Astral TR1 Junction Review
Cons: Not the stickiest rubber, not the most durable
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The TR1 Junction is a somewhat oddball shoe among other water shoes we've tested. They are low cut, like kayaking shoes, but feature a relatively high-cushion and deeply lugged outsole. They have great drainage, but also burly rubber rands to reinforce the upper. They aren't exactly specialized towards canyoneering, kayaking, hiking, or anything else. Instead, they combine some of the best features of kayaking shoes, canyoneering boots, and hiking shoes. The Junctions truly buck the notion that a jack-of-all-trades must also be a master of none.
The TR1 Junction features a mostly smooth, synthetic interior with minimal stitching. With a well-designed lacing system and good reinforcement design to allow easy flexion in the forefoot, we liked how our feet felt in these shoes, whether wearing thin socks, 5 mm neoprene socks, or even barefoot.
With 1 mm heel-toe drop and a wide toebox that is characteristic of Astral shoes, these feel like minimalist running shoes in terms of heel drop. The sole is moderately thick and is bonded to an outsole with decently thick tread and multiple layers of padding. The Junction's strike a nearly perfect balance between foot protection and sensitivity with this construction. Walking over and between boulders, we could confidently jam our feet in tight spaces and not worry about stubbing our toes.
Comfort in a water shoe depends a lot on adjustability, as you will likely need to alter your sock layers depending on water temperature. We loved the lacing system on the Junction because it was easy to adjust tightness throughout the midfoot and maintain our adjustments with the somewhat thick laces. For canyoneering, this meant easy adjustments for the approach and descent, making our feet more comfortable overall.
These shoes are designed with drainage in mind, with multiple holes around the perimeter of the shoe and a generously sized mesh panel atop the toebox. We could easily splash through streams in the morning and have bone dry feet just a few hours later.
As an all-around shoe designed for canyoneering, boating, and even hiking, the TR1 Junction's have an outsole that balances traction on soft and hard surfaces. Their tread is relatively aggressive compared to most water shoes, but just isn't as sticky as softer, sticky rubbers. This is one area where we feel the Junctions have the most room for improvement.
On soft surfaces, the deep, aggressive lugs dig in great. We had no problem ascending steep, muddy banks or running down sluffing trails.
On slick, wet rock, the outsoles didn't do quite as well as the stickiest water shoes we tested. This is an acceptable compromise given the performance of these shoes on a variety of surfaces, but we found ourselves wishing more than once (especially during sketchy downclimbs in wet canyons) that we were wearing stickier shoes. For 90% of the time, these soles will do just fine, but if you need uncompromising traction on wet rock, they might not be the best for you.
For well-drained shoes, warmth is entirely dependent on adjustability. The TR1 Junction checks all the boxes we look for in terms of enabling layering within the shoe.
The lacing extends down to about the ball of the foot and is entirely separated from the tongue. This enables a lot of adjustability in the midfoot. In combination with the already spacious toebox and removable insole, we had no problem stuffing these shoes with insulation for cold days on the water.
Like any mesh shoe, these will allow running water to pass through the shoe quickly, which kept us from giving them higher marks for warmth. If you find yourself frequently boating or canyoneering in the winter, you might want something with less drainage and more warmth, but we think these shoes allow for enough insulation for most activities.
These shoes are kings of versatility. We would happily reach for these shoes for canyoneering, hiking, running, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, cragging, and hanging out around town. That's an impressively long list for a single pair of shoes.
With how lightweight they are, they're an easy shoe to justify bringing on trips. On the water, they have an ideal combination of drainage to manage moisture and temperature on hotter days along with a huge range of adjustability to enable insulation for warmth on cold days. On land, they support and protect your feet while providing excellent ground feel.
While we like to have very specialized shoes for certain activities, it can be really nice to have a single shoe that can do it all without letting you down. From short days to long epics, these provide the support and comfort needed to keep feet happy in a vast range of conditions.
The Junction strikes a nice middle ground between highly flexible and thin-soled booties and burlier canyoneering boots. We were initially dubious that we'd like such a compromise, but it ended up winning us over.
The flexible sole is paired with moderately stiff but relatively thick cushioning. These don't feel like a maximalist shoe by any means. Instead, they felt more like a traditional running shoe, with a slight bounce but plenty of stiffness to prevent ankle rolling when walking over cobbles.
We found that it was still easy to feel the undulations of rocks surfaces and wrap our feet slightly around logs. While some may prefer stiff boots for canyoneering or creek walking, we loved this moderate support for the balance it provided between proprioception and foot protection.
As with most clearly high-performing shoes we tested, we really tried to beat the crap out of these things. After all, all the performance in the world doesn't mean much if your shoe will fall apart after a few uses.
After a day of canyoneering, we only managed to fray and break the laces on these shoes, and that was after probably over 100 ft of sliding down abrasive granite (i.e., scraping the sides of the shoes down the rock descending waterfalls). The brass eyelets wore down a bit, but the Cordura took it like a champ.
While these are marketed as a canyoneering shoe, our experience in canyons tells us that they'd probably crap out after a solid season of use in abrasive canyons. Even after a couple of months of use, we managed to tear some of the stitching, and after a full season of hard use, we've punctured holes in the mesh as well. If you are comfortable with shoe repair, these would be easy to glue and keep from totally falling apart for a little while, but don't expect them to hold up like burlier canyoneering boots.
While these shoes aren't the most durable, they are backed by an outstanding warranty. Our test pair developed a loose lug on the outsole (indicating glue failure), and after a brief call to Astral, we had a new pair headed our way in the mail. We were extremely impressed by how well Astral stood behind their shoes and superb workmanship.
While these are on the higher end of the cost spectrum for the water shoes we tested, they provide a lot of performance and versatility for their cost. Booties and low-cut kayaking shoes are generally cheaper, but nowhere near as versatile. Canyoneering boots, while extremely high performing, are only really useful around water. These shoes combine some of the best aspects of many types of water shoes and offer them at a reasonable price.
The Astral TR1 Junction is a cross between a canyoneering shoe, a hiking shoe, and a kayaking shoe. With excellent design and comfort, they provide a stable and protective ride over rough terrain while still maintaining the sensitivity we value in water shoes. While they aren't the stickiest out there, they are good enough for most activities and have the construction and materials to last in tough environments. Whether you are looking for a dedicated wet hiking shoe or a shoe to just have fun around water with, these will not let you down.
— Dan Scott