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Camp Shoe Dilemma

Written By: Jo Kemper

With multi-day season upon us, I’m sure you’ve heard the question. You know that question, vital to the enjoyment of all multi-day, self-support kayak adventures, what camp shoes are you taking?

 I set a goal to find the perfect camp shoe, and I have answered the camp shoe question, for me. The answer, and spoiler alert: dry socks. Before you laugh, hear me out.

*I know the answer to the camp shoe question can depend greatly on the type of multi-day adventure you are embarking on, and these are simply my opinions.

A good friend bought me a pair of soft, flexible rain boots for my birthday, and recommended them for camp shoes. I thought my life was complete. They can easily fit in a dry bag, keep my feet dry at camp, and I can rinse dishes in the river, or brush my teeth without worrying about a rogue wave surging onto my shoes and wetting the precious socks. However, the treadless rubber soles do not stick to rocks, and hiking in this option can easily turn into an unwanted slip & slide ride. Another downside to hiking with these rain boots is the possibility to end up with my feet sloshing in my own sweat, and soaked socks; ultimate defeat in the camp shoe department.  

Sometimes, I take my favorite slip-on flip flops (crocs would also fall into this category); I’m a big fan. They’re light and can get clipped in the back of a boat, saving precious drybag space for more important things, and it’s not the end of the world if they are wet upon arriving at camp. They are quite comfortable, I can wear them with my drysuit on, and they’re perhaps the easiest option for emergency exit-for-bowel-movement type situations, those never happen though. These shoes are not warm, nor are they going to keep my socks dry, nor are they particularly ideal for hiking. This camp shoe often leads to situations of sock fires and sock flora entrapment, both of which can be quite frustrating come time to put the dry suit back on.

Due to the similarity in protection offered comparing flip flops to my bare feet, I opted not to take camp shoes on my next adventure, a multiple mile hike-in to the Lost River, carrying my loaded boat. It turns out that putting cold, bare feet in wet river shoes at camp, isn’t that fun, hence the camp shoe dilemma in the first place. Some rocks really hurt to walk on with bare feet, and after a long hike with a really heavy load, my already sore feet were not pleased by this choice. These wet river shoes at camp also have a certain tendency to suffer campfire warming casualties. On the bright side, the river shoes are generally good for hiking, great on wet or slippery surfaces, and it’s a very ultralight option to forego any form of additional camp shoe.

For cold weather trips, waterproof and insulated muck boots with tread are nice, but also large and stiff to fit in a dry bag and then the back of your kayak, and quite disappointing if you arrive at camp to find them full of water. Some folks opt for chaco-like sandals; I find these to be heavy, overrated, strappy and toe-circulation killing, but that’s just me. A light trail runner can be sweet, but often quite redundant in qualities my kayak shoes have, except for the obvious one of being dry. Every once in a while, when weight and space are not an issue, I throw in my never disappointing gold velcro hightops, slip an 18 pack of beer behind my seat, and set the style standard high at camp.

In July 2016, on the banks of the very flooded Talkeetna River, I found myself rather unexpectedly camping; waiting for the water to drop and the forest to stop careening down the river. Four of us produced from our kayaks the absolute essentials we’d brought to camp for the night, if necessary. One person pulled out a pair of dry socks and donned a big grin. At first I didn’t realize what she had in her hand, a small crumpled up pair of socks, dry socks - as in, socks made of drysuit feet material. She took off her drysuit, put the socks on with her wet shoes and enjoyed dry feet in comfortable warm socks while tromping around in the wet tundra. My mind was blown.

These socks weigh less than any camp shoe option I could imagine, pack into my palm, and offer all the freedom to hike, hangout, and step in the water without fearing for the wellbeing of my feet. They provide the protection necessary to keep moisture, flora, and frost from threatening my socks, or my toes. Some people opt for the affordable “plastic bag guy” version of this camp shoe, although, in an effort to maintain what little street credit I have with the packrafters, and have a breathable and durable option, I’m sold on the dry socks. There’s no left, or wrong, just right.

I essentially begged IR to make me a pair, and they reluctantly obliged in August 2017, extra special thanks to Max Blackburn. I have used them on every multi-day trip I’ve done since, and they’re still going strong. Since receiving my highly coveted pair of dry socks I haven’t once had to decide what camp shoes to bring, but I have started to notice a condition I like to call “dry sock envy” among my friends. I implemented a strict no borrowing policy for fear I’ll never see them again. To a certain degree, the likelihood of John Weld granting your request for dry socks may have a strong correlation to the degree of your paddle’s offset, just a theory.

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