Thursday, February 26, 2009

First Look: Harken's HydroFlux Shoe

At beginning of every sailing season, I invest in two things:
- A new pair of sailing gloves (multiple investments over a season)
- A new pair of sailing shoes

I do this because at the end of the previous sailing season, the aforementioned items are so heinous and mangled that I have to burn them. The burning is actually a lengthy process that requires state, local and federal permits, a barge 40 miles offshore and a team of CDC scientists investigating my latest homegrown biological weapon. Heck, the only reason that I ruin my gas mileage by keeping the roof racks on my car is to have a place to air everything out on the ride home.

But as the beginning of the 2009 season approaches like a freight train, with only 49 days until I head down to my beloved South Carolina for Charleston Race Week, girls in sundresses and a little southern hospitality, I've started looking for my newest pair of sailing shoes.

One of the first new sailing shoes that we've seen is from Harken -- the HydroFlux
. They're a lightweight step forward for Harken's sailing shoes, going to an infinitely more breathable design.

The HydroFlux isn't all that much lighter in overall weight than its older brothers; about a 5% - 10% savings from the Vortex. Most of that weight is in the sole though, which doesn't affect the performance of the shoe to keep your feet cool and dry.

Where the weight has been cut is above the sole - the HydroFlux features a REALLY lightweight monofilament liner under a mesh outer layer. It's sheer (you can see toes, fingers, etc. quite clearly), so make sure you've had that pedicure before going without socks. You can feel even a slight breeze through many parts of the shoe, which is quite desirable here in Annapolis where the wind has been known to shut off while you bake in the sun. There's a clear toe protector on the front of the shoe that isn't rock hard, but will provide protection and lead to less cursing when you kick a block.

A nice touch is the drains in the sole of the shoe. Drains aren't anything new in shoes -- they've been around for awhile. These are a different though, as they're one-way drains... water goes out, but it won't come in. So if you step in a puddle or have waves hitting the bottom of your shoes while hiking, you won't end up with a water hose into your feet. Arguably, your feet are probably going to get wet anyways, since the material of the shoe isn't going to slow water down -- but getting more water out in every direction always helps.

The look of the Women's HydroFlux shoe is nice -- feedback from the two girls that still actually talk to me was that they were pretty mainstream and they'd definitely consider buying them based on looks alone.

The two men's HydroFlux versions are a contrast -- both are a little "shiny", but the Carbon is pretty straightforward in the end. The Spindrift (brown and red) is a little more daring. With the exception of Helly Hansen, marine shoes tend not to take many color risks since the marine market is kind of conservative. Should be interesting to see how this color sells.

For me though, my biggest consideration is where the rubber meets the road... or in this case, where the Radial Traction Zones made of a special rubber compound meet the wet non-skid. First impressions of the sole are good; nice grip with plenty of siping channels cut into the bottom. The included sole insert is cushy for comfort and antimicrobial for stank.

If I were to find fault anywhere, it's the lacing system that uses "fasten quick" slider to cinch down the laces. By the time you get the laces drawn down tight, there's a lot of excess lace hanging out -- they have a "lace protector" or garage, but I was able to shake them out a bit. It's kind of a minor detail though, because if I could easily just replace the laces with traditional ones or cut the existing and ditch the slider if I found the need.

Overall, I like the HydroFlux. It's a nice, functional shoe that looks to be crazy breathable with a good sole. Definitely gets good marks from me and it's an earlier contender to become the toxic waste dump for my feet this year.

Note: you can see the pink highlighter inside the shoe clear as day... I wasn't kidding about how lightweight these shoes are up top.


  1. I have had these for a year. They are excellent shoes in dry weather. The middle of the sole has enough of an indent to perfectly balance the foot on the leeward bench corner.

    The trouble with these shoes are the holes in the bottom. They are two way. It is very frustrating to walk on a wet dock and have my feet get wet from stepping in puddles. Letting water in through the soles is a deal breaker and now I must find shoes as good as these without holes.

  2. Hi Tom, I'm going to hand your message over to our product manager to see what he has to say about it. Hang tight for a rec on a different pair that will suit your needs better...(I think the drainage hole technology has improved in the last year or two....)

  3. While you say that you are willing to spend the rather high price for a new pair of sailing shoes every season I was hoping to get a few years out of my shoes. The problem is the soles have dried out. What can I do about this?

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    3. Unfortunately over time the rubber of some sailing shoe soles will start to get harder. How long it takes varies on use. Taking care to only wear your shoes on the boat and not on shore & rinsing w/ fresh water after every use can go a long way to helping them keep their stickiness. That said, one of the tricks we’ve used to get our shoes back into shape when the rubber gets hard is to scuff them up on a real aggressive concrete sidewalk. If that doesn’t work for you please give us a call at 800-729-9767 and we might be able to offer more suggestions. Thanks very much for your comment.

  4. I've had 2 pair of these shoes 1 replaced under warranty after 2yrs,
    and both times the soles have delaminated,
    harken says they have no documentation of this happening to other folks, somehow i find that hard to believe, we live in the Caribbean, apparently these shoes are not made for the tropics and hot weather sailing ! ! !

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