The Best Water Shoes: Staff Picks

Go from sea to land and back again with our favorite water-loving shoes.

Heather Balogh Rochfort|Updated September 7, 2021

11 reviews with an average rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars
Two stand up paddle boarders make their way along an inky-blue flat-water river.

The water is the best place to keep cool when the temperature heats up. But whether you’re hiking, boating or strolling the seashore, you’ll need a pair of shoes that can stand up to slick, wet conditions. Enter, the water shoe. Once upon a time, high-performing, hydrophilic kicks were rarer than unicorns. Not so today: Clever designs and updated technology mean modern water shoes dump water, grip slippery surfaces and allow airflow, effectively preventing dank feet.

So whether you plan to run, hike, boat or hang at the water’s edge, we’ve got a shoe for you.

Staff Picks:

Find our quick recommendations here or read on for our staff and members' favorite water shoes available at REI:

Whether kayaking, canoeing or rafting, our staff loves the Astral Loyak for its grip on slick boat surfaces. A siped rubber outsole (slits in the rubber improve traction, similar to a car tire) is the secret ingredient, combined with shallow treads that provide maximum rubber-on-surface contact on piers, in whitewater and along riverbeds. “The grip over rocks on land and in water is fantastic,” praised one co-op member who used the shoes on a summer canoe trip in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. “And they felt so comfortable, wet or dry.”

You’d think such a rugged shoe would be bulky, but you’d be wrong. The thin outsole and hydrophobic mesh upper are flexible enough that you can actually roll the Loyak into a ball. In addition to enhancing your underfoot ground feel, this creates a minimalist shoe that resembles a barefoot-style sneaker and helps keep sand and other debris out. Fit note: The snug fit and stretchy mesh ankle collar offer agility on boats, but some feel the shoe is too tight. If you’re between sizes, consider sizing up. Buy here.

Meet the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport, a water shoe grippy enough for paddle boarding and burly enough to battle beach grit. Our staff swears by these kicks for slippery surfaces and SUP adventures where you’re moving frequently in and out of the water. The open mesh uppers dump moisture the second you hit the shore, helping to eliminate the feeling of waterlogged shoes. “The problem with most water shoes is that they get bogged down with water,” reports one customer reviewer. “These are so light you almost forget you’re wearing them.” The shoes also ventilate well due to a nonabsorbent tongue, quick-dry lining and a pair of toe guard drainage holes near the pinky toe.  

Instead of traditional laces, Xero uses quick-pull speed laces to lock down a snug fit that, “doesn’t irritate your feet even when you’re kneeling for long periods of time,” according to another customer reviewer. The fit is generous with a roomy toe box and zero-drop platform to encourage ground feel and a natural gait. Also, the removable 2mm insole adds a bit of customization; remove it if you want more of a barefoot feel to help keep you grounded on your SUP. Buy here.

When sloppy puddles and river crossings overtake even the most ambitious of waterproofing, reach for the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2. Designed for recreationists who like to run through soaked terrain, these shoes feature a snug fit similar to Salomon’s other running styles. “It doesn’t slip around when my feet are wet,” proclaims one co-op member who uses the shoes on stream-filled jaunts. The key is an elastic ankle cuff that cradles your foot and blocks debris, plus a mesh upper that drains water in seconds once you transition to dry land.

A hard rubber compound outsole and siped lugs let you cruise on soft singletrack and muddy trails, although the stiff outsole on the Crossamphibian is less grippy on underwater rocks, which one co-op member noted. Pro tip: It’s a good idea to slow to a walk and consider trekking poles when navigating riverbeds, regardless of your footwear. Each pair is made with the equivalent of 1.75 post-consumer plastic bottles, two ears of corn and 10 grams of bamboo fibers to reduce impact during the manufacturing process. Buy here.

When your plans entail a little hiking and a lot of water play, reach for the Chaco Odyssey, the only water shoe in our guide built specifically to support your feet when you’re carrying a daypack. Chaco uses a dual-density EVA midsole like the foam found in traditional hiking shoes. With a firmer density around the forefoot and a softer feel at the heel, the Odyssey provides ample arch support so you can tack a hike onto your day of water exploration without the dogs barking. They even make a kids' version, for your little outdoor explorer.

These amphibious, hiking hybrids are built to handle H2O: Chaco uses a mesh upper beneath buckles secured by a polyester webbing that crisscrosses the top of the foot. The takeaway: “More protective than flip-flops but more breathable than running shoes,” reports one co-op member. And, thanks to an antimicrobial treatment, the shoes resist odor-causing bacteria despite countless transitions in and out of the water. All this combined with the brand’s trademark rubber outsole and 3mm lugs make the Odyssey an ideal crossover shoe. Bonus: We love them with—and without—socks. Buy here.

Any child caregiver knows this truth: If there is water within a 50-mile radius, your kid will find it. That’s why it’s a good idea to equip them with a shoe like the KEEN Newport H2, built with a machine-washable, polyester-and-mesh upper that dumps water faster than kiddos can say, “muddy puddles.” Rather than the plastic buckles used on many adult water shoes, KEEN uses hook-and-loop straps that are easy for little fingers to navigate. A stretchy, bungee-lace runs up the middle of the shoe to snug up the fit for growing feet.

Durability doesn’t suffer, either. “We were able to pass a pair down between boys since they held up so well,” reports one co-op member. And the rubber outsole and KEEN toe bumper protect tiny toes—even when they’re smashing into rocks. The versatile Newport H2 also comes in adult sizes for women and men, so you can match your little one, if you’re into that sort of thing. Buy here.

Shop All Water Shoes 

Buying Advice

Water shoes are a type of footwear that performs well in and out of water. There are water shoes for paddling, running, hiking, and exploring the water’s edge. Opt for different features depending on the type of activity you plan to do. Some shoes, like the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 and the Chaco Odyssey, for example, feature a cushioned midsole for on-trail comfort and support. A shoe like the Astral Loyak, on the other hand, focuses less on midsole support and more on traction and water drainage for boating.

What’s the difference between water shoes and water sandals?

Thanks to a protective closed-toe and closed-heel, water shoes are generally built for more aggressive endeavors, such as hiking or whitewater paddling. If you’re eager to go rock hopping or tackle a multi-night paddling adventure, a water shoe is your best bet. Water sandals offer more wiggle room in the toes, but they are best used for calmer activities like fishing or playing at the beach.

What kind of support do water shoes offer?

Construction can reveal a lot about water shoe support. Begin by examining the lacing or strap system: Shoes with laces or webbing straps (as with all of the shoes in this guide) generally provide more support than slip-on water shoes; they also tend to perform better on dry land. Also look at the midsole, or the protective layer sandwiched between the insole and outsole. Shoes with little-to-no midsole (like the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport) boast ample ground feel but less protection from roots and rocky terrain. Water shoes like the Chaco Odyssey and Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 have more substantial midsoles and thus offer more support for on-trail adventures.

What kind of drainage should I look for in water shoes?

When you’re splashing in and out of the water, you need a shoe that drains quickly so your feet don’t become waterlogged. Shoes like the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport come with built-in drainage holes that help water exit the shoe. Additionally, upper materials can help water shoes drain quickly. Look for shoes with mesh uppers (like the Chaco Odyssey) that allow water to flow away from your feet when you emerge from the ocean, lake or river. 

What kind of traction do water shoes provide?

A sticky grip is paramount in water shoes. If you know you’ll be spending more time in a boat than on land, look for a shoe like the Astral Loyak that has shallow lugs (less than 3mm). This means the rubber outsole has all-around surface contact to help reduce slippage. However, if you’re planning on spending a fair bit of time on dirt and gravel trails, too, consider a shoe like the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 that has deeper lugs to help grip into soft, mountainous terrain.

How should water shoes fit?

Above all else, be sure to select a water shoe with a snug fit so pulsing ocean waves or surging river currents don’t suck your shoes off your feet. Look for features like the elastic bungee found in the KEEN Newport H2 sandals or the quick-pull speed laces found in the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport. These features help ensure your shoes stay put.

Our Process

We asked REI Co-op staff, members and customers to share their favorite water shoes. They reported back with their top choices for everything from running, to hiking to boating. These are the best water shoes currently available at REI.

Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. She is the co-founder of WildKind, an organization educating and empowering families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Thing she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008.

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