Astral Hiyak Review
Cons: Laces are a bit too short, sheds dye from inner, not as warm as other booties
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Astral's take on a bootie is a neat crossover between super-flexible, neoprene booties and more durable, burly kayaking shoes. As such, it provides a good balance of foot protection, sensitivity, and comfort. We only found it lacking in terms of warmth - most neoprene booties are super warm, and the Hiyak lets water gush through with excellent drainage. Other than that, it's a nice middle-ground between sensitivity and foot protection.
The Hiyak uses a thin, nobby insole and a slightly cushioned canvas upper to keep your foot comfortable. Its thin sole doesn't offer much in the way of support, but it's plenty thick and strong to keep rocks from jabbing your feet. We liked the cushioned interior with both bare and socked feet.
While the Hiyak is more adjustable than neoprene booties, we found the laces to be slightly too short. We had to tie overhands in them to keep them from falling back through the lace holes, and with our thickest socks, we could just barely get these tied securely. That's hardly a big deal, but just keep in mind that you might want to purchase longer laces for these if you have high-volume feet.
Like other booties, we wouldn't recommend these for days with lots of walking, unless you're accustomed to walking in minimalist, barefoot-like shoes. That said, for being in a boat or wading, they offer good protection without being too bulky.
In terms of drainage, the Hiyak easily sheds water through holes in the front and rear of the shoe. Even without mesh uppers, they dry and drain exceptionally quickly.
Astral gave the Hiyak their stickiest G.ss rubber, and we were super excited to put it head-to-head against other water shoes to see how well it really stuck. Turns out, Astral can make some crazy sticky rubber. These are among the stickiest shoes we've tested on wet, slick rock and logs. This caliber of sticky rubber gives you confidence in wet environments that is absolutely invaluable when you're trying to traverse gnarly terrain.
Like many other Astral shoes, the tread pattern on the Hiyak is consistent over the entire shoe, and they use razor shipping to enhance grip. We aren't convinced that siping really does much, but we like the large surface area this outsole provides - it sticks well to rocks but also sheds mud easily.
We normally expect a kayaking bootie to be warm - most neoprene booties don't even require extra insulation on cold days. While Astral calls this shoe their take on a bootie, it just doesn't measure up in terms of insulation.
Astral advertises this shoe as avoiding the environmentally harmful neoprene found in most other booties. However, many neoprene booties these days are made of limestone-derived (as opposed to petroleum-derived) neoprene, and this shoe still uses what we assume is petroleum-derived nylon for its upper. Our testers wished for at least a thin neoprene inner-sock to provide a little warmth.
We didn't have too much trouble stuffing insulation into the Hiyak, but it certainly wasn't as easy as other shoes we tested. The slightly-too-short laces made it a little tricky to get these tight around a stuffed drysuit sock, and we found that the fit was then just a little tighter than we normally prefer. We also found that the red dye on the inner lining bled a little and stained our socks - not a big deal, but sort of a bummer.
The Hiyak is a kayaking-oriented shoe. That said, we found it worked well for wading and boulder hopping as well. Any shoe with enough comfort and good ground-feel is versatile enough to serve you well in a variety of wet environments.
That said, given its high-top and low level of support, we wouldn't recommend the Hiyak as a do-it-all shoe for hiking or other land-focused activities, and it lacks the support and burly protection we usually like to see in a canyoneering shoe.
Like other minimalist Astral offerings, the Hiyak has an extremely thin, zero-drop, flexible sole. You can feel every pebble and root as you walk around, which gives you excellent proprioception, especially in murky water. Combined with its high traction, this enables very confident wading.
In the water, we didn't find the high-top to impede our ankle range of motion much, but this shoe isn't as swimming-oriented as more flexible, neoprene booties. It also lacked the protection we usually like to have when jamming our feet in between boulders. We had to tread a little carefully over rocky terrain to avoid squishing our feet.
This is where the Hiyak really shines compared to other booties. With double and triple stitching, a glued and stitched outsole, and a full-surround layer of thick canvas to protect the upper near where it contacts the outsole, we felt confident abusing these shoes during our test period. They showed very little wear, and we're confident that they will last a long time for most activities.
Unlike many other water shoes, the Hiyak has no mesh on its upper, which is often the weakest part of a shoe. It also has inset laces and a velcro lace cover, which keeps lace eyelets from rubbing against the rock and can really extend the life of a shoe.
Compared to other kayaking booties, the Hiyak is a bit spendy. For the price, you sacrifice the typical warmth of a neoprene bootie, but in return get a more versatile, extremely sticky, and durable shoe. We feel that's a reasonable tradeoff. Given how long they are likely to last, the Hiyak is a good investment.
If you're looking for a kayaking or wading shoe with excellent traction and great ground-feel, look no further. While they aren't as warm as we'd like for a bootie, the Astral Hiyak offers exceptional ease of use and comfort in a sleek, durable package.
— Dan Scott