Shoe: Astral Rassler Water Shoe
Size Reviewed: 10
Normal shoe size: 9.5
Days Tested: 15
Test Locations: Rivers of Veracruz– Rio Alseseca (Big Banana, Tomata, Roadside, Truchas), Upper Jalacingo, Costa de Oro. Gore Canyon, CO.
Over the past few years, I have gained a true appreciation for excellent water sports footwear. Most kayakers can easily name the 5 essentials: boat, paddle, skirt, helmet, PFD. You literally can’t paddle whitewater without these items.
For any serious paddling trip, I now consider quality footwear to be a sixth essential piece of gear. Sure, you can get away with flip flops, neoprene socks, or going barefoot while playboating at the local surf spot, but descending a run with scouts, portages, and long hikes is a different story, regardless of whether it is class III or class V whitewater.
This past December, I made a trip south to Veracruz, Mexico, to paddle steep creeks in the jungle. In my search for the best whitewater footwear, I set my treasured 5.10 Water Tennies aside and instead brought along a pair of Astral Rasslers. The Rassler is a shoe that has created a lot of buzz around the internet, so I was excited to see if it could live up to the hype. The 5.10 Water Tennie and the Rassler are currently the two main competitors on the market for dedicated creeking shoes, so this review will mostly draw comparisons between them. Although there are some solid offerings from other companies, none of the other water shoes that I have used quite measure up to these models.
Mexico was the perfect place to test out the Rassler on all counts. Most runs require a hike to the put in, a long portage, or even a rappel. Deep “sucking” mud, thick jungle vegetation, steep slopes with exposure, and slick moss-covered basalt rock are part of the daily challenge on the Alseseca and Jalacingo.
Traction: Dude how sticky is your rubber?
In terms of traction, the Rassler is very similar to the 5.10 Water Tennie, which isn’t a surprise since the two shoes use the same AquaStealth Rubber and tread pattern. In a word, their traction is excellent.
But one difference that I noticed between the Water Tennie and the Rassler is that the Rassler’s traction seems to be slightly improved by the stiffer sole material under my toes. This allowed me to feel more confident placing a lot of weight on my toes, almost like in a climbing shoe.
There are still times when I slipped while wearing the Rassler. There are just some muddy or mossy conditions where no shoe will hang on. Over all, however, the Rassler performed as well as the 5.10 (or even slightly better) in all conditions.
The release of the Rassler followed the production of Astral’s popular model, the Brewer. With a higher top and more support around the ankle, the Rassler is a much more capable shoe for the avid creek boater than the Brewer. The high top and improved lacing pattern makes the Rassler less likely to fall off during a swim or let in debris during hikes.
The Rassler breaks a lot of conventions in water shoe design. Although it incorporates some lightweight mesh on the tongue and near the laces, much of the shoe is made of a thicker material that is reinforced with more rubber than a typical minimalist shoe. Instead of relying on thin mesh for drainage, the Rassler features drain holes on the sides of the shoe and one underneath the heel pocket. In another break with convention, Astral also did away with a removable insole in the design of the Rassler.
At the same time, the Rassler remains low profile enough to fit into a kayak, unlike the bulky 5.10 SAR (often referred to as moon boots). In a size 10, the Rasslers fit easily into my creek boat despite having a thicker and stiffer sole than the Water Tennie. (Someone with size 13 feet might not have the same luck.) I can also fit them into my Wavesport Mobius 57 playboat, but this is where I notice the big difference in in-boat comfort between the Rassler and the Water Tennie. The Water Tennie’s softer/thinner sole makes for a more comfortable in-boat feel.
And as a bonus, these shoes look good, with a cool skate-style, and bright green laces that really stand out (also making them difficult to lose).
The only flaw I can find in the Rassler’s design is the size of the heel loop; it is too small for me to fit my fingers into. A larger loop would make it easier to get my feet into these shoes.
Comfort and Fit
Despite the lack of a removable insole, I had no discomfort on the balls of my feet or under my arches after long walks in rough terrain. (For what it’s worth, I have a medium sized arch.)
I was a bit worried about the comfort in the Rasslers. Their heel pocket is larger than the heel pocket of most other whitewater footwear I’ve used. Combined with the unconventionally rigid material around my ankle, this had me worried because it creates a bit of an overhang of stiff material that can put pressure on my heel at the top of the shoe, while leaving a small empty space behind my foot.
At first this additional volume in the heel pocket caused me some mild discomfort if I laced the shoe tightly, because it would force the top of the shoe to create pressure on my heel. But I eventually learned to lace up less tightly, and the shoes broke in quickly. In a matter of days, I felt no discomfort while wearing the shoes on long hikes, or even jogging for a couple of miles on a shuttle. I wasn’t feeling every rock under my feet after a quarter mile, thanks to the stiffness of the sole, and the ankle support kept me from rolling my ankles on the many invisible wet roots on the jungle floor.
I have yet to do more than a 30-minute hike in the Rasslers, so I can’t YET comment on how they would fare on an all-day, epic hike into sierra-style classics.
The Rassler seems to run slightly small, so consider ordering a half size or even a full size larger than you normally would. I typically wear a size 9.5 shoe with socks and / or drysuit booties. With the Rassler, I am comfortable wearing thick socks in a size 10. While in Mexico, I was just wearing socks with my size 10’s and they fit great. Upon my return to Colorado, I spent two days paddling in a drysuit. When wearing socks and drysuit booties at the same time I would have liked to have worn a half size larger, so paddlers who wear dry suits all the time should consider sizing up by a full size.