Astral Loyak Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: High traction, flexible, snug fit, great drainage, stylish
Cons: Not warm, not durable
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Loyak is a minimalist, low-cut kayaking shoe. They feature a thin sole, thin upper, and a tongue design that snugs them comfortably against the midfoot. Their siped rubber soles stick well on slick, wet rock. That traction, combined with the thin soles' excellent proprioception gives them a great feel in and out of the water.
The Loyak has a small but stretchy opening at the ankle and no real tongue. Instead, a sock-like cuff wraps around your foot as you slip it into the shoe. The footbed is foam but has a bumpy top that somehow lets your foot slip into the shoe easily. Once weighted, it keeps your foot in place.
The interior is mostly mesh and feels fine on bare feet with minimal stitching. With a thin sole and minimal heel-toe drop, you notice the undulations of the ground surface as you walk. For long walks over river cobbles, we found that our feet had to work more than in more traditional, stiffer shoes.
The Loyak favors a more flexible ride in exchange for foot protection. We had no problem portaging over big boulders or wading through shallows, but we had to be more aware of where we placed our feet to avoid injury, at least compared to burlier shoes.
The upper materials and drainage ports on the front, back, and sides of the shoes make them excellent for transitioning in and out of water. With a snug fit, they let out water quickly and manage moisture well. After a day of boating, we liked that these were comfortable to wear barefoot right after getting off the water - a great quality in a shoe for hanging around camp on a raft trip.
Our lead tester has a few friends that wear this shoe kayaking and has had to chase down their shoes multiple times after whitewater swims. These shoes definitely work for whitewater, but be sure to tighten them down and double-knot them - with such a low ankle cuff, they slip off easier than other water shoes, and it's a huge bummer to get off the river with only one shoe.
The Loyak's were among the stickiest water shoes we tested. They feature a siped G15 rubber outsole that is more than capable of carrying a boat across slick, wet rocks or walking over cobbles in murky shallows.
The relatively flat, non-aggressive lugs reminded us of approach shoes, which favor surface area over deep lugs that can maintain traction on soft surfaces. Like approach shoes, the Loyak sticks well to wet rocks and logs, but suffer slightly in muddy conditions.
On soft surfaces, we noticed no significant loss of traction on firm dirt or duff but started slipping more than we'd like on mud. The widely spaced lugs do clear easily, though, once they reach water, so it's easy to get the dirt off and restore traction on hard surfaces.
The Loyak is made mostly of mesh and hydrophobic canvas, with lots of drainage and minimal insulation. They rely on being adjustable to allow for adding insulation in the form of thick socks. While the lack of a tongue inhibits adjustability slightly, we didn't find that we had problems stuffing our feet in these shoes even with thick socks.
The removable foam insole is relatively thick compared to many shoes and opens the shoe up quite a bit if you want maximum space for insulation. Our lead tester stuffed his feet in these shoes wearing thick wool socks under his drysuit socks in addition to a thin polyester sock over his drysuit sock, maintaining warmth on a frigid fall morning paddle. The wide toebox characteristic of Astral shoes helps keep toes from feeling squished when packing in lots of insulation.
The Loyak is marketed as a casual shoe that has serious whitewater chops. We totally agree with that. They are considerably more stylish and comfortable on land than booties and perform nearly as well in whitewater (provided you can insulate well enough on cold days).
During testing, we wore the Loyak hiking, walking along steep mountain streams, boating, and around town. We would definitely not recommend for them for canyoneering, but they'd do in a pinch as long as you took care not to tear them apart.
Weighing in at just over a pound for a size 13 and packing down nearly dead flat, these shoes are easy to take with you. We'd absolutely not hesitate to take them traveling as a primary boating shoe or even as a backup that also works great on hikes and around town. They also slip on easily, making them a stellar camp shoe.
We don't rate shoes on style, but using the Loyaks for months both on and off the water has convinced us that it might be worth calling out these shoes as being notable for their looks. Our testers frequently get compliments about these shoes, and their good looks make them especially versatile. For the price, you get not only a great water shoe, but a shoe that fits in at the bar and even at work.
The thin, neutral soles of the Loyak's are nearly as sensitive as some of the neoprene booties we tested. They provide excellent proprioception, which enables good balance and awareness of the terrain. The super-low profile of these shoes also made them excellent for swimming and wading, as they have low drag in the water and allow feet to flex easily.
The flexible sole and siping allows you to glom a lot of rubber on rock and logs when walking, which is nice for getting more traction on such surfaces.
These shoes are remarkably light and flexible. They feel similar to minimalist, barefoot-styled running shoes, especially with their relatively flat lugs. The bumpy insole makes feeling the ground a little strange in bare feet, as the bumps almost dig into your feet. However, we got used to this pretty quickly during testing and appreciated that our feet didn't slide around inside these shoes.
While we loved wearing these, they are by no means a burly, durable shoe. Early on in testing, our lead tester snagged a toe on an exposed root that easily punctured the mesh on the top of the shoe. While this was somewhat of a fluke, it highlights that mesh is not at all resistant to abrasion or puncture.
That said, the Loyak is very well constructed, with stitched and glued soles, clean lines, and noticeably high-quality craft. The rubber outsole wraps around the entire shoe, providing somewhat of a bumper to guard against punctures or abrasion.
While these probably wouldn't last more than a day or two canyoneering in super abrasive slots, they just aren't designed for ultra-abrasive environments. In a kayak, packraft, or raft, they will hold up fine. With excellent drainage, they are resistant to moisture damage, and the snug fit does well at keeping out sand and debris that can abrade a shoe from the inside.
The Loyak gets high value marks because it not only performs superbly in whitewater but also works well for wet hikes and hanging around town. While booties can be slightly warmer and stickier, they don't have the on-land performance and foot protection (at least the bottom of the feet) of the Loyak. For considerably less than the highest performing water shoes, you can get a well-made, comfortable, and high-traction shoe for boating or just hanging around wet places.
The Astral Loyak blew us away with how much performance we could squeeze out of such a tiny shoe. With super-grippy outsoles, a comfortable interior, and a snug fit, they keep feet happy on land, in a boat, and even outside a boat (accidentally or not). They offer good versatility and performance in a minimalist and stylish package for a very reasonable price, handily earning a Top Pick Award.
— Dan Scott