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Ever since I donned my first pair of Korker’s cleats on a snot-slick jetty years ago, I adopted a new personal policy: if I’m walking on wet, slimy rocks, be they in salt- or freshwater, there would be studs on the soles of my feet. I’m a big guy, so when I fall I fall hard. You can tell me the new soles on a pair of boots grip like super glue to the tenth power, and I’d say that’s great…but I’m still screwing studs into them. So when I first read that Patagonia claimed the new aluminum bars now available on their Rock Grip Boots offered “max traction for extreme wading conditions,” I was a hair skeptical.
To make matters worse, I would be testing these boots in a river with lots of rather greasy flat rocks in February when the water temp was 37 degrees. The first thing I did was get up on one of those flat rocks and cautiously do the Twist. Tell you what, my feet didn’t move.
According to Patagonia, there are two reasons why the bar system works. One, the wide bars and strategic spacing covers more surface area than studs. And two, the aluminum is hard enough to cut through rock snot, but soft enough to grip the rock under the slime. If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the scrapes and pits on the aluminum from the metal “grabbing” the rocks. For reference, the boots were brand new when I put them on, and that photo was taken after one full day of wading.
As impressed as I was with the performance–I didn’t slip once all day–I do question the lifespan of the bars, considering it seems feasible that over time you could just grind the soft aluminum away. At the moment, I don’t see replacement bars for sale on Patagonia’s website. It’s going to take a lot more wading to figure out how they hold up, but for the trial run I give the boots an A.
Aside from offering solid traction, Patagonia’s intention with the bar system was to also create a boot that was drift-boat friendly. You can hop in and out of your buddy’s ClackaCraft all day without poking holes in the floor . I should also mention that I found the boots very comfortable. They have excellent ankle support and the combo of synthetic leather, nylon, and spandex neoprene construction helped them dry really fast. You can get yourself a pair for $240 here.