After I blew out the heel/ankle on my third pair, I knew I was going to have to bid adieu to a very popular brand of sandals. For over five years, this particular pair of footwear had been pushed with varying degrees of success. Wet wading, beach trips, and casual summer wear saw me in these sandals. But averaging less than two years for over $100? I was ready to move on.
My first inclination was to try out one of the options from within the fly fishing industry. Plenty of brands have angling-specific sandals or wet wading boots. To be honest, however, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. And wading footwear gets expensive quickly.
As much as I love getting the latest and greatest in fly fishing, I was feeling the crunch of being cost-effective and realistic about my chances of justifying another pair of “fishing shoes.”
I did have a gift card to an outdoor retailer. This chain has angling gear, but their focus is on adventure and casual items. I browsed through their selection of sandals and shoes. One pair, initially only through it’s aesthetics, stood out to me.
The Astral Brewer.
A relatively young company (2002) focusing on PFD’s and other water sport accessories, Astral is a popular brand among kayakers in particular. This North Carolina company not only seeks to be on the front lines of both function and form, but also eco-friendly practices. Their reputation is strong, both for use and durability.
Yet I could not find anything, aside from a few random message board comments, about their footwear being used by fly fishers.
But why not? The Brewer, the model I was looking at, seems like a perfect fit for many of my wading needs. Quick drying fabric, solid construction, sticky rubber sole, ports for expelling water and small debris, and the almost universal accolade of comfort. And, they look good.
I bought them, and I used them.
Let me jump to today: I have hiked in the mountains, fished high-gradient streams, spent time on sandy and rocky beaches, hauled a one-year-old in a backpack, sludged through muddy spring creeks, and walked across some pretty big cities. All in the Astral Brewer. They have been nothing but great shoes.
The comfort blew me away. Without socks, I was concerned about the nylon rubbing against my ankles. There is absolutely none of that; no marks or heat from contact between my skin and any material. They dry out incredibly quickly, which is essential for longer walks from the water. This is primarily due to how they are engineered to expel – literally pump – water from the foot bed while you walk.
The sole is probably the stickiest compound that I have encountered on the bottom of a shoe. I have felt secure on every wet surface I have come across, and more secure then I ever have on impossible surfaces like slimy rocks. The flexibility of the shoe probably helps with this, as there isn’t the rigidity which can force your foot to remain flat and only have a little bit of sticky rubber surface area contacting the ground.
The only hesitation that I would have in recommending the Brewer to someone would be the impact protection that it offers. Wading boots are usually so heavy duty that you are able to slam your toes and ankles into rocks with very little pain or damage to show for it. You’re not going to be able to do that with these shoes, but at the same time they offer enough protection for most of the bumps and nicks that you will encounter. I wade hard: often looking where I am fishing and not where I am walking to the detriment of my feet and ankles. That being said, I have not encountered a problem while wearing the Astrals.
After about a half year of wearing them, they still look practically new. With a quick brush-off they clean up more than enough to go to the store in or to grab a bite to eat after a day on the water. After and especially muddy or sandy outing, I give them a quick rinse in the shower with me.
Sometimes the insular nature of fly fishing culture and the fly fishing industry keeps us inside a box when it comes to making decisions. There are obviously many, many quality fly fishing companies that are designing and producing high-level footwear for anglers. There are also non-fly fishing companies that are making gear that can and does suit the needs of anglers perfectly.
I encourage you to explore a bit. If you are looking for wet wading shoes, definitely check out Astral and their selections. If there was a “Casting Across Best Buys of 2017” the Brewer would absolutely be on it.