Every time I find a new outdoor adventure I end up needing specialized gear. Specific packs, specific clothes and specific footwear. I am beginning to catch up to my girlfriend's shoe collection. MTBing, trail running, backpacking, climbing, canyoneering, lounging; they all need separate footwear. In the past I have just used a old pair of trail running shoes as my canyoneering footwear. Although this works it is less then ideal. One to two canyons and the shoes are toast. Canyons are hard on gear and finding footwear to withstand this is hard. There are some companies who make great canyon specific shoes, but they are uncomfortable to hike in outside of a canyon. This leads to people having to take separate shoes for the approach.
When searching for my next best pair of trail running shoes I ran across the La Sportiva Xplorers. They are a water friendly approach shoe. Seemed like a perfect fit for rock hopping canyon beds and swimming narrows. I pulled the trigger on a pair.
Initial Impressions- The La Sportiva Xplorer is a stout build, water friendly shoe. Coming in at 13.4 oz the Xplorer is a far stretch from my normal zero drop footwear. The shoe is build around a solid footbed. The heel cup is extremely stiff as well as the toe box. The upper is constructed of synthetic leather and durable mesh. La Sportiva describes the mesh as 'Hi-wear'. The heel cup is heavily padded, similar to the Bushidos I tested. Because this shoe is an approach shoe the lacing extends far to the toe, allowing for a dialed fit. The outsole uses Vibram Idro Grip X-Traction. I expected the rubber to have a softer feel, similar to other approach shoes I have felt. The outsole feels rather traditional in regards to density. The sock liner is relatively flat and stiff. Very minimal cushioning used. I imagine this is too encourage rapid flushing of the water.
Use- I spend a few days walking around inside with the Xplorers. I wasn't ready to commit to the purchase, especially after my experience with the Bushidos. The sock liner was rather uncomfortable initially. It felt very stiff and actually was uncomfortable for the first few days I wore them. The shoes seem to run small by a bout a half size. Although not as tight as the Bushidos they definitely cramp my toes. After this initial wear period I committed and took the shoes out to practice some abseiling. The rigid sock liner and stiff outsole actually made for a supportive approach hike. I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and protection these shoes provided. When doing some basic approach climbing I found the stiffness of the shoe to really shine. The Xplorer was confidence inspiring on the small ledges. Although I did not feel un-secure at any moment, I was expecting a better grip on the approach. The shoes preformed well while abseiling, and showed very little signs of wear after dragging them across the rough rock face.
The next time I took these out was for a 12 mile day trip through a canyon. This was really where these shoes stood out. The canyon involved a short approach with non-technical down climbs; lots of wading and plenty of swimming through narrows. The shoes held up great. They were comfortable rock hopping for hours and protected my feet from the rough terrain. The shoes felt great while swimming and drained quickly after being removed from the water. While standing on dry terrain I could actually press down in my foot and see water being ejected out the mesh around my foot. The shoes preformed modestly better on the slippery, slime covered rock. The protection the shoes provided against the unintentional rock slap was appreciated. Overall the shoe held up great and shows minimal signs of wear after this adventure.
Final Thoughts- Although not a canyoneering specific shoe the features of the La Sportiva Xplorer provide a stable, protective ride for off trail pursuits. The design of the high strength mesh allows for water to be ejected in between swims, while still providing protection to the foot. If you are looking for a durable shoe that can perform in the harsh conditions of canyons, then the Xplorer is probably the shoe you have been looking for. I could easily see this shoe being used for canyons, kayaking portages, and approach hikes. You can find out more about the La Sportiva Xplorer here.
*This shoe was purchased through my place of employment.