A Review of Shoe Technology for the Jungle – Vibram vs. Contagrip vs. Adidas Kampung Technology

dsc01902I’ve been jungle trekking since 1997. That’s 12 years. I used to be do it for business and pleasure. Now I just do it for pleasure. Twelve years of walking the jungles of Borneo, I can boil it down to three essential take-home lessons:

  1. Keep it simple. You don’t need any high-end gadgets in the jungle. GPS system? Expensive camping bits and pieces? Nothing beats a good team of local trackers and their parangs. They work in all weather conditions too. All the other branded stuff are whistles and bangs and add to the cool factor. When it boils down to it, it’s you and your team.
  2. Relax. Drop the ego and don’t try to be the first, the fastest, the bestest. Enjoy the ride, whatever level of fitness you’re at.
  3. Invest in a pair of good shoes, a pair of good shoes and a pair of good shoes. This may or may not mean a pair of expensive shoes. What are good shoes? What makes them good? Good shoes do three crucial things – they support your ankles, they support your arches and they have good shock absorption. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, which about 30% of Asians and 25% of Americans do (I’m in that 30%), you REALLY need good shoes.

Jungle shoes that work for me are what I want to talk about today. I don’t trek for work anymore because I effectively wrecked my feet and knees bushwalking Borneo 2-3 weeks a month, every month for 5 years, through rivers (some of them raging), up mountains and down cliff-hangers, in shoes that didn’t support me. adidas-kampungAdidas kampungs are a great Malaysian invention. Village kids used to wear them to play football, then jungle trackers started using them to walk the forest because they were cheap, waterproof (100% rubber) and had fantastic grip because of the studded and super flexible soles. Generally, the average 120-pound dripping wet Malaysian with normal feet does very well with them.

I’m not your average 120-pound dripping wet Malaysian with normal feet. First off, I’m not 120 pounds. Second, I have collapsed arches. I didn’t know that at the time. I used to have spare pairs of these shoes stuffed into my backpack and use them up like wood through a chipper. They were so cheap (used to be USD1 per pair, now they’re about USD2.50), I would leave them at the village when I came out of the jungle and buy new ones the next month. They were fantastic for grip. It felt like I had tactile feet, like monkeys and apes. I could almost wrap my feet around roots for grip. But the lack of support was another thing.

dsc01903Much pain, a stint when I had to use crutches, expensive shoe inserts and on-going therapy later, I switched to my first pair of Chaco sandals, Montrail trekkers and Vibram technology. Vibram is an Italian company founded by Vitali Bramani, who invented rubber soles for shoes back in the early 1900s. The name Vibram refers to the type of soles in any brand of shoes. Vibram rubber is known to be harder, tougher than normal rubber soles and is supposedly known for their traction. In fact, back in 1935, the motivation for Vitali Bramani to invent soles for mountaineering was because he saw six of his climbing buddies slip and fall to their deaths because of inadequate footwear.

My take on Vibram: in Chaco sandals, it’s great. It’s tough, shaped to provide arch support and lasts for years. In fact, the straps in my Chacos are gone but the Vibram soles looks hardly used.

In my Montrail trekkers, for rainforest conditions, Vibram is overrated. In wet rainforest conditions, the soles are too hard and amazingly, way too slippery. I’ve lost count of the number of times I slipped whilst crossing a log in my Montrails (but not in my Adidas kampungs or my Salomons, which I’ll come to later). It felt like I was clomping around the jungle in clogs. Better support than Adidas kampungs, but a little too slippery and hard for my tender feet.

dsc01901Enter my pair of Salomon Fury, with a sole technology called Contagrip. I’d never heard of it before when I fingered the Fury at World of Outdoors in KL’s MidValley Shopping Centre. They felt pretty good on my feet though.

I didn’t break them in before I hit the trails in Bako National Park. They served me mighty well that day. About five hours of trekking. The support was there. The traction was definitely there. In fact they felt like Adidas kampungs with cushioning. They were supportive enough to cushion the impact of my extra large frame; and soft enough for my feet to dance across the jungle floor yet not too soft that they didn’t provide support.

A few months later, I trekked across the heart of Borneo island with them. Beautiful. Four hours of walking through shin-deep river and three hours of up and downhill. No problemo. For the first time in years, I felt like my feet could finally catch up with my stamina.

So, a sum-up:

  1. Adidas Kampungs – use them for water sports, etc. Fantastic. If you don’t have feet problems, collapsed arches, high arches, plantar fasciitis, or an overly large frame like mine, go for them. They’re only RM9.90 (~ USD2.50) per pair at Teck Kong or shops like that. In fact, I’m going to get a pair for kayaking purposes.
  2. Montrail, with Vibram – for rainforest conditions, I personally would not recommend them. The support is there, but the comfort – not really.
  3. Salomon Fury, with Contagrip – my favourite at the moment. Love the lacing system, love the look. Most of all, for my poor collapsed arches, love the support and flexibility.

I have a new pair of Montrail Perimeter Control, with Gryptonite soles. I’m in the process of breaking them in right now. They feel promising. More on them after I bring them out for hardcore testing.

What shoes work work for you?

16 Responses to “A Review of Shoe Technology for the Jungle – Vibram vs. Contagrip vs. Adidas Kampung Technology”
  1. Chet says:

    Are the Salomon Fury waterproof? I bring rubber boots with me on my panda volunteer trips and then leave them behind after the trip for anyone with the same size feet to use. But it would be nice to invest in something that I can wear along to the trip instead of lugging along as a second pair. A Canadian volunteer I met there last year brought a pair of Timberland that she said was waterproof. Thanks.

  2. Hi Chet,

    The Salomon Fury comes in a waterproof coating, but because it is lowcut, chances are water will seep through if you’re splashing through puddles or streams. If you want full waterproofing, I recommend full leather highcut boots. Yes, Timberland is one of the brands that are waterproof. They are pricey though. If you are able to, order your boots online. There are plenty of brands out there and often times, they are on offer so you end up paying only a fraction of the original price. My friends did this for their trek through the Swiss Alps. Something like this would be fully waterproof: http://www.onlineshoes.com/mens-hi-tec-v-lite-altitude-ultra-w-ion-mask-black-cool-grey-p_id116879?adtrack=nextag&term=Men%27s+Hi%2DTec+V%2DLite+Altitude+Ultra+w%2F+Ion+Mask%99&offer=

  3. Chet says:

    Ordering online means I can’t try them on for size. There is a Timberland shop in 1 Utama but not sure if the Malaysian franchise carries the full range. Otherwise, it’ll be another pair of rubber boots in the luggage again for my next trip.

  4. Chet says:

    Actually, there’s this one:

    Ideal for Bifengxia which is cold and damp most of the time.

  5. Jerome says:

    Miss Chin,

    Your post sent me scrambling to search through my immaculate shoe cabinet looking for my long lost love, i.e. jungle boots. Nope…next was the store room…15 minutes later, I concluded my long lost love must have found a new home.

    In my short experiment whacking the jungles of Borneo/and some other exotic jungles with mammals that may/can eat you whole, the venerable jungle boots has always been my trusted footwear.

    It started with the green canvas boots obtained/purloined from ATM, and when I had more moolah left over, I bought a pair of supposedly better quality Magnum boots.


    Note-They are called classics now, when I bought them, they were the latest technology in jungle/urban footware…

    Most jungle (or pseudo) boots adopted the panama type soles designed for the jungles of some exotic pacific islands during the second world war and made famous by the vietnam war.

    Tell you what, these so called panama soles offers no traction whatsoever when negotiating log/timber crossings that I lost count of the times I ended up in the drink. I got smart after a few dunking and decided to just take off my boots and use my mk.1 bare feet !

    To answer you question and being long winded as the woman I am, no, I have not found a pair of shoes/boots that works for me in the jungle. Unless going mk.1 bare foot or walking like a duck downhill counts ?

    Currently a pair of AdiZero/Supernova and Shimano R132 works for me….

    Tell you what else may come in handy…in case you lose sight of you Iban tracker after taking a shit..


    Yes, it does tell time too…and if you feel like spending 1/3 of the national car on one of these baby, please do read the small box that says IMPORTANT INFORMATION first.

    Yours faithfully,


    Disclaimer-Spell check and grammar function not in service.

  6. The Wordsmith says:

    Yes, that should do for Bifengxia. Make sure you take a few weeks to break it in. World of Outdoors at the Gardens carry Salomon.

  7. Susan Kingsley says:

    This is the very first time I have written a review, although I have read many. I have loved my Soloman hiking boots since ’94. I am a tenderfoot and these boots won over many that I tried. Never went to Borneo or the top of mountains. Don’t remember what I spent, but it was more than I wanted. I just loved them because they were lined with the softest leather. They have never failed me until today.

    Because of work I haven’t had them off the shelf for the past 2 years. Today I hiked out into the Shell Ridge open space in Walnut Creek, CA. An hr in and out on trails, but wanted to use my camera and take a real afternoon off.

    By the time I was home I was pronating out. I took them off and the section between the boot and the contagrip had disintegrated on half the heel. Contagrip is great, but falling off the boot. Not a happy camper.

    I tried looking for how to resole them….nothing. Soloman website doesn’t have a contact link, although they say they do. Everything else is great, but I think they are headed for the trash.

  8. Jerome, are those fancy footwear flat-foot friendly? 😛

    Susan, thanks for sharing that. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loves Contagrip. Too bad they don’t do re-soling. They really should think about it.

  9. Tang says:

    i am rainforest hash runner, my first pair of trail shoe is ascis , follow by brook casadia 5, kampong adidas and New balance MT100 bought from China, all this trail shoes never give me happy, so i run barefoot, but steep muddy terrains is slippy , now i using Inov8 mudclaw and x talon, this all for fell running, mean you can run steep muddy terrains with confidence http://www.inov-8.com.

  10. The Wordsmith says:

    Tang, thanks for dropping by. Inov8 looks interesting. I’ll drop by the website to have a look.

  11. Rob says:

    I found this web site because I wanted to compare two leading sole technologies: Vibram vs Contagrip. Not for anything special, just an everyday training shoes that will support my foot under most circumstances and terrains, and will last for many years. Just like my current pair of Meindl trainers which I’ve loved for about 6 years and which have done me proud! I had heard that Vibram soles represented the leading grip technology, but having read your take, I think I’ll stick with my beloved Meindl brand of trainers which seem to prefer Contagrip. So thank you for a useful article.

  12. Rob, glad I could be of help. Have fun with your Meindl trainers!

  13. Peter says:

    Hi Cynthia,

    I stumbled upon your site when searching for some information on Contagrip and found that the comparison’s you made with the other soles to be useful. Just wanted to confirm with you, did you have your Saloman stitched for additional protection against the sole coming out of your shoe?

  14. Hi Peter, yes I did. The damp and heat in the tropics are really hard on glues on shoes. So I normally get mine stitched.

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