Guide to Water Shoes

Water shoes are the best friend of anyone who spends significant time engaging in active water sports. The foot and toe protection, combined with the superb traction, makes water shoes the ideal footwear for anyone who climbs in and out of the water frequently.

A Keen Water Shoe
A Keen Water Shoe

Moreover, these shoes are just at home on land as they are in the water. Since these shoes fit like an athletic sneaker, they are comfortable for trail hiking, walking around the mall and many day-to-day uses that athletic shoes are used for.

In short, water shoes are the most versatile footwear available for individuals who participate in active water sports. If a person is active in water sports, especially in rocky terrain and needs the beneifts provided by a water shoe, then this peculiar footwear should be the shoe of choice.

What Is a Water Shoe?

Before going further, it might be helpful to define exactly what a water shoe is. To put it simply, a water shoe is a specialized form of footwear that provides outstanding traction and foot/toe protection for individuals engaged in active watersports. Water shoes differ from water sandals in that their design has a "closed toe" (to provide toe protection) and also covers much, or all, of the top of the foot (thus providing top of foot protection). The traction provided by a good water shoe is also superior to that of a water sandal.

This article covers the following topics:

Benefits & Drawbacks of Water Shoes

The benefits a water shoe provides are many.

  • Superb Traction - A water shoe provides traction similar to what is found on quality hiking boots and hiking shoes. More specifically, their design allows for excellent traction on wet, slippery surfaces typically found along rivers and lakes...such as rocks.
  • Front Toe Protection - The "closed toe" design of a water shoe provides protection to the toes, preventing scrapes, stubbed toes and ripped-off toenails.
  • No More Squishy Feet - Unlike sneakers, water shoes don't hold and absorb water. They drain nearly as fast as a sandal does. And their construction prevents the fabric from absorbing water.
  • Top of Foot Protection - While styles vary from brand to brand, a water shoe always provides better top-of-foot protection than a sandal does. This protection comes in very handy to prevent bloodly scrapes and bruises due to items being dropped on the foot. The protection also is helpful for those who need to walk through varied terrain on land.
  • Work Well Out of the Water - The excellent traction and design allows them to work well out of the water. Water shoes can easily convert into a limited version of a "hiking shoe." Just be sure to dry the foot completely (to prevent blisters) and to wear a well-padded hiking sock.

Like every other type of footwear, water shoes have their drawbacks and limitations.

  • More Difficult to Get In/Out Compared to Sandals - Being a closed design, water shoes aren't quite as simple as sandals to slip on/slip off. But they aren't any more difficult to put on or take off than an athletic sneaker is, either. Still, for people who know they'll be taking off their shoes constantly during the course of a day, a water sandal might be a better choice.
  • Not a True "Hiking Shoe" - Although water shoes work well for hiking on land, they still don't compare to a true "hiking shoe." Due to their need to drain water and dry quickly, water shoes lack the padding and other comfort built into quality hiking shoes. As such, individuals probably won't want to take long hikes in a water shoe. A few miles of hiking? Sure. A twenty hile mike in the mountains? Probably not.
  • More Expensive Than Water Sandals - Due to their design, water shoes are more expensive than most quality water sandals. Prices tend to vary around $100 or so, depending on style, size and design.
  • Limited Choices in Styles/Colors - Water shoes, due to their specialized nature, aren't a popular type of footwear. As such, there's only a few manufacturers who make them. The result is limited selection in styles and designs when compared to other types of footwear.

Ideal Uses for Water Shoes

Water shoes aren't for everyone. Indeed, I'd suspect most people who engage in water sports will prefer a quality water sandal (by quality, I mean a water sandal that provides similar traction to that provided by a water shoe).

However, there are some uses where a water shoe excels. These uses include:

  • Floating in Rocky & Varied Terrain - Floating in rocky and variable terrain means the floater will be getting in/out of their boat in rocky terrain. The foot protection a water shoe provides goes a long ways towards preventing cut, scrapes and torn out toe-nails due to unpleasant foot encounters with a rock.
  • Overnight Float Trips - For overnight float trips, a water shoe should be the footwear of choice. The floater gets both superb traction and foot protection. The foot protectioin is no small matter, either, particularly if the float passes through remote terrain. Moreover, the floater will only have to bring one pair of shoes on the trip - forgoing the need to bring separate shoes for "on the water" and "at camp."
  • Combined Hiking & Float Trips - The ability to hike and float well with water shoes makes them an ideal footwear choice for such trips.
  • Moderate Length Day Hikes in Wet Terrain - Since water shoes work well out of the water, they can be used for short and moderate length hikes in terrain that requires many stream crossings or wading through water.

Overall, any individual who engages in water sports will need to determine what their needs are. Once they know that, they'll then have a much better idea if they should purchase a water shoe or a water sandal.

Recommendations & Where to Buy Water Shoes

The Keen Newport Water Sandal (which is a water shoe in all but name only) is the water shoe I use and recommend. These shoes are by far the most popular, and for good reason. The Keen Newport line of water shoes provide superb traction, are very durable and protect the foot from nasty encounters with rocks, paddles and dropped cases of beer.

Read My Review of the Keen H2 Water Sandal

Other water shoes do exist. Teva make

s several closed-toe sandals that, again, are water shoes except in "name only" and are positively reviewed by customers on Amazon.

Where to Buy

The Keen Newport Water Sandal is sold both offline and online.

Offline, the Keen Newport is sold at REI and Cabela's. Specialized paddling shops also often sell the Keen Newport, along with a few other brands.

Online, the Keen Newport is available at a multitude of retailers. These include:

Do shop around online for the best prices. This sandal is often on sale, especially later in the year (although sometimes certain sizes might be difficult to find).

Teva Water Shoes

Teva also has a nice line of closed-toe water shoes. I haven't used them, but I know Teva makes great products as I have a Teva water sandal and it provides superb traction on slick rocks.

  • Teva Water Shoes at Amazon - Amazon also sells several varieties of closed-toe water shoes made by Teva. Link leads directly to the "water shoes" made by Teva - those with closed-toes - instead of all products made by Teva.
  • Zappos - Zappos generally carries a wide variety of Teva sandals and closed-toe water shoes.

NRS Water Shoes

Finally, there are the water shoes made by NRS. NRS, for those not familiar with them, are the premiere retailer for technical paddling gear. Most of their footwear falls into the "wet shoe" line. However, NRS sells both several varieties of "water sandals" and "wet shoes."

Among their wet shoes, NRS probably makes the most durable and rugged wet shoe I've ever seen. Their "Velocity" line of wet shoes resembles a hiking boot more than a typical wet shoe. And for those not wanting such a beast of a boot, they sell several other types of lower-cut water shoes - including the Keen Water Shoe I recommend.

View all NRS Wet Shoes for Men

View all NRS Wet Shoes for Women