While this post reviews two particular models of one particular brand of amphibious shoe, it's more so about the growing trend to mend the rift between land and water in our continuous effort to eradicate any limits that obstruct our pathways and journeys of adventure and curiosity.
Numerous brands are straying from the beaten path and conforming to the ever-evolving needs of its adventure-thirsty consumer base. Brands like Merrell, Speedo, and Keen have thrown their productions onto the market; larger brands like Adidas and Quicksilver are struggling to maintain their foothold while newer brands like Aleader and, of course, Crocs, are trampling over this new niche.
While things are becoming saturated, manufacturers and consumers alike are still learning with each new product, having to redefine and refine, reinventing the wheel with each step. Why? Because developing an amphibious running shoe is no easy feat. There are ample factors at play: lightweight design must also prove durable; quick-drying construction must also be able to minimize the impact of elements.
How do you make a shoe that fits snug and can get wet but avoid blistering? That can remain lightweight despite becoming soaked or that can run amok atop the forest floor while also gripping moss-laden rock? You try one design, then try another, and another, and, eventually, you get things right.
Enter Aleader. Founded in 2013, this Califorinia-based company currently flaunts a prime position amidst it's competition - read through any online list of top amphibious runners and Aleader's shoes commonly show up as the fastest drying or most comfortable. As per my review below, I can definitely attest to those two points. But, in consideration of other factors, this review just goes to show that we're still a few horizons away from declaring a clear winner in the tight race towards creating the ultimate amphibious running shoe.
“It doesn't matter how great your shoes are if you don't accomplish anything in them.” ― Martina Boone
Breathable and durable open textile upper ensuring continued air circulation
Webbing midfoot cage provides lateral support
Bungee lace system for quick and easy adjustment
Cushioning EVA midsole can absorb shock
High-traction EVA and rubber place outsole provide dependable traction
Unique and top-quality anti-slip sole, with several holes on each bottom to ensure proper water flow out
Credit to Aleader, as it must be immensely difficult to refine a line so blurred with precise specifications - a shoe must be durable on hard terrain but also lightweight and versatile for use in water. It's a near impossible task, if you ask me, to create a shoe that can be used for both swimming and running, but the Drainpro XT's begin to, at the least, bridge that gap.
While the XT's aren't perfect, they're a step in the right direction. The shoes are ultra lightweight, so much so that I had wondered if there was anything in the box at all before unpacking it. Ostensibly, they're sleek, well-designed, and practically structured to prioritize grip and maneuverability above all else.
The grip of a good water shoe may be the most underrated and understated characteristic, right next to weight and ease of maneuverability. For it's the moss-laden logs and algae-covered rocks, often submerged underwater, that can mean the difference between the trip to a peak or a trip to a hospital.
Performance on Land
Happy to say that the Drainpro XT's have an immense and unrelenting grip - rarely giving way to the slippery elements that they found themselves atop. My apprehension quickly subsided when the shoes performed admirably atop moss, rock, slimes and algaes of all sorts, in streambeds and through sandy brooks; on dirt, wood, stone, gravel and grass. Pine needles and loose-shifting soil seemed to be the only thing that could cause slippage, though this isn't something that would reflect on the shoe itself as anything without crampons would likely fail to grip in these conditions.
Even in tall, wet grass on a decline, the Drainpro's held true to their intended grip while also providing a somewhat sturdy sole against the jagged rocks of a stream bed, allowing for a swift-and-sure trek through innumerable elements that would not be possible barefoot.
Every now and then, the odd small protuberance would deliver a sting on a pressure point somewhere along the sole, but these had been few and far between.
Despite something to be said about their durability (read on), the shoes generally performed great on all kinds of surfaces, even atop forest floor, where more debris had been present. And apart from spiked vegetation, like thistles or raspberry bush (which can be felt through the mesh top), everything else failed to penetrate.
Performance In Water
Using the shoes in water, I had been quick to identify my qualm with this shoe, one that brings question to it's very description as an actual water shoe.
In short, there's no swimming in these. They're simply too bulky, too weighed down when soaked in water and too clunky to maneuver with. Crossing a lake, it wasn't long before I relegated them to tying them together into an improvised floating device (thankfully, they do float), made possibly by their construction and the ease at which they can be taken off and hitched together.
Truth be told, my expectations were managed quite well as the manufacturer doesn't necessarily tout this as a swimming shoe. Rather, they vaguely refer to it as an amphibious shoe, which is technically true if you're talking about running in and through water rather than actually swimming.
This point, however, isn't as much of a deal-breaker depending on the intention of use. If it's to frolic around in water-filled with hazards that threaten to cut up the feet, this shoe seems ideal. If it's to swim across lakes or traverse in deep water - not a practical option as it severely impedes swimming (unless, like mentioned above, they're taken off and brought along the surface).
The first thing that jumped out at me had been the actual fit of these shoes - how snug and form-fitting they were to my feet. This worried me because, when it comes to any shoe, snug usually means blistering or chaffing. Miraculously - nothing of the sort. Online reviews for these shoes (assuming they're real reviews) also mention the lack of blistering, which is something of a shock. After using them in grass, water, dirt, sand, atop forest floors and in streams, no issues with blistering, even with debris moving through the shoe as I ran along.
There's no need to break them in - they're soft and malleable enough to conform to the foot instantaneously. There's no concern about them coming off (assuming you have the right size), even in the dragging movements of water.
The lace system is preferred by me and made things easy when taking them off every now and again - especially while swimming. The adjustment buckle stays in place and the cord works fine.
This brings me to my main issue with this shoe - it's not really durable. It checks off almost every other column but, after one long run on dirt road (and part asphalt), the wear was very quickly evidenced in the sole, which lost its integrity and form throughout all the grooves and drain holes.
That said, the construction of the sole is sturdy enough to provide comfort and feel little to no impact when running over roots and rocks - it's a shame this gives out after such a limited use time.
The drain holes in the sole lose their shape and integrity first while the rubber design begins to peel apart in a way that you'd expect it to after at least a year rather than a handful out outings.
All in all
Aleader Gear touts this as a versatile shoe built to match the way one would move through the wilderness and - despite some head-scratching flaws centering around durability - I would have to agree. This shoe blew away the limits that had previously held me back. To explore an island barefoot is always a drag; to avoid crossing a stream because in fear of an afternoon full wet socks; to finally come back at nature with some grip atop the most slippery of elements - these little things make a big difference.
Ultimately, so long as this shoe isn't meant for actual swimming or extensive and heavy use on hard rocky surfaces, this is a brilliantly-designed shoe with ample benefits that's certainly worth the try. However, if the buyer is looking for something much more durable and capable of trekking over many more kilometers per season, it may be worth a deeper dive.
The stink is real with these shoes - after only 3 outings (both of which involved water), the smell that they exuded had been unfathomable, likely given the foam materials used in the construction of the sole and insert. Hearing similar stories from a few colleagues and being relieved that it hadn't just been some issue stemming from my own biology, these are not a shoe to leave in a hot car for a few hours. For me, it's not a deal-breaker in the least, but some will surely find fault with this shoes uncanny ability to trap odor.
The drying time is something to be amazed by - remove the inserts and leave the Drainpro's in the sun for an hour or two and they'll be bone dry - an excellent feature that shouldn't be overlooked.
The drain holes in the sole, as the company refers to them, are prone to filling up with mud or sand; while this doesn't necessarily defeat their purpose of draining, it compromise their lightweight feature, adding some weight to the shoe.
Great air flow - it actually feels like running barefoot when running through the woods. The mesh style top is amazingly ventilated and comfortable, making for a great experience in the wilderness.