If hiking The Narrows at Zion National Park is on your bucket list, you need a good pair of water socks. If The Narrows is not on your bucket list, it should be. And be prepared for the cold water, a long, challenging day, and unparalleled beauty.
There are a number of great canyoneering hikes to seek out, but you’ll need a good pair of water socks and trekking poles (at least one pole per person).
In August of 2016 we hiked The Narrows. The day hike is a nine mile round trip to Big Springs. Nine miles may not sound epic, but considering you will be in water up to your knees most of the time, and up to your waist some of the time, it is far enough, believe me. Any hike past Big Springs is an overnight trip and requires a special permit. Keep in mind that in the event of a flash flood, there is no escape, so check with the park service before beginning your journey. Our hike of The Narrows was delayed by three days due to flash flood threats. The days of rain upriver made for murky water and a total inability to locate stable footing with your eyes. With your feet in the water for most of a day, your need to protect them from the cold water and sharp pebbles. The local outdoor shops offer rental water socks, but I purchased some and have used them for fly fishing in cold streams during the summer months. They’ve paid for themselves a number of times. Water socks are typically neoprene and rise just below the calf.
Fit is important since they have a built in heel. Some have a velcro strap at the top for security, but don’t think it will keep water out. Like a wet suit, the neoprene will get water inside, but will warm it to your body temperature and keep you warm. The socks also help avoid abrasion, to which wet feet are especially susceptible. Being neoprene, water socks are thick. Take into account the thickness when choosing your water shoes. Make sure they are both wide and long enough. Keen and Merrell make terrific water shoes. My Merrells were great and I suffered no foot discomfort on or after the trek. My wife had the same good fortune with her Keens. If you’ve done any wading for fly fishing, or even just waded across a river, you know that challenge of finding footing and fighting the current. These challenges are exacerbated by the lack of visibility afforded by murky water. Trekking poles are a necessity in this endeavor. You will find yourself poking the poles around to check depth and bracing yourself with them as you forge ahead (sometimes very slowly against a strong current). I love my Leki 16/14 Speedlock Vario trekking poles. They breakdown into three section and fold quite small for packing, are rugged, and they have incredibly comfortable handles. A couple of final notes: It’s easy to forget about hydration when you’re in the water all day. Wear a hydration pack or some method of carrying plenty of water, and drink often. Also there are no restrooms in the canyon of course, but be careful when you seek a good spot when nature calls. At one point on our trek I went behind a boulder in search of a good spot and stepped in quicksand. I was up to my knees in less than two seconds and sinking fast. I called out for help, and my wife was able to brace herself and hold out her trekking pole for me to use to pull myself out. There are very real dangers to be aware of. Just another reason I’m glad we had our trekking poles. Get out there, educate yourself, be prepared and have the time of your life!