Hi this is Philip- president of Astral.
Great conversation here and I wanted to comment.
We got into making shoes because we understand the clear need. I'd bet that nobody in the world cares more about making the best shoes for kayakers and core river people than Astral. All the others before have moved on to mass markets and lost their commitment to this community. Meanwhile- here we are today. We get to use modern technologies, fabrics, and knowledge to craft a new generation of river shoes that are stickier, lighter, dry faster, less stinky and more durable than anything ever before. We pursue those goals like our lives depend on it, because it does. Astral is committed to making the best shoes ever.
I moved to Vietnam and work tirelessly to insure that every batch of shoes made is better than the last. Yes- we had early issues with delaminating soles in 7% of our production. Yes, we had some uppers that broke away from midsoles (4% of production) . YES! All these issues have now been resolved.
I heard somebody say "Start by stitching the outsole directly to the upper"! That's exactly what we have done in the new Loyak and Hiyak models, and I am confident that they will set a new standard for longevity of river shoes.
Somebody else commented that a key element of a good river shoe is that it can dry out and not just get funky wet and die in a week. We completely agree- and you'll find that our shoes dry out faster than any you've worn before. It's because we don't use water absorbing materials like Neoprene (booties), open cell foam (most shoes use a lot- for comfort, and PU footbeds (standard material for "river sandals").
Another comment raised a concern that Astral would lose focus on a core competency of PFDs, specfically rescus PFDS. NO EFFING WAY. EVER. NEVER EVER EVER. The reason is that highest level PFDs are a chief component of our DNA and it can not be supressed. 90% of the people involved with Astral are, or once were, Class V kayakers. Keeping OUR PEOPLE/OUR COMMUNITY safe, relaxed and effective in extreme wilderness is a founding principal of our business. Making the best PFDs is primary to how we maintain that.
I used to do all the PFD design. At the same time, I also had to run the business, so PFD design and development was not at all full-time. 3 years ago, I hired a designer to focus on nothing other than PFDS, full time, all year. I work very closely with him, practically side by side. The important thing to note is that now in fact ATRAL HAS MORE FOCUS ON PFDS THAN AT ANY TIME IN IT'S LIFETIME.
I love PFDs. They are an intimate, personal item to rely on to keep me warm and safe when crazy shit's going down. With my PFD I can help my friends if they get in trouble, and it keeps me alive when I swim (which is a lot).
I love shoes. Always have. Slept with my first pair of Nikes when I was 7. I stopped wearing shoes in college cause they were all too heavy and weird looking. My passion for shoes combined with my passion for high performance in nature combined to pave the way for Astral footwear.
PFDS and Shoes. This is what we do, it's all we do. Nobody is going to do it better for this community, i promise.
Note: I am looking for active product Testers in Size 9 (US mens) and Size 7 (US wns.) . Please send me a message if you know how to critically evaluate products.