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Astral Rassler Review

100 use days later.

September 2014 Update:

Durability is a concern for any water shoe as many are notorious for lacking it. After ~100 days of use my Rasslers are holding up well. I've hiked over twenty miles in them during the course of the season. Initially I was concerned with how stiff the heel area is, but provided I've worn socks that has never been an issue, although I'd suggest starting with thick socks if the shoes are not broken in. I can say that these are the best river shoe I've used. Good durability, good traction, fast drying and they don't fall off. A few small improvements could be made but nothing glaring.

January 2014:
This is the shoe the Astral Brewer should have been, and it's the best river shoe on the market. It's basically a high top brewer with slightly stiffer sole, so read on below for the Brewer review. However there are two issues with the Rassler.

The heel loop. The good news is that there is one this time, the bad news is it's too small. We all have different needs in life. I've never needed to put a carabiner through the heel loop of a pair of shoes. I use the heel loop to pull the heel of the shoe on, especially when wearing a drysuit. Unfortunatley the heel loops on the Rasslers are just large enough for a carabiner. As high top shoes they are a pain to put on with a drysuit, you really need to loosen the laces not just at the top but down through the mid section. Imagine the ease of winter snow boots and you get the idea.

It's a great day use kayaking shoe marketed as an expedition shoe. Sure it would be possible to hike into Upper Cherry the Rassler. I've done it in sandals. Just because it's possible doesn't mean it's a good idea. While in every other aspect the Rassler is a better shoe, for pure hiking shoes like the 5.10 Savant have more to offer with a real insole, EVA rubber and stiff plate under foot. Thankfully like the Brewer these are light enough that I'll be hiking in real shoes and using these on the river.

I'd like to see whoever wrote this marketing pitch carry my boat into the Middle Kings and report back on how they work for his "true love":

 "The Astral Rassler was designed especially for our true love, hiking in deep to run the gnar. The Rassler provides enhanced foot support, reinforced wear zone and draining uppers. We stiffened our Natural Balance™ midsole to control foot fatigue and power through Cali's granite fields. Incredibly light and with unmatchable STEALTH outsoles. "

Edited Astral Brewer Review

A while back Astral gave me a pair of their new Brewer shoe to review under the expectation that I'd be brutally honest. Currently I've used the Astral Brewer about ten days, including many laps on the South Fork Feather which has some hiking involved. In the course of this review comparisons are inevitable between the Astral Brewer (MSRP $100) and its main competitor, the well known 5.10 Savant (MSRP $130). Why not the 5.10 Watter Tennie? I find the sole to be too thin on the Water Tennie. Out of the box I was surprised at how light the Brewer is. In fact that's the most common comment from people holding the shoe. A lot of kayakers are into rock climbing, and I think this shoe would be a very popular approach/belay shoe if it had a webbing loop on the back of the heel, so they could be thrown on a carabiner. It would also make them easier to put on, I often find myself missing the Savant's webbing loop.

Traction on wet slippery rock as well as loose dirt is the most important aspect of any river shoe. Astral is using 5.10's Stealth rubber, but it's a different tread pattern from the Savant. At first I was worried that the dot patterned sole of the Brewer would fall short of the knobby Savant sole when walking on loose dirt. After a good amount of use they seemed about equal on loose dirt and better on polished river rock. For the intended use of the shoe (day trips) I was pleasantly surprised to find that I preferred Brewer's tread pattern and traction.

Fit & Feel
The Brewer's looks make them beg to be worn without socks. I did half of my first day in them barefoot. Bad news, the material is stiff and gives blisters in no time at all, in addition the foot bed is slippery when wet.
I've worn the Savant barefoot on few day trips with no hiking and had no issues, but they were not particularly comfortable either. .Throw socks on and and the Brewers are quite comfortable and the slippery foot bed issue is gone. I have wide feet and find the foot box to be plenty wide. People with narrow foot might find these too wide. The feel of the brewer differs from the Savant as much as the looks do. I've always found the Savants to feel unstable and particularly easy to roll an ankle in. Plus they just feel a little bulky on foot, perhaps because the sole is so thick. The brewer has a thinner sole and feels much more stable. I wouldn't go hiking into Upper Cherry or the Middle Kings with the Brewer, but it has plenty of support for day trips that require a mile or two of hiking. On that note it's possible to do those High Sierra hikes in the Savant, but not ideal either, they are a running shoe design not a hiking shoe. I find the Brewer easier to put on with a drysuit than the Savant, I get less tight sock issues.

As above mentioned the material is stiff and a bit abrasive, not good for bare feet but on the other hand it doesn't absorb the quantity of water the Savant does. I'm also happy to say the Brewers will dry overnight. Like anyone who has owned Savants, I was always puzzled how a water shoe could take a week to dry out. I can't comment too much on durability as my Brewers have not seen a ton of use, but so far they show no signs of wear, which is an improvement over the competition.

Far and away the least important aspect of a technical river shoe, I like the relaxed look of the Brewer to the "look at how technical I am" Savants. Each to their own, but it's nice to see options on the market.

Pros: Good Traction, Light, Fast Drying, Stable Foot bed. Good durability so far.

Cons: Thin soles, not for expeditions or long hikes. Can't wear barefoot. Needs longer heel webbing loop.

The Astral Brewer is good at what it's designed for, the average day in on the water. The weight of the shoe makes it seem overpriced at $120, but that's just an emotional response. Logically Astral could just be using lighter, better materials. Provided the Brewer holds up well in future use, it will be my shoe of choice, even when purchased with my hard earned dimes.