There has been a lot of interest in Astral's new shoe, with nearly half the stock we ordered heading out within one week of arrival. The Hiyak was designed to replace the 'traditional' kayak bootie made from neoprene. Astral use a range of fabrics in the Hiyak, creating a shoe that is lighter, stronger and dries faster than one made with neoprene. The soles are G.ss rubber, which is Astral's own super sticky rubber.
Here's are some initial thoughts.
While the high top does make it a little more work to get onto your foot, the laces loosen off easily and quickly allowing a hassle-free foot entry. Give the laces a pull tight in a couple of places, pull tight at the top and tie a knot and they are secure. The lace cover is a nice touch. The quilted airmesh fabric gives a nice soft feel. Every foot is different, so the laces allow you to get a firm fit across your foot regardless of foot shape. I was intrigued to see how the soles would compare to both Astral's Brewers and also neoprene booties. Well, it seems like an ideal compromise was reached. They feel much more supportive than a neoprene bootie (I'm referring to a thin to mid soled bootie), but with less thickness than Astral's other shoes (Rassler and Brewer) they fit into smaller kayaks with ease. I chose a size that fitted well barefoot, but I could still fitt drysocks in quite comfortably.
While the Hiyak is not the best choice for longer walk-ins and more challenging portages, it was still comfortable. Stones and surface irregularities don't poke through and make you want to tip-toe. And there is enough stability in the sole that I didn't feel my foot muscles working overtime or getting fatigued. The Rassler has a much more substantial and stiffer mid-sole, so offers more stability again. If you want to carry your boat for any distance or traverse rough and irregular ground, it's worth checking out the Rassler.
In the Kayak
In a creek boat they fitted with ease, so not really a test. But, jump in a smaller playboat and they will fit. A sock styled bootie is more comfortable, but at the expense of support when walking. There was no pressure on my Achilles tendon when sitting in a larger volume boat.
They stuck to wet and dry rock on the river's edge in a similar fashion to my Brewers, so the grip is good. And what surprised me was that they weren't too bad on muddy, slick slopes. Over the years I have had my feet slip out from underneath me plenty of times before when using lightweight neoprene booties. Heading from the track down to the river, the slippery mud under the leaf litter still required respect, but there was no out-of-control sliding happening.
Dealing with the Wet and Cold
It's winter, so I can comment on their performance in the cold. Snow had settled well below the bushline and was 200-300m above where we were paddling. I was wearing a dry suit with socks but I didn't wear an additional pair of socks underneath. I never felt like my feet were cold, although if I was out for a full day, or if the temperature was lower, a pair of woollen socks would be the ticket. I stood in the water 4-5 times during the paddle and at the end the shoes didn't feel a heap heavier. I left them in the living room overnight and they were dry the next day.
The only thing I noticed was an annoying seam on my drysocks that was pushed into my ankle by the shoe's ankle padding. Wearing thin socks under drysocks would solve this, and it's also partly the design of the socks.
I have to say I am impressed. Astral now have a shoe for pretty much every paddler out there. If you are walking or portaging as much as you paddle, the Rassler maybe a better choice. If you want something you can wear off the river too, then the Loyak and the Brewer are more shoe like, while still offering good performance. And all Astral shoes have one thing in common; they are designed for life around the water.