Whether you’re crawling down tiny slot canyons or rappelling your way to the bottom of a steep gully, canyoneering is an exciting and adventurous way to enjoy the great outdoors. But, if you try to search for quality canyoneering shoes online, you’ll quickly find that getting outfitted for the canyons isn’t as easy as it seems.
What shoes should you wear for canyoneering, you might ask? Basically, any hiking shoe that’s durable, comfortable, and has high-traction rubber outsoles is a good choice. Even better, a quick-drying and well-draining pair of hiking boots or water shoes is a solid option for water-filled canyons.
That being said, there are very few shoes out there that are made specifically with canyoneering in mind. In fact, most people use quick-drying hiking boots, approach shoes, or super-durable water shoes with good grip capabilities for their trips into the canyons.
To help you out, we’ve created your ultimate guide to the best shoes for canyoneering on the market today, plus some top tips for choosing the right pair for your needs.
Characteristics Of A Good Canyoneering Shoe
When searching for canyoneering footwear, it’s critical that you understand what makes a pair of shoes a good choice for scrambling through wet canyons. Here are some of the main characteristics that you should look for in your next pair of shoes:
Crawling in and around slot canyons requires a pair of shoes with a whole lot of traction. Super-sticky rubber is a must, but it’s also important that your shoes perform equally well on wet terrain as they do on dry rock.
Simply put, if you’re going to spend hours or days with the same pair of shoes on your feet, they better be comfortable. This is particularly true in situations where balance and precision are key in your footwork as you don’t want to slip just because your feet hurt.
Canyons are known for being quite hard on the body, thanks to their shop rocks and plethora of cactus needles. So, it’s imperative that your footwear provides enough protection for your feet to prevent any injuries in such a remote environment. In particular, look for shoes that have thick rubber toecaps or brands for toe protection.
Canyons are hard, not only on your body, but on your gear. Therefore, a pair of canyoneering shoes should be made with super durable fabrics and rubbers that can withstand years of use.
No one likes to wear heavy shoes and canyoneering is no exception. Lightweight shoes can help reduce foot fatigue at the end of a long day outside.
Water Drainage & Quick Drying
If you plan to spend a lot of time in wet canyons, it’s best to look for a pair of shoes that is both quick drying and capable of draining water. Some shoes even have small holes built into the upper fabric to help drain water out of the interior for a more comfortable canyoneering experience.
The Different Types Of Shoes You Can Wear Canyoneering
As we’ve mentioned, there aren’t any canyoneering-specific shoes available. Instead, people that venture into canyons usually get a pair of hiking boots, approach shoes, or even durable kayaking water shoes to use during their adventures. This is what you need to know about how different types of footwear perform in canyon environments:
Your standard pair of hiking boots usually offer decent traction capabilities, as well as a high level of foot protection. However, that’s more or less the end of their benefits for canyoneering outside dry canyons.
For the most part, hiking boots aren’t a good option for wet canyons because they just don’t drain as well as any of the other available options. This is particularly true if you’re planning on using a pair of leather boots, which will feel like a ton of bricks on your feet after getting soaked in a puddle.
If you are going to use hiking boots for canyoneering, lightweight pair that’s not waterproof and has a lot of breathable mesh paneling is your best bet. Just keep in mind that the mesh panels are more likely to rip with frequent use in rough, rocky conditions.
- Good traction capabilities on wet rocks and mud
- Great foot protection, especially around the ankles
- Don’t drain water well
- Can be very heavy after getting wet
- Mesh panels rip fairly easily
Approach shoes are a type of footwear that’s specifically made for climbers that need shoes to wear for the hike to the base of a climbing route. They offer a sort of hybrid between the comfort of classic hiking or tennis shoes and the technical performance of a rock climbing shoe.
Most approach shoes have a low cut (with some exceptions) and are made with very sticky, durable rubber, like what you’d find on a climbing shoe. Unfortunately, they tend to be a bit more expensive than your standard hiking shoe because they have high-quality rubber outsoles.
For canyoneering, they’re a solid choice, particularly if you’re looking to spend a lot of time in dry canyons. This is because they offer unparalleled traction on rocky surfaces, which is ideal for technical rock sections in slot canyons.
One potential drawback to approach shoes for canyoneering is that they don’t always drain water very well. This is particularly true of approach shoes that are made from leather. However, there are some approach shoes, such as the La Sportiva TX 3 that feature large mesh panels, which do a good job of draining water in wet canyons.
- Exceptionally good traction capabilities
- Lightweight and durable
- Mesh shoes drain water fairly well
- Generally quite expensive
- Leather approach shoes can be very heavy when wet
Kayaking Shoes Or Water Shoes
The third and final option that we’d recommend for canyoneering footwear is a pair of kayaking shoes or water shoes.
A quality pair of kayaking shoes will have a thick rubber sole that’s specifically designed for walking on wet rocks. Additionally, purpose-built kayak shoes will have quick-drying uppers with small holes in the side that can easily drain water in just a few minutes.
This makes them an ideal choice for use while scrambling around in canyons or while wading through large water-filled pools. The main drawback of this kind of footwear is that it tends to be expensive since there’s not a huge market for it outside of paddlers and canyoneers.
- Durable rubber outsoles with good traction
- Quick-drying upper fabrics
- Drainage holes for water
- Often quite expensive
Best Canyoneering Shoes
We know how hard it is to find a solid pair of canyoneering shoes, so here are our reviews of the best options on the market today:
1. Salomon Techamphibian 4
The Salomon Techamphibian 4 is a purpose-built water shoe with a unique twist on the classic trail running shoe design. It features the same shape and style of a running shoe but has an easy slide-on collapsible heel opening for better water draining and added comfort in wet conditions.
These shoes have a Contagrip outsole, which provides ample traction in slick environments, as well as a burly toecap for added foot protection. They are also highly breathable and have built-in drainage holes for use in wet canyons.
- Drains water well and dries out quickly
- Super sticky Contagrip rubber outsole for added traction
- Rubber toe cap for foot protection against sharp rocks
- Large mesh paneling presents some durability concerns
2. Astral Hiyak
Technically, the Hiyak is a kayaking shoe, but Astral made this mid-top boot so durable and grippy that it’s actually a solid choice for canyoneering. The high-top design on these shoes means added protection for your ankle while squeezing through tight canyons.
Additionally, they’re made with high-friction G.ss rubber, which provides excellent traction and sensitivity for tricky terrain. The Hiyak also has drainage holes in the sole and in its super durable and quick-drying canvas upper for added comfort.
- High-traction rubber with good sensitivity underfoot
- Drainage holes in the sole and the canvas upper
- Mid-top design provides ankle protection against rocks
- Not available in smaller women’s sizes
3. Adidas Terrex Hydro Lace
The Adidas Terrex Hydro Lace is one of the most popular options for canyoneering and is most likely what you’d find if you tried to rent a pair of shoes at a local guide service in the Southwestern USA. In fact, the Hydro Lace is one of the few shoes that are actually made specifically for canyoneering.
These shoes are a solid choice because they have a durable neoprene and synthetic upper that dries quickly and provides lots of ankle protection. They also have Five Ten Stealth Rubber, which is some of the stickiest on the market for both wet and dry environments.
- High top design with very durable uppers
- Offers lots of ankle and foot protection
- Very sticky rubber on both wet and dry rock
4. La Sportiva TX 3
The La Sportiva TX 3 is a climbing approach shoe. However, due to its high-traction rubber and mesh uppers, they are a good choice for canyoneers that mostly recreate in dry canyons.
These shoes provide ample breathability in hot conditions. They also allow for exceptional performance on technical sections of rock, thanks to their climbing shoe-like design and sticky Vibram Mega-Grip Traverse rubber. Since they don’t have any drainage holes, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for wet canyons, but their mesh uppers make them suitable for traversing the occasional puddle.
- Very good performance on tricky sections of rock
- Lightweight and breathable
- No drainage holes
5. Astral TR1 Mesh
The Astral TR1 Mesh is a low top kayaking shoe that’s built much like a sturdy sneaker. It has very sticky G.15 high-friction rubber that’s made specifically for use on wet and slick rock, so they’re a good choice for canyoneering.
These shoes are also made with a quick-drying mesh and ripstop nylon that’s also highly breathable in hot weather. Plus, they have drainage holes around the toe cap and the bottom of to help get water out of your shoes.
- High-friction rubber for traction on wet rock
- Quick-drying fabric uppers
- Drainage holes for use in wet canyons
- Minimal ankle support and protection
How Dangerous Is Canyoneering?
As far as outdoor activities go, we wouldn’t say that canyoneering is particularly dangerous – if you know what you’re doing. If you’re new to canyoneering, though, we highly recommend that you seek out professional instruction from a qualified guiding service. This is particularly true if you also are new to ropework and rappelling in a canyon environment.
That being said, here are two of the primary dangers to be aware of if you’re looking to head into the canyons and what to do to mitigate these risks:
This is particularly the biggest risk of canyoneering and also the hardest to manage. Flash floods can occur with little warning even when the sky is bright and blue above you. This is because severe weather upstream from your location can cause a massive surge in the river flow very far downstream.
What To Do:
The trick with flash floods is knowing what to do in the seconds before one arrives. These are the things to look out for that indicate a flash flood might be on its way:
- One of the earliest signs of an incoming flash flood is a change in the actual river water itself. Often, the water will go from clear to murky, which is a tell-tale sign of a flash flood.
- Other potential changes in the river itself include an increase in the amount of debris floating in the water, as well as changes in the water speed or level.
- You may also see storm clouds building up around your or hear rain in the distance.
If you notice any of these changes in the river or other signs of shifting weather in the area, the most important thing to do is get to higher ground. You may only have a few seconds or minutes (at best) to get away from the river so climb up as high as you can from the canyon floor.
It’s also worth noting that if there’s rain or foul weather forecasted for your location or any area upstream of the canyon you want to explore, then you should reconsider your plans. Deadly flash floods can rush through canyons even when the storm that caused them is hundreds of miles upstream.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that’s caused by excessive dehydration and prolonged exposure to very high temperatures. Since many popular slot canyons are in hot, dry desert locations, heat stroke is a very real risk while canyoneering.
What To Do:
Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to avoid by staying adequately hydrated throughout your canyoneering day and avoiding strenuous outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day. If you notice that you or someone in your group is starting to feel sluggish or tired, encourage them to rest in the shade and drink lots of water. The key is to stop dehydration from progressing to heat stroke, which requires immediate medical intervention.
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.