Backpackers of any experience eventually learn not to add something to their pack unless it legitimately contributes to the performance of their gear, comfort on the trail, safety, or personal pleasure. This sentiment has not stopped gear manufacturers from doing their best to market new gear in such a way that it sure feels like it is a must-have product. Whether printed media, blog reviews, or trips to my local gear shop, it's not uncommon for me to stare longingly at a product that claims to be the answer to any problem I may have. In 90% of those cases, my money stays in my pocket.
Case in point is a product called a ZEM Bootie (http://www.zemgear.com/). It is the black shoe in the picture. The manufacturer is trying to take advantage of the lightweight shoe/shoeless market similar to the Vibram Five Fingers. As someone with absolutely terrible feet, going shoeless in most cases just isn't an option. So when it comes to a water crossing, I'd prefer to have a dedicated "water shoe" as going barefoot is just about as undesirable as sloshing around in my hiking shoes while evaluating the true test of drying efficiency.
I thought I'd give the ZEM Booties a shot both to serve as a water shoe and potentially as a lightweight slipper of sorts which I might be able to use in hotels while traveling. Oddly enough, a pair of size 14 slippers fills up a travel bag nearly instantly making bringing any kind of slipper not an option. Well, the ZEM Bootie arrived at my doorstep for a healthy $36.80 in a size XXL which is claimed to fit a size 13-14 foot. It is essentially a neoprene upper sewn directly to a very thin sole similar to the consistency of a flip-flop.
For backpacking and water crossings, the ZEM Bootie was intended to replace a product I've talked about before, my Sprint Aquatics Mesh shoe (www.sprintaquatics.com/prodinfo.asp?number=901). The only reason for the considered replacement was because I felt the ZEM Bootie would last longer and be more comfortable despite a considerable weight difference (54 g vs. 155 g). Both, very light. Truth be told, I actually love my Sprint Aquatics Mesh shoe. For $3.99 and 54 grams, it's really tough to hate that kind of investment. I've used it in several water crossing situations and they've been perfect, well, perfect on the bottom of my feet as otherwise there is no top support to protect from something like rolling rocks.
So will I make the switch? Actually, no. The ZEM Booties are constructed better and will last longer, but aside from comfort, there is no real great gain. The material on the bottom arguably isn't as robust and the fact that the upper is sewn around the sole makes it susceptible to debris and all kinds of abrasion at the seams. The cut of it is a little goofy too with the sole being too thin and the length of the toe box being way too long. I must admit though, overall they are more comfortable than the Sprint Aquatics both due to the materials and the fact that the Spring Aquatics has a very tight elastic cuff around the ankle and barely fits my foot. Being that my regular trail runners are plenty comfortable in camp, I really have no use for a water shoe that is anything more than the absolute minimum I need.
This is a great example of trying to upgrade gear for no real gain and a process of constant evaluation for me.