A pair of good small stream wet wading shoes is something many anglers spend a lot of time researching. How do I know this? The most visited post at Tenkara Angler (by a wide margin) was our dive into wet wading shoes back in June of 2020.
Personally, it’s something I spend a lot of time on as well. There’s nothing worse than having a pair of ill-fitting shoes, no matter how many other boxes they may check. While finding the perfect small stream wet wading shoe to be elusive, some recent time on the water with the Astral Rassler 2.0 has really opened my eyes.
Astral has a bit of a cult following, particularly down in the Southeast (they are a company that has its roots in North Carolina). Astral produces life jackets for watersports, as well trail and water shoes, and is known to have particularly sticky rubber on the latter. As a matter of fact, the aforementioned Rassler isn’t even a fishing shoe, it’s more a general “river shoe.” That designation has not stopped anglers from using several of the different Astral models (including the Hiyak and Brewer) as their primary small stream wet wading shoes, and if you ever see a post on social media about the subject, you’ll likely notice several passionate comments singing their praises.
So, being a bit unhappy with the narrow fit of my prior choice in wet wading shoes, I snagged a pair of Astral Rassler 2.0s when they came back into stock recently. I sized up only slightly, (a half size) based on the suggestions of those online.
What Do I Like About the Astral Rassler 2.0?
The three main things I think most look for in good small stream wet wading shoes are comfort, grip, and light weight. The reason why I’ve enjoyed the Rassler so far is because it performs very well in each of those categories.
Starting with comfort, upon receipt and first trial I was happy to find a pair of shoes that have a standard fit and slightly wide toe box. Too many of the wet wading shoes I’ve used have either been too tight laterally in the midfoot, or tended to pinch my toes together toward the forefoot. Sizing up a half size, I’m able to still use my 0.5mm NRS neoprene socks as a liner for cushion & warmth and found it to be a wonderful combination. I don’t think I’d be able to wear the Rassler with the thicker neoprene booties of my stockingfoot waders, but that was never my intention.
On to grip, the GSS super sticky rubber on the bottom of the Rassler 2.0 has performed amazingly on the notoriously slippery rocks of the southern Appalachians. I’m not sure I’ve lost my footing yet during my outings, and I’m pretty aggressive moving from rock to rock. I’m guessing the relatively flat soles help in this, creating more surface area contact with the rocks than a lug sole.
It was encouraging to see how the combination of the sticky rubber’s grip and the “feel” derived from the relative thinness of the sole allowed me to move along the stream in confidence. For those that have ever used the Five Ten Water Tennies, I think you’ll find the Astral Rassler compares favorably in the feel department.
Finally, the Rassler is a very lightweight shoe, with a canvas and nylon upper and liner. They weigh pretty much nothing while dry, and seem to do a good job of draining water while on the move through both the holes in the upper and ports in the sole. There is no retained water sloshing around once exiting the stream making for a comfortable hop from spot to spot or eventual hike out. I also found they dry to the touch a day or so after use.
What Could Be Improved?
The Rassler 2.0 is very comfortable and grippy, so it’s tough to ask for more. However, there are perhaps two things Astral could consider if they wanted to make this a “lights out” winner in the small stream wet wading shoe wars.
The first would be either be higher ankle coverage, or perhaps a built-in neoprene cuff at the top of the shoe (see the Orvis Pro Approach as an example). While the Rassler does cover your ankles as sort of a mid-cut shoe, it tapers down as it moves back toward your Achilles tendon. I didn’t have much gravel enter my shoe over my days of fishing, but enough did make it in to at least notice its presence from time to time. I would think this addition might help keep those fine particles out of the shoe, assuming the point of entry was the top. (The Rasser has circular drainage holes at the midfoot that could very well have been the point of entry instead.)
The second thing I’d look at is a slightly more reinforced toe cap. One’s toes can take a beating banging up against underwater rocks and debris. The fabric toe cap intentionally has a bit of rigidity, but really doesn’t provide much protection from a stubbed toe. A simple outer covering of rubber (think like a Converse Chuck Taylor) would probably help out here without adding too much bulk.
Perhaps long term durability. While I gave them what I felt was a fairly solid workout, I only have about 5 extended days on the water in my Rasslers. To this point, they still look really good. Almost like new. However wading, particularly in high gradient mountain streams, can do a number on your footwear. I’m curious to see how long it might take for the rubber sole or the glue that holds the sole to the upper to begin to wear out or come undone. Since they’re made of a canvas-like material they could also develop rips, tears, or fabric rash. So far so good, but it doesn’t mean it will stay that way.
What honestly started out with a bit of skepticism ended up in a new-to-me wading shoe that I think will become my primary option for the Spring to Fall seasons in the Southeast. (I’ll still continue to wear more traditional wading boots in the winter, or perhaps when traveling to colder areas of the country).
The Astral Rassler 2.0 really delivers on its promise of superior grip, which is probably the most important thing you could ask of a wet wading shoe. This, when combined with its comfort, support, and (low) weight characteristics, it’s difficult to nitpick this shoe once you’ve spent a day on the water with it. Is the Rassler perfect? Certainly not, but if you’re like me and you’ve struggled in the past with finding a wet wading shoe that does a good job of balancing fit and function, I think the Astral Rassler 2.0 is worthy of your consideration.
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