Canyoning footwear: 5.10 Canyoneer SAR versus the Dunlop Volley

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– Joshua Hill

For over four years I have exclusively worn Dunlop Volleys as my canyoning footwear. In those four years I have gone through at least six pairs. I have found them to be a remarkable shoe in terms of grip on wet rock and water drainage. It is often said that they are the “one and only” shoe for canyoning in the Blue Mountains.

My last pair of the Volley International. She still has life yet!

There are many praises to be sung for the versatility of the Volley, such as the fantastic grip, remarkable water drainage, low price and most of all the long pedigree of Blue Mountains canyoning history. Unfortunately there are some drawbacks to the Volley. I have personally found that walking on hard stony ground (fire trails, some ridge-lines, etc) can be quite painful. I have also found that when the volley fails to grip slimy or greasy rock (this will happen on any shoe), that the likelihood of twisting my ankle or jamming my toes is quite high due to the lack of ankle support and durability. This last point, of course, can be avoided by better route navigation, but sometimes when tired, or just busy enjoying the canyon, I might not be paying attention.

I would say these still have a good amount of tread

The last point of contention is the lowering of the overall quality of the Dunlop Volley itself. Last year Dunlop redesigned the Volley International to almost unusable levels. Recently I have heard reports of the Volley failing after just a few canyoning trips (albeit these are remote multi-day trips). To add another nail in the Volley coffin I have found that the new Volley is noticeably narrower and fits maybe a half size smaller. I personally have wide feet and wearing the new Volley for me is very uncomfortable around my toes. I am not sure if Dunlop has changed the shoe last on the Volley, and if they have, it makes little sense to me to move to a smaller shoe last when Australians generally have larger feet.

So this brings me to a rather uncomfortable situation with my choice canyoning footwear. Do I continue to use the Dunlop Volley and subject my feet to a narrow fitting toe crunch?  Do I endure a very uncomfortable walk in and walk out from the canyon and spend the next day nursing the bruised soles of my feet?

A few months ago on a trip down Carra Beanga falls, Julie Burton described her new found love of 5.10 Canyoneering boots. These shoes have been designed specifically with the American canyoneering community in mind. Julie was not wearing these boots at the time but another pair of 5.10 shoes with very similar tread and the same rubber that the Canyoneering boots utilize. After the trip (maybe somewhat influenced by the long walk out) I began to do some research into these Canyoneering boots Julie described.

My first reaction was there is no frigging way I’m putting those things on my feet. With bright fluorescent colours, bulky over-the-top neoprene cuffs, and buckles which look akin to shoes I might let my five year old wear, I was instantly turned off by them. 

The a few weeks ago, while driving from Orange to Sydney, Drew Morcom and I decided to do a quick trip down Empress Canyon. While I normally would not go near Empress on the weekend we thought it might be a fun (and hopefully) quick trip. After quickly passing about 30 people in two commercial groups (never, never go down Empress on the weekend between 10am and 2pm) we set up the left hand side abseil while yet another commercial group finished up on the right. One of the guides was using the 5.10 Canyoneer shoe and I had a good chance to talk to her about what they were like. She praised the shoe for its durability and comfort. Another thing that struck me was that in use they really did not look that silly. After our chat Drew and I abseiled down and then sat for about half an hour at the bottom watching the commercial group members inverting on the waterfall abseil. Classic.

On the way back from Sydney we dropped into Summit Gear in Katoomba and my wife bought me a pair of 5.10 Canyoneer SAR’s for my birthday.

So here I am now a proud owner of the 5.10 Canyoneer SAR and thus begins my initial review.

Overall impression:

According to 5.10’s website the Canyoneer shoe is designed for canyoneers for canyoneers. For those who do not know, Australians call canyoning, wait for it… canyoning. In America they call canyoning, canyoneering. I’m not terribly sure what country (it might be the Europeans for all I know) that can call claim to be the first in this sport so I don’t know (or really care) what is should be called.

Note that the toe box does not continue to the first buckle

At the offset I had two choices, the Canyoneer2 and the Canyoneer SAR. I decided to choose the SAR over the normal because it appears to be the more robust of the two. Mainly I felt that on the Canyoneer2 the material over the toe guard did not extend far enough and could possibly tear or delaminate. (T2 made the opposite decision. You can read his review of the Canyoneer 2 here).

The toe box continues to the first buckle providing great lateral foot protection

With the SAR this potential problem is fixed by extending the durable synthetic leather which extends from the toe to the first buckle. This area, the widest point of the foot, has always been one of the first points of failure with my Volleys, so having an extended reinforced foot area was a big bonus for me.

The SAR has great reinforced toe box

The SAR boasts two additional features over the Canyoneer2. First is that the sole is apparently impenetrable. I’m not too sure if this is a useful feature as I don’t think I’ve ever punctured my Volleys before. The second feature is the non-metallic toe cap. This appears to be made from hard plastic. I can see some merit in this feature as I’ve sometimes jammed my toes while canyoning.

Aggressive traction is a positive attribute

The sole of the Canyoneer SAR is made from a combination of Stealth S1 rubber for the main sole and Stealth C4 rubber for the inner “big toe” area. Both of these materials are apparently superior in providing excellent traction in wet environments. The C4 rubber is apparently a durable rubber used in climbing shoes.

The exterior of the toe cap, which extends from the tip of the shoe to the first buckle, appears to be made from durable synthetic leather. This material is triple-stitched to the shoe and appears to be quite robust. While in conversation with the guide in Empress, she mentioned that that the side of the Canyoneer2 tearing was a point of failure and appears to be fixed with the SAR. That is the case.

The lower upper of the shoe, the orange part, is made from what appears to be a tightly woven synthetic mesh. I do not think durability will be an issue, as the fabric is very tightly woven. In some ways the material reminds me of the canvas of the Volley.

The perforated silver material sewn into the orange mesh

The mid layer upper, which acts as an extension of the synthetic leather, appears to be a perforated vinyl like material. This silver material is sewn to the mesh layer in the front of the shoe and to the neoprene layer which makes up the heel and ankle cuff.  On the inner side of the shoe, riveted to the mesh / silver vinyl is a drainage hole. Neat!

Neat!

The ankle area and the heel of the shoe are made from what appears to be 3mm neoprene. The cuff is held together with one panel of Velcro. The neoprene does not only superficially cover the ankle but extends into the inner sole from the heel to the slightly past the fibula of the foot.

The buckle system consists of two robust buckles made of plastic. In the shop they were easy to adjust and provide a wide range of different adjustments levels.

The little tag inside the shoe tells me it is made in the USA.

bloody yanks…

First walk:

A few days after purchasing the SAR’s I decided to test them out at a local cave in Orange. The walk consists of a 7km round trip. The cave itself is called Tunnel Cave and follows an ephemeral stream underground for about 500m. The cave offers a variety of surfaces to test the SAR’s from smooth limestone, really wet muddy limestone and just plain wet limestone (if you fail at bridging and fall in the water). I managed to test all three conditions (sorta).

1) Smooth limestone:

I have found that smooth polished limestone, the kind you find in some over-used caves, to be a very difficult place to find a good foothold. The SAR’s preformed surprisingly well. I found that the best traction was held by the C4 rubber and the shoe responded to edging quite well.

2) Really wet muddy limestone:

This is the area I was quite surprised in the SAR’s performance. I have visited wet caves in the past wearing Volleys and to be honest they are horrible in the mud. When the Volley treat gets clogged up with mud they become useless. The SAR’s exceeded my expectation with the traction that they provided as the presence of water seemed to enhance their grip.

3) Wet Limestone:

As it was a rather cool day, and by admitting to be wet would consist of admitting at failing at bridging, I decided not to fully submerge my feet that day. I did dip the soles into the water and test them. The traction was quite good against the limestone, and again, the SAR responded to wet with improved grip.

As for comfort I found the SAR comfortable enough. The shoe did feel a bit stiff but I am not sure if that is because I was breaking them in. I did feel like I was walking in a boot, but then again, I was walking in a boot. I did take into account that I normally walk in Volleys or a pair of Keen walking shoes so this is something that did not bother me.

Hole in the Wall Canyon:

Over the weekend I decided to head up to the mountains and test out the SAR in Hole in the Wall canyon. I had a few questions in mind before I started my trip about the SAR and its performance.

1) Walk in and walk out comfort:

I found the SAR to be quite comfortable in the approach to the canyon. Come to think about it I never really thought about the shoes during the walk in. The walk out on the other hand was quite comfortable. I’ve found in the past that the walk out of Hole in the Wall can be a bit tiresome with Volleys. For most of the last few kilometers the fire trail gets a bit rocky. The SARs provided a comfortable supportive walk out. I also found that a good amount of the stiffness I experienced on my first walk seemed to dissipate. I believe that prolonged contact with water softened some of the material and helped the shoe form to my feet.

2) Traction in the canyon:

I found that the SARs traction was superb both on wet and dry rock. I felt that the shoe really gripped the rock. I do not believe that they performed any better, per se, than the Volley. In contact with slimy rock they slipped just as any other shoe I think would.

3) Water drainage:

I wondered from the off-set how the SARs little drainage hole would act. I found it quite amusing to first see water shooting out of the hole as I took steps after exiting a pool. It reminded me a little of a little water fountain. The first three or four steps I took, the water shot out of the hole and then it stopped, I assume because the water was gone.

4) Sand ingress:

This was something that was not on my list. I never felt I had much of an issue with sand ingress when walking with Volleys. Granted I generally had a big hole on one of the sides of the Volley so I think that might be a contributing factor to the staying power of any sand which passed into the shoe. With the SAR I found Sand ingress quite uncomfortable as once the sand is in the shoe it stays in the shoe. The neoprene cuff was not very tight around my ankle, yet I could not tighten it any further with the Velcro cuff. I found this aspect about the shoe disappointing. I tried adjusting my wetsuit to go over the top of the shoe, and thus creating a seal, but my wetsuit kept riding upwards. I don’t want to say that this is a design flaw of the shoe, but it is something I found quite annoying. Perhaps in America they all wear neoprene socks and that blocks the flow of sand into the shoe. I’ll play around with some ways to overcome this issue my next trip.

5) Bridging:

I found it harder to bridge with the SAR than with the Volley. I found the biggest problem with bridging due to the lack of flexibility of the shoe. I’m fairly sure that this has to do more with me than with the shoe itself. With the Volley I have always felt very connected to the rock and tend to “dig” my big toe into the gaps and ledges. With the SAR I felt disconnected and felt that I needed to relearn my bridging strategy.

6) Rock hopping:

On the walk up the Bungleboori there are a few spots that require a bit of rock hopping up the river. I found the SAR performance fantastic in this area. I did slip a couple of times on slimy rock and found the support of the SAR wonderful. When using the Volley I have found river walking somewhat painful if I slipped and jammed my feet in between rocks. With the SAR this was not the case.

Overall impression:

I am quite impressed overall by these shoes. I believe that the construction is robust and the materials are superb. They might not be the best looking shoe in the world but I think they do the job quite well.

Would I recommend these shoes?

The short anwser is yes!

I believe that these shoes tick all the boxes for comfortable and safe canyoning footwear.

The long anwser is a bit more tricky.

First off is the cost. The shoes cost me about $160 which equates to 5.3 pairs of Volleys. With the current decline in quality of the Volley I think that the money is well spent. For those that casually canyon once or twice a year, I would highly recommend Volleys as the initial cost of the SAR is quite daunting.

For those of us who canyon more often, the question of durability comes to mind. Sure these shoes preformed quite well in a well visited canyon with a formed track over a period of 6 hours. My question is how are they going to respond in extended periods of scrub bashing, frequent use and misuse, and the general nature of the Australian bush.

My gut reaction is that they will perform quite well, but only time will tell. The thing that sells these shoe to me is the comfort factor and the actual rubber product which constructs the sole of the shoe. With the Volley once the rubber is worn, the shoe is dead. I believe that the inherent nature of the rubber of the SAR that even when worn down the rubber will still stay sticky. I might be wrong but again my gut reaction tells me otherwise.

I believe that with the increasing saturation of canyoneering in the states will mean that more shoes like this one will come to the market. I praise 5.10 for seriously thinking aboput their product and producing a product for such a niche market.

There is the saying “that you get what you paid for.” For years canyoners in Australia have been lucky to have the well made and inexpensive Volley which challenged this saying. With the recent product decline I think our luck has run out. Sure a few of us have two or three pairs of the old style kicking about, but they will not last forever. Furthermore I doubt Dunlop really cares about the canyoning community enough to go back to the old design.

It is with great sadness that I say goodbye to the Dunlop Volley. With over 60 years of bushwalking and canyoning history I believe that soon there will be fewer and fewer Volly footprints in the sand.

Check out our reviews of some other canyoning footwear options:

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16 thoughts on “Canyoning footwear: 5.10 Canyoneer SAR versus the Dunlop Volley

  1. Rocky,
    I might be joining you with a pair of these bad boys soon. The one enduring bad memory of my canyoning trip last week in the Coorongooba area was the pathetic performance of my new Volleys. I have a couple pairs to work my way through, but it seems that won’t take too long with the new, softer rubber!
    I’ve included a copy of my complaint letter to Dunlop at the end of the trip report (http://fatcanyoners.org/2012/01/18/coorongooba/). I’d encourage others who’ve seen similar disappointing and substandard performance to do the same!

  2. After trying the SARs and the Canyoneer 2s, I definitely recommend the SARs as being more durable. The downside, as you identified, is that they are quite a bit stiffer – the C2s smear better, but not much better. The toe box did give me some grief with a loose bit of material floating around, but some work with a knife sorted it out.

    Guides in the Blueys have definitely been noticing the decline in quality of Volleys. 8 days working seems to be enough to kill a pair – very poor.

    Other shoes to look at include:
    5.10 Water Tennie – just been released, and look like a 5.10 version of a Volley
    Adidas canyon shoe – in prototyping stage, but getting great reviews, might be out later this year

  3. I’ve been using diving booties for a number of years now and find they are excellent in the canyon. Good friction, more sturdy than Volleys, nice solid sole so I don’t get bruised feet, nice and warm in the cold water and no sand ingress due to the tight neoprene.

    Only negative is that I don’t use them for walking on the trail or bush bashing so I use a second pair of lightweight runners. I might have to try them out on the trail to see how they go.

    • That’s really interesting. Mike wore diving booties on our recent Coorongooba trip. He’s been using them for years and they seem to have lasted very well. I don’t recall him having any issues with grip. Like you it did mean carrying a second pair of shoes for the walk in and out, but they definitely seem like an interesting option.

  4. Anyone tried those Vibram 5 Toes jobbies in a serious canyon? How’d they go? Are the Blueys canyons super-angry and thumping at the moment with all this rain, or are parties finding them manageable albeit with care?

    • I’ve seen the Vibram shoes used once, but only in a relatively easy canyon. They seemed to do okay, but I’m not sure how they’d handle the intense wear and tear. I’m also unsure how they’d go on the rest of the trip. No point having to carry two pairs of shoes, one for the approach and one for the canyon!
      As for the canyons, they’ve been great fun all summer. As long as you give them a couple days after rain they are fine. I did a canyon that is normally considered dry a week ago. It had pumping waterfalls and a swim!

  5. I bought a pair of canyoneer 2 boots while in California and have used them in 7 canyons over there and probably about 20 in the blue mountains. The stitching on the sides attaching the black toe-piece to the silver material and the yellow material has worn through on a 2-3cm section on both sides of both shoes. The soles are noticeably worn but still have lots of grip and are still very sticky. Still very comfortable to wear and still feel structurally sound despite worn stitching. I’m hoping they still have lots of canyons left in them! Because of the problem with the stitching wearing out I would certainly go for the SAR model in the future. One thing you can do if you have a pair with intact stitching is protect it by putting a layer of aquaseal over the seam. A friend of mine in the states does it routinely to protect this vulnerable wear spot. I wish I had! Overall a great shoe, and I think it looks fine :-)

  6. For those interested in getting some canyoning shoes here in Australia, I dropped into Summit Gear this morning ready to buy a pair only to be told that they’re not currently imported into Australia. There is a new 5.10 importer, and retail stores won’t get stock of the canyoning models until September.

  7. My first canyoning trip I used the Vibram Five Fingers, and I have to say, they were terrible. Firstly, the KSO Sport version that I have are not stick at all – very slippery. Secondly, there is no protection to the toes, so when you kick an underwater rock that you can’t see, it hurts. Lastly, there is no stiffness in the sole, so you truely feel every rock that you step on. With this unsatisfactory experience in mind, I upgraded to the Five Ten Sars, and I love them. Very sticky, and you can just plow along the riverbed without worrying what you are going to kick or step on. On the downside, they aren’t terribly comfortable, and I find that the sizing runs small, and the toebox is small.

    • Which Tevas do you use? I’ve tried some and I was less than impressed with the grip. I was planning to review them, but I felt so unsafe I haven’t taken them canyoning again!

      • Just fairly standard Terra sandals. They do collect sand easily but it also comes out just as easily. I think it has their Spider rubber which i find quite grippy.

  8. I Don’t know if i have bad pair or something,
    I tried a pit of canyoneers 2’s after all the glowing reviews.
    These shoes are terrible they have no traction on rocks wet or dry, the soles are too stiff, they are heavy and cumbersome, swimming through pools with them on is like swimming with 2 lead weights on your feet
    The drain holes are set up too high so you feet are constantly in a couple of centimetre of water
    The buckles are terrible who came up with that idea i don’t know.
    The only positive thing i can say is the are hard wearing.
    I am going back to try volleys

    • Dom, I agree with most of your criticisms. I tried using my 5.10 Canyoneer 2’s again recently, and was again disappointed based on the stiff soles and space-boot feel. I disagree about the grip — I find that extremely good (except on wet logs) — but it’s not enough to make me use them.
      My shoe of choice, which I’ve just bought a second pair of, is the Bestard Canyon Guide (http://fatcanyoners.org/bush-guide/bestard-canyon-guide/). It’s much lighter than it looks, has laces so fits snugger, drains well, has good grip, and is comfortable for long walks.

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