Review: Dunlop Volley

UPDATE: While the Volley was once the dominant canyoning shoe in Australia, in recent years most people have moved away from them due to declining quality and prices that have almost tripled. It is still a great shoe for someone who wants to try canyoning once without spending a lot of money, but there are much better options for serious canyons. If you do buy a pair, the Volley Heritage International is reportedly the best model currently on the market.

For more than four years I exclusively wore Dunlop Volleys as my canyoning footwear, going through at least six pairs in that time. I found them to be a remarkable shoe in terms of grip on wet rock and water drainage. For decades it was said they were the “one and only” shoe for canyoning in the Blue Mountains.

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

There were many reasons the Volley — which originated as a tennis shoe — was embraced for use in Blue Mountains canyons. They combined fantastic grip, remarkable water drainage, reasonable quality, with a very low price (under $20).

These benefits were enough to overcome some of the drawbacks to the Volley. I personally found walking on hard stony ground (fire trails, some ridge-lines, etc) to be quite painful due to the thin sole. I also found that when the Volley failed to grip on slimy or greasy rock (which can happen with any shoe), the likelihood of twisting my ankle or jamming my toes was quite high due to the lack of ankle support and durability. This, of course, can be avoided with good foot placement, but sometimes when tired or just busy enjoying the canyon, I don’t pay enough attention.

This pair still have a good amount of tread.

But in recent years there has been a simultaneous lowering of the overall quality, along with a substantial price increase. (In fact, it was Dunlop’s redesign of the Volley in 2011 — which made it almost unusable in canyons — that sparked the Fat Canyoners interest in trialling other footwear options). Not only was the new Volley noticeably narrower with a fit that is perhaps half size smaller (I personally have wide feet and wearing the new Volley is very uncomfortable around my toes.), but they now fall apart after just a few canyons. I have heard a number of stories where people have been forced to walk out from a trip with a detached sole, a hole in the sole, or a massive failure of the canvas.

A pair of Volleys that failed on a trip.

They say “you get what you pay for”, and for years Australian canyoners have been very lucky to have the well made and inexpensive Volley. 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. Despite decades of bushwalking and canyoning history, it seems there will be fewer and fewer Volley footprints left in the sand.

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