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Water Shoes – The Complete Guide

Everything You Need to Pick the Right Water Shoes

water shoes

Water shoes are easily forgotten about but they are essential for many occasions. Here's your guide to choosing the right pair for yourself.

Whether you are planning a triathlon or a leisurely walk along a pebbly beach, water shoes are essential for both protecting your feet and improving your performance. Luckily, there are many different styles of these shoes for all kinds of activities, and for men, women, and children.

best water shoes

Why Do You Need Water Shoes?

Water shoes will protect your feet against anything they may encounter on a beach, riverbed, boat or coral reef. Use them anytime you expect to engage in water activities like hiking, swimming or spearfishing.

Remember: they are not made to keep your feet dry. They are not supposed to be completely waterproof, but they are designed to be quick-drying and lightweight. They should provide support and prevent slipping.

These shoes serve another important function as well: they protect your family and home from the bacteria and smells that can accompany damp shoes and feet! Water shoes which have ventilation, dry quickly and can be easily washed are less likely to cause athlete's foot and other highly contagious conditions.

You should invest in a great pair of aquatic shoes if you intend to participate in any of these sports:

  • Hiking
  • Rafting/whitewater rafting
  • Trail running
  • Climbing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Boating/sailing
  • Fishing
  • Water Aerobics
  • Water Polo
  • Surfing
  • Triathalons

Even if your time in the water is more leisurely, water shoes are a wise investment. Who hasn't stumbled to the water across a wide stretch of burning hot sand which blistered the soles of your feet? Or been bitten by irritating sand fleas as they lounged in a beach chair by the ocean?

How many times has a youngster ruined their day at the pool by slipping and falling on the rough concrete because they were either barefoot or wearing slippery bottomed shoes?

The right pair of aquatic footwear will protect even more relaxed water lovers from the perils of bare toes in the sand and surf.  Before we get into all the options, check out our summary table and ratings for a quick overview of the best water shoes available right now.

Here are six different options for water shoes to help you find exactly what will suit your family's needs.

1. Running Sandals

For athletes looking to protect their tootsies while swimming, running and biking through treacherous terrains, running sandals offer the protection of a heavier shoe with the ventilation and drainage systems better suited for more rugged aquatic adventures.

Usually, these water shoes have a thick sole, open toe, and strap lacing system. Some have mesh lining around the shoe for better ventilation and breathability.

Many of these water shoes utilize a lacing system with toggles which allow you to tighten them as necessary without the hazard of having an untied shoelace while you are racing.

These shoes are available with a wide variety of choices insole and toe cap. Some runners prefer more coverage and protection to their toes, while others opt for a more open style. For people with bunions, corns, or other foot issues, a sandal with an open constriction will avoid chafing.

On the other hand, the sturdier sole and support provided by these kinds of water shoes can add to their weight, an important consideration in sports like canoeing or crew here you may want to reduce poundage any way you can.

2. Aqua Socks

Aqua socks are another option for water shoes and they are made by many top brands. They are usually lightweight, easy to slip on and colorful.

Their relatively simple construction also means that you can usually find a pair for less than twenty bucks. Aqua socks can be made from latex or mesh.

Aqua socks may not have enough protection for heavy duty hiking on surfaces that may be rocky or with lots of sharp shells or seaweed. However, for low impact and low-intensity workouts like water aerobics in the pool, they are perfect.

Aqua socks, like sandals or booties, are not meant to keep your feet dry.They don't have any drainage or support for vigorous activities. They are simply intended to protect the bottoms of your feet from burning sand, biting crustaceans or craggy rocks.

Aqua socks are a great alternative for older or younger consumers. For children, they can also reduce the likelihood of slipping and falling.

Some styles come with rubber soles or other forms of traction which will lessen the instances of your kids hurting themselves while running around on slippery surfaces like the side of the pool. It's also a good idea to pack a couple of pairs of water shoes in their suitcase when you ship the kids off to camp.

This same logic makes water socks appealing seniors, who may be taking aquacize classes or other exercise regimens at the local community pool. Older populations have a higher likelihood of breaking bones when they slip and fall, so this kind of shoe provides an added layer of protection.

Kids, seniors, and parents will also appreciate the ease and affordability of this kind of water shoe. They slip on and off easily, and if one gets lost at the beach or in the pool locker room, it's not hard or expensive to replace

3. Five Toe Shoes

Five fingered shoes have been the butt of many jokes in the media, but many runners who seek a real connection to the earth have adopted them as the next best thing to barefoot running.

This same impulse to get to the bottom of things has inspired five-fingered water shoes. If you want to protect your feet but get the feeling of being barefoot, these will work for you on all types of grounds and waterbeds.

If you are considering participating in a running competition where you will be racing across wet surfaces, you can't just wear your favorite running shoe. You need a running shoe that adapts to slippery surfaces and has efficient drainage so you don't have to stop dead in your tracks, take off your sneakers and dump out the contents in the middle of the race!

It is recommended that you try on these water shoes whenever possible before purchase, due to the wide variance of anatomy- people have very different lengths and widths of toes!

For people with flat feet, shoes which emulate the barefoot experience may not be appropriate because they offer little arch support.

4. Booties

Some athletes prefer even more coverage and opt for water booties to cover their ankles and provide even more support. Many outdoor companies offer variations on this style which works well for paddlers, snorkelers, and surfers.

Surfers need special booties for when they choose to swim in ice cold water. These neoprene water shoes not only protect the feet from getting cut or mangled, they prevent them from getting frostbite as well.

Booties come in a wide variety of styles: some sport lots of straps, and some go all the way up to the knee. Some emulate the barefoot five-toed look with individual toes or a split-toe look.

5. Water Sneakers

Some trainers qualify as water shoes because they are amphibious: intended to work well in water and on land. Their appearance may resemble the same kinds of sneakers you might wear at the gym or to run around a track.

However, water sneakers should be made of material that dries quickly and effectively drains water. You shouldn't have to take off your shoe and dump out its contents- the water should drain out while you continue in your race.

Outdoor sporting companies may offer lots of varieties of water sneakers by all the major brands. Some look like traditional running shoes, while others look more like tennis shoes. These shoes are available in all price points, from bargain basement varieties to expensive name brands.

Some women's shoe designers have taken the lead with water sneakers, trying to make them more fashionable. As this writer for Travel & Leisure noted, it's time to come up with water shoes that are not an embarrassment to wear.

Instead of the tried and true materials of rubber and neoprene, mesh is being more frequently used and gives footwear designers a little more flexibility. This material effectively drains the foot when wet but can also make a smart style statement when it issued with color and funky laces.

6. Mary Janes

Just because they need to be practical, that doesn't mean the shoes you wear in the water shouldn't also be cute. Several of the big name brands for water shoes for women have taken the classic Mary Jane style with one strap across the foot and converted it to suit even the most avid all terrain trekker.

Mary Jane styles offer the benefits of the sandal (letting water drain quickly after the foot is submerged), with the support of a more sturdy, utilitarian hiking sandal style.

Mary Janes are available in everything from Neoprene to mesh. You can get them in basic black or in any number of colors and patterns.

These shoes are so cute you won't feel out of place wearing them at an after-tournament cocktail party or get-together around the pool.

7. Chef Shoes

You might be surprised, but chef shoes are a great option for water shoes. They work as well on the beach or the trail as they do in a restaurant, for many of the same reasons.

Chef shoes are waterproof and ventilated. Whether you are going on a hot run on the beach or spending a sweaty night cooking up a storm, these shoes will keep moisture away from your feet and make you more comfortable.

Restaurant kitchens are slippery, so chef shes keep their wearers grounded. This same architecture makes them ideally suited for poolside recreation.

Because they come in a rainbow of colors, kids adore this footwear too. Plus, they have the added advantage of also being generally budget-friendly. This means you can lose a pair or your children can outgrow theirs, and you can easily replace them without too much angst.

For kids going off to camp or college, these shoes are a great way to prevent those contagious foot diseases which are so unpleasant and hard to eradicate.

Chef shoes might not be ideal for athletic competitions, but to prevent slipping and to ward off bacteria in public pools, they are an excellent option.

8. Boating Shoes

Classic boating shoes are not appropriate for all water sports, but they still qualify as an important water shoe for sailing and fishing. These sports can also play havoc on your soles, whether you slip on the deck of a boat or get your toe impaled by a wayward fish hook.

Different from some of the other kinds listed here, boating shoes may be made of canvas or leather, so they are more suited for yacht parties than hiking along the rocky coast. However, these preppy favorites earned their place on the list of water shoes list by virtue of protecting the feet of anyone slipping and sliding along the decks of an old sloop or snazzy catamaran.

This classic style looks great on men, women, and kids, as well.

water shoes

Water Shoes: There's a Style For Everyone

The summer months are almost here, so it is time to start assembling the wardrobe you will need for fun in the sun... and in the water. if you are planning on engaging in vigorous sporty activities with your friends and family, you are advised to get all of your protective gear ready.

Your feet bear the weight of your body and are the most vulnerable part of your body to accidents, cuts, and bruises. If you are hiking, boating or participating in any exercise which entails running on slippery wet surfaces, you need to invest in a pair of water shoes.

This footwear will protect the bottoms of your feet from everything from rocks and sharp shells to biting insects and burning sand. Look for fast drying, anti-microbial materials which will also protect against the foot funguses and other communicable diseases that one can be exposed to in public swimming pools or showers.

On second thought, invest in pairs for the whole family, from the kids to your grandparents. You will be glad you did.

For more information on everything shoe-related, check out our blog.


  • These shoes are so comfy, but way way too big. I tried three different pairs from Amazon, and all too big. Finally had to buy in a local store at 2 sizes smaller than my normal shoe size so I could get them in time. I recommend using Amazon wardrobe to try on multiple sizes if you have time to wait. I have a wide foot, and these shoes fully accomodate my feet with no rub or tension. The sole is cushioned, but not too squishy. The fabric is breathable mesh, and ideal for barefeet.

    • Hi Annie! Thanks for commenting! But you forgot to let us know which water shoe it was that you got. Were the swim shoes or beach shoes or were the water shoes for hiking or something else? It’d be awesome if we knew, particularly since the sizing seems to be so far.

      Also, I’m not sure what Amazon wardrobe is? It sounds like something where you can order the items, try them on, and then send them back if they don’t fit? That sounds great! Not sure how they can make money with that model though… those shipping costs would really add up, I would think.

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