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There are myriad styles of paddling footwear available – from wetsuit booties to sneaker-like water shoes and sandals – but the most important function of the best kayak shoes is to protect the bottom of your feet. Whether you’re a sea kayaker, a river runner, a canoeist or SUPer, paddling adventures all start at a put-in point and end at a take-out place – and sometimes there are portaging sections midway through your adventure too, not to mention those unplanned moments where you find yourself falling out of your boat or off your board.

During these moments, when your feet are in shallow water (often in places where visibility isn’t great because of silt, sand or mud), all kinds of rocks, sticks, stones, shells, coral and other sharp objects can cause painful puncture injuries to your soles. The best kayak shoes will shield you from these so you can confidently concentrate on launching your craft, or carrying it out of the water.

And, of course, you can’t completely discount looks – the best kayak shoes will look as good on the beach and at the bar as a pair of the best boat shoes. Here we have tried and tested a wide range of the best shoes for kayaking, canoeing, rafting and stand-up paddleboarding, to help you select the ideal footwear for your aquatic adventures.

Best kayak shoes: Water sneakers

Salomon Amphib Bold 2

A lightweight, submergible sneaker that performs well in the waves and on the trails

Specs

Gender: Men’s / Women’s Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 210g Materials: Synthetic mesh upper; Contragrip rubber outsole; Quicklace Colors: Sky diver, quarry & estate blue / Black & quarry Compatibility: Kayaking, canoeing, SUPing, SwimRun, canyoning and coastal walks and runs

Reasons to buy

+ Very versatile; Lightweight; Quick draining; Quick drying; Easy to put on; Good looking

Reasons to avoid

– Low thermal protection; No recycled content used; Relatively expensive

This summer sneaker works just as well as a watershoe as it does as a trail hoof. The lightweight, synthetic mesh upper is both quick to drain and fast drying, making it ideal for a massive range of aquatic sports.

It’s super quick to put on – you can either push your whole foot in and use the Quicklace system to secure the shoe, or you can push the soft heel down and wear them loose and clog style.

The Contragrip outsole provides perfect protection from potential puncture threats on the floor, and also supplies superlative grip even on slippery surfaces.

This sneaker looks great, and with a reasonably cushioned midsole it also works as a running shoe (as you might expect from Salomon), so you can get straight off the water and hit the coastal trails or beach bar without breaking step.

It doesn’t really offer any thermal protection, so it’s better suited to the warmer months, but as a versatile watershoe fit for a wide range of aquatic activities, the Amphib Bold 2 is brilliant.

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Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport Water Shoe

An ultralight, super flexible, versatile water sneaker for a wide range of paddling and watersports in warmer conditions

Specs

Gender: Men’s and Women’s versions Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 225g Materials: Synthetic breathable mesh upper; rubber outsole Colors: Men’s: Surf / Black / Blue & yellow / Moonlit blue & orange / Steel gray & blue; Women’s: Sparrow / Steel gray & sapphire / Surf / Black Compatibility: Kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, SwimRun and aquathon across three seasons

Reasons to buy

+ Brilliant grip; Good underfoot protection; Excellent drainage; Lightweight; Flexible; Good fastening system; Wide toebox

Reasons to avoid

– Low upperfoot protection; No thermal protection; No recycled content; No anti-odor treatment; Pricey

These aqua sneakers are made by Xero, a brand that specializes in minimalist footwear, mainly for use on trails. With the Aqua X Sport they have taken the plunge into watersports, and produced a highly versatile, lightweight shoe that can be used for almost any activity enjoyed along the coast, lakeside or riverbank, from kayaking to deepwater soloing.

Armed with 3.5mm dual chevron lugs, the outsole offers best-on-test grip in all conditions, from wet slipways to coastal trails. (There’s no toe protection at all, however, so you need to be very careful if running in them.) On the water they excel, with the breathable mesh upper, quick-dry lining, non-absorbent tongue all shaking off the wet stuff, so they remain light no matter now often they’re submerged.

Using the speed laces you can get the Aqua X Sport nice and tight on your feet in a matter of seconds, aided by a heel pull-loop, and start paddling safe in the knowledge they’re not going to fall off. The low ankle has some padding and an Achilles notch for extra comfort on and off the water.

There’s no thermal protection, so these are not suitable kayak shoes for mid-winter paddling, and they don’t have any anti-odor treatment, so time will tell if they start to get a bit funky (especially as they’re designed to be worn without socks), but the Xero Aqua X Sport are brilliant option for people who mix up their paddling with a range of other water-based activities.

Helly Hansen Ahiga V4 HP Sneakers

Versatile, comfortable, lightweight and quick-drying aqua-trainers for 3-season boating and paddling adventures

Specs

Gender: Men’s and women’s Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 310g / 11oz Materials: Lightweight synthetic textile and mesh upper, EVA midsole, HellyGrip rubber outsole Colours: Men’s Off-white / Azurite / Charcoal / Jet black; Women’s: Terracotta / Off-white / Dusty blue / Navy Compatibility: Sailing, boating, kayaking, SUPing, coastal exploring

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Reasons to buy

+ Very versatile; Lightweight and comfortable; Brilliantly breathable; Great grip; Quick drying; Recycled content used

Reasons to avoid

– Little thermal protection in cold weather; No toe bumper

A versatile water shoe that can be worn during a whole range of watery escapades, the Ahiga V4 HP Sneakers are so lightweight you barely realise you have them on. The mesh upper is not just featherlight, it also allows your feet to breath very easily. Plus, after a drenching, these kayak shoes drain very quickly and dry rapidly.

Despite being lightweight, the EVA midsole provides cushioning, protection and support to the underside of your foot in all the places where you really need it, so whether you’re launching a kayak, canoe or SUP board, or walking around on sand and rocks, there’s no need to fret about what you might step on.

The rubber outsoles are nice and grippy on all sorts of surfaces too, and the lace eyelets extend right to the top of the tongue, which helps you get an excellent tight grip.

The Ahiga V4 HP Sneakers are designed to be worn without socks. On test they proved comfortable and we didn’t experience any rubbing, even in saltwater. Also, an antimicrobial treatment helps prevent the build up of bad smells.

We love the style of these shoes too – despite their high level of functionality they have a smart-casual style, and feel equally acceptable to wear in a beach bar as they do while paddling a sit-on-top kayak or SUP board. They’re also perfectly at home while strolling along beaches, cliffs, coastal paths and trails.

Buy the Helly Hansen Ahiga V4 HP Sneakers from Amazon

Best kayak shoes: Wetsuit booties

Palm Rock shoes

Mid-height 3mm water shoes for 3-season paddling on rivers, lakes and the sea

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 700g / 25oz Materials: 3mm CR limestone neoprene Colors: Black & jet grey Compatibility: Kayaking, canoeing and SUPing in all conditions, for most of the year

Reasons to buy

+ Excellent foot and ankle protection; Great grip; Decent tightening system; Supportive; Versatile; Pull tab for quick put on/take off

Reasons to avoid

– Don’t allow feet to breathe; Don’t drain; No thermal lining

While not being quite as technically advanced as the Palm Descenders (see below), the Rock water shoes are arguably more versatile than their heavy duty stablemates, and they’re certainly an excellent option for regular paddlers who enjoy getting out on kayaks, canoes and/or on a stand-up paddleboards for three seasons of the year.

The Rocks offer really good protection, not just across the sole of your foot, but also around the heel, toe and instep areas. The thick-but-flexible outsole has a brilliantly grippy contoured pattern, and the mid-height collar keep ankles safe too.

A Velcro strap across the front of the foot enables you to get a secure fit, and the Rocks will certainly stay on your feet even in challenging conditions. When you do need to take these shoes off, a tab on the heel makes things a bit easier. The glued and blind stitched construction means they’re very hardwearing and should last for years.

Lomo 3mm Wetsuit Booties

Budget-end, no-frills neoprene boots that do a great job of protecting your feet from the cold and sharp objects when you’re paddling or enjoying a wide range of watersports

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): Materials: 3mm Neoprene upper; moulded rubber sole Colors: Black Compatibility: Year-round water-based activities ranging from kayaking and canoeing to wild swimming, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding

Reasons to buy

+Warm; Extremely grippy; Very protective; Highly versatile; Easy and quick to get on and off; Robust; Great price

Reasons to avoid

– Unsecured; Don’t drain water; Non-breathable; On-water use only; Accumulate smells; No recycled content used

You probably won’t rush to the bar in these after getting off the water, but as a no-nonsense, genuinely year-round appropriate kayaking shoe, the 3mm Lomo wetsuit booties are a solid choice.

This is a very versatile piece of footwear too, and there’s no reason you couldn’t wear these booties while surfing and doing other board sports, as well as wild swimming, snorkelling and even diving (they’re completely compatible with fins).

They are attractively priced, and despite their ostensibly simple design the Lomo booties boast moulded rubber soles with multiple rows of aggressive teeth, offering the best grip of any pair of kayak shoes we’ve tested.

They don’t breathe, won’t let water our and can accumulate pungent odors over time, but these boots are really well put together and should last for years, even with heavy use. That’s if you don’t lose them, of course, because they don’t have laces or Velcro straps for tightening or securing them to your feet.

Gill Marine Edge Boots

Super-protective neoprene booties designed to keep your feet safe and warm during dinghy boating and paddlesports all year round

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 620g / 22oz Materials: Neoprene (90%) & Nylon (10%) Colors: Black with red laces Compatibility: Perfect for all-season sailing, kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and other aquatic board and boat sports

Reasons to buy

+ Versatile; Supportive; Superb sole and upper foot protection; Waterproof; Wonderfully warm; Extremely secure fit; Robust construction

Reasons to avoid

– Hard to get off; Ridiculously long laces can get annoying; Quite bulky and heavy; Can be too hot in summer; Water doesn’t drain out; No recycled or eco-friendly content

These mid-shin-length neoprene boots are highly protective, super grippy and extremely warm. They can be used during all sorts of aquatic adventures and across 12 months of the year, but you will probably find them too hot for paddling during the height of summer – they don’t let your feet breathe, and water can’t drain out of them.

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When conditions are cold and/or challenging, however, the Edge boots are the absolute bomb. The chunky, semi-rigid outsoles provide protection from all kinds of puncture threats, and the contoured pattern supplies good grip.

Besides keeping your feet very warm and protecting your pinkies, they look after your ankles and lower legs really well, and with laces and a wrap-around Velcro closure strip, they will never, ever come off, no matter how rough conditions are.

In fact, getting them off is a bit of a mission, even when you want to free your feet at the end of a paddle. That, and the fact that the laces are stupidly long (and arguably completely superfluous) are our two main quibbles with these otherwise excellent boots.

Best sandals for kayaking

Keen Drift Creek H2

A water-loving summer sandal that lets your feet breathe, while still providing excellent grip, and toe and sole protection

Specs

Gender: Men’s and Women’s versions Weight: Men’s: 265g / 9.35oz; Women’s: 208g / 7.34oz Materials: Webbing upper (made with recycled plastic bottles); EVA insole, KEEN.FUSION rubber outsole Colors: Men’s: Black / Dark olive & black / Sky captain & magnet; Women’s: Black / Plaza taupe & tarragon / Vapor & porcelain / Fawn & brindle Compatibility: Summer kayaking, canoeing, rafting and SUPing

Reasons to buy

+ Allows lots of airflow; Good grip; Decent toe and sole protection; Made with recycled plastic bottles; Washable; Impregnated with anti-stink treatment

Reasons to avoid

– No thermal protection; Minimal protection for the side, heel and top of the foot; Not everyone will love the look; Relatively expensive

Supremely breathable, these robust summer sandals are perfect for various paddle sports in the warmer months. The webbing upper – which is made partially from recycled plastic bottles – is waterproof, so you can walk right through the wet stuff without the material getting waterlogged and heavy.

The Drift Creeks are lightweight and highly flexible, but still supply the toe and sole protection you would expect from Keen. The lace-lock bungee system enables a seriously secure fit, and the EVA insoles have inbuilt arch support, making them comfortable to wear even if you’re on your feet paddleboarding for hours.

The KEEN.FUSION rubber outsole offers excellent grip on slippery surfaces, and great levels of protection for your soles.

As beautifully breezy as sandals are, we all know they have a tendency to get a bit stinky, but the Drift Creeks come infused with Eco Anti-Odor to keep this under control (and they’re washable, too).

They’re never going to provide enough warmth for winter use, but for kayaking, rafting, canoeing or SUPing in the summer, the Drift Creeks are a solid choice.

Best shoes for whitewater kayaking

Palm Descender Shoes

Burly paddling shoes for ultimate performance and protection when tackling whitewater conditions in kayaks, canoes and rafts

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 950g / 33.5oz Materials: 4mm CR limestone neoprene Colors: Black Compatibility: Whitewater kayaking, canoeing and rafting, plus sea kayaking and SUPing in challenging conditions

Reasons to buy

+ Superb foot and ankle protection; Very warm; Quick-dry thermal lining; GlideSkin O-ring prevents debris ingress; Robust build; Secure cross-foot tightening system; Pull loops to help pull the boots on and take them off

Reasons to avoid

– Don’t let feet breathe; Can run hot; Don’t allow water to drain; Over-featured for more casual paddling

Primarily designed for more experienced paddlers intending to negotiate lumpy conditions and technical rivers with stretches of whitewater, these kayak boots have an excellent tightening system that runs around the heel and tightens across the top of the foot, which will ensure they stay firmly on your feet even when you’re running rapids and doing drops. The GlideSkin O-ring ankle gasket also prevents the debris and (to some extent) water from getting in.

The 4mm neoprene main material will keep you warm right through those wet and windy months of winter, when the wild water runs at its exciting best, and there’s a soft quick-dry thermal lining to assist with this, and make the boots feel a bit more comfortable.

The rubber outsole is easily thick enough to prevent puncture wounds from below, and it features aggressive triangular-shaped lugs to provide traction and prevent slips during portages. The stiffened outsole wraps right around your foot, and the Descenders boast best-on-test levels of protection for paddlers’ toes, heels and insteps – something you’ll appreciate when carrying your boat – and there’s also an element of cushioning in the midsole.

A seemingly simple but very effective design element is the pair of pull loops on the cuff of these boots, which make them a whole lot quicker and easier to pull on and take off. The build quality is excellent, with seams both blind-stitched and glued, and we expect these kayak shoes to last for many seasons of sensational high-octane paddling.

Best kayak shoes: Water shoes

Helly Hansen Crest Watermocs

A versatile water-friendly slipper for casual use during various aquatic adventures

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 153g / 5.4oz Materials: 100% recycled polyester webbing upper; EVA midsole; 30% recycled rubber outsole Colors: Black/Charcoal/Deep fjord Compatibility: A wide range of watersports in warmer weather

Reasons to buy

+ Lightweight, flexible and easy to carry; Breathable and quick-drying; Reasonable underfoot protection; Lots of recycled material used; Easy to take on and off; Good for casual paddling and everyday beach use

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Reasons to avoid

– No protection for the toes, heel or upper foot; Less grip than other shoes on test; Slightly loose fitting; Expensive for what they are

A very simple slip-on water slipper, these mocs are ideal for the casual paddler using a sit-on-top kayak or stand-up paddleboard in warm and non-technical conditions. With a pull loop on the heel and a loose fit, they’re extremely easy to put on and take off – but, on the flipside, they can potentially be lost if you experience a wet exit in choppy conditions.

With a breathable, quick-drying mesh upper (all recycled), they keep your feet cool and it’s easy to forget you have the HH Mocs on at all after a little while. They are very lightweight and flexible (perfect for taking travelling), but the outsole is still thick enough to provide pretty good protection from most underfoot hazards.

The grip is good enough for low-level use, but it’s not as aggressive as some of the other kayak shoes on test, and there is no protection for paddlers’ toes, heels or upper foot.

They’re quite pricey for what they are, but we like the fact they’re mostly made from recycled material, and providing you don’t lose them in heavy surf, they should last for several seasons of fun paddling and general beach use.

Decathlon Subea Rip Tab Aquashoes

Budget watershoes for easy paddling adventures and general beachwear

Specs

Gender: Unisex Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 610g / 21.5oz Materials: Polyester upper; Injected EVA detachable insole; Polyvinyl outsole Colors: Turquin blue, turquoise green & white / Peacock blue, fluro peach & white Compatibility: Summer sit-on-top kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and beach play

Reasons to buy

+ Grippy; Good underfoot protection; Highly breathable; Velcro strap for tightening; Great drainage; Detachable insole for quick drying; Easy to put on and take off; Excellent price

Reasons to avoid

– No upper-foot protection; No thermal properties; Limited capability in rough water; No recycled content

A significant step up from a basic water slipper, the Subea Rip Tab Aquashoes from Decathlon have a crossover Velcro strap to keep them securely in place during the sort of activities they have been designed for, which include low-level kayaking (mainly on sit-on-tops) and paddling SUPs in fairly calm conditions.

They’re quick to put on, and easy to take off, thanks to the pull-tab on the heel. The quick-drying mesh upper allows your feet to breath easily, and water drains straight out. The 7mm-thick polyvinyl outsoles extend up the heel slightly, provide good protection from underfoot hazards and are liberally covered in studs that offer great grip.

They have a 10mm heel-to-toe drop, and the injected EVA detachable insole supplies some cushioning when you’re off the water (or standing on your SUP board).

These shoes have limited capability beyond basic kayaking, boarding and general beach use, and won’t keep you feet warm in chilly temperatures, but they’re protective and highly functional for occasional paddlers, and you can’t argue with the low price.

It’s a shame, though, that no recycled materials have been used – Decathlon are usually better with their environmental considerations.

Buy the Subea Rip Tab Aquashoes from Decathlon

What to look for in the best kayak shoes

Kayak shoes and boots come in all shapes and sizes, and offer different degrees of functionality and capability that lend themselves to various forms of paddling. The following features and considerations are the most important ones to look out for when you’re seeking for the best kayak shoes for you.

Outsole – protection and grip

The most important things to look for in any shoe or boot that you are intending to wear while kayaking, canoeing, rafting or stand-up paddleboarding is underfoot protection and grip.

This is all supplied in the outsole of the shoe, which needs to be thick enough to stop sharp objects on the beach, sea or river floor from painfully puncturing the bottom of your feet. A rubber outsole with lugs (small studs, that form surface like the tread on a mountain bike tyre) supply the best grip on slippery surfaces.

If you’re likely to be wading around in shallow water, or doing any significant portages, then toe and heel protection is also important.

Upper – breathability versus warmth

If you do the majority of your paddling during the summer months, in mostly calm conditions, then breathability will be more important than thermal protection in the upper area of the shoe – go for sandal-style footwear, or a slip-on or water sneaker with a quick-draining mesh upper.

If you paddle year-round, however, then you will need a pair of kayak shoes that offers much more warmth, at least for the winter months – go for a wetsuit style neoprene bootie.

Fastening system

For casual paddlers, who tend to use sit-on-top kayaks and beginners stand-up paddleboards on flat water, it’s not so important to have a shoe that does anything more than slip onto your foot. Anyone who kayaks in rough water, however, be that sea swell or rapids, will need a shoe that fastens to their foot with Velcro straps or laces.

Versatility

If you enjoy a range of aquatic adventures, from kayaking and SUPing through to coasteering, beach hiking and SwimRun, it’s great to get a pair of water shoes that can handle anything you throw at them. Some of the water sneakers featured here are perfect for this.

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>