Review: Bestard Canyon Guide

For the last year or two I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect canyoning shoe. Seeking out the right balance between exceptionally grippy sole and hard wearing rubber, between strength, support and comfort, and for a shoe that works equally well on long, hard, scrubby walk-ins as it does in a slippery, wet, aquatic canyon setting.

Now the Bestard Canyon Guide might not quite reach that lofty pinnacle, but it is by far the best all-round canyoning shoe that I’ve tested so far. Sure, it has a few minor flaws — and I’ll go through them further down — but I think it’s fair to say I’ve totally fallen in love with these shoes (now to convince an Australian retailer to stock them…).

I’ve  given this shoe an extremely hard workout during the review process — far tougher than we have for any other brand — because I’m still trying to find a major flaw. Over the last canyoning season, my pair did somewhere in the vicinity of 60 canyons — everything from easy day trips to multi-day epics — and they’ve still got a little life left in them.

In fact, one of the few weaknesses I can point to is the use of Vibram rubber on the soles, which while still very good, is not quite as sticky as the rubber used by 5.10 or Adidas on their canyoning shoes. But even this has a plus side, as this slightly harder rubber definitely seems to last a little longer.

And despite the fact that they are a boot, and look quite solid, this shoe is surprisingly light, and is actually very buoyant in water. Likewise, while they are light and comfortable on the foot, they are sturdy, well made, use quality materials and the solid workmanship has shown no signs of failing.

Aesthetically they aren’t much to look at — it seems canyoning shoemakers compete to use the brightest, ugliest colours — but unlike some of the other shoes on the market there are no bells and whistles. Everything serves a purpose.

There’s no question that the design team was made up of serious canyoners and they had almost free-reign to make their perfect footwear.

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The Bestard Canyon Guide, fresh out of the box

Technical specifications:

Bestard are a Spanish boot-making firm, based in Majorca, that specialise in mountaineering boots. That mountaineering influence has definitely flowed through to this canyoning shoe.

It is constructed with a special Vibram rubber sole, which was specifically developed for these shoes. The toes, heel and instep have a flatter grip pattern, providing additional traction, with a stiffness that helps with edging.

Above this, a reinforced, hardwearing band runs the full length of the shoes, providing additional protection for the areas that receive the most wear.

In this section are four drainage holes — two on the inside of the foot and two on the outside — which prevent your foot from sloshing around during the walk out.

Above this is the heavy duty Cordura fabric, which is soft and comfortable but extremely hard wearing.

Finally, the lacing and upper section of the shoes offers their most unique features. The laces start from low down near the toes, allowing you to get a nice firm fit. Half way up you reach the “lace-blockers”, which hold the laces tight. This means you can have your lower foot tight, and upper foot loose, or vice versa. The upper lacing provides great ankle support.

When you tie your laces there is a small pouch in the tongue of the shoe where the laces are tucked inside. This prevents them from coming undone or getting caught on things.

At the top of the shoe is a gaiter with elastic drawcord. This allows you to close the top of the shoe off, preventing sand, dirt, sticks or other debris getting inside. Even this drawcord has a pouch to hide in, leaving nothing dangling outside the shoe.

Inside, there is plenty of padding around the ankle and heal, providing comfort and protection. The insole is hardwearing, holds its shape, doesn’t slip, and is easily removed to ensure any sand or other materials can be removed completely.

While it is primarily a canyoning shoe, the company markets it for a range of other activities where slippery or wet conditions are met, like caving, rafting, kayaking, or even walking in muddy environments.

And despite looking quite large and heavy, they are surprisingly lighter than other canyoning shoes I have used, weighing in at just over 1kg.

While I tested the original design, Bestard have now released a second version of the shoe specifically for women. This comes in smaller sizes, with a narrower fit, and is slightly lighter, despite using the same materials. The company claims it is the only canyoning shoe specifically made for women.

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Walking through the Colo River, they did a great job of keeping out the quicksand

Testing:

From the moment you open the box, the experience of owning these shoes is great. Simple things, like including a spare set of laces (despite the fact that it took me more than 50 canyons to break the original set) make a big difference.

As you put them on for the first time you notice they are extremely comfortable on your feet. While many canyoning shoes make it difficult to get a firm, comfortable fit, the use of laces by Bestard means you can adjust them quite a lot, whether wearing thick neoprene booties or just an old pair of socks.

You also feel the experience in their design. Bestard has been making shoes for more than 70 years, and operate in a town well-known for the industry. They have a strong history with mountaineering boots — which have to be extremely tough — as well as a connection to canyoning due to the nearby canyons on Majorca, as well as in mainland Spain.

I got these shoes at the end of the last canyoning season, so I began testing them in dry conditions. Abseiling trips, dry canyons, even daywalks to see how they felt. As the weather warmed up I finally got to take them into some proper wet canyons. My first reactions were positive. They were extremely comfortable to walk in, they gripped the rock well, and they seemed like they’d last.

One strange sensation was that these shoes are surprisingly buoyant, so as I swim through the canyon I could feel my feet rise up to the water level. I find that a little off-putting, so often swim in a more upright position to prevent it.

Another odd thing was my foot has been trapped in narrow gaps on a couple occasions. I haven’t quite worked out why that has happened, but during one (slightly hilarious) situation I had to have someone swim over and free my foot before I could then work the shoe free.

As summer went on they made it onto some more extreme trips — remote multi-day canyon exploration where there is no room for shoe failure. By the end of the season they’d completely won me over, and were my first shoe choice every time.

It did take me a little while to be convinced by the grip. I don’t believe the Vibram is quite as good as the 5.10 and adidas rubber, although the longer I use them the less distinct this difference has seemed. In some situations these are actually better. For instance, I find the 5.10 rubber completely useless on smooth, wet logs (they feel more like ice skates!), while the Bestard boots provide more grip.

But it was the hard-wearing nature that had me. While the straps on 5.10 boots snap, and the outer on the adidas shoes quickly show wear and even puncture, these boots have maintained their integrity. Using metal loops for the laces means they are still perfect. Likewise, the rubber that runs over the Cordura on the lower shoe took a lot of wear before it finally started to give out.

But after 60 or so canyons there is now some substantial wear, which is what I was waiting for before writing this review.

  • drainage holes — the metal grommets on the drainage holes protrude about 1mm. This means they get scraped at certain times, allowing them to be knocked free. I have had just over half the grommets fall off (all the outside ones). Interestingly, the now-exposed drainage holes have not grown or shown any sign of damage since this. The only change is that slightly more sand enters the shoe. When they were new, almost no sand entered.
  • sole — particularly near the big toe and on the outside of the foot the grip has been worn away. This is to be expected, as they are high wear areas. The rubber maintains its grip on rock even without the tread pattern.
  • protective rubber around the lower part of the upper — this coating is extremely tough, and after a few dozen canyons still only showed some small scuff marks. Once it was finally breached (after about 40 canyons) it has worn away quicker, with both toes showing fairly extreme wear. This has exposed the protective toe cap, but they are still perfectly usable.
  • upper — has shown no discernible wear, which is remarkable
  • lacing system — while I have finally replaced my first set of laces, there has been no other damage to the lacing system. The “lace-blockers”, while now a little harder to reopen, continue to work well. When one lace did blow out near my toes, it took me a while to realise because the lace-blockers ensured the ankle section remained tight.
  • gaiter — no sign of wear. Elastic drawcord still functional, as it the velcro which holds the drawcord in its pouch.
My pair showing some wear after about 60 canyons
My pair finally showing substantial wear after about 60 canyons

Conclusion:

From the sole up, this is the most perfect canyoning shoe I’ve come across. While I’d like to see the Vibram rubber improved, the longer I use the shoes the less that has bothered me.

There is no question that this shoe has been designed and refined by people who know the specific needs of canyoners and who have tested them out in those conditions.

The lacing system is far more resilient, not to mention far more comfortable, than what the competition offers.

The materials are uncompromising. These shoes are incredibly tough, yet surprisingly light. As someone who doesn’t like walking in boots, heavier canyoning shoes often leave me with sore shins at the end of the day. That’s never happened with the Bestard boots.

The main downside, no one stocks them in Australia yet. I’d like to see that change. I’m definitely forking out for a new pair for next summer. I’d recommend anyone looking for an all-round canyoning shoe (or caving, kayaking or even hiking boot) have a close look and consider doing the same. I think a few other manufacturers could have a long hard look at these bad boys and pick up some great ideas.

Especially for exploratory or expedition canyoning, where the most important thing is knowing your gear is tough enough to go the distance, the Bestard Canyon Guide has the competition beaten. Who’d have thought an obscure Spanish shoemaker with a slightly amusing name (you always get asked to repeat it by English speakers) would produce a shoe that exceeds the products of some of the world’s biggest footwear companies.

UPDATE:

The manufacturer has been in touch with me to let me know they have already updated the design of the shoe, meaning some of the minor flaws I noted will be addressed in future production runs.

  1. They will be changing the material used to provide the black protective band around the lower section of the upper to natural rubber, which they say will make it “more or less indestructible”. This change was less about canyoning, and more in response to the needs of cavers who are even rougher on the shoes.
  2. They claim they have now resolved the issue of the metal drainage holes falling out. In the new pairs these pieces should stay in place for the lifetime of the boot.
  3. With the grip, they have been talking toh Vibram to see if it is possible to increase the grip without sacrificing too much durability. So far they haven’t found a way, but they are definitely looking into this. The tougher rubber does mean the Bestard is a better approach shoe than the competition.

Rating:

  • Durability / toughness — 5/5
  • Usefulness — 4/5
  • Value for money — 4/5
  • Overall — 4.5/5
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