The best way to enjoy the water, without a doubt, is barefoot. Sun on your back, sand between your toes, the whole nine yards. But for the water-borne adventurer, chances are good that you won’t find yourself on a white sandy beach every time. Hopefully you do have those priceless barefoot moments on the beach, but for most other instances – whether that’s whitewater adventures, exploring by the lake, or scrambling along a craggy coastline – a solid pair of water shoes will do you some good.
However, there is a wide spectrum of footwear claiming to be water shoes, some better suited to your individual purpose than others. Luckily, though, you found this handy guide. We at The Inertia take our time by the water seriously, and understand that a good pair of water shoes will result in more efficient travel across shorelines, rivers, and lakebeds, numerous accidents avoided, and overall more enjoyable adventures.
So here’s our guide to the best water shoes on the market today. Over the past few months we’ve been getting our feet wet and traversing coastlines, crossing rivers, and navigating rocky shorelines to see which water shoes can be considered the best. To compare the features and specifications of the water shoes listed below, refer to our comparison table. For a detailed guide on what to look for when buying water shoes, check out our buyer’s guide.
The Best Water Shoes
Best Overall Water Shoes: Salomon Techamphibian
Best Casual Water Shoes: Olukai Moku Pae
Best Budget Water Shoes: Crocs Classic
Best Water Shoes for Hiking: Hoka Hopara
Best Water Shoes for Swimming: Xero Aqua X Sport
Best Recovery Water Shoes: Kane Revive
Best Water Shoes for Cold Water Merrell Hydro Runner 1TRL
Best Overall Water Shoes
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Speed laces provide a tight fit and easy removal. Drains super fast.
Cons: Rear ankle buckle leaves a tail when tightened.
When it comes to checking all the major boxes, the Salomon Techamphibian got our nod for the best overall set of water shoes. It provides excellent support on uneven terrain, great traction underneath with their proprietary Contragrip, and quick drainage to allow for a reliable shoe both inside and outside the water. The rear buckle helps keep the foot in place while also not allowing water to collect. For skinny ankles though it might not be enough support. This shoe offers high performance that has become well-known in trail running and hiking circles, but also is comfortable enough to wear around when not in training mode. It also sports a look that resembles an athletic shoe, meaning it can still function for everyday use without looking too silly.
This one is definitely more high-performance than a casual shoe to wear around, but it’s not pretending to be an everyday slip-on. But for people needing to move fast over varied surfaces, this is a water shoe that will take you to some cool places quickly that otherwise would have been a chore.
Best Casual Water Shoes
Dry Time: 6/10
Pros: Unbeatable, long-lasting comfort. Superior water resistance and quick-drying capabilities.
Cons: Takes a while to dry out, especially when wearing them.
We should probably mention right off the bat that Olukai classifies their Moku Pae as a “boat shoe” and not a water shoe in the traditional sense of the word. In that case we can give them a bit of a break on realizing that perhaps the main intention is not to be submerged, but rather splashed upon. If your goals are to have a pair of shoes that look great, feel great, and can withstand getting wet from time to time, this might be the right one for you.
These shoes felt great immediately when putting them on. The no-tie laces still keep the foot secure and have a look that immediately has the sax solo of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” in our heads. Whether or not you’re a Yacht Rock aficionado is beside the point, the comfort you feel with these shoes on will have you feel the melodies of whatever genre puts you at ease. No, it’s not a performance shoe, but it’s a quality shoe that you can wear without socks and get wet without it ruining your day. Unfortunately, they’re not available as a women’s shoe, but Olukai does have a plethora of women’s styles to choose from.
Best Budget Water Shoes
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Affordable, lightweight, and comfortable.
Cons: Not very durable. Can get sweaty in the sun.
People either love ’em or hate ’em, and the haters usually haven’t tried ’em. The Crocs Original clogs are in a category of their own, yet are still great performing water shoes. And in a classic case of “what’s old is new again”, they seem to be back in style across the world.
The classic clog bears the combo of being lightweight, buoyant, easy-draining, and remarkably comfortable. And with a price tag that could have you buying a few pairs for less than a night out on the town, it’s a worthy investment. All we have to say is that before you knock it, try it first.
Best Water Shoes for Hiking
Dry Time: 8/10
Pros: Excellent traction for different types of terrain. Quick-drying and water-friendly materials.
Cons: Sole may be too springy for some. Unique style isn’t for everyone.
If you’re an adventurous hiker who loves exploring wet and challenging terrain, the Hoka Hopara are the perfect companion to going far and wide. These shoes offer exceptional traction on various surfaces, allowing you to navigate through unpredictable trails with ease. Their lightweight and breathable design ensures maximum comfort, yet provide ample drainage after getting submerged. We found their sole to be extremely durable yet flexible, allowing for free movement over whatever surface was needed.
As far as water shoes go, the look of these makes it hard for it to pretend it’s anything but. That’s where the versatility is a bit limited to just being an active water shoe. Yet for some this may be less of a deciding factor than performance, of which I couldn’t find much wrong with it. If you value a good performing shoe over one that will win style points, then you’ll be impressed with the function and fit of Hoparas.
Best Water Shoes for Swimming
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Designed for optimal performance in water sports. Excellent grip and flexibility. Quick-draining and lightweight.
Cons: May not provide sufficient protection for certain activities. Limited insulation for colder water.
If you need extra mobility in the water without sacrificing good traction, the Xero Aqua X Sport water shoes are the ideal choice. These shoes are specifically designed to excel in water sports activities, offering excellent grip, flexibility, and quick drainage. Their lightweight construction enhances maneuverability, allowing you to push your limits on the water. We found these shoes to perform great for swimming as they didn’t bog us down with heavy material underneath. But when it came time to stand up, the shoes had plenty of sole to protect the feet, yet not so much that we couldn’t tell what was underneath.
Out of the water, they felt supportive and comfortable despite the low profile. We probably wouldn’t want to take them on any huge hikes but if a scramble was necessary to get down to the waterline, these wouldn’t put up too much of a fuss about it. However, in the water is where they truly shine, and you can tell it’s their happy place. So if you find yourself in water above head height more often than not, these would be our top pick against all the models tested.
Best Recovery Water Shoes
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Great support, Sustainable materials.
Cons: Loose-fitting, not meant for active pursuits.
Kane is an aptly-named company in that their shoes are made from sugar cane, a resilient and hearty plant that is as renewable as they come. It’s hard to tell the difference between their foam and its petroleum-based counterpart; begging the question, “why don’t more companies do this?” Their flagship offering, the Revive, has the potential to be a game-changer for people winding down after a long day getting rad. After trying these on and wearing them around, it’s evident they have a happy foot in mind.
The footbed was among the most comfortable we tried. Little bumps on the insole help stimulate circulation and with a now-common hole pattern to help with breathability and drainage, it’s the perfect thing to slip on after a big day. The EVA foam allows to wear it in any conditions, with easy drainage. It’s like a sturdier, more athletic version of Crocs with better traction. These aren’t ones to wear on a big mission as the upper isn’t the most supportive, but they don’t pretend to anything but a recovery shoe. In that case, the revives are a wise choice for tired feet.
Best Water Shoes for Colder Water
Dry Time: 7/10
Pros: Reflective for better visibility, foam liner provides added warmth.
Cons: Takes a while to fully dry out.
Merrell makes shoes for all types of situations, but their fairly-new 1TRL line takes feet even further out on the trails. While there is never one shoe to rule them all, the Hydro Runner does a pretty darn good job of covering as many bases as possible.
The outsole has enough traction to stay put in most situations, wet or dry. With a foam liner, we found these shoes to be the ideal choice for situations where you’re running through water, but said water might be a bit too cold to want to do all the time. It’s not neoprene but feels remarkably similar, and is enough to keep the feet warm even if wet. As another bonus, the lining has a reflective material to help you stay visible even if covered in mud head-to-toe. This shoe will be a great choice as the weather turns from summer to fall and give people plenty of reason to keep their water-borne training lasting as long as possible.
Best of the Rest
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Stylish and versatile design. Comfortable for all-day wear. Suitable for various casual activities.
Cons: Not ideal for intense water-based adventures. Limited water resistance.
If you’re looking for water shoes that seamlessly blend fashion and functionality, Teva’s Universal is the ideal choice. With its stylish and versatile design that has withstood the test of time, it transitions effortlessly from water activities to casual wear, giving added versatility over other water shoes we tested. With a thick spongey sole, they provide all-day comfort, making them suitable for leisurely walks, beach outings, and light water play. The straps are well-suited to keep the foot secure if needing to cross a river or handle uneven terrain. And the end-of-summer tan lines these provide are a badge of honor in some circles.
They are one of the classics for good reason – they work as they should and feel great.
Dry Time: 7/10
Pros: As close as you can get to being barefoot while still having some protection underfoot.
Cons: Thin sole might not be great on jagged rocks. A little floppy when swimming.
For those who wish they could be barefoot but for any number of reasons need protection underneath, here’s a great solution: The Xero Z-Trail EV water shoes. With a strap system that resembles Teva’s classic design, what sets these apart are the thin soles that still provide adequate traction, but allow you to feel the surface you stand on. The natural response helps your brain navigate uneven terrain much more easily, according to Xero. Anecdotally, I found this also to be true—when walking on rocky underwater coastline, I felt that much more stable.
It’s not great for heavy activity, but it’s better than most sandals thanks to the supportive straps. Speaking of straps, they don’t dry out super fast. That said the soles were dry as soon as I got out of the water. If you would rather not have shoes but the situation requires so, these might be what you’re looking for.
But if you’re looking for even less under your sole, Xero also has the Aqua Cloud that takes the minimalism down even more. It’s not great for moving fast, but it’s the next best thing to being barefoot while also protecting your precious feet from a rocky bottom.
Dry Time: 6/10
Pros: Looks like a regular shoe, has solid support.
Cons: Laces could get caught on rocks, takes a while to fully dry.
These were the first pair of Astral shoes that I’ve tried and I’m now a fan. They are comfortable and have great cushion and support, enough for me to feel good using these to work out or to up the activity meter to push myself. The Loyaks also happen to be amphibious, and were some of the most “normal” looking of the shoes I tested. This does indeed have a bit of importance as I felt I could wear these shoes out in numerous different scenarios than simply romping around in the water.
With a traditional lace system, they can get a good snug fit that lasts, whereas other water shoes with their stretchy material didn’t seem to work as well in that arena. The toes have drainage holes to get the water out quickly, but I will say that the drying time was much less than the “abnormal” looking water shoes with proper channels. Astral recommends removing the insole to dry them out. That definitely helps at the end of the day, but if you’re trudging around from beach to supermarket that may get a bit annoying. Still, if you want a shoe that will work well in town and underwater, this could be an ideal choice.
Dry Time: 9/10
Pros: Stylish and comfortable with a fast dry time.
Cons: Debris can get caught inside
These brand-new water shoes from Deckers X Lab won serious style points for us. They are one of a small number of water shoes that can look good anywhere. With a massive foam outsole, they are oh-so comfortable and squishy – even moreso than Crocs which usually win the comfort award for foam-based shoes such as these.
While it has ample holes for drainage, there isn’t much underneath, meaning that some debris such as sand got caught inside. So getting wet (and drying out) isn’t a problem, but getting stuff trapped inside was a concern. For that reason it’s not a great beach shoe; but works great on a boat or by the pool. Either way, the pros far outnumber the cons, and for comfort and style, thee X-Scape Baja was one of our favorites.
|Category||Model||Price||Overall Score||Closure System|
|Best Overall Water Shoes||Salomon Techamphibian||$150||8.3||Speed laces, back buckle|
|Most Comfortable Water Shoes||Olukai Moku Pae||$120||7.8||No-tie laces|
|Best Budget Water Shoes||Crocs Classic||$30||7.8||Rubber heel strap|
|Best Water Shoes for Hiking||Hoka Hopara||$135||8||Speed laces|
|Best Water Shoes for Swimming||Xero Aqua X Sport||$130||7.8||Speed laces|
|Best Recovery Water Shoes||Kane Revive||$75||8.0||Slip on|
|Best Water Shoes for Colder Water||Merrell Hydro Runner 1TRL||$120||7.7||Slip on|
|Honorable Mention||Teva Universal||$55||8.2||Velcro straps|
|Honorable Mention||Xero Z-Trail EV||$80||8.1||Velcro straps|
|Honorable Mention||Astral Loyak||$95||7.6||Laces|
|Honorable Mention||Deckers X Lab X-Scape Baja||$69||8.2||Laces|
|Honorable Mention||Teva Outflow Universal||$110||7.5||Velcro straps|
How We Tested The Best Water Shoes
The obvious aspect of testing water shoes is—you guessed it—by wearing them in the water. But there needs to be a bit more to it to really compare against all the different models out there, so we did our best to sample all the different scenarios where water shoes could be of good use. That ranged everything from salt water to fresh water, moving water, rough rocks, smooth rocks, sand, and whatever else might be lying beneath the surface. We also brought them onto dry land to see and feel how they are to drain and dry out, with and without the sun beating down overhead.
Scoring and Rating
Since the concept of “water shoes” spans a broad spectrum of footwear, it’s hard to make a totally apples-to-apples comparison across the board. This was taken into account with our rating system – focusing more on the specific characteristics of each shoe vs. how well it stacks up against others. So we tried to rate everything with its intended use in mind. So a sandal-style shoe won’t be rated for how well it does on a hike, and a hiking shoe won’t be rated on whether you can wear it to a business meeting. However, style points do matter, but we gave this category a bit of slack knowing that people are buying water shoes for performance above fashion.
We tested a wide variety and only listed what we felt was a worthy purchase. As a size 10 men’s shoe with a medium-width foot, I didn’t comment on the fit too much since fit is such a subjective category. But each of the water shoes I tested fit well and was neither too large or too snug.
To see more of the different categories of water shoes and the various uses for each, keep reading below.
How to Choose the Best Water Shoes
Whether you’re planning a beach vacation, being active, or just looking for the best water shoes to keep your feet safe and comfortable, the ideal pair is out there for you n. Here are the different categories of water shoes and their unique features, uses, and who may benefit the most from them.
Water sandals provide minimum protection but maximum breathability. They offer enough support to keep the sole on your feet, but may be problematic if you’re moving at a fast pace. Support is also minimal, although within these there are different setups. Flip flops don’t count here. The key is for the sole of the sandal to remain close to the foot at all times with a heel strap, helping to keep rocks from getting in between the insole and the bottom of your foot.
The Salomon Techamphibian 5 is a high-performing shoe that drains easily, has great grip, and even looks like a normal shoe.
Water sneakers are designed to look and feel like your regular athletic shoes but are built with quick-drying, water-resistant materials. They’re great for more active pursuits such as water hiking or trail running in wet conditions. Oftentimes these are more comfortable, but come at a cost where it takes that comfy material a bit longer to dry out. Drainage can be a key factor here. If you’re going in and out of the water often you’ll want something that drains easily, which is why some of the shoes in this category have a bit of a, should we say, “unique” design.
These types are meant to be worn underwater more often than not, and even to swim around with. Often times they are form-fitting to the foot to give a snug fit. They may also have neoprene to keep your feet warmer in colder water, but aren’t as thick as a traditional wetsuit bootie.
What Are Water Shoes Best For?
Swimming and Snorkeling
Water shoes protect your feet from sharp objects and rough surfaces, making them ideal for swimming or snorkelling. Those who frequently engage in these activities, especially in natural bodies of water, can greatly benefit from water shoes.
Being active near the water is a good enough reason to invest in a good pair of water shoes. Water shoes provide grip on slippery surfaces and protect the feet from potential injury. Water sneakers, in particular, offer the needed balance between protection, comfort, and style.
Hiking and Trekking
For individuals who enjoy hiking or trekking in wet conditions, or crossing streams and rivers, water shoes can provide better traction and keep feet dry and comfortable. Wet boots are a great choice for these kinds of activities.
Keep in mind that choosing the best water shoes largely depends on your specific needs and the activities you plan to engage in. Understanding the various categories of water shoes and their uses can help you make an informed decision.
Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.