Picking out the best kayaking shoes is no easy feat, since there’s more you need to take into account than you might think. Thankfully, that’s what we’re here for. In this article, we’ll present you with some high-quality yet affordable options for your next lakeside or riverside vacation.
While a solid ‘yak is the most important weapon in any paddler’s arsenal, a good pair of water shoes is essential to keeping your feet dry and non-slippery. Our 10 picks do all of this, and then some, which is why they tend to be the go-tos for amateurs and avid water sports lovers alike.
Keep on reading and find the best kayak water shoes for you!
Quick Answer: Best Kayaking Shoes
10 Best Kayaking Shoes
To make your life a little bit easier, here are some of the best kayaking shoes on the market, all only a few clicks away:
Materials: Terraprene neoprene | High-traction sole | Neoprene insole
Kicking off our list of the best kayak shoes are the NRS Wetshoes, which provide top-tier water protection well beyond their price range. Because they’re so budget-friendly, it’s easy to recommend these for other water-based activities too, especially fishing.
When it comes to kayaking, these puppies do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Although they’re incredibly light, your feet are guaranteed to feel warm even in the coldest of rivers, and the neoprene insoles will make it so you don’t feel those pesky river rocks and pebbles.
Kayaks don’t really leave you with a lot of wiggle room, so the ankle pads are a much-welcome addition that can keep you comfortable for hours, and your toes will have plenty of room to breathe too.
The cherry on top here is the thick sole, which allows for maximum stability on practically any surface, and you could even use these as hiking shoes in a pinch!
Materials: Textile | Rubber sole
This is one of the safest choices you can make when shopping for kayak water shoes, as they provide great general comfort while still being plenty stylish. A quick look at the Drainmaker’s beautiful gray, orange, and baby blue design will show you they mean business!
Even still, the most important thing here is quality, and these shoes have it in spades. Anyone who’s tried their hand (or foot, in this case) at kayaking will tell you that mesh provides some of the best protection you can get, especially when coupled with midsole ports to get rid of much of the water that makes its way into the shoe.
With all that said, some wetness is inevitable when you’re doing something like kayaking, but you can rest assured that you won’t be slipping in these shoes thanks to the Omni-Grip outsole. In fact, you can get away with wearing these in light snow without a problem.
Materials: Synthetic/Mesh | Synthetic sole
You probably don’t want a pair of loafers that will get shoved in the back of your closet after a couple of days out by the water, which is where these multi-purpose kayak water shoes come in. This particular brand of Merrell shoes is easily identifiable by its lug soles, which make them the perfect fit for both water activities and light-to-moderate hiking in suboptimal terrain conditions.
As far as kayaking goes, these shoes offer amazing drainage, as well as a mesh panel that ensures they’ll be drying off rather quickly. Moreover, the fact that the lugs are hollow makes these things incredibly light, so you’ll hardly feel them in your bag, or on your feet, for that matter!
Another selling point would have to be the M Select FRESH technology that makes the shoes impervious to water damage and the unpleasant smells that come with it. All you need is a solid pair of socks to combat sand (especially if you’re kayaking on a lake), and you’ll be good to go.
Materials: Spandex fabric upper | Rubber sole | Lycra material
A list of the best kayaking shoes would be incomplete without one of the kings of budget footwear, the Mishansha Water Shoes. If aesthetics are important to you, we have no trouble recommending these thanks to the dozens of beautiful color combinations available.
On the more technical side of things, the Mishansha Water Shoes are mostly made of spandex, which in itself is great for squeezing out any excess water. Moreover, you probably won’t be needing socks while wearing these, as the Lycra upper will practically be snuggling your feet. Not to mention, you’ll also have the obligatory drainage holes for guaranteed dryness.
Although this is more of a peripheral detail, these shoes also have a pull tap at the back, a feature that’s becoming less and less common across all forms of footgear. The elastic straps are also very nifty, since shoddy shoelaces are common weakness of water shoes, no matter how water-resistant they are.
Materials: Rubber sole | Ultra lightweight fabric
The hiitave brand is another mainstay in the kayak water shoes niche, due in no small part to their attractive designs, color schemes, and effectiveness in keeping water off your feet.
The great thing about fabric shoes is you’ll forget you even have them on after a while, and the superb comfort they provide is only made better by that trademark flex that’s hard to come by in other types of shoes. On top of all that, you also get 8 drainage holes on each sole to keep you dry, even if the water gets a little too rough.
These shoes are very lenient when it comes to picking out a size that’s perfect for you, as the elastic drawstrings will make the shoe mold to your foot shape and width the way few others can. If you can’t find the size you usually wear, the amazing amount of stretch lets you get away with going down half a number, if not a full one.
Materials: Rubber sole | Ultra-lightweight fabric
Anyone in the know will tell you that L-RUN has put out some of the best kayaking shoes money can buy, and they come in all manner of sizes and colors to boot.
What sets these shoes apart from many of their competitors are the honeycomb insoles, which provide extreme comfort and ensure your feet won’t be getting stabbed by rocks and grit. The elastic bands will keep these shoes firmly on your feet, and you can easily remove the shoelaces to adjust for minor discrepancies between your foot size and the size of the L-RUN.
The shoes are made of extremely flexible textile, so for all intents and purposes, you’ll be feeling like you’re only wearing socks, especially since the ventilation does such a good job at draining much of the water that manages to get into the shoe.
Best of all, you can expect to get great traction out of these beauties. You’re bound to get a little bit wet when you’re kayaking, no matter how well you protect yourself, but you’ll still have an easy time walking on sand and hardwood decks after a long day of soaking your L-RUNs.
Materials: Rubber grip soft sole | Textured outsole
Next up is the Mares brand, whose neoprene water shoes will be with you through the thick and thin of rough water kayaking.
While ankle braces are generally good to have, these shoes opt against them to better complement the light, 5-ounce (per shoe) design. These types of shoes were built with diving in mind, so they’ll have absolutely no trouble keeping you dry while kayaking.
The somewhat tight fit will offer you all the water protection you could possibly ask for, and the combination of a vulcanized sole and extra-rubberized heels makes it so you can walk on sand and pointy rocks without a care once you’re back on land.
Finally, there’s the amazing elasticity – although you’ll have a thick sole and great traction, you’ll be able to wiggle your feet freely, as though you’re wearing nothing at all!
Materials: Rubber sole | Ultra-grip outsole
True to their name, these water kayak shoes will fit your foot like a glove, and they’re likely to catch some envious stares too, if you’re out by a lake!
Chances are you’ve never seen anything quite like this. The front of the shoe is divided into 3 compartments, which definitely makes it a bit of an acquired taste. With that said, the three-toed front isn’t just for show, as it gives each of your toes plenty of wiggle room and removes the need for socks altogether.
As for water resistance, the fabric design will keep you plenty dry, and the decently thick rubber soles offer plenty of stability on slippery surfaces. In addition, the shocklace system makes these shoes incredibly easy to put on and keeps them firmly planted on your feet… they’re about as likely to come off as a pair of well-fitting gloves, which is a huge plus in our book!
Materials: Rubber sole | Open mesh upper
The best kayaking shoes are those that offer maximum protection for your feet while still managing to look sleek, and that’s definitely the case for the SOBASO Water Shoes.
One of the disadvantages of drain holes is that they tend to result in more rocks and sand getting in your shoes, but this particular SOBASO specimen forgoes them in favor of a mesh design that keeps water and other unwanted intruders away from your feet. Also, putting these things on is as easy as putting on a pair of slippers (the elastic laces certainly help that), and the abundance of pores at the top will make your feet feel light as air.
The thick soles can’t go unmentioned here either, since you can follow up your kayaking session with a hike in the sun without worrying about sore feet. Add to that the solid traction, and you have yourself a pair of shoes that are perfect for any outdoor activity.
Materials: 92% polyester | Mesh material | Elastic-shoelace | Rubber sole
These kayaking shoes come in more color varieties than you’ll know what to do with, but that’s only the beginning.
What’s interesting about these SIMARI shoes is that they’re mostly made of polyester, making them immune to shrinkage and quite resistant to water. The laces can be adjusted in seconds flat if need be, although the locking mechanism guarantees the shoes won’t be coming off without your say-so.
Kayaks can get fairly stuffy, especially if you’ve put on some holiday weight, but the drainage holes are here to keep you feeling cool and breezy. Once you’re out of the water, you can just leave the shoes out to dry for a little bit and pounce back into the action. While the flexible sole makes these less suitable for dry-land activities, you couldn’t do much better where kayaking is concerned.
Key Considerations for Buying Kayaking Shoes
Before choosing your kayaking shoes, be sure to take these factors into account:
Although the main thing to consider when picking out kayaking shoes is water protection, you’d be wise to pick something that covers and pads your ankles. A good pad will keep you warm no matter the weather, and it drastically reduces the chance of the shoes slipping off.
Although they come at the cost of reduced rock protection, sandals can be a great alternative provided that the waters are still. If you can find a pair with a solid strap system, sandals can double as amazing footwear for beaches, docks, or other surfaces you might find yourself on after kayaking.
Most of the best kayaking shoes are made of neoprene, as this material ticks every box as far as water sports are concerned. Casting water resistance aside for a moment, you’ll also want a pair of shoes that don’t encumber your feet any more than they need to, and since neoprene floats in water, you can easily retrieve these types of shoes in the off chance they actually slip off.
When it comes to the soles, you’ll definitely want them thick and made of rubber. If our list hasn’t made this abundantly clear already, you’ll probably be coming into contact with rocks when you’re kayaking, and a rubber sole with a heel at the level of the outsole practically guarantees you won’t lose your footing when walking around with your wet shoes.
Another thing that makes the neoprene/rubber combination great is that it dries off very quickly, especially if coupled with plenty of pores all over the surface of the shoe.
Needless to say, the time of year you go kayaking can and should greatly affect your shoe choice. Although water shoes tend to be very light, you might be surprised at the amount of warmth they can provide if need be!
If you’re hell-bent on kayaking in the winter (and hey, more power to you), neoprene shoes are generally a very safe bet. You’ll also want to make sure your shoes of choice have some form of lining inside, preferably fabric, so as to keep your feet as warm as possible.
For a more conventional spring or summer kayaking experience, anything goes – you can rely on your best judgment and determine the best type of shoe for a given day, but sandals and other open-toe options are a great pick if the weather happens to be particularly hot.
Although there are definitely benefits to kayaking in sandals, you need to keep in mind that rivers are the bane of naked or semi-exposed feet. We don’t need to harp on about the dangers of rocks much more than we already have (although we will), but ideally, you’ll want your toes to be covered up if you’re not kayaking in a lake.
Where there’s a large body of water, there’s usually a lot of varied terrain all around it, but if you take our advice and get a product from our list, you can rest assured you’ll be blister-free, even if you’re just walking around on solid ground.
It’s no secret that kayaking can really do a number on the average shoe, and if the REI and Amazon reviews are any indication, the kayak water shoes we’ve outlined for you are some of the most durable you can hope to get.
We’ve discussed the importance of good materials in great detail here, but we can’t stress this enough – rubber soles are the key to a water shoe’s longevity. It’s also important to note that water-resistant and waterproof are two completely different stories, so depending on how bumpy the waters are, you’ll definitely want the latter if you can help it.
As far as maintenance goes, don’t think that wearing shoes in the river is enough to keep them clean. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a good idea to leave your shoes out in the sun after wearing them in the water, or at the very least wear them outside if the sole’s traction allows for it.
On the topic of traction, we’re major proponents of not buying a separate pair of shoes for water and land-based activities… Why spend the extra bucks, when you could simply not? At the end of the day, it all goes back to thick, rubber soles, as this is among the least slippery and quickest-drying materials for a water shoe.
Whether you’re dealing with hot lakeside sand or sharp rocks by the riverbed, a good sole is your main saving grace. As for smoother surfaces, jagged threads are your best option, as any residual moisture would mostly be relegated to the inlets of the sole, meaning less slipping on your part!
Picking out the right size for your kayaking shoes is a little different than dealing with other kinds of footwear, which is all the more reason not to hop into a kayak with the same shoes you wear at the gym.
Shoes made of stretchier fabric can be completely viable even if you get the size a little bit wrong. On the other hand, sneakers and running shoes that aren’t meant for water may or may not succeed in keeping your feet safe, but chances are they’ll shrink after you’ve dried them off – it’s a rookie mistake, and a common one at that!
The point here is, don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the exact size you usually wear. Chances are you can downsize or upsize when it comes to water shoes (especially when they’re made of neoprene), so be sure to read up on reviews for each specific option on our list to make an informed decision.
What to Wear When Going Kayaking
Aside from the best kayaking shoes, while kayaking, you may also want to wear:
- Water and wind resistant clothing
- A dri-fit t-shirt to wick sweat
- A bathing suit in case you feel like hoping in the water
- Plenty of layers – weather can change at any moment!
And there you have it! A complete round up of the best kayaking shoes available in 2023. Hopefully, these picks make your selection a bit simpler when it comes to finding the perfect footwear for long days out on the water.
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