An Expert Guide to the Best Water Shoes

Published on 07/03/2023 · 11 min readDive into aquatic adventures with confidence! Our Expert guide highlights the best water shoes for comfort, protection, and style. Let the fun begin!
Alex Dolan, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Alex Dolan

Photo by You Production

Tl;dr: Each footwear style has advantages and disadvantages that make them ideal for more specific activities, while others are great for any adventure that includes water. Regarding water activities, having the right footwear can make all the difference. Whether heading to the beach, embarking on a kayaking adventure, or exploring rocky riverbeds, water shoes provide the necessary comfort, grip, and protection.

Introduction

As a professional river guide, surfer, divemaster, and avid waterman, I have gone through many water shoes over the past decade. As a Camping & Hiking Expert, it can be painful to see someone whitewater rafting in flip flops or out on a wet hike with soaked hiking boots, so it brings me great joy to have the opportunity to share my knowledge of water shoes with all of our amazing customers at Curated! Let’s dive in and discover the perfect pair to suit your aquatic endeavors.

What Is a Water Shoe?

Photo by Da Antipina

A water shoe is a type of footwear specifically designed for water-related activities. These shoes are made to provide protection, comfort, and traction in wet environments. Unlike traditional shoes, water shoes are constructed with materials that dry quickly and resist water absorption. They typically have drainage holes or neoprene uppers to allow water to flow out easily, preventing waterlogged shoes. Everyday sneakers aren't the best water shoes, but they are a great alternative if you have nothing else. However, much better options will offer superior grip, performance, and comfort in and around the water.

What to Consider When Buying Water Shoes

1. What Kind of Activity Will I Be Doing?

Assessing the proper footwear based on its intended use is important. Use common sense when determining what level of protection, warmth, and breathability you will want for any given activity.

2. What Will the Temperatures Be Like?

Considering the temperatures you will encounter in your footwear is important for regulating your temperature and keeping you comfortable while adventuring. The water temperature can vary a lot from the air temperature and is also worth careful consideration.

3. What Is My Ideal Price Range?

Consider your budget when deciding on a water shoe. Depending on the activity and the level of performance a person wants, a pair of water shoes can cost anywhere from $30-$400.

Key Benefits of Water Shoes

Photo by Flystock

“Water shoe” is a pretty loose term that can describe any footwear intended to be used during water-related activities. These might include (but are not limited to) beach walks, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and river trekking. They offer several advantages over walking barefoot or wearing regular shoes in aquatic environments.

Benefits of water shoes:

  • Protection: In wet and murky environments, a protective barrier between your feet and dangerous surfaces like rocks, shells, coral, dangerous aquatic life (such as sea urchins or rockfish), or sharp objects is essential. They help prevent cuts, abrasions, and punctures, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Traction and Grip: Traction on wet and slippery surfaces is important in wet environments. Many options feature specially designed soles that enhance grip, allowing you to walk confidently on wet rocks, sandy beaches, or boat decks.
  • Quick Drying: The materials used are usually selected for their ability to dry quickly. They are often made of breathable mesh, synthetic fabrics, or neoprene, which allow water to escape and air to circulate, expediting the drying process and preventing odor-causing bacteria from forming.
  • Versatility: Water shoes can be versatile footwear options used in and out of the water. Many models offer water-friendly features and stylish designs, allowing them to transition seamlessly from water activities to casual outings.

Overall, water shoes are an important piece of gear for anyone who likes adventure in wet environments. They offer protection, comfort, and traction, enabling you to enjoy aquatic adventures while keeping your feet safe and comfortable.

Different Types of Water Shoes

There are tons of options available to suit various activities and preferences. Next, we’ll explore some different categories of water shoes:

Open-Toe Water Shoes

Photo by Amy Boissonneault

Open-toe water shoes, also known as water sandals, provide breathability and allow water to drain quickly. The comfort and breathability make them great for beach walks and casual water adventures. If you want something that can keep up with a faster pace, look for something with adjustable straps or bungee cord lacing systems for a secure fit.

Keep in mind that they provide less toe protection compared to closed-toe options. If you plan on hiking or boating in an open-toe water shoe or sandal, it is best to find one with a heel strap that will remain on your foot during a steep hike or if you decide to go for a swim. This style offers a ton of protection on the bottom of your feet, making the transition from a swimming hole to a hiking trail easily.

Benefits:

  • Simple to get on and off
  • Quick drying
  • Easy for sand and debris to escape

Be Aware:

  • No toe protection
  • Not ideal for cold conditions

Closed-Toe Water Shoes

Photo by IZF

Closed-toe water shoes are designed to offer maximum protection for your toes, so you can explore more rugged terrain and be protected from potentially hazardous objects in the water. A toe cap, usually made of rubber or reinforced materials, shields your toes from impacts or stubbing while hiking through rocky riverbeds, canyoneering, or any water activity that involves navigating challenging environments.

Benefits:

  • Covers and protects toes
  • Versatile for hiking and swimming
  • Quick drying

Be Aware:

  • Collects rocks and debris that can get trapped by the toe cover
  • Less ventilation than in an open-toe shoe

Neoprene Booties

Side creek adventure tubing. Photo by Amy Boissonneault

Neoprene booties are a specialized type of water shoe commonly used in activities, such as surfing, paddleboarding, and diving. These booties are made from neoprene material, which provides insulation, warmth, and protection. Neoprene booties are available in various thicknesses to suit different water temperatures. They typically have a snug fit to prevent water from entering and offer excellent grip on surfboards or paddleboard decks.

Snorkelers and divers also prefer neoprene booties as they provide additional thermal protection in colder waters. Neoprene booties typically have a thinner sole than most water shoes, which makes them less ideal for hiking or more rugged adventures. Benefits:

  • Neoprene stays warm in cold water
  • Low profile
  • Inexpensive

Be Aware:

  • Thin soles offer less protection
  • Neoprene can get hot in warm conditions

Canyoneering Boots

Photo by Yansi Keim

Canyoneering boots are heavy-duty water shoes specifically designed for navigating canyons: places where someone will likely be hiking, climbing, rappelling, and traversing wet and rugged terrains. They are engineered to handle demanding canyoneering adventures.

These boots offer superior durability, ankle support, and protection against sharp rocks, debris, and water obstacles. It's the best option to provide good grip, full coverage, support, and warmth.

The boots are made from sturdy materials and have high-traction soles that grip wet and slippery surfaces. However, keep in mind that canyoneering boots are not typically worn in other water activities due to their engineered design and features. Benefits:

  • Durable
  • Superior ankle support
  • Typically feature a neoprene liner that stays warm in cold water

Be Aware:

  • Less breathable with a longer drying time
  • Longer to get on and off
  • Expensive

When selecting water shoes, it's important to consider the intended activity and environmental conditions. Open-toe and closed-toe shoes cater to different levels of toe protection, while neoprene booties and canyoneering boots are designed for specific water-related activities that require specialized features. By choosing the right category of water shoe, you can ensure optimal comfort, protection, and performance during your aquatic pursuits.

Features to Look Out for When Buying Water Shoes

Waterfall explorations. Photo by Alex Dolan

When purchasing water shoes, there are several important features to consider. These features not only determine the comfort and functionality of the shoes but also indicate their overall quality. Here's what buyers should want when buying water shoes and the features that signify a high-quality product:

Water-Friendly Materials

Look for water shoes made from quick-drying and water-resistant materials. Common options include breathable mesh, synthetic fabrics, neoprene, and hydrophobic coatings. These materials allow water to drain quickly, prevent water retention, and help keep your feet dry and comfortable throughout your water activities.

Grip and Traction

A high-quality water shoe should have a reliable outsole with excellent traction and grip on wet and slippery surfaces. Look for shoes with rubber outsoles featuring specialized patterns, lugs, or multidirectional treads. Such designs enhance traction, reducing the risk of slips and falls.

Toe Protection

Depending on the intended use, toe protection may be essential. Closed-toe water shoes or those with reinforced toe caps provide added protection against rocks, debris, or accidental impacts. If you anticipate encountering rugged terrains or potential hazards in the water, opt for shoes that offer adequate toe protection.

Comfort

Comfort is crucial when choosing water shoes. Look for cushioned insoles, arch support, and ergonomic designs. A well-padded collar and tongue can enhance overall comfort, while adjustable straps, laces, or bungee cord systems allow for a secure and customizable fit.

Breathability and Ventilation

Water shoes should promote proper airflow to prevent moisture buildup and reduce the risk of odors. Shoes with breathable mesh uppers or strategically placed ventilation panels allow air to circulate, keeping your feet cool and dry.

Drainage System

An effective drainage system is important for water shoes. Look for shoes with drainage holes or channels that allow water to escape quickly. This feature prevents the shoes from becoming waterlogged, enhances comfort, and reduces drying time.

Durability

Choose water shoes made from durable materials that can withstand the rigors of water activities. Reinforced stitching, sturdy construction, and abrasion-resistant overlays indicate a high-quality, long-lasting product.

Features to Avoid or That Signify Low Quality

Poor Traction

Water shoes with insufficient or subpar outsole traction may compromise your safety in wet environments. Avoid shoes with thin, slippery, or non-grippy outsoles, which may increase the risk of slips and falls.

Limited Drainage

Water shoes that lack proper drainage systems may retain water, leading to discomfort and prolonged drying times. Avoid shoes with inadequate drainage holes or designs that impede water flow.

Low-Quality Materials

Cheap or flimsy materials can affect the durability and performance of water shoes. Avoid shoes made from low-quality materials that may tear, stretch excessively, or deteriorate quickly.

Lack of Support

Water shoes without adequate support, such as cushioning or arch support, may result in discomfort or foot fatigue during extended use. Look for shoes that provide sufficient support for your intended activities.

Inadequate Sizing and Fit

Ill-fitting water shoes can cause blisters, chafing, or instability. Ensure you choose the correct size and consider shoes with adjustable features for a secure and comfortable fit.

How to Choose the Right Water Shoes for You

SCUBA footwear. Photo by Amy Boissonneault

Here are a few watery scenarios that we can look at and help determine what kinds of options would be best in terms of footwear:

Velma

Velma has been canyoneering a handful of times in her home state of Utah. She has been wearing an old pair of sneakers but would like to get something with more protection and warmth for the upcoming season.

Features Velma should look for:

  • A canyoneering-specific shoe
  • Ankle support
  • Neoprene liner

Water shoe examples:

Fred

Fred is going on a trip to Hawaii, where he plans to surf and snorkel. He is looking for something low profile that will fit in his SCUBA fins but also something he can wear while surfing to protect him from the shallow reef.

Features Fred should look for:

  • Neoprene liner
  • Low profile

Water shoe examples:

Danny

Danny is going whitewater rafting. He is looking for something that will protect his toes but also drain and dry quickly. He would like something that he can also wear on wet hikes in the summer or around town.

Features Danny should look for:

  • Closed toe
  • Heel strap
  • Quick dry

Water shoe examples:

Find the Right Pair of Water Shoes for You

Investing in a quality pair of water shoes will enhance your aquatic adventures and ensure your feet stay safe and comfortable throughout. So, go ahead and dive into the world of water shoes, ready to explore and conquer the wonders of the water with confidence! If you need help picking out the right water shoes for you, chat with me or one of my fellow Camping & Hiking Experts here on Curated. We can help you find the best pair for you!

Where is your next aquatic adventure taking you? I’d love to hear about it!

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