Fishing, kayaking, boating, and… hiking? Water shoes – protective, active, water footwear – are no longer the unsightly and impractical beasts that they once were. They’ve evolved into a form of utilitarian footwear, a combination of sneakers and sandals. Their popularity has soared, but with a plethora of options comes confusion. In this guide, we’ll help you avoid the confusion, walking you through exactly what a water shoe is, how to approach buying one, and the best water shoes for fishing, boating, and, yes, hiking.
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- 1 Benefits and Drawbacks of Water Shoes
- 2 How to Choose The Right Shoe For You
- 3 Our Reviews: The Best Water Shoes 2016
- 3.1 I. Top 8 Water Shoes for Men
- 3.1.1 1. Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve
- 3.1.2 2. Adidas Outdoor Unisex Climacool Boat Lace
- 3.1.3 3. Speedo Men’s Hydro Comfort 4.0
- 3.1.4 4. Columbia Men’s Bahama Vent PFG Slip-On Boat
- 3.1.5 5. Under Armour Men’s UA Kilchis
- 3.1.6 6. Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip On
- 3.1.7 7. Mohem Men’s Poseidon Mesh Walking Shoes
- 3.1.8 8. Crocs Men’s Swiftwater Sandal
- 3.2 II. Top 5 Water Shoes for Women
- 3.1 I. Top 8 Water Shoes for Men
- 4 The Verdict
- 5 Best Water Shoe for Hiking
- 6 Best Water Shoe for Fishing, Kayaking and Canoeing
- 7 Conclusion
Benefits and Drawbacks of Water Shoes
- Foot protection. We’re not talking about flip flops here. Slides have their place, too – the local pool or, say, a public shower – but water shoes are generally designed for more active pursuits. Ever walked on a sharp, rocky lake bed or floated through turbulent whitewater after falling out of your boat? Water shoes protect your feet from the spikes, bumps, and abrasions of the unfriendly underwater world, all while keeping the rocks and sediment out.
- Manufacturers, in search of a “one shoe to rule them all” type of thing, have blurred the line between water sports and land sports. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them amphibious shoes rather than water shoes, because they’re good on land, on water, and in the air (you know, when you prop up your feet to lie back and take a nap). Depending on the model, they’re equally at home on an overnight river trip, on a rainy walk through the city, or on a sailboat destined for the sunset.
- Excellent traction. Because water shoes are obviously meant to be used in water, companies recognize the high possibility of slippery footing and the importance of a grippy sole. In all the situations listed above, above-average traction will give you an advantage.
But… many, if not all, of these traits can be found in normal hiking shoes. What can water shoes do that regular shoes don’t? Hint: Squish, squish, squish…
- Quick drying. The purpose of water shoes is not to keep your feet dry. You can accomplish dry feet in a number of ways – sealed rubber boots, Gore-Tex socks, staying at home – but water shoes are a less expensive, more durable, and infinitely more fun option. Your feet get wet, so what? The important thing is that they don’t stay Water shoes shine in this regard.
- Ever smelled your feet after they’ve been sloshing around in a hiking boot all day? ‘Nuff said.
- Wait, isn’t that a benefit? Because water shoes are uniquely able to do the job in so many different situations, they’re not the best for specific situations. All of these shoes have great breathability, but on hot days when you don’t need the full-foot protection of a shoe, open sandals will be more breathable and, most likely, more comfortable. For cold weather when you know your feet will be wet, your water shoes won’t provide much insulation. And while water shoes can be decent on land, they won’t provide the protection or support you would want on a long, multi-day hike.
- Another pair of shoes. With an extra pair of shoes comes an added expense and another piece of gear to pack and clean.
How to Choose The Right Shoe For You
There are many factors that make a quality water shoe. Lesser quality shoes may have imperfect or irregular stitching and a flimsy feel. You may also feel rough edges on the inside, as cheaper manufacturers cut corners by leaving out pads to cushion hot spots.
More important than getting the highest quality shoe is getting the right shoe for you and your activities. See below for what to prioritize in a shoe for kayaking, fishing, and hiking.
Kayaking: For whitewater kayaking, you’ll want a shoe that stays on in any situation and will provide the protection and traction you need for standing in rocky rivers. For flatwater kayaking or vacation fun, a comfortable, quick-drying shoe will do the trick.
Fishing: If you will be sitting in a boat or standing on shore, your water shoes don’t need to have fancy, technical properties; wear what’s comfortable. Standing in a boat? Prioritize traction. Better shoes will utilize tackier rubber on aggressive soles – our reviews below tell you which shoes lack a tacky sole. Wading in a rocky river? Look for traction and foot protection, including a lacing system that won’t let the shoe slip off. A shoe with ample support, something you can tell from the rigidity and height of the upper, is also a good idea.
Hiking: Water shoes are a great choice for short hikes due to their quick drying properties and breathability. Look for a shoe that has a rugged sole and plenty of protection. If the shoe utilizes elastic in the heel, make sure it won’t stretch too loosely, or it won’t keep your foot in position on steep uphills. Regular laces, rather than an elastic pull tab or a slip-on shoe with no lacing, will provide support while on irregular terrain. Keep in mind that wet feet will be more prone to blisters, so a shoe that breathes well and fits your feet right off the bat, without needing to break it in, can save you hours of pain later.
Our Reviews: The Best Water Shoes 2016
I. Top 8 Water Shoes for Men
1. Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve
Pros: Merrell, primarily a hiking shoe company, has a reputation for building quality products. The All Out Blaze Sieve, a “water-shedding hiker,” is a protective hiking shoe in the toe morphing to a water sandal in the heel. The elastic heel, an initial concern of ours, is supported with inelastic fabric that kept our heels rock-solid on any terrain. In fact, this shoe is so comfortable that we found ourselves reaching for it even when there were no rivers to be crossed. The Vibram sole, an industry benchmark for quality, will last for years.
Cons: The large holes in the side, while also a pro for breathability, allow pebbles and sediment to enter, meaning you might be cleaning out the shoe frequently. Merrell’s typically narrow construction might make the fit uncomfortable for some, and the simplified elastic laces can make it tough to fit the shoe appropriately to your foot. While we had no issues with durability, we have heard of problems with infrequent defective stitching.
Best for: The open heel may not provide enough protection for whitewater kayaking or wading in rivers, but this shoe is versatile enough to handle just about anything else.
2. Adidas Outdoor Unisex Climacool Boat Lace
Pros: Wire-mesh holes in the soles drain water quickly without letting debris and rocks in. Tacky soles grip rough boat decks with ease, and the full lacing system means you’ll get a snug fit every time. Choose your color scheme and go.
Cons: Drainage holes in the sole allow things that aren’t water, like sand and pebbles, to enter… right under your feet, where you’ll definitely step on them. A flat sole and low-cut, boat shoe design mean that this shoe is not made for hiking, and the lacing system, while also a pro, can make the shoe harder to take on and off than slip-on models, especially when wet.
Best for: The basically flat sole won’t cut it on a hike, but full protection and tie laces make this shoe ideal for wading in rivers and adventurous kayaking. They’re also comfortable and stylish enough for going out on the town afterwards.
3. Speedo Men’s Hydro Comfort 4.0
Pros: Full-foot mesh protection lets water in without the annoying debris and pebbles, and full lacing, like a tennis shoe, provides a snug fit. The aggressive design gives protection and stability while providing a thick heel cushion for comfort.
Cons: Among the problems we noticed were long drying times, meaning possible smells and mold, and, from the cheap materials used, dismal durability. The sole was also surprisingly slippery in wet conditions, where it should be best. We expected better from Speedo.
Best for: The tennis-shoe style means this shoe will stay on during more adventurous pursuits, but the slippery sole and long drying times means it might struggle while hiking. Best for casual boating and fishing.
4. Columbia Men’s Bahama Vent PFG Slip-On Boat
Pros: Columbia takes casual to a whole new level with the Bahama Vent PFG shoe. The slip-on design makes the shoe easy to take on and off, and we couldn’t believe how comfortable they felt while walking around. Did we mention they look good? There are plenty of color options to choose from, just in case Surplus Green/Laser Lemon isn’t your style.
Cons: Because of the lack of customizability without laces, if your foot doesn’t fit, you’re out of luck. Elastic also wears out over time. Lack of mesh and air vents around the foot means lack of breathability.
Best for: Don’t get anywhere near whitewater in these; the slip-on design means they’ll also slip off. This shoe is best used for flatwater kayaking or sit-down fishing. The fabric uppers won’t support any sort of hiking.
5. Under Armour Men’s UA Kilchis
Pros: The Kilchis is super light and super comfortable due to a cushioned footbed. Full laces make the fit adjustable to your foot, and the knobby sole grips well. It comes in numerous color schemes.
Cons: Cheap, flimsy materials make the Kilchis less durable than many of its competitors. Under Armour is not typically known as a shoe company, and that’s for a reason. This shoe is the least popular of those on this list.
Best for: The elastic on the top of the foot, as well as the stretchy laces, might make this shoe a bit too loose for hiking. It’s got everything else covered.
6. Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip On
Pros: Simple, lightweight, slip-on styling and a large cushion underfoot make this shoe comfortable and casual while still maintaining an aggressive, active profile. The full-foot mesh protection keeps pebbles out while the stylish sole drains well and don’t retain sand.
Cons: Durability is a major issue, with definite corners having been cut on the stitching. The shoe literally falls apart. Even when it’s new, the rough material is anything but comfortable, especially when wet.
Best for: This flimsy slip-on won’t cut it for any sort of walking on irregular surfaces, but its cushioned comfort and decent style make it a candidate for casual fishing and boating.
7. Mohem Men’s Poseidon Mesh Walking Shoes
Pros: The Mohem Poseidon is a stylish knockoff of Sperry’s Topsider – the classic boat shoe – made out of lightweight, quick-drying material. A cushioned footbed adds comfort. The sole is incredibly grippy.
Cons: Durability is an issue. Flimsy materials and poor construction don’t provide any support.
Best for: This shoe represents style over comfort, ending up with a shoe that looks decent – pretty good, even – but isn’t practical for its supposed purpose, walking. The short laces, low-profile design, and flat sole make it impractical for hiking, but it does the job for light water activities, including flatwater kayaking and fishing from a boat.
8. Crocs Men’s Swiftwater Sandal
Pros: Mesh uppers and a burly toe box protect your feet more than normal Crocs, and a Velcro tab customizes the fit to your foot so that they stay on.
Large holes in the side drain water quickly, and the soft Croslite foam sole, known by Crocs owners everywhere, won’t absorb water and stay wet. They also last forever.
Cons: Just because the soles don’t absorb water doesn’t mean the uppers won’t. The mesh, while thin, suffers from long drying times. The holes in the side let pebbles in with the water.
Best for: Long drying times and a lack of support make this shoe impractical for hiking, but legendary Crocs comfort and full-foot protection makes it shine in everything else, including all types of kayaking and fishing.
II. Top 5 Water Shoes for Women
1. RYKA Women’s Hydro Sport
Pros: The aggressive design with an adjustable lacing system provides support while thick foam – with mesh-covered holes in the bottom to drain water and keep everything else out – provides comfort. Best of all, Ryka researches and designs products specifically for women and the needs of women’s feet, and it shows in the extreme comfort of this shoe.
Cons: We found fault with the traction (not enough), laces (too easily untied), and durability (cheap materials). The sizing is all over the place; some said the shoes ran large while others said they ran small. On hot days, the full-foot protection, meaning compromised breathability, may be uncomfortable.
Best for: This shoe, “Ryka’s answer to women’s fitness needs,” is designed to look, feel, protect, and support like a normal sneaker, making it a quick-drying solution for hiking, kayaking, and fishing.
2. KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal
Pros: We loved this shoe’s comfort, the protective toe box, the lack of odor, the rugged sole and the lightweight, waterproof design. Pro tip: they float, so if you drop one in the river, you won’t have to get SCUBA certified to recover it. Did we mention that they come in tons of colors? This is by far the most popular shoe we’ve reviewed.
Cons: Sizing with KEENs is sometimes a gamble because of the arch being in slightly the wrong place, improper sizing, or the holes allowing the pinky toe to rub. And while KEEN is a large company, the straps on this model and others have been known to separate with just a few months of use.
Best for: The breathable design, solid fit, and rugged sole make this shoe great for light hiking, and all-day comfort makes it ideal for almost anything else. For fly fishing, whitewater kayaking, or other activities that require walking on rocks, the holey uppers may not offer enough protection.
3. Merrell Women’s All Out Blaze Sieve
Pros: Merrell has beefed up the elastic strap in the back so your foot stays put. Large holes in the side and rear breathe well while a full toe box protects your feet. The Vibram sole will last forever.
Cons: To say it lightly, these aren’t the best-looking shoes out there. The holes in the side, while maintaining breathability, also allow in rocks and pebbles. Sizing is inconsistent, even compared to other Merrell models.
Best for: The open heel may not provide enough protection for whitewater kayaking or wading in rivers, but this shoe is comfortable and versatile enough to handle just about anything else.
4. Aleader Women’s Quick Drying Aqua
Pros: Solid mesh construction keeps sediment out, and full lacing makes the fit adjustable to your foot. The sole is cushioned, and surprisingly grippy, and the upper dries quickly.
Cons: Aleader left out padding on the inside to protect from rough edges that can dig into and rub your feet. Ouch. This isn’t the most comfortable shoe out there, nor is it so durable.
Best for: As with the men’s version, this flimsy slip-on doesn’t have the support for hiking, but it’ll do the job for casual fishing and boating.
5. Speedo Women’s Hydro Comfort 4.0
Pros: Speedo knows water, and they didn’t cut corners on this shoe’s materials or construction. Narrow-windowed mesh keeps out everything but water while allowing a decent amount of breathability. Drainage channels on the sides of the sole help keep sand and rocks out while draining water effectively.
Cons: They run small; order a half or full size larger than normal (they only come in whole number sizes). The thin sole lacks arch support. The narrow-windowed mesh is thicker and has more material than cheaper, wider mesh, meaning it takes slightly longer to dry.
Best for: This tennis-style shoe will stay on during more adventurous pursuits, and moderate support makes it a good choice for kayaking, fishing, and light hiking.
Best Water Shoe for Hiking
Men: Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve
Women: KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal
While other shoes provide slightly more protection in the heel than our winners, we think breathability while hiking, especially while hiking with wet feet, is of the utmost importance to avoid blisters. Both of the shoes above will still provide the support and protection your feet need for short, wet hikes, all while helping them dry. For durability, choose Merrell’s Women’s All Out Blaze Sieve over the KEEN. For style and comfort, go with KEEN.
Best Water Shoe for Fishing, Kayaking and Canoeing
Men: Crocs Men’s Swiftwater Sandal
Women: KEEN Women’s Whisper Sandal
Yup, the KEEN Whisper wins again. For men, the Swiftwater Sandal offers the versatility you need for just about anything – all while under the ever-comfortable Crocs name. Your pampered feet will thank you while you’re waiting for the big one to bite, and they’ll thank you even more after it does. Traction is also a benefit of both of these options, meaning you won’t slip off the boat, and in case you do, ample protection and support will keep your feet safe.
Hopefully we’ve helped you avoid some of the confusion of figuring out which water shoe, of the many options, is the right one for you. Our winners’ style, comfort, and practicality make them the perfect complement to sneakers and sandals, shoes that will be sure to keep your feet – and you – taken care of through the wettest of adventures. Happy splashing!