For several years, Astral has been making a couple pairs of kick-ass paddling shoes. I’ve owned a pair of Brewers for a year and a half now, and I love them for fall/winter/spring paddling. If we didn’t live in Eastern NC where summers are 100+ degrees, I’m sure I would love them for summer paddling too. Never one to meet a “perfect” piece of gear, there are a couple things I would change about these shoes. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Astral Footwear is working on overhauling their brand right now – complete with many new options for shoes. Our friend Spencer at Effort Media (yes, the same one that hooked us up with the sweet Cannon paddles I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) sent us a couple pairs to try out. When we saw the press release for the new Loyak, we were stoked. The shoe is more flexible, lighter duty, and lower profile than the classic Brewer/Brewess – it seemed like the perfect solution for us!
This is just a glimpse of the new Astral Footwear line. I’ll only go into detail about the models we tested, but the rest of their lineup looks pretty awesome as well! Check it out here.
So what are we going to do with all these paddling shoes? We plan to wear our Brewers as our paddling shoe on the thru-hike. We will be paddling in rocky areas and may need to portage the boat in several places. The loyak is light and flexible enough that we’ll be carrying these the entire trip as our camp shoe.
So, without further ado, here are our thoughts on the new Astral Footwear models:
M Brewer (2014):
I’ve owned these for over a year now, so I’ve had PLENTY of time to give them a really thorough test. Until this year, the “W” Brewer was the same as the mens, in burgundy and grey. These are a closed paddling shoe that target themselves as whitewater paddlers, or anyone having to get out of their boat a lot to portage or walk around. The soles and upper are both pretty stiff. Mine have a marking sole to give them more traction on slick rocks. They have LOTS of drainage holes. Because of how stiff they are, I prefer to wear them with a lightweight (quick dry) sock, which is why I don’t like them during the summer. These hold up better and dry more quickly than a sneaker.
I mentioned there were 2 things about this shoe I would change. First the marking sole. I understand that having marking sticky-rubber gives better traction, but it marked up the inside of my pretty canoe. Fortunately, Astral has already taken care of this – the 2015 models of the Brewer and Brewess now have a non-marking but just-as-sticky sole! The second is the height of the heel of the shoe. These are cut just a touch too high for me, and the opening of the shoe rubs on my ankle and achilles. I get around this by wearing socks with them. Again, this has already been addressed by Astral. They added a true women’s version of this shoe for 2015, the Brewess. The new Brewess has a lower cut on the opening and a narrower heel cup, both of which should alleviate the rubbing issue.
I was REALLY excited when I heard about the Loyak being released. They came with this cool diagram of the features, so I will let it do the talking:
They’re lightweight, low volume, and more flexible than the Brewer. Andrew and I both have low volume feet, so finding a lower volume shoe is always nice! They also sport a lower profile than the Brewer, so they can fit down inside a kayak a bit easier. They drain well and dry quickly due to the drain holes in the front and back. They have an integrated tongue, so there is no chance of the tongue slipping off to one side. I’ve stepped in plenty of muck getting in and out of the canoe here on the Tar, and we’ve had no issues with them pulling off our feet.
Overall, we really like this shoe for Eastern NC or warm weather paddling. It is fast becoming our go-to paddling shoe.
Further thoughts about the M Brewer (2015) to come, once Andrew wears his a few more times…