If you ask us here at BoatPriority.com, kayaking is the perfect outdoor adventure rolled into one: it’s part exercise, sightseeing, and part meditation.
While it’s definitely a rewarding experience, kayaking can quickly become an uncomfortable memory. This is especially true if you don’t wear the proper clothing. The same rule applies to all parts of your body, even your bare feet. So you need to know Do I Need Water Shoes for Kayaking?
While there’s nothing stopping you wearing your favorite athletic shoes, there’s a solution to keeping your feet warm and protected on your outdoor water adventures…
We’re talking about water shoes!
If you’re a fan of kayaking and other water sports, then invest in a reliable pair of kayaking shoes that are quick-drying, breathable, secure, and provide excellent water drainage.
Wearing water shoes should give you versatility, durability, stability, protection from sharp rocks, and reliable grip on slippery surfaces and rough terrain during any outdoor adventure!
In our Ultimate What to Wear to Kayaking guide, let’s dive deep into:
We know you’re excited to slip on the perfect pair of water shoes. But before anything else, let’s get into the types of water shoes and why you’ll need to get your hands (or feet) on a reliable kayaking shoe!
Let’s start paddling!
What is a water shoe?
If you’re heading to a body of water, a pair of water shoes are your best friend!
Whether it’s for water parks, paddle sports, snorkeling, hiking, splashing around on the shore, spelunking, or kayaking, they’ll keep your bare feet protected at all times.
How does a water shoe work?
Water shoes have evolved from bulky, heavy, and frumpy designs to light, comfy, and sleek models.
Newer designs were developed to offer exceptional underfoot traction, multiple drainage ports, thermal protection, and thick soles.
You can either get a closed-toe design or a sandal-type water shoe. Slip-on water shoes are convenient to put on, but water shoes with an elastic or velcro strap provide added security.
While water shoe designs vary, most are versatile enough for different environments and everyday use.
What is a water shoe made of?
While water shoe types will differ in design and features, most are made of these materials:
Mesh or Neoprene
Typically, water shoes are flexible and made of light mesh. Breathable mesh helps keep feet cool during outdoor adventures. It also enhances water flow when submerged and drainage when out of water.
Neoprene water shoes are also popular, especially in colder climates. Neoprene is thin, but it helps trap a thin layer of water that will help keep your feet warm (thanks to your body heat).
Thick and flexible rubber sole
Most water shoes will also have a thick rubber sole that covers the entire foot. This will help protect the feet from sharp objects or scorching surfaces. All in all, hard soles will also prevent any cuts and abrasions.
Grippy rubber outsole
If you expect some hiking or wading through unpredictable and rocky terrain during your kayak tours, go for styles with built-in toe shields. Trust us; stubbed toes are the worst!
Water shoes also have specially designed tread that enhances traction on slippery surfaces, such as decks, boat docks, and algae-covered rocks. Rubber outsoles offer great grip on wet surfaces!
Benefits of Water Shoes – Should I wear water shoes when I go kayaking?
Kayaking is a sport, so you’re probably wondering why you can’t wear your go-to athletic shoe.
While you’ll definitely survive your kayak trip wearing sneakers or maybe even a pair of flip flops, we’ll break down why you should choose a good pair of water shoes:
Why can’t I wear regular sneakers or rubber shoes for kayaking?
The main reason is that sneakers aren’t meant to be wet! They do the exact opposite of what water shoes aren’t supposed to do: absorb water! Drying your sneakers after a full submersion is tiring work. Your sneakers will also degrade faster if they get wet often.
Trust us: when you’re out paddling with wet sneakers, all you’ll think about is how moist your shoes and socks are. Not only are they uncomfortable and cold, but they also don’t have good traction either. You’ll likely fall over and slip on wet surfaces.
Though not the ideal footwear for kayaking, flip flops are a decent kayaking companion.
It’s definitely better than kayaking barefoot.
Are slippers or flip flops good for kayaking?
Flop flops are cheap, and they can be found in almost any convenience store or gas station. They dry out pretty quickly, and you can easily store them in your day pack. And another thing ––they float! There’s no need to worry about losing your trusty pair. If they fall off your kayak, chances are you can retrieve them quickly!
However, they aren’t durable, which means you’re more likely to get injured from sharp objects and rough terrain. Rubber slippers won’t do you any favors on waterlogged surfaces, either.
Water shoes offer benefits above and beyond rubber sneakers, slippers, and other shoes. A good pair will ensure that you enjoy wet conditions, whether you’re submerged or above water.
With quick-drying capabilities, instant drainage, and a rugged sole, wearing water shoes offer unparalleled practicality, durability, and versatility for water sports. They also ensure that you enjoy wet conditions, whether you’re submerged or above water.
What are the types of water shoes?
There are different types of water shoes, each with different designs and materials.
The best one will depend on weather conditions, temperature, and the specific outdoor adventure you’re heading to!
Here are some of the most common water shoe types:
1. Barefoot Water Shoes
Barefoot water shoes are the complete opposite of what you’d have in mind when you imagine a pair of water shoes!
They’re sporty, lightweight, and understated. Clearly a far cry from the unsightly water shoe designs of old!
A barefoot water shoe is just as comfortable as wearing a sock, with the helpful benefits of flexible and thick soles plus a breathable upper. They’re designed with a durable, flexible, and quick-drying stretch upper plus an anti-skid sole that’s guaranteed to keep your toes and feet protected.
A great pair of barefoot water shoes would have vented holes that are small enough to keep sediment out but large enough to offer good water drainage.
One of the crowd favorites at Amazon is the UBFEN Unisex Barefoot Water Shoes. Check out our Top Kayak Water Shoes Section for more top-rated pairs!
Water booties are the prime choice for paddle boarding or surfing. They provide excellent grip on a boat and other paddle sports.
This pull-on boot or zip-up comes in two designs: round-toe and split-toe. The round-toe design is more popular because they’re relatively budget-friendly.
There are also more technical booties that are designed for diving and other underwater activities.
Water socks or aqua socks look just like the ones in your closet. The only difference is that they’re made of neoprene or lycra.
Aqua socks come in different heights, but the most popular are high-tops or ankle-high socks. Some designs also have adjustable ankle straps for added security when you’re wading in the water or swimming.
Socks are popular among snorkelers to prevent any chaffing from diving fins. You can also wear high-top socks inside low-cut water shoes for added protection from jellyfish stings.
Water sandals remain one of the most popular water footwear types.
Contrary to what most people think, they’re not at all like the cheap sandals you wear at the beach or pool. They aren’t like those leather sandals you find in boutiques, either.
The main difference is that water sandals are made of durable material and provide excellent traction on slippery and wet surfaces. They’re also great for short hikes on rocky and uneven terrain.
A waterproof sandal is versatile and often suitable for most day trips and relaxed kayak tours. Unless you need more traction or foot protection, there’s no reason you should choose a closed-toe shoe over a sandal.
How to choose water shoes?
The first things to consider when purchasing water shoes are size and fit. Make sure that your water shoes aren’t loose. If they are, they might come off in the water, and they’ll cause you some uncomfortable chafing. Yikes.
Now, onto the key features that make a good pair of water shoes:
(We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of what to look for when buying kayaking shoes in the next section. Let’s begin!)
Buyer’s Guide: What to look for when buying kayaking shoes?
Size and Fit
Here’s what you should know:
Water shoes should fit your feet correctly! Your entire foot should sit correctly on the base of the shoe, and the thick rubber soles should fully guard your toes if it has built-in toe guards.
Water should be snug enough to stop your feet from sliding around in your water shoes. But, they shouldn’t be so tight to cause uncomfortable rubbing and chaffing.
High-end water shoes will usually have half sizes, so you’ll find it easy to find the perfect match! Cheaper water shoes may only come in full sizes, so check the size guide if you’ll need to size up or size down.
Remember, poorly fitting shoes can lead to blisters! It can draw the line between an uncomfortable experience and a fun trip.
Most water shoes will be durable enough on beach trips or weekends at the pool.
But would these be enough for a kayaking trip?
It depends on the terrain and the water conditions.
If you expect to do other extreme outdoor activities, like hiking or diving, during your trip, get a pair that has a tough fabric upper like neoprene or rugged leather soles. Neoprene can withstand regular submersions in saltwater without much wear and tear.
Most water shoes are made with breathable mesh lining or neoprene that help keep feet cool and allow wet shoes to dry quickly.
You also want to get water shoes that have multiple drainage holes. These ensure that water flows through the shoe during full submersions and floods back out once you’re on land.
Breathability is key to avoid moist, damp, and smelly footwear that is comfortable to wear, even on long outdoor adventures. The same rule applies whether you go for mesh, neoprene, leather, or PVA uppers.
Your biggest enemy in water sports is, of course, wet terrain which is usually (surprise!) slippery.
Make sure to get kayaking shoes that offer a rugged sole with optimal traction. Remember that you’ll be stepping over slippery rocks, boat decks, and other wet equipment. You wouldn’t want to have any embarrassing tumbles or dangerous falls.
Especially for extreme adventures, traction can draw the line between falling face-first into sharp objects and having the confidence to tackle any terrain with soles that offer reliable grip.
If you’re expecting some hiking or trekking over rough and rocky terrain, you want your water shoes to provide stability and support while you’re on the go.
Go for a water shoe that offers support for your arches to enhance stance and gait. A water shoe that has higher cuffs or straps gives additional ankle support.
Getting a water shoe with grippy or non-slip soles and effective drainage systems will help you remain stable since you’re less likely to slip on wet terrain.
When we talk about “comfort,” we’re not only referring to how breathable or soft your water shoe is. . .
When buying water shoes, factoring in temperature and climate is important, whatever the conditions.
For warm weather and hot conditions, breathable material helps keep your feet comfortable and looking (and smelling) fresh!
There are also specially designed water shoes that protect your feet from cold temperatures and cold water.
Freezing feet can lead to poor body circulation that can reduce your overall performance. If you’re planning on giving your feet a workout, give them a helping hand by getting shoes that ensure warmth and comfort.
Top Kayaking Shoes in 2023
Now, onto the part you’ve been waiting for –– the best water shoes for kayaking 2023!
Check out these crowd favorites:
Best Slip On Water Shoes – Native Shoes, Jefferson
Looking for a lightweight water shoe with a natural feel?
Get these “light as a cloud,” barely there, shock-absorbent, and odor-resistant unisex slip-on water sneakers!
These pretty pairs are available in a wide range of colors to suit any style. They’re made from EVA uppers and synthetic soles, which are great for lounging after your kayak tour and even for everyday use. It’s got lots of drainage holes that help control temperature and temperature.
The best part? These washable and anti-microbial are a PETA-certified vegan brand!
For versatile, durable, and practical water sneakers, get the highly-rated Native Shoes by Jefferson!
Best for Water Adventures – Aleader Mesh Slip On Water Shoe
The Aleader Mesh Slip-on was designed with the outdoor adventurer in mind. This slip-on pair has rubber pods strategically located in high-wear areas for the most reliable traction imaginable. It’s also got Water Grain outsoles that work great in slippery and wet terrain.
The breathable mesh uppers are perfect for drying fast, ensuring that a quick dip won’t weigh you down.
We also love the Solyte midsole that’s incredibly durable and lightweight. It gives excellent bounceback, which is great for absorbing shocks and strong impact.
The Aleader Mesh Slip-on water sneaker is the perfect alternative for sneakers when you’re out kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and practically any adventure that takes you to the water!
Best for Rough Terrain – Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve Water Shoes
We present the All Out Blaze Sieve water shoe by Merrell, the maker of epic rugged outdoor equipment.
This hybrid sneaker gets the best of both worlds –– waterproof waxed leather uppers and neoprene stretch collars for a comfortable fit.
The pair incorporated Merrell’s patented M Select antimicrobial agents, so you don’t have to worry about unpleasant foot odors even on long excursions. The breathable design helps to keep your feet sweat-free for hours, too,
Both are made from high-performance climbing rubber. The combination of the UniFly Midsole and TC5+Vibram outsole ensures excellent grip on wet and smooth rock.
With a highly durable upper, high-performance rubber sole, and antimicrobial technology, this water shoe slash sneaker from Merrel can keep up with your most extreme adventures.
Best Water Sandal – Keen Women’s Water Sandals
This water sandal by KEEN is more than its pretty colors and patterns. Especially if you’re heading to areas with warm water, KEEN water sandals are incredibly comfy, practical, and versatile!
We love the straps on this pair that are breathable and comfortable, in water and on land. If you’re in dire need of some support for your flat feet when out trekking or hiking, KEEN will deliver. It’s got an EVA cushioning midsole that is shock-absorbing and helps to improve your gait.
It’s made from quick-dry polyester webbing material that dries quickly and, which helps to keep feet fresh, and sweat-free to prevent odors.
If you’re looking for a reliable water sandal with excellent grip and traction, the Keens Whisper Sandal is great for almost all conditions with its easy-to-clean material and exceptional cushioning and support.
Best Practical Pair – Speedo Women’s Surfwalker 3.0 Water Shoe
Look good and feel protected with this reliable pair of water sneakers by Speedo! This pair is perfect for all sorts of water activities, including kayaking, sailing, canoeing, surfing, and scuba diving. You can even don this pair to steer clear of any dangerous falls in waterlogged water parks!
Surfwalker Pro 3.0 is made from 100% neoprene uppers, which means that they dry quickly and are incredibly breathable! Worry no more about sharp seabeds and rocks with its S-TRAC outsole that ensures superb traction on dry land and in water. The slip-on design coupled with the heel loop makes for easy wearing.
Sporty, durable, and practical, the Speedo Surfwalker 3.0 is a great alternative to heavy and restrictive sneakers and sandals!
Conclusion: Do I Need Water Shoes for Kayaking
Water shoes provide stability and protection when kayaking. Water shoes cover a range of possibilities for other extreme sports, too, such as hiking, diving, paddle sports, and more.
Water shoes for kayaking shoes can make a difference between an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous trip to a fun and adventure-filled outdoor experience!
While you can definitely wear a pair of sneakers or rubber slippers on a kayak tour, keep in mind that these pairs aren’t meant to go on slippery and rough terrain. Not only will you feel uncomfortable, cold, damp, and moist, you’ll be more at risk of slipping, chafing, bruising, abrasions, and cuts.
The best pair of water shoes will guarantee you durability, breathability, stability with arch support, traction on wet terrain, multiple drainage holes, quick-drying capabilities, and of course, comfort.
For climates with cold water, get a pair of closed design water shoes with waxed leather uppers, waterproof capabilities, and specially engineered temperate control.
For warm to hot climates, get either water sandals or neoprene or mesh water shoes cover for enhanced breathability and comfort.
Grab one of the pairs from our Top Kayaking Shoes Section, and get ready to paddle away!
Related: Best Shoes For Kayaking – (2023)