UPDATE: adidas has replaced the Hydro Pro shoe with the Terrex Hydro Lace, which removes the zipper which was prone to failure and makes a number of other changes. In particular, the shoe comes with a higher neoprene cuff to provide ankle support and keep debris out. The 2018 version of the Terrex Hydro Lace will be released early in the new year.
Since then adidas has released their brand new canyoning shoe, the Hydro Pro, making them the only major sports shoe brand currently offering a product specifically targeted at the canyoning community. I managed to get my hands on a pair*, so decided that I’d give them a workout, despite the fact that it’s far too cold at the moment for a sensible person to be doing much canyoning (in Australia at least).
These shoes have been designed and trialled in Europe, which has distinctly different canyoning conditions than Australia, or even the US. In fact adidas actually sponsors a number of canyoners, called the adidas canyoning team, who actively trialled several prototype versions of this shoe, resulting in extensive modifications over two years prior to the final release.
Unfortunately they were only tested in Europe, meaning that while the shoe was used extensively, this was primarily done on limestone, granite and gneiss. Of course the dominant rock type in Australian and the US canyons is sandstone, which these shoes didn’t even touch during development. Anyone who has canyoned on sandstone knows the highly abrasive rock provides tougher conditions that can quickly destroy any inappropriate gear.
I will admit that I was really hopeful that these shoes would do well, because the more options available to canyoners the better, but I wasn’t convinced they would be up to the task.
The rubber on the sole is very sticky. Unlike the 5.10’s, which have one tread pattern across the whole shoe, adidas have used a mix of styles on different areas of the shoe that match the different roles each area plays when walking. For instance the toe and heal are designed to deal with soil and scree, while the middle section provides maximum contact area for smearing on rock or logs.
A rubber toe guard extends the whole way around the lower section of the shoe, not only covering the toe, but providing added strength to the high-wear areas on the inside and outside of the foot.
Above this is the red-coloured outer cover, which while light and thin looking is supposedly “high abrasion resistant”. It doesn’t absorb much water.
The inner is neoprene.
The double stitching around the shoe runs in a channel to protect it from abrasion, while the thread itself is supposedly abrasion resistant.
The mouth of the shoe opens extremely wide, making it easy to get your foot in and out, even if wearing neoprene socks.
The shoe uses several techniques to close firmly around your foot. Firstly the neoprene inner closes with velcro. The “speed lacing system” is then used to tighten the shoe (similar to many running shoes). A zipper then closes the outer, protecting the laces, with a velcro tag keeping the zip shut. Finally a velcro strap pulls tight around the outside of the ankle.
Unlike the 5.10’s there is no drainage hole to allow water to egress from the shoe.
A good summary of the technical specifications can be found here.
Despite the fact that it was a week before winter when I got my hands on the shoes, I was determined to give them a decent amount of use so that I could accurately review them.
So far I’ve managed to do five sandstone canyons in them (including several mid-winter efforts during the first ever Aussie FreezeFest), a couple days of bushwalking that involved a fair amount of rock scrambling, and a day of dry abseiling. While this is nowhere near enough use to test them to the point of destruction, I feel it has given me a good insight into how they perform, especially on sandstone. (Unfortunately illness prevented me from a planned weekend of using them on limestone and quartz.)
Not only have I had a chance to see how they perform on wet and dry rock, wet and dry logs, soil and scree, etc, but I’ve also been able to test their usefulness on the all important entry and exit walking, which in Australia can mean hours of tough, off-track scrub bashing.
Slipping these babies on for the first time, they instantly felt like some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. There was absolutely no need to break them in, no rubbing or pressure points that I could feel, and the sole was soft on the foot. In fact, if it wasn’t for how hot my feet would get in the neoprene inner during a long summer trek I’d consider them as a viable year-round bushwalking boot (despite how ugly they are!).
The sizing system seems to be pretty simple. I found that using your normal shoe size seemed to leave enough room for a 3mm neoprene sock, although they remained comfortable without. If you wanted a really snug fit then perhaps it is worth going a half size smaller.
The lacing system worked fine for me. The speed lacing system and zipper were both points of concern for me (and with more use they may yet fail) but from the wear so far I would say they allow a firmer fit on the foot that the 5’10s. I have seen speed lacing blow out on other shoes (either the lace, or the fabric loops they run through) but these are yet to show any wear yet. I think it helps that they are completely protected by the outer layer of fabric, preventing rubbing or snares.
The velcro has held up fine, and wasn’t weakened by sand getting in. I am yet to have it come open. The outer strap provides good firmness on the ankle.
The sole performs very well. The grip provided is exceptional. On rock, whether wet, dry or covered in slime, they seem to be equal to the 5.10s. They provide adequate grip on soil and scree when doing the entry and exit slog. The one area they are distinctly better than the 5.10s is on wet, slimy logs (although you still need to be careful). They provide a small enough front to wedge into gaps when scrambling, and have some stiffness to the outer edge to help when bridging.
I have started to notice some of the soft rubber wearing, probably faster that I would like. This is mainly an issue with the studded section of the sole near the toes, outside of the foot and heal. The toes especially take a lot of wear, and the down side of soft grippy rubber is that it invariably wears out quicker. Once this is worn out I think they will still be very sticky on rock, but they will loose traction in dirt and mud.
Drainage, or the complete lack thereof, is an issue. They tend to leave your foot sloshing around in water a bit. It is less of an issue if you use neoprene socks, or are in a constantly wet canyon, but in situations where there are decent walks between wades and swims this can be annoying. It also seems to take about 15 minutes on the exit before you stop noticing the water inside. In cold canyons this probably keeps things a tiny bit warmer, by keeping one lot of water in there, but I think I’d still prefer some drainage.
They do fairly well at keeping sand out of the inner part of the shoe, although it does build up eventually (as it does in every shoe). Where it concerns me more is that sand gets in between the red outer layer and the inner, near the speed lacing system. There is effectively a small pouch where the sand settles, and I am certain will over time cause wear (although it hasn’t happened yet). In one of the two shoes the sand has even managed to work its way through the line of stitching below the speed lacing to a point above the toes and I have no idea how to remove it.
The rubber toe guard, which extends around the sides, has worked extremely well, protecting them from any serious abrasion. The indented stitching has also held up very well, with no signs yet of it suffering any damage. If you were really concerned, these seams could easily be coated with a layer of seam-seal.
In many ways this is my favourite canyoning shoe so far. They are relatively light on your feet, extremely comfortable to wear, and provide exceptional grip. They are simpler to get on and off that the 5.10s, less rigid, and don’t feel like space boots. While they are still ridiculously brightly coloured (why do manufacturers think canyoners need brightly coloured feet?) they are probably slightly less ugly than most other canyon shoes.
What does worry me is that they seem a bit more fragile and likely to wear out when used on abrasive sandstone. My natural concerns about the effectiveness of velcro and zippers in a sandy canyon environment also remain (although I’m yet to see any proof that either of them will fail). I’m also concerned the quick lace system will give out, but again have no evidence for it.
But would I recommend them? In a lot of circumstances I definitely would. If you are doing serious remote canyoning, in the most extreme areas, then maybe stick to the hardiness of the 5.10s. But if you’re only doing a dozen or so canyons a season, mostly in places with tracks, then these shoes are perfect. They make walking easy, provide exceptional grip and stability, and will keep your feet happy on the walk in and out. I’m definitely planning to keep using them for many of the canyons I do.
Unfortunately, they aren’t currently being stocked in Australia, so you need to buy them online. Even in the US they don’t seem to be available in that many places yet, but I’m sure that will change with time. You can pick them up for between US$150 to $200, depending on where you get them. They seem to be a tiny bit more expensive that the 5.10s, but I think over time that will also change if adidas is serious about building a foothold in the market outside Europe.
Regardless, it is great to see major companies kicking money into developing and selling specialist shoes for more niche outdoor pursuits like canyoning. Hopefully this is just one of many shoes that will result in more research being done into producing the perfect shoe for our particularly challenging environment.
I have now heard back from adidas. As well as saying that they are already aware of the issue with the sand being trapped under the red outer layer, and are working on a solution, they have also said they are working on a second canyoning model which will likely go to market next year (I’d expect it about April, which is when the Hydro Pro was launched).
This new shoe will be a stripped down version of the Hydro Pro, with no zipper and lace cover, and a regular lacing system rather than the speed lacing. In maintaining the brightly coloured / highly visible / ugly shoe theme, it is likely to be yellow (similar to the 5.10 Canyoneer 2). It sounds like it may be something more along the lines of the 5.10 Water Tennie, which for many canyoners who prefer a sand-shoe to a boot could be quite appealing.
I recently did a seven day, remote, wilderness bushwalk. I knew it would involve a couple river crossings, some creek walking, and more importantly, a huge amount of rock scrambling and some pass finding. I decided this would be the perfect chance to give the Hydro Pro’s a real workout. One of the biggest weaknesses I’ve found with many specialist canyoning shoes is that they are uncomfortable and get your feed too hot on the walk in and out. Given the focus of their design is for water use, the dry half of the trip is often overlooked in development.. I figured this trip would pretty much be the ultimate test of this area of use.
The results? Amazing. The other two walkers, in hiking boots, had way more foot problems than I did. The grip on the rock gave me a lot more confidence, especially as I was carrying a very large pack. The rubber survived really well, not wearing anywhere near as much as I’d expected. The outer, which I thought had some wear weak-points, held up brilliantly to the thick scrub. The neoprene inner, while warm, wasn’t too bad, and I didn’t end up feeling like my feet were overheating. When we were following along creeks, on wet slimy rock, the grip was exceptional. The one issue was occasional bits of organic matter falling down the top of the shoe and annoying the ankle, but this is pretty universal to any shoe.
The Hydro Pro has definitely gone up even more in my estimation after this trip and now comes highly recommended!