What are Water Shoes?
You might be accustomed to shoes that you can partially submerge, but there are shoes specifically made to function well in water, with traits like thermal protection, high traction, and efficient water drainage. If you enjoy activities like kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, sailing, or most any other activity where you’ll find yourself surrounded by water, having the right pair of shoes makes a world of difference, and tremendously improves the output you get from these activities.
What to look for when buying water shoes?
This question is a bit of a tricky one to grapple with because the best water shoes are the ones that meet your specific needs. There are a whole host of water shoes that perform specialized tasks or have specific features built-in for a certain set of situations.
For example, there are great hiking-related water shoes that have a lot of traction to them, typically via lugs, since when you’re hiking in watery terrain, there is a very high chance you could slip. These shoes will have the traction you need, but when it comes to drainage, these shoes will be lacking, as they’re meant for passing through streams and rivers, not being completely submerged.
On the other hand, water shoes meant for scuba diving or boating will probably have decent traction, but not to the same degree as a hiking water shoe, and instead focusing more on quick drainage. These are the kinds of shoes that you’d expect to get submerged, and when you come out of the water, should have drained quickly while still on your feet.
So when it comes to what to look out for when purchasing the best pair of water shoes for you, think about the attributes you want it to have based on the activities you’ll be testing them out on. With the technical attributes being more or less activity-specific, there are a few overarching qualities that should also be taken into consideration regardless of design:
Ideally, you’d want to get a water shoe that is snug and wraps around your foot nicely. It shouldn’t feel loose or have any give. This is because when they get wet, they also unavoidably have a little give to them. This means that when they are wet, they’ll still be fixed well to your foot, as to not slide off or slip when you’re doing various water activities. If your shoes are loose, to begin with, getting it into the water will cause drag and result in them coming off and sinking to the bottom.
Equally important is the fact that with a snug shoe, you’ll reduce any chances of chafing. As for narrow or wide sizes, most water shoe manufacturers carry expected sizes and many will also have slimmer or wider fits to ensure you experience none of the above. If you have particularly wide or narrow feet, definitely look into a shoe that caters to your foot shape.
Nobody likes to be bogged down by a heavy shoe, especially in water, but you must also consider toughness and durability when picking the right footwear. This shoe should be able to take a beating more than just once without falling apart. While a supremely light shoe would be more convenient, it isn’t always the best option in practice. Fortunately, all the shoes on our list find that delicate balance depending on the type of user you are.
- Overall Comfort
Remember that these are shoes you’ll be wearing on and off the water, so you need a shoe that feels good even when dry. If you are particularly picky about this, consider shoes with ample heel and collar padding to make the dry-land experience a lot smoother.
Having said that, here’s our list of the 10 best water shoes for your next watersport activity. In our list, we will try to be as comprehensive as possible in providing you the widest variety of water shoes, meant for all sorts of water activities from hiking to aerobics.
1. ALEADER Quick Drying Aqua Water Shoes (Aerobics)
First up we have the Quick Drying Aqua water shoes by ALEADER. These shoes are great for water aerobics, as the more intense or longer workouts/drills may need added foot grip for increased agility or speed. Instead of using your uncovered feet, which will take a beating after a while, these light and maneuverable shoes will do the job just fine.
The upper is constructed out of a lightweight mesh. Being durable and airy, it has no issues letting your foot breathe. The midsole is a Solyte model that is known to be very lightweight, have great bounce-back and durability. There is also a ComforDry sockliner that helps add a touch of cushioning and helps keep your foot cooler and drier out of the water.
The main attraction is, of course, the Water Grip rubber outsole that provides you with great traction in wet and slippery terrain. If you plan to be completely submerged in a less rigorous environment, these are a great pick. Perhaps best used for light swimming or aerobics.
The issue with these shoes is that they aren’t quite meant for those aforementioned rigorous terrains, and are best suited for controlled environments. Rocks and pebbles tend to get stuck in the holes of the sole and they tend to run a half size smaller.
They are quick-drying as the mesh is perforated, but not to the degree you will need for hardcore activities, as those types of shoes have larger holes to drain water in an instant. Remember that if you’re looking for an outdoor water shoe, these aren’t designed with that in mind.
+ Great for light water sports like aerobics or swimming
+ Solid midsole with bounceback, comfort, and durability
+ Easily maintained air mesh upper that is breathable
+ Sockliner keeps you cooled out-of-water
+ High traction Water Grip outsole
– Not meant for harsher environments
– Runs half size smaller
2. Speedo Surfwalker 3.0 Water Shoes (Surfing)
Next up are the Surfwalker 3.0 Water Shoes developed by Speedo. As the name implies, these shoes are heavily geared towards surfing and similar activities. You may also find a use for them in general at the beach or in pools.
They feature a full neoprene upper that is lightweight and breathable, and it does not absorb water as other water shoes tend to do. The Surfwalkers are water-permeable even when completely submerged, with a patented drainage system that prevents them from becoming heavy in water by quickly expelling fluid.
The Speedo Surfwaker 3.0 is quite stretchy and allows for pull-on entry and a secure snug fit, so you can be ready to go surfing at a moment’s notice. The S-Trac outsole implemented by Speedo is incredibly sticky and gives you a no-slip grip – easily one of the best features of this shoe. If you’re on a board of any sort out in the water, expect the SurfWalker 3.0 to keep you clinging to it with ease.
As for the drawbacks, the S-Trac soles are definitely very grippy, but they are also fairly soft and thin, meaning they aren’t ideal for rough terrain such as hiking or going upstream. For this reason, we don’t recommend doing hard water activities with this shoe, but more likely surfboarding, wakeboarding, hanging by the beach, or swimming.
On top of their thinness not lending them to the harsh terrain, it also means they will inevitably be worn out faster than other options. This is slightly offset by their cheaper price, but not ideal for those of you who want a pair of water shoes to last a very long time.
+ Great drainage system
+ Lightweight and sock-like feel
+ Very grippy outsole, ideal for swimming and boarding
+ Water-permeable design
– Outsole is not meant for rough terrain
– Outsole also wears out fast due to being on the thinner side
3. Merrell All-Out Blaze Aero Sport (Hiking)
Now we have the All-Out Blaze line’s Aero Sport hiking shoe, made by Merrell, a trusted shoe manufacturer that is known for making sturdy outdoor footwear. These shoes are made with the sole purpose of hiking in mind, and it shows thanks to its tougher looking upper and outsole design choices. It has a completely mesh upper that is very breathable and perforated in key areas, as well as an Omni-Fit lace-up design to keep these shoes well-fitting on your foot.
The mesh is lined with an odor-preventing M-Select FRESH technology, so you won’t have to worry about unwanted smells after a long hike. The midsole Merrell put into this shoe is the UniFly model – a well-cushioned and protective midsole that can keep you on the trail for hours without feeling worn out. The outsole is a TC4+ Vibram compound, with a 5mm lug-depth, meaning it can grip onto precarious terrain or at unusual angles fairly easily, and whether you’re on water or mud during your hike, you won’t feel off-balance or insecure in your steps.
The only serious issue with these shoes is the fact that they are explicitly designed to be used on watery hikes, so if you find yourself on very sandy trails as opposed to rocky and watery ones, you will be better off getting a different model with a finer mesh. The mesh here is not meant for certain terrains, as it will let in a lot of excess fine debris, like sand and silt, because it is designed with water drainage in mind. Apart from that, these are a solid pick for avid hikers.
+ Breathable mesh upper
+ Omni-Fit lace-up keeps your foot locked in
+ Mesh lined with odor preventive technology
+ Comfortable midsole and heavy-duty 5mm lugged Vibram outsole to keep you gripped
– Not meant for sandy trails, but more for rocky and watery ones
4. Neo-Sport Premium Neoprene Wetsuit Boots (Multi-Purpose)
Now we have a multi-purpose boot design by Neo-Sport, the Premium Neoprene Wetsuit boots. As you can likely tell from their design, they are meant first and foremost to keep water out. They consist of a fully synthetic Neoprene upper with various thickness options depending on the water you intend to wade: 3mm (warm water), 5mm (moderate water), and 7mm (cold water).
The Wetsuit boots have a durable glued and sewn construction, and a heavy-duty zipper that eases the boots off and on your feet. There is also a Water Entry Barrier (WEB) behind the zipper to further avoid any leakage or water entering your shoe. The outsole is a durable rubber sole with decent traction and also puncture-proof, which is something invaluable, provided you need that level of protection.
Overall, while they do serve a variety of uses, most of those uses are heavy-duty like scuba diving or even sailing, as opposed to lighter activities like swimming or aerobics. If you don’t plan on doing some of the more adventurous activities that may require zero water entry or puncture-resistant soles, you wouldn’t really be taking full advantage of these shoes and would be better off with a different model.
+ Durable and comfortable protection for your entire foot
+ Avoids water entering your shoe via zipper and WEB technology
+ Comes in various thickness depending on water temperature
+ Puncture-proof soles
+ Great thermal protection
– Overkill for a variety of less extreme activities or sports
5. Crocs Swiftwater Mesh Water Shoes (Boating)
Next up are the Swiftwater Mesh Water Shoes by Crocs. Ironically, despite the flak they get for their odd designs, Crocs are a titan of the water shoe industry. They typically are tough, lightweight, and quick to dry, and the Crocs Swiftwater continues that tradition. These shoes are great as a general jack-of-all-trades water shoe and you can’t really go wrong with them.
It has a completely synthetic upper, with a Croslite foam sole construction that won’t absorb any water, meaning you’ll be comfortable and water-free simultaneously. There is also the iconic wrap-around toe bumper to give you added protection from the elements, and it is priced at a very reasonable number. These qualities make it pretty tough to beat if you’re just looking for a generalist shoe that drains water quickly and keeps you comfortable out on a leisurely walk down the beach.
With that said, the Swiftwater isn’t the perfect water shoe. These shoes are great for leisurely or less stressful activities without a doubt, but for more demanding activities like going into rocky terrain for hikes, these aren’t the best choice. The reason for this being is that the outsole of this shoe isn’t as tough as it should be for that type of terrain so it could result in rock bruising.
Also, there’s the fact that the straps may get caught, and the drainage holes leave a lot of space for debris to make their way in and irritate your feet. If you plan on doing more intense activities, you’ll need a shoe that can give you more protection and durability. But for all other intents and purposes, the Crocs Swiftwater is one of the most versatile water shoes.
+ Very affordable and versatile water shoes
+ Croslite foam sole is very comfortable
+ Features a toe bumper for a bit of extra protection
+ Easily drained thanks to holes across the shoe
– Not ideal for demanding terrain, as it isn’t protective or durable enough
6. QuickSilver Amphibian Plus Athletic (Leisure)
Now we have a water shoe by QuickSilver aptly named – Amphibian Plus. This shoe is fairly distinct compared to every other option on this list, simply because it looks a lot like regular sneakers than it does as traditional water shoes. These shoes are ideal for those of you who are a lot more casual in your water activities and find yourself going from the pool bar to open water more than going on hiking trails or diving.
The Amphibian Plus is a low-top water shoe with cinch laces and a one-piece mesh upper, along with a Lava XL anti-odour lining to keep your feet sweat and odor-free. The insole is a Hydrobound cushioned design that is both comfortable and quick-drying so you won’t experience that sticky, squishy sensation of an insole that has absorbed too much water.
The shoe will quickly drain out, and interestingly enough, the drainage ports are located in the outsole, meaning every step you take will be expelling any absorbed water out from underneath your shoes. On top of this, the outsole is boat-friendly and features custom Michelin compounds that increase traction on slippery surfaces, so you don’t have to concern yourself with slipping.
As interesting and unique as the Amphibian Plus is, it can’t be overstated that this stylish shoe is meant for leisurely activities more than demanding water sports, where shoe designs are geared a lot more towards specific functions rather than form. If you need a shoe that meets the demands of high-intensity activities, these aren’t it. These are more casual shoes that are capable of being submerged at a moment’s notice, from the bar to the beach for example.
+ Great hybrid shoe meant for casual wear
+ Comfortable and breathable mesh upper
+ Anti-odor lining keeps you sweat-free
+ Outsole features Michelin pods and drain ports
– Not meant for demanding activities
7. Columbia Drainmaker III Water Shoe (Multi-Purpose)
Up next is a multi-purpose low-top water shoe – the DrainMaker III by Columbia. Similar to our previous model, this is a hybrid-style shoe that also looks like a regular hiking runner, but can still excel in water activities. These shoes are more qualified, though, as they are a lot more hard-working, and can cope with various terrain from rocky terrain to open water.
It features an open synthetic mesh upper, with no lace-ups, just a slip-on design that is ready to go whenever you are. Internally, there is a TECHLITE midsole that aims to provide you with a superior cushioning experience as well as high energy return. The intermediate sole also has openings for air and water permeability, so it is quick drying.
The outsole consists of an EVA rubber and abrasion-resistant Omni-Grip, providing you with solid traction and also features slats. Overall, this water shoe is a solid all-around pick. It doesn’t specialize in one trait but can do a variety of activities fairly well.
There is only one issue with these shoes though – namely, the fact that despite having an interesting draining system via the sides, the shoe takes a while to completely dry off. This is likely because there are a lot of nooks and crannies that may retain water for a while and can’t be expelled completely via the engineered drainage, and need to be air-dried for some time.
+ Great all-around choice for general water activities
+ Features a comfortable and breathable mesh upper
+ TECHLITE midsole is comfortable and cushioned
+ Omni-Grip outsole has great traction
– Takes a bit of time to completely dry off
8. Vibram Signa Athletic Boating Shoe (Kayaking)
Next up, we have a great kayaking and boating shoe – the Vibram Signa Athletic. It is designed with a toe-separated forefoot to allow for great toe-splaying, giving it an iconic and unique look compared to everything else.
It has a 100% stretch polyester mesh upper that is abrasion-resistant and durable since its design requires the utmost security. These shoes take the sock-like-feel notion and push it to the extreme since this upper is quite thin, but at the same time is also durable. There are drainage holes across the shoe with durable mesh and rubber protecting key areas like the toe and instep.
It has a Wave-Grip rubber outsole that is zero-drop, meaning they ride low on the ground. The insole is a 3mm rubber polyester blend as well which really adds to the fact that they want you to feel like you’re wearing nothing at all and are close to the ground. These are a great shoe for boating and kayaking where dexterity of toes may help with clinging to slippery hull surfaces in trying times, and feeling close to the ground definitely is a great feeling. When submerged in water, you won’t be feeling weighed down by a bulkier design.
With that said, these shoes do have their shortcomings. The most obvious one is the fact that the separated toe design can take a while to get used to and feel awkward in the beginning. For some people, this fact alone is off-putting. Secondly, because this shoe is so thin in every regard, it isn’t meant for really rough terrain since your foot will be in a more vulnerable position. Because of this, it is best to use these in areas that are going to be mostly water-related and less rocky.
+ Great sock-like feel design
+ Durable and tough polyester/rubber mesh
+ Wave-grip outsole with zero drop, and 3mm insole
+ Very lightweight and feels at home in the water
– Not ideal for rugged terrain
9. KEEN Evofit One Sandal
Our penultimate water shoe is the KEEN Evofit One Water Sandals, which are a great shoe if you plan on taking walks out in ankle-deep water and want to be able to wade through it. The synthetic fabric upper is a moisture-wicking design engineered for comfort and breathability The design is definitely aiming for it to feel like a second skin.
The insole is a KEEN Metatomical footbed that gives you an anatomically engineered fit that supports your foot internally, with great support for your arch, and cradles the contours of your foot naturally. There is also a TPU insert to give you added stability and a formulated PU midsole for a grounded feel and added agility. The outsole of the Evofit One is KEEN’s proprietary rubber blend – the AquaGrip Traction, that maximizes the traction you have both in and out of water.
Finally, there is a slight rubber toe-cap for added protection in the forefoot area. This is a versatile shoe that is good for both a protective and comfortable ride, which is why we recommend it for walking or going out into the bush for a little while.
The Evofit does have a few issues though, with the fact that it is so bulky and heavy feeling despite its unassuming design. Underwater, 2.3 pounds is not what you want to have on your feet, which is why we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re going to be doing activities where you are knee-deep in water and opt for something a bit lighter. Secondly, if you plan to wear socks with these, for the times you’re not going to be in a lot of water, they can feel a bit constricting.
+ Durable upper and AquaGrip outsole has good protection
+ Comfortable and anatomically designed insole
+ Versatile, great for a variety of trails or walks
+ Very sticky and grippy outsole design
– Bulky and heavy-feeling for deep water
– Can be a tad constricting if you wear socks
10. Nike Aqua Sock 360 Slippers (Swimming)
Our final shoe is the Aqua Sock 360 by Nike. You can tell with their sleek design and thick treading that these shoes mean business. This is one of Nike’s most simplistic models, harkening back to the 80’s original Aqua Sock. It is made with a two-layer mesh upper, yet it still manages to feel very airy, and non-constricting.
It gives you a natural feel without skimping on necessary support and protection. Internally, there is a foam TPU heel clip and an elastic collar, both of which keep the rear-end of your foot feeling fairly comfortable, and rubber pods on the outsole to add to the flexibility, comfort and traction of your foot on a variety of slippery surfaces. If we could summarise this shoe in a single word, it would be ‘soft’.
This minimalist design lends it to feel like you’re hardly wearing shoes and you’ll barely notice it when submerged. This is a solid shoe if you plan to swim or do an activity where you’ll be spending most of your time underwater, as they are form-fitting, lightweight, provide solid traction, and don’t get in the way with over the top features or form.
With that said, these shoes may not be for everyone. With the Nike name comes the Nike price when it comes to these shoes since the cost is not quite as minimalistic as its design. They are definitely a solid shoe worth consideration, but they are also on the more expensive side, and alternatives that are similar-enough do exist if you are budget-savvy and don’t want to spend a fortune on your next water shoes.
+ Minimalist design great for swimming
+ Ideal for being submerged, very lightweight and sock-like
+ Out of the water, it is very airy and quick drying
+ Ergonomic TPU heel clip and elastic collar
– Fairly expensive
Frequently Asked Question
Here we’ll cover a few questions you may be asking since water shoes are fundamentally very different from most other shoes we come across in daily life.
- Can you wear socks with water shoes?
While normally you wear shoes with a fabric layer between the footwear and your foot – to mitigate any friction during movement, give warmth, absorb sweat, and improve comfort; water shoes are actually designed to be close-fitting to your feet without the use of socks. Because you’ll be submerging yourself, maintaining warmth is of crucial importance. As a result, many water shoes will either have some form of thermal protection or be designed to be used in tandem with thermal socks.
- Are water shoes slip-resistant?
Paramount to any shoe that deals with wet surfaces and precarious terrain is proper grip and traction. The outsole of the shoe is key to excellent grip and if you want to stay grounded, you should check out what kind of material it is made from and what extra features it may have to improve grip further. For example, a tough rubber sole that has lugs will have a whole lot of traction – meant for slippery rocks, boulders, or rivers.
- How do I wash my water shoes?
Because of the nature of water shoes quite literally getting in the thick of things, getting down and dirty is not only a reality but welcomed by design. Water shoes are meant to get dirty but can also be easily cleaned. This is because they are more often than not made up of a synthetic material upper that can be scrubbed down and cleaned without much hassle.
Typically, you can either clean them by hand with warm water and soap or just put them in your washing machine. It is a simple and hassle-free process.
All in all, we hope that this article has been informative and helped you become better educated on the ins and outs of water shoes. In case you’re a newcomer, you’ll find a ton of options here to suit your next water adventure or if you just want to chill by the pool bar.
Whether it is boating, kayaking, swimming, hiking, or merely walking, there is a water shoe on our list that is designed to cater to your need, be completely submerged, and come out perfectly fine when you’re done. No matter what your next activity will be, stay safe and stay active!