What do a mountain climber, surfer and a fly fisherman have in common? None of them like to fall, and each has the Patagonia team, led by Yvon Chouinard, designing equipment for them. Recently, I was introduced to the Patagonia River Crampon, the latest wading technology to come from Chouinard’s renowned “tin shed,” and I am pleased to say that they lived up to the expectations created by a Patagonia media blitz, which put a crampon ad on the back cover of almost every recent fishing magazine.
My first order of business was to pose anonymously as a would-be customer, and ask fly shop employees for their take on the new crampons. To my chagrin, many were less than enthused, citing such things as weight and "only for Steelhead rivers" as their basis. Accordingly, none of the employees actually had tried the crampons. Go figure. My next order of business was to go to the source, Patagonia.com, and chat with employees via the company's online chat service. During our conversations, I requested reviews from third-party sources. There were none to be had, but the good folks at Patagonia did direct me to a video featuring the River Crampons and Chouinard. In the video Patagonia does a good job of highlighting its inspiration for the new River Crampons and Aluminum Bar Rock Grip Wading Boot.Not surprisingly, the inspiration came from the rock faces and first ascents where Chouinard made a name for himself before becoming one of the most eco-conscious CEO’s on the planet.
My first impression of the crampons was a slightly negative one; I found them difficult to put on. The buckles are on the outside of the foot/ankle, and it took some gymnastics for me to see what I was doing, buckle the straps and not pull a muscle or contort in way that might betray the seams of my waders. While I am not the model of fitness, I am an active person with decent dexterity, but the crampons were, in my opinion, flawed in this particular design aspect. Buckles on the inside of the ankle may promote some buckle to buckle contact and possible tripping while walking, but I cannot imagine many anglers walking with such a tight gait where this would be a real or constant possibility.
As for traction? These babies are better than rubber, felt, studded rubber and studded felt combined. I have boots with all the aforementioned components and the only thing that comes close is studded felt and even that "technology" is a distant second to the traction that the crampons provide. In fact, I quickly discovered that I had learned to walk, using the rubber, felt, studs, etc., with the expectation of slipping. My brain was hard-wired to slip, compensate accordingly, balance myself, repeat, repeat, repeat — all with the expectation of needing quick adjustments to stay upright. After only 10 minutes of wading over round, pointed, mossy and otherwise greasy river rocks I discovered that my body was more relaxed and the expectation of skating about in order to keep myself upright was quickly fading. Long story short, if Spiderman, with all his “stick to itness” were to design a product with Aquaman, and both were concerned with the safety, enjoyment and dryness (as in not taking a ceremonial, habitual or accidental dunk every other fishing trip) of anglers, they would have designed the river crampons.
As for the concerns about weight from the fly shop employees I quizzed. I have boots from a Five Letter Word manufacturer which are supposedly the industry standard. Those boots are heavier than the Patagonia River Walkers coupled with the crampons. While I did not confirm my assumption with a scale, my feet and the relative ease with which I was able to walk were sufficient enough evidence.
As for the idea that the crampons are best suited for big rivers and super snotty rocks; I couldn't disagree more. All of us have taken a dunk or two regardless of where we fish, and I may still find myself "bathing" while using the crampons, but I have never felt so secure while wading. That sense of security alone is enough for me to give the crampons a five-star rating, but if you couple sense of security with the knowledge that product is well constructed and is also a game-changer in terms of wading safety and river conservation (as in invasive species lurking in felt and other porous materials) you can feel self-assured on every conceivable level. This product is a game-changer in the wading sense of the phrase, but also in the conservation and mental sense as well.
My one thing? They were a bit hard to put on.
Suggested Retail: $199
SNEWS® Rating: 4.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)