisingly strong grip, they are the most comfortable of these three sets of footwear, they keep your feet warm like a wetsuit and they are the cheapest of the three options – what else do you want?

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