September 6, 2013

Get a Grip!

I hate falling down in midstream. More than one time I have been self-baptized by immersion while working waters with very slippery stream beds. And it seems the older I get the less "Fred Astaire" -like I have become.

I, like many of you, fish streams with all sorts of stream bed geology. Some of my streams have gravel beds -- no problem. Some have basalt beds -- not too bad; lots of little grippy holes. Some beds are sedimentary rock, sandstones, limestones -- still mainly no problem; depends on the moss layer. However, some of my favorite streams have beds of granite or rhylolite boulders or large rocks that have been polished by eons to time into slippery, round bowling balls!! I have a particularly difficult time with the later.

Looks easy, but its worse than polished glass. Fall down and you'll be swept away! 

To aid in my stabilization I employ a wading staff. I talked about it here before, so I will fore go discussing it right now. Also to aid me have been felt covered boot soles, various metal cleats in rubber soles, and specialized "sticky" rubber soled boots. These are have all worked OK at one point or another, but some have worked for me better than others.

Personally, for my streams, I never thought felt worked that well. I wasn't too sad to see it go. As far as boots, lately I've been wearing Simms Guide and Rivershed boots (I like the later better than the former). Simms has a Vibram sole called StreamTread. It is supposed to be as good in water as felt; maybe it is but like I said, I didn't think felt alone was that great. Felt soles with HardBite studs were pretty good though.

I thought Simms boots were pretty slippery until I got a pair of Chota Caney Fork boots to hike/fish in. Man, those boot soles are like skates! They make Simms soles seem lightyears better in grippiness. I like the Caney Fork's aggressive tread pattern as far as hiking -- up and down steep hills -- but as far as grippiness in water, forget it. I've about broken my neck in these boots.

To help get these boots to grip my "bowling ball" stream beds better I've tried various studs or cleats. I have found that the Simms boot plus AlumiBite star cleats work pretty darn well the vast majority of the time, no matter the composition of the stream bed. Simms HardBite star cleat just skate right off polished granite boulders. I don't use them anymore after a nasty fall. However, Simms HardBite studs turn the Chota Caney Fork boots from nightmarish ballerina shoes into pretty acceptable footwear. Chota studs made the boots worse on polished granite; might as well go barefoot.

Chota Caney Fork boots with Simms HardBite suds.  Ok, but could be better.

Simms Rivershed boots with AlumiBite star cleats. Better, but still needs help in the slipperiest streams.

These are all well and good for most of my streams, but for certain waters (large, fast, really slippery) I still need more help to feel secure. So to test out some better footing I bought a pair of Patagonia River Crampons. These are just that, crampons, made by the company that invented crampons for mountaineering. These crampons don't have spikes, rather, they have flat soft aluminum bars that "stick" to rock. I took my pair to a river the other day -- this river has these round, polished granite rocks for a stream bed; each round rock greased with a thin layer of green slime -- to test them out. Since I hiked into the stream I used them with the Chota Caney Fork boots. The result was: without the crampons on I could stay upright but walking very carefully. With the crampons on I could almost run across the rocks!! I could not believe it at first. Actually, at first the crampons felt as if they were too sticky, believe it or not! Wearing them does not hamper dexterity or feeling the stream bed. They worked so well that I think their only disadvantage is that they are a little heavy to carry. Still, I give them two thumbs up!!

Soft aluminum bars mold to the rocks

Adjustable to most boot sizes

At stream side.

On my boot.

I have yet to test these crampons on flat, slab rocks covered in slime, but I will later this month. I'll let you know how that goes, but so far, for my streams they looks like winners!! Now, let's see how durable they are.

You may have different stream bed geology than I do, but if you too are no "Fred Astaire" in the water you might want to look into these. Pretty impressive grip!


  1. Great post. I have even resorted to using winter ice cleats on my boots. Some are better than others for different streams. I can only imagine that the Pat. cleats are even better yet.

    It has been a few years, but Rainey Cr was one of the worst bowling ball streams I have been on. -- It may have been the slime that year.-

    I pulled the ice cleats out of my pack and put them on. It was like night and day difference in traction. I think that they may have saved my life, sanity, and equipment.

    I broke my tenkara rod when I fell on it this spring in the Cub R. That was a real downer. I hope not to break anything else. Including me.

    1. Ah, Rainey Creek. I about killed myself there a year ago! If you could have watched me try to wade there you'd think I was having convulsions! Next time I wade Rainey I'll have to wear a helmet!

      Sorry about your rod breaking. I have yet to break a rod falling but I've come real close!


  2. Soft aluminum is the way to go.

    The only downside is the fast wear rate. I'm going through about 2 pair of Korker's AlumiTrax a year. I'm hoping for a slighter harder, yet just as "grippy" version.

    Tom - I see the crampons extend beyond the boots a bit. Any issues learning how to place you "new" feet?


    1. Hi Greg,

      I didn't have any problems with proprioception or spacial perception of where to place me feet. I found the crampons to be non-obstrusive when wading. You really don't even know they are there until you find that you can actually stand on the side of a granite boulder!

      Years ago I had a pair of Korker rubber over boots with aluminum cleats. This was before Korker made wading boots. They looked like goloshes with aluminum bars attached to the soles. I'd slip those wading overboots on when I'd steelhead the Deschutes in Oregon. That's when I first discovered how well aluminum gripped rocks.


  3. Are the aluminum crampons "noisy" on the rocks? Thanks

    1. Hi Cindy,

      I guess, maybe a little. But I'm not sure they sound any louder than my regular cleats on rocks. Since my ears are in the air, but my feet are in the water, I can't hear the sound of the crampons. I don't know on any tests with underwater microphones, so I don't know how loud they are. But my overall impression is that they might be just a little louder than regular boot cleats.


  4. I just ran across this issue while lazily surfing this blog for rod reviews. Holy Moly! This may save my life, if not my knee caps, which got banged up a few years ago, when I doing a good simulation of a drunken dance on the greasy bowling balls of Bennett Peak. I had to give up fishing and skiing for over a year to rehab my knee. I am definitely going to try out these crampons. Thank you for the post!