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Astral Brewer Review

Hiking is the nature of kayaking in California: Daniel Brasuell and David Maurier head into Goose Creek.

2014 Update. It's been almost a year and a half. I'm on my second pair of Astral Brewers and they are holding up well. They are great shoes except one major issue. They come off too easily. They aren't sold as an expedition shoe, but dramatic things can happen on every day rivers. In my experience tehe Brewer is prone to falling off while running, stepping in mud or swimming, no matter how well I tie the laces. Without a heel webbing loop there is no way to secure the shoe against loss. I like the shoe a lot. I like the lower center of gravity and better durability, but the falling off issue is a critical blow to an otherwise great shoe. I can't recommend the Brewer because there is a significant chance of loss in the exact situations where you need a shoe to perform. 

I'm about to start testing some Astral Rasslers and believe they are the shoe the Brewer should have been.

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 heel webbing loop.

The Astral Brewer is good at what it's designed for, the average day in on the water. A webbing loop on the heel should be there at this price point, and even for day trips I'd like to see a slightly thicker sole. The weight of the shoe makes it seem overpriced at $100, 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.

There are no signs of wear, rips or tears after two months of abuse and ten miles of hiking. That said, the Brewer's have two things that bother me. The first is that they come off too easily, just like the 5.10 Savants. All river shoes should stay on well, be it hiking through mud or swimming. Swims happen even on day runs and losing a shoe is a big deal, especially if you lose your boat too. Second is a common complaint for the Brewer, they take on sand easily, probably because they drain water well. Outside of that, these shoes are great but not perfect. At this point I think their the best river shoe with traction on the market, but I'm looking forward to Astral's high top version that is coming out soon.