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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Two Years With NEOS TrekkersThese Boots Are Made for Walking

They Take a Licking and Keep On Kicking

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

May 3, 2011

A little over two years ago I retired my last pair of rubber wellies. Their replacement? A pair of NEOS Trekker overshoes. It wasn't something I relished doing. In fact, it was Hobson's choice. The inexpensive L.L. Bean Wellies that were a mainstay of my backcountry wardrobe simply disappeared from the catalog (but see Note, below), their place taken by pricier branded boots, many of which offered "improvements" that I didn't need, like insulation and camouflage color schemes. Moreover, I was — and still am — reluctant to spend a hundred bucks or more on a pair of boots that probably wouldn't see me through more than a couple of seasons.

The upshot? If I wanted rubber wellies I'd have to take what was offered and pay the price. Hobson's choice, like I said. Take it or leave it. So I left it, opting instead to buy a pac in a poke: a pair of NEOS Trekkers. They cost more than my old L.L. Bean Wellies, but less than the Wellies' branded counterparts, and while I had doubts that any pair of fabric boots would stay waterproof through even a single season, I decided I'd give the Trekkers a fair try. And I did — for two years. With this result:

Two Thumbs Up!

Or should that read "Two Toes Up"? Well, in any case, the Trekkers made a good first impression. But several readers have written to ask if they've worn well in the months since my original article, and I figured I should bring the record up to date, especially as Trekkers are still in the NEOS product lineup. At a time when much outdoor apparel follows the same frenetic trajectory once associated exclusively with designer dresses — introduce the new creations during fashion week at the start of one season, then remainder them before the start of the next — the Trekkers get points for longevity alone.

Here's the deal: My Trekkers have tramped through mud, plodded through snow (including crusty, icy snow), survived encounters with brambles, come down hard on the sharp ends of beaver‑gnawn branches, and endured forced marches through spiky spruce hells. They've also waded countless streams and kept my socks dry during numberless "wet‑footed" launches. And they've yet to spring a leak. In short, they're as close to perfect as any waterproof footwear I've owned.

But maybe you're not familiar with Trekkers. OK. Here's a summary of their salient features:

  • Waterproof nylon 20‑inch uppers
  • A generous gusset with a hook‑and‑loop closure and an elastic drawstring
  • Quick‑release instep cinch (no more flop, flop, flopping along)
  • A rubber‑reinforced welt
  • "SuperLite" sole (no lugs to pick up clots of mud and carry them into the boat)
  • Neoprene insoles (optional)
  • Polyester fleece liners (non‑NEOS option)
  • Light weight (two pounds total for Trekkers alone, without insoles or liners)

And here's what they look like from the side and back, on and off my feet (that's an old JanSport rucksack in the bottom shot, by the way):

Baby Has New Shoes

How do you use them? Easy. You pull them on over your shoes and you go. Now that the ice has melted away on all but the highest and most sheltered mountain ponds, I'll be doing just that — spending a lot of time paddling around and squelching about with camera in hand and Trekkers on my feet. Because they roll up into a bundle not much bigger than a 1‑quart thermos, I bring them along even on dry days and lazy paddles. But enough scene‑setting. Let's get …

Down and Dirty With the Details …

Beginning with a quick look at the many ways Trekkers score high:

  1. They're roomy. Unlike wellies, which will chafe badly if you don't get a snug fit, the Trekkers have generously sized, gusseted uppers. They'll accommodate the most muscular calves — a real boon to amphibious paddlers! — and they slip on easily over the bulkiest trousers.

  2. They're versatile. Are you too hot? Simply loosen the drawcord a jot. Still hot? Drop the fabric tops to just above your ankles, cinch them there, and give your lower legs some air. Or maybe you're too cold. If so, and if it looks like there's no relief in sight, make the switch from overshoe to mukluk mode. Just leave your shoes at home (or in your pack), substituting neoprene insoles, heavy socks, and fleece liners. Now you're good to go in almost any weather. I've worn my Trekkers in temperatures down to −10 degrees Fahrenheit without discomfort. (You'll need at least one change of socks, though — more if you'll be out overnight.) In fact, Trekkers make great snowshoe pacs. Molded ridges on the heels help keep your feet where they belong: in your bindings.

  3. They're compact. With a little effort you can stuff them into a large pack pocket. (Here's how to fold 'em.) This is particularly handy if you're running "serious" whitewater. I like to leave my feet unencumbered in anything more than Class 1. So I slip my Trekkers off when I get into the boat, but leave my shoes on my feet. Then I just put the Trekkers back on when it's time to portage or take out. That way I have the best of both worlds.

  4. They're light. Two pounds, like I said. The weight of a filled water bottle. No more.

  5. Trekkers hang tight. The instep straps hold them on your feet, even when you sink deep into the muck at the margin of a beaver pond. If you've ever left a wellie behind in the mire while you struggled through a swamp or bog, you'll appreciate this.

  6. They're waterproof. Really waterproof. The only way to get your socks wet with anything but sweat is to step in water that's deeper than the tops of the Trekkers.

  7. They hold up. Two years on, and I've yet to get a puncture. And while I'm sure it is possible to tear them, I haven't managed to do it yet.

  8. They keep nature at a distance. Not every close encounter is pleasant, after all. Trekkers keep ticks, biting flies, and leeches at bay. They also protect your legs from the irritating oils of poison ivy and poison oak, though the noxious stuff will remain on your boots till it's washed off.

  9. They're as good in camp as they are on the trail and in the boat. At day's end, remove your Trekkers and shoes. Put on a fresh pair of thick wool socks. Slide the (optional) neoprene innersoles into the Trekkers and then slip your feet back in. Ahh… Bliss. It's the backcountry equivalent of house slippers.

  10. They get a grip. Though the Trekker sole isn't lugged — which means you won't be tracking clods of dirt into your tent and boat — it isn't slippery, either, even on wet, wave‑polished rock. If there are wet leaves or ice on the rock, however, I pull on Yaktrax. And I always walk carefully.

  11. They're easily repaired. (Warning! This is largely untested speculation.) You can mend a tear temporarily with duct tape, then do a definitive repair in camp or at home, using the same sort of patch kit you'd use for an inflatable. At least I think you can. I've tested duct tape, and it stays stuck for a day or more. (I could never get duct tape to stay on my wellies for more than an hour.) But since I've yet to hole my Trekkers, I've no experience making definitive repairs.

  12. They're better than a dog for making new friends. Total strangers come up to you and ask you what you're wearing. Would Trekkers work as chick magnets? I can't say. (Do I have to explain why?) But I wouldn't be surprised.

 

So much for the Good News. Now let's gird our loins and harden our hearts to explore …

The Dark Side of NEOS Trekkers

Actually, this is more like the Gray Side. No item here is a deal‑breaker. But nothing's perfect, is it? And Trekkers are no exception to the rule. For instance …

  1. Trekkers ain't cheap. They cost twice as much as my old wellies did. They carry a higher price tag than L.L. Bean's new "Lady" Wellies, too. But Trekkers are still cheaper than most branded wellies. And they last. I've got more than two years on mine, and they look good enough to go two more. I was lucky to get two seasons on a pair of wellies.

  2. One size does not fit all. And some folks may not find any size that fits — or discover they need different sizes of Trekkers to fit different shoes. Trekkers are overshoes, remember? While you can use them as mukluks, most of the time you'll be wearing them over other footwear. Getting just the right size can be a royal pain, too. You'll find the gory details in my original article, but here's the executive summary: Try before you buy. If this is impossible, make sure you can return your Trekkers if they don't fit. Shoes with wide heels are particularly difficult to squeeze in, so err on the side of too large rather than too small when you order.

  3. Trekkers have a big footprint. Think moon boots. You'll have to learn to walk again. And if you kneel in your canoe, you may also find it hard to get your feet out from under the seat. There isn't much room for Trekkers under the decks of some kayaks, either. This is dangerous when you need to leave in a hurry. But there's a simple solution: Don't wear Trekkers in your boat. Problem solved.

  4. They're noisy. People (and wildlife) will hear you coming, especially if you're moving through scrub or brush. Careful footwork will keep the constant swish, swish, swish to a minimum, but it won't eliminate the noise altogether.

  5. Oh, the humidity! Trekkers are waterproof. That means they're also sweatproof. So it gets pretty steamy inside. But it gets steamy inside wellies, too. Thick wool socks are a must, and it's good to bring a change, even on a day trip. Regular airing is also important.

  6. The instep straps loosen as you walk. I double the ends back and hook them under the thoughtfully provided clips, but they still work loose from time to time. To avoid that floppy feeling, stop and snug the straps down every now and then. But don't pull them too tight, because …

  7. A too‑tight cinch will have you hobbling painfully in no time at all, and the pain will take a couple of days to go away. Snug is good. Tight is not.

 

That's it for the Dark Side. Now here's …

My Bottom Line

I miss my old wellies, but NEOS Trekkers do everything my wellies did, and they do most things better. Even if I had the chance to go back, I wouldn't. 'Nuff said?

 

Putting My Best Foot Forward

 

Two years ago I bought a pair of NEOS Trekker overshoes. As a longtime fan of traditional rubber wellies, I wasn't sure I'd like high‑tech fabric boots. But the era of the cheap wellie had ended. And baby definitely needed new shoes. So I took the plunge. Now I'm glad I did. After eight seasons of hard use, my original NEOS Trekkers are still keeping me company, on and off the water. They take a licking and keep on kicking. What more could I ask?

Note: I'm happy to say that L.L. Bean's Wellies have returned to the pages of their catalog, though only in women's and children's sizes. That's a problem. I'm a woman, but my feet don't seem to know this. Moreover, the "new" Wellies are significantly more expensive than their predecessors. And the availability of "fun prints" doesn't sway me, either. Guess I'm just a traitor to my sex.

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