During winter and early spring months in Southern California, there’s a common refrain: “I hate booties.” Nevermind that it’s one of the few regions in the continental United States where one can be privileged enough to hold such an opinion. Surfers from Central California to the Pacific Northwest and most of the East Coast don’t have that luxury. All the same, there’s merit to arguments made by those who refuse to allow neoprene to envelop their tootsies when water temps drop into the mid-to-low 50s. Namely, sacrificing board feel and the strange sensation of a poorly-constructed bootie sole folding beneath one’s back foot mid bottom turn. Now, numb feet, I’d argue, are a greater sacrifice to board feel, but I digress.
The main problem, truly, is that many bootie nay-sayers are accustomed to older, inferior iterations – when every pair of booties on the market let in water and felt like you were surfing in soggy socks. Today’s booties are far superior, rugged, better fitting, and totally indispensable. We recently tested three pairs and submit to you that it’s hard to go wrong these days. It really just depends what features you’re looking for and how many shekels you’re willing to throw down.
Some quick housekeeping: all booties were tested a half size down from the author’s street shoe size unless otherwise noted, and all are 3mm. Anyway, without further ado, here’s a quick and dirty list of some of the more high-performing booties on the market.
1. The Cadillac – Solite’s 3mm Custom LTD ($74.95)
Solite is one of the more recent purveyors of neoprene footwear, and with a tagline like “game-changing boots,” it’s clear they aim to totally disrupt the bootie game. Solite’s claim to fame is the introduction of heat molding to create a custom fit. A look at the product and you’ll see the bottom half of every boot is heat moldable thermo foam with a neoprene upper plus a boatload of different features depending on the specific model. In addition to the boot, Solite sent us polyester nylon socks that made the fit extra snug and made getting them on and off much easier.
I tested these bad boys a full size and a half down from my normal shoe size and without exaggerating I can say that Solite has flipped the script. One of the only cons is the Custom LTD’s bottom half is yellow – aka “yum yum yellow.” But, there are plenty of options in Solite’s range if you’re into a more subtle look.
Bar none, these are the booties for people that hate booties.
2. The Eco Option – Patagonia’s R3 Yulex Split Toe ($85.00)
Patagonia’s long been using its proprietary Yulex to change the wetsuit game for the better, and that goes for booties too. The R3 Yulex Split toe is 85 percent Yulex natural rubber and fair trade certified – no pair of booties on the market is that friendly to the environment or the people making them.
Under the hood, this boot’s got some serious features. Including a z-strap with super sturdy webbing, arch support, and incredible fit (I wear an 11.5 shoe and wore these in 11). The internal split toe also does a great job of allowing for more mobility in your big piggie without sacrificing warmth. No noticeable sacrifice in board feel, no “folding,” and all-around a very solid option with minimal environmental impact.
3. The True Blue Workhorse – Quiksilver’s 3mm Highline Plus Split Toe ($59.95)
Quiksilver has been at this whole wetsuit thing for decades and their expertise and understanding of materials shines through in their latest bootie offering, the Highline Plus Split Toe. Welded seams and a Hydrolock Seal keep water out. The back ankle pull loop makes for easy on and off, and again no folding. What I will say is I tested these guys in size 11 and found the fit a little big. Personally, I would recommend going a full size or more down from your street shoe.
After this test, a few features (that all these boots share) have quickly become musts. First and foremost, a back heel loop is essential for easy on and off. If you hate booties, then you probably hate the struggle of putting them on, too. If you’re looking to buy, don’t shoot yourself in the foot (ha!). Make sure there’s a heel loop. Second is a split toe for board control. Both the Solite and Patagonia booties have an internal split toe design while the Quik boots’ toes are truly split, with a small bit of rubber conjoining the separate parts. Again, if you hate boots. I recommend giving one of these pair a whirl. You won’t be sorry.