If I was going to put together a tiered list of most important pieces of gear for tripping, footwear would be right up there with your paddle and a bag big enough to hold all my portage chocolate. I’ve traditionally leaned towards trail runners for my day shoes for comfort, traction and to cut down on the weight from typical hiking boots. That said, there are aspects to trail runners that aren’t ideally suited for canoe tripping, including less ankle support, not as much protection against random sticks and underwater rocks to the ankles and (sometimes) durability. So when Columbia asked if I would like to try out a pair of their Facet 75 Alpha OutDry Shoes, their lightweight waterproof hiking shoe, I jumped at the chance*. Combining characteristics of both trail runners and hiking boots, the Facet 75 Alpha OutDry Shoe is meant to give you the best of both worlds. So far, I’ve found they live up to that billing, here’s why:
To start with, these are very comfortable shoes. I’m a size 10.5 and my foot is probably a bit wider than average. While the shoes don’t come in a specific “wide” sizing, I found the fit to be true from the heel to the toe box. Between the Ortholite EcoLT insole and Techlite Plush midsole, there’s a lot of cushioning here. What exactly are the Ortholite EcoLT insole and Techlite Plush midsole? Basically, Ortholite is a third party insole maker who specialize in light, breathable insoles that still provide decent cushioning. They claim that their insoles provide a decent amount of cushion without making your foot overheat, and so far I’ve found that to hold true. The Techlite Plush midsole is Columbia designed and provides a mid layer of foam between the insole and the outersole. Combine the two together, and you’re left with a fairly comfortable boot that feels like it’s well cushioned while still being somewhat breathable.
So, the Alpha OutDry is comfortable, but is it going to help you avoid rolling an ankle or keep your foot stable in the shoe? The answer here is yes, but maybe a qualified yes? It’s a low cut shoe, the support structure stops below the ankle, but even so it didn’t feel overly unstable. I missed a few steps while I was testing it out and rolled over on my ankle once. While it’s not going to provide the stability of a high cut boot, the (seemingly) wide base provides some additional side to side stability that I don’t get from my trail runners. There is an ankle cover element to the shoe, but that’s purely for water protection purposes and provides little to no support.
The traction here is solid. The shoe uses Columbia’s Adapt Trax traction technology that they say is their best for keeping grip in wet conditions. I haven’t had the chance to hike in the rain yet (not something I’d normally be unhappy about but I was looking forward to seeing how the shoes handled those conditions), so I can’t speak to how they’d handle a downpour. What I can say is that they provide excellent grip over all kinds of terrain. I’ve had them out on a couple of steep, gravelly trails, as well as a more Algonquin-like forest environment, and in each setting they held the trail well. I didn’t find myself slipping on any of the steep sections, and I even managed to keep my footing on the hike I did with my excitable, and strong, golden retriever/perpetual motion machine who has never seen a squirrel she didn’t want to immediately chase. If a shoe helps you keep your footing while being dragged by 50 lbs of enthusiasm moving at top speed, it’s got decent traction.
These shoes are made with Columbia’s OutDry technology that Columbia bills as being “absolutely waterproof” before qualifying that as meaning in medium to heavy rain and snow and further qualifying it to mean “moderate conditions”. In other words, nothing is perfectly waterproof and, honestly, I wouldn’t want it to be. If you’ve ever worn any gear that is truly 100% waterproof you’ve likely also realized that that usually means 0% breathable. I’ll take increased breathability as a trade off, for a little dampness.
As I mentioned, I didn’t get to hike in the rain, but I do own a hose and spent some time drenching my foot in the front yard (which is a fun thing to explain to passing neighbours). The shoe held up pretty well to the soaking. The sides and bottom stayed bone dry (as you’d expect) and the mesh layer across the top was certainly water resistant. I eventually noticed some coolness seeping in at the top of my foot, and when I checked afterwards it felt … I don’t think damp is correct, maybe predamp? Either way, it held up pretty well and I’m fairly confident that these shoes will stay comfortable regardless of whether the sun is shining or not.
Another waterproofing feature of these shoes is a snug, flexible collar that fits around the top of the ankle. This fabric seems to be decently water resistant as well, and the main benefit I see is that it will stop errant splashes from puddles from soaking your ankles and heel, which is something I truly hate.
One of the things I like best about these shoes is how light they feel given their fairly sturdy construction. While they’re not going to outclass a pair of minimalist trail runners, they’re nowhere near as heavy as some comparable hiking boots I’ve owned. They are quite cushiony without being overly soft, and despite the collar around the ankle that theoretically should trap heat, stayed at a comfortable temperature throughout my hikes.
The one aspect of these shoes that I’m not wild about is the lacing system. The shoes use an elastic lace with a lock that tightens across the top of the foot. This makes getting a tighter bind towards the toes harder, and can mean more movement at the front of the foot. This isn’t a deal breaker. The trail runners I’ve been tripping in for the last three years have the same system and it works. I would just prefer a system that lets me tighten the laces uniformly across the top of the foot.
From a canoe tripping perspective, I have not yet had a chance to get them out. That’s coming next week. I don’t expect any surprises when you replace hiking trails with portages, but I am curious as to what the shoes will be like following a full submersion. It’s very rare to go a full trip without stepping into the water along some creek or at the start or end of a portage, and I wonder what the shoes will feel like post soaking? How will they dry out? They dried pretty quickly after I hosed them down, but after an interior drenching along with an exterior one? Stay tuned.
I’m a big fan of these shoes. They’re comfortable, lightweight and stable. They handled relatively steep trails and rocky paths nicely, and are great on level ground as well. They’ve got great traction, and breath well. From a design perspective, they look sharp. They come in a kind of grey-green colour called “Cypress” along with a more traditional black option, and they look great (IMHO). Long story short, I like these as hiking shoes, and would be happy to use them on most trails and in most conditions.
For more information on the Columbia Facet 75 Alpha OutDry Shoe, check them out here!
** Just to be absolutely clear, Columbia provided these shoes for me to try out. However, I have not received monetary compensation to write this review and these are my actual impressions of the shoe, not a paid advertisement.
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