Few sports are as demanding as canyoneering. Not only do you need the agility and technical expertise to climb vertical walls, but it also requires serious route finding skills, a whole lot of endurance, and the ability to read the skies to know when danger is approaching.
Canyoneering is a dangerous activity and it’s paramount that you have the right equipment when you’re doing it. Perhaps no piece of gear is as critical as the shoes on your feet.
So what are the best canyoneering shoes? I’m a fan of the Tennies from Five Ten. They’ve been a favorite of river guides for years thanks to their unprecedented durability, incredibly sticky sole, and flexible design that makes them the perfect shoe for climbing rock faces, swimming through streams, and everything in between. If you were to get just one pair of canyoneering shoes, this would be a pretty solid bet.
Last update on 2019-07-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Always consider the conditions that your shoes will be used for; canyoneering is a dangerous sport and it’s incredibly important that you have the right equipment for the job.
A single pair of shoes can’t do everything well, which means you’ll need to either scale back the adventure or pick up a second pair when the circumstances warrant it. Read further to get all the details on how to make an informed decision when purchasing your canyoneering footwear.
Reviews of the Best Canyoneering Shoes
1. Five Ten Guide Tennie Aproach Shoes
This Five Ten Guide Tennie has been at the top of many canyoneers lists for years and it’s easy to see why; they’re widely seen as one of the best all-around climbing shoes out there.
While the shoe’s got a somewhat larger toe box, which can make climbing narrow cracks more difficult, you have to love the grippiness of the Guide Tennies C4 rubber. It’s what makes them one of the best shoes out there for smearing and they’ve also got a stiff enough midsole to make them excellent edgers too.
As an added bonus, they’ve got a well-fitting, gusseted tongue that keeps any trail debris out, and your foot free of painful bits of gravel.
That’s not to say they’re perfect though; while they serve their purpose well with climbing, they’re only okay for doing long hikes. They weigh over 28 ounces, which can feel like a strain when you’re covering a lot of miles each day.
They’re also just not built for cushioning; they’re supposed to let you feel the ground – great for climbing, not so great for trudging along a rough trail all day long. Basically, they’re just not that comfortable because they’re designed for rock climbing performance. None of this is to say these won’t perform on long hikes though; they’re just not as good as some of the other options out there.
Overall, these are some of the better canyoneering shoes on the market, and the less than stellar performance on long slogs shouldn’t deter you, especially if you’re canyoneering routes require an excellent climbing shoe.
2. La Sportiva TX4 Approach Shoe
La Sportiva has a whole TX line of canyoneering/approach shoes that range from the minimalist TX2 to a burly TX5 that’s more backcountry hiking boot than climbing shoe.
However, the TX4 is a decent mix, leaning towards durability and stability at the cost of breathability. I do love how sticky the soles on these shoes are though; they’re perfect for walking on wet or loose terrain.
Long days on (or off) the trail can be unpleasant with the TX4 though. The uppers have a tendency to absorb water when submerged and they’re breathability issues prevent them from drying out quickly. They do not drain well and are a poor choice if you know you’ll be swimming on your trips. Additionally, they don’t have a particularly strong shank, so you’ll be feeling any and all sharp rocks on the trail.
Ultimately, I like La Sportiva’s TX4 and think they’re a solid shoe for canyoneers that need durable, yet grippy shoes, but their tendency to retain moisture puts them out of the running for all but the driest adventures.
3. Salomon Men's Techamphibian 3 Water Shoe
So many great canyoneering routes require your feet to spend some time underwater: climbing waterfalls, crossing creeks, or swimming a river. When things get wet, the Techamphibian from Salomon is one of the best shoes for the job.
The uppers come with mesh side panels that do an excellent job of draining and drying out, so your feet don’t stay wet for long. The Techamphibian also comes with a super grippy sole that’s stiff on the perimeter for edging and has loads of traction for smearing.
Additionally, like many shoes from Salomon, they have a quick lace system that makes them a cinch to take on and off.
They do have a few downsides and it starts with those helpful mesh panels. These are a magnet for sand and dirt and you’ll end up with a fair amount of it under your toes as a result. Also, these soft panels aren’t very puncture resistant, which can be quite the problem when traveling through thorns and brush.
While the grippy sole is fantastic for smearing and edging, the midsole is just too flexible for big climbs. As might be expected from this more minimalist shoe, it has little to no arch support, making them rather uncomfortable on long treks.
While the Techamphibian is a standout product if you’re getting wet multiple times per day, they don’t perform well on long hikes or steep climbs, so carefully consider whether that’s a deal breaker for you.
4. Arc'teryx Acrux FL Approach Shoe for Women
Leave it to Arc’Teryx to completely revolutionize the canyoneering shoe market by creating something that looks like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie.
To start, the Acrux FL utilize a removable liner that fits around your foot like a bootie, which then goes inside a highly durable and water-resistant shell. Somehow this two-piece design doesn’t add any extra weight, as each shoe only comes in at 10.6 ounces.
Then there’s their fantastic climbing ability. The Acrux has a very low-profile toe box that fits nicely into tiny cracks, and then there’s the Vibram Megagrip sole that latches on to any dry surface.
If you’re hiking in wet conditions, the tongue-less design of the liner prevents water from entering the shoes so long as it doesn’t go over the top. Should water enter the shoe, it doesn’t absorb much and drains quickly.
They don’t excel at everything though, the sole’s decidedly subtle lug pattern doesn’t do well in mud or wet rock. The form-fitting design also can feel a bit restrictive, particularly if you’ve got wider feet.
As you probably guessed with a shoe from Arc’Teryx, the Acrux FL are quite a bit more expensive than the competition. Unless you’re confident that these are exactly what you need, it’s better to give them a pass until you’re more experienced with canyoneering.
5. Salewa Men's Firetail 3 GTX Approach Shoes
When it comes to finding a good canyoneering shoe, it can be difficult to strike the right balance between being great for climbing and great for long distance hikes. The Firetail 3 GTX from Salewa definitely tends towards the latter with a thick sole and strong leather uppers that give them some of the best durability of any the shoes reviewed. For canyoneers that do a lot of stream crossing and swims, they’re also quite breathable and drain quickly after being submerged.
However, the Firetails falter when it comes to getting vertical. Their wide toecaps don’t stick into crevices very well and the thick sole isn’t built stiff enough to do much in the way of edging.
The leather uppers that were so great for durability are a flaw when it comes to climbing too. There’s just not a lot of flexibility in these shoes. They are are also on the heavier side at 27 ounces, so you’ll probably be feeling them after a long day on the trail.
Ultimately, the Salewa is only going to work if you see yourself doing lots of longer treks that include very little climbing.
How to Choose the Best Shoes for Canyoneering - Buyer's Guide
Every canyon will be different and will have different footwear requirements, so the first thing to assess is what kind of canyon do you like to explore? Are you new to the sport and sticking to basic scrambling routes, perhaps with a little top roping or rappelling thrown in? Do you have several years of canyoneering under your belt and need shoes that can do it all: shimmying up narrow slots, escaping keeper holes, and swimming across creeks?
As canyoneering is essentially a hybrid of traditional backpacking and rock climbing, it should come as no surprise that some of the most popular footwear in the sport are approach shoes. These have a moderate amount of ankle support and a somewhat stiff footbed, making them comfortable for longer treks, but they also include the flexible uppers necessary for jamming your foot into tight crevices and sticky soles for tackling steep surfaces. These are some of the features you’ll want to look at when searching for the best canyoneering shoes.
Traction on dirt. Traction on rock. Traction on algae-covered streambeds. Canyoneering shoes are nothing if not grippy. It’s perhaps the biggest difference between them and trail running shoes. The rubber used in a climbing style shoe is a much softer compound than those used for running, which gives better traction, but also terrible durability. However, if you need that extra grip, just know that you’ll be buying shoes more often.
Two of the more common technique used in climbing are edging and smearing. Both rely on your sole’s grippiness, via the toe and edge of your canyoneering shoe. They also require a stiff sole so the shoe doesn’t collapse under your weight.
The sole’s rubber compound isn’t the only thing that gives shoes their grip though; it’s also the lug pattern on the sole. Shoes designed for use on muddy terrain have large, widely spaced lugs, which allow water and mud to flow through the channels between them. The downside is that the wide lug pattern means a smaller surface area contacting the ground. In dry conditions, it’s better to have more rubber meeting the ground to get better traction.
Support and Stability
Finding the right level of support and stability is something every hiker has to deal with, but when it comes to canyoneering shoes, the main features you’ll need to look at are the stiffness of the uppers and shank.
The shoes upper consists of all the material above the footbed that connects your foot to the shoe. Taller uppers are better for protecting your ankle, but they also limit your mobility by isolating the joint. Canyoneers are usually less concerned with protecting their ankle as they’re very conscious of where their foot is at all times and aren’t likely to end up twisting it. Unless you’re carrying a hefty pack, it’s usually better to get something with lighter ankle support.
Shanks, on the other hand, are the material running just beneath the footbed but above the rubber sole. Hiking boots have a very sturdy shank, often made a piece of hard plastic or steel, which prevents you from feeling rocks on the trail. That’s not always a positive feature – you need to feel the trail and the footholds when you’re canyoneering. Shoes that are designed for it have a very flexible shank, but whether that something you want depends on the amount of time you’re climbing and scrambling vs. the time plodding along on the trail. Choose flexible for the former, and stiffer for the latter.
The trail is full of hazards and it pays to have an extra layer of protection between your vulnerable feet and the trail. Most canyoneering shoes provide a moderate level of puncture protection through the use of thick synthetic materials or leather. None provide the strong defense that thick hiking boots do (don’t expect canyoneering shoes to stop a rattlesnake fang), but in return, they offer greater flexibility.
If you see yourself doing a fair amount of climbing, choose a more lightweight shoe with greater flexibility, but if long treks on hard ground are more in your wheelhouse, stick with a shoe that provides a better defense from prickly Mother Nature.
Drainage and Drying Time
One of the biggest differences between canyoneering and climbing is the amount of time spent in water. Sure, a climb might take you over some wet, slippery rocks, you might even repel down a waterfall, but for the most part, climbing is a dry activity.
Frequently, canyoneering will have you wade through streams if not outright swimming through them. Therefore, having footwear that drains easily and dries quickly is an absolute must. Look for shoes with mesh panels that allow water to flow out and air in.
My Choice for the Best Canyoneering Shoes
The diversity of conditions involved with the sport makes it almost impossible to pick the best canyoneering shoes. Doing a lot of climbing? You’ll need something flexible like the Arc’Teryx Acrux. Constantly going in and out of water? The Techamphibian from Salomon has some of the best drainage and dry times of any shoes on the market.
If I were to choose just one pair though, it would have to be the Guide Tennies from Five Ten. The leather uppers are super durable, providing long-lasting support and protection from obstacles on the trail. The stiff and sticky soles are excellent for climbing steep faces using smearing and edging techniques.
Admittedly, the toe box is a little bulky and won’t fit into cracks as well and they’re a little heavier than some of their competitors. The suede leather in the uppers will absorb some moisture too, but the mesh drains water fairly quickly if you’re doing creek crossings with them.
When you need a shoe that can do it all, and do it all fairly well, there are few that will work better for you than Five Ten’s Guide Tennies.
Top Rated Canyoneering Shoes
Last update on 2019-07-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API