Discover the Best White Water Rafting Shoes, River Shoes and Kayak Footwear for Every Budget
Getting ready for an adventure in or near the water? You’ll want to make sure you have the best shoes for the type of activity. Having improper footwear can quickly ruin an amazing trip. I’ll cover the best white water rafting shoes, river shoes and kayak footwear for every budget. I’ll cover considerations for what to look for when choosing a shoe and why. That way you are prepared for whatever adventure you choose!
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Table of Contents
- Best White Water Rafting Shoes or Water Shoes for Kayaking for Men, Women and Kids
- Things to Consider When Selecting a Water Shoe
- What to Avoid when Picking a Water Shoe
- Best Water Shoes for Women
- Best Water Shoes for Men
- Best Water Shoes for Kids
- Top Brands of River Shoes
- Water Socks, Water Shoes with Toes and More!
- FAQ Section
Best White Water Rafting Shoes or Water Shoes for Kayaking for Men, Women and Kids
Looking to make a quick decision on the best water shoes? I’ve got you covered with the best shoes to wear in water for any type of activity.
Need river water shoes? How about the Chaco’s for both men and women with their adjustable straps and quick on/off.
Looking for kayak shoes (kayak footwear), or river rafting shoes? You’ll want something to protect your toes in case you go overboard. I’d recommend Keens for the whole family. Quick drying, comfortable foot bed and easy to adjust.
I’ve also included water sneakers and swim shoes for tubing, paddle boarding or water parks.
They feature durable quick dry material with solid soles and have top performance ratings. If you are looking for an aqua shoe to tackle a day on the water, these brands and styles have you covered.
This way you’ll be ready with the best water shoes for white water rafting around the globe or the best water shoes for kayaking down raging rivers and scenic byways.
KEEN Men's Newport H2 Sandal
Secure lacing, made in the USA and quick drying. *Order 1/2 size larger than shoe size.
Chaco Women's ZX2 Classic Athletic Sandal
Rubber sole, customization fit with adjustable straps.
KEEN Unisex Kid Newport H2 Sandal
Breathable mesh lining, molded to your child's foot.
Things to Consider When Selecting a Water Shoe
First of all, you need to pick a shoe that is intended for the water! You’ll be near the water, have water splashing on you or you might fall into the water. So not only should your shoe protect you, it should also be quick drying.
Second of all, your shoe needs to be comfortable. All river guides will recommend that you break in your shoes and not pack a brand new pair. Wear them around the house for at least a few days, take the dog for a walk or go for a short hike. You want to make sure the shoes will work and won’t leave blisters.
If the shoes are uncomfortable, you can try them with a pair of wool socks. Wool is a natural material and dries quickly. (No one will see your feet.)
Can I wear a pair of tennis shoes? Sure, you could. It’s recommended by river guides if you do not have a pair of suitable shoes to wear an old pair of sneakers. However, make sure they lace up tight because rushing water can steal them right off your feet. I also wouldn’t recommend them for early or late season water activities as they do not dry quickly and you can get cold.
Your shoes are going to take the brunt of your water adventure. You’ll be walking through water to launch your raft, kayak, or boat. Then you’ll likely jump out to pull off and head up for a hike. Your shoes will get muddy, sandy and rocks will be traversed, so a good shoe is key.
I highly recommend getting a quick drying shoe. I prefer a closed toe aqua shoe that will not only stay on your feet, but will keep you dry and comfortable.
DO NOT bring crocs, waterproof boots (rain boots) or aqua socks. They do not have the stability nor the flexibility needed.
What to Avoid when Picking a Water Shoe
I’ve covered this a bit above, but I want to mention a few shoes to avoid when you go white water rafting or kayaking. I suggest avoiding the following because they will cause injury, blisters or will be swept away by the water currents. You certainly don’t want any of the above happening!
- loose fitting shoes of any type
- any other backless footwear
- heavy hiking boots
- any other leather footwear that won’t dry quickly
One style of rafting shoe that is 50/50 for me is an open toe style rafting shoe. I’ve seen plenty of river guides wearing them, but they are often engaging in less risky water sports. For example, steering the gear boat, kayaking in a lake or calm body of water. If this is the style of water adventure you have in mind, then an open toe water sandal is fine. However, it still needs a strap and fits tight.
Best Water Shoes for Women
If you are like most women, you enjoy a nice pair of shoes and picking out a pair of water shoes for a water adventure is no different. You want durability, style and comfort all in one. I’ve included some ladies water shoes that will not only protect your feet, but also have a bit of style.
I have personally tried quite a few of these brands. I wore the Saloman water shoes on our recent family white water rafting trip, click the link to read all about it.
I also own a pair of Chaco sandals for lighter kayaking, canoeing and river tubing. I really like the shock pad heel and thicker sole. I’m currently eyeing the Astral Loyak’s. I love a versatile shoe.
Each of these shoes features a solid sole that can tackle walking on rocks and they are easy to adjust for a tight comfortable fit. It really depends on what style you like.
Best Water Shoes for Men
Written from my husband perspective since he is the expert.
The best water shoes for men features solid ribber grip soles with heel cups, polyester straps for an adjustable fit and durable materials.
Keen men’s water shoes are a top contender, especially for active sports that require a solid shoe with toe protection. They are comfortable and break in quickly. Size 15 water shoes are often hard to come by, but Keens (up to size 17), Chaco’s (up to size 15) and Merrell’s (up to size 15) have a wide variety of adult water shoe sizes.
I personally prefer my Merrell’s because I do not like sandals, but since I’ve had my pair for many years, I may invest in the astral Loyak’s next due to their multi-sport style as my next water shoe.
Best Water Shoes for Kids
Kids and water always seem to mix, especially in the summer. Looking for the best kids water shoes? I’ve got you covered.
We’ve been through a few boys water shoes in this family with my son. He loves to be outside playing in the creek, splashing in puddles and going on adventures with his parents. We recently took him on a 3 day/2 night white water rafting trip in Northern California, so dependable water shoes were #1.
I’ll share a mix of toddler water shoes, boys water shoes and girls water shoes for all the kids in your family. They are all highly recommended and tops brands with easy on/off straps, adjustable tighteners, rubber soles and mid-range prices. They are kid tested and mom approved!
I DO NOT suggesting buying aqua socks, water socks or “water shoes” that can slip on and off. Those types of shoes are fine for playing at the pool, but they will not work when walking along rocks, playing in water that has a current or when getting in/out of rafts, kayaks and canoes.
If that is the type of shoe you are looking for, check out my recommendations at the bottom of this guide.
Top Brands of River Shoes
With so many brands to choose from, which is the best? That will really come down to personal preference. Each brand has it’s own materials, style and fit. I’ll highlight the best of each company and some cons, but note that those are person dependent.
This is list is by no way inclusive of all brands. However, I have highlighted the tops brands for the best water shoes for kayaking, white water rafting, waterfall rappelling and more.
Keen Sandals are incredibly popular and one of the first brands mentioned when discussing water based activities. They are a comfortable and functional shoe for white water rafting, kayaking, fishing and canoeing. They are a good combination of sandal and shoe and is one of the few to provide toe protection.
Customers love Keens for their traction and grip, even when wet. The laces provide a customized fit and Keens work well whether you are in the water or along the shore.
One item to note, you’ll need to order a 1/2 size larger. There is a nice arch deign, which provides not only comfort, but also stability within the shoe.
Owned by a Portland, Oregon based company, the company strives to make a difference in the community. They frequently donate shoes and monteary funds to those in need. They are trying to limit the use of PFC’s as well as using tanneries that reduce their use of chemicals to help protect the environment and watersheds.
- They have a comfortable footbed with arch support
- Good toe protection
- High Level of Traction
- Quick Drying
- Plenty of color choices to choose from
- Minimal break-in time
- Spacious Toe Box
- Durability concerns with ankle strap stitching
- Must order 1/2 size larger than normal shoe size
- When sand or small rocks wash in while hiking around the river, it’s hard to get out without taking off your shoe
- Possibility of feet sweating
- Not great for those with flat feet
Another favorite water shoe comes from Chaco. Chaco sandals were the creation of a white water rafting and fishing river guide, Mark Paigen. The Chaco company makes top brand sandals with high quality materials that are durable and provide stability for whatever adventures you choose. Their sandals have a grippy texture in the foot bed with a nice arch, as well as on the bottom of the shoe.
If you don’t want a bulky shoe, but you still need protection from the rocks, pebbles and unknown dangers beneath the water, then Chaco’s are perfect.
Chaco Sandals come in a wide variety of styles. There are three main styles: the Z1 sandal with no toe loop, the Z2 with a toe loop and the ZX2 with double strands instead of one. Try each style to see which one works best for you. I prefer the Z2 with the toe loop.
The shoes are comfortable and true to size with a standard width (that also accommodates slightly larger feet). The shoe is easy to put on with its pull-tab heel.
With their innovative strap system that loops and tightens on the whole foot, you are guaranteed to get the perfect fit. You start at the front, pulling and tightening as you go around your foot. Then you use the buckle to get everything just right. It can take a bit to get the fit perfect, but once you do, it’s great.
Even if you wear out your sandals, you can contact the company for repairs, including sole replacements (for a fee).
The Chaco company is committed towards protecting rivers and donated a portion of its profits to American Rivers.
- Feet dry quickly
- Keeps feet cool on hot days
- Strong, durable and long-lasting sandal
- Thick sole makes it a strong hiking sandal that protects your sole
- Fully adjustable straps
- Built for water activities with a non-slip foot bed and great sole
- Foot bed molds to your foot over time
- They repair almost any part of the sandal when you send them in
- On long days outside, wet straps can cause blisters
- Small rocks and sand can wash in under your foot
- No toe protection
- Quite heavy, when compared to similar sandals
- A little more expensive than similar models of other sandals
Teva is another well known name in the hiking, water shoe, travel brand. Their sandals feature comfortable foot beds with easy on/off Velcro straps. They are lightweight with a nice grip. Tevas were created by a river guide when he wanted to prevent his sandals from floating down the river.
The straps are easy to adjust, but the Velcro system can wear out over time.
Tevas dry out quickly, but you’ll also feel rough ground below you with a thinner sole. For most day to day use, it isn’t an issue. Tevas also feature a anti-odor foot bed and shock pad in the heel.
The Teva company works to better the environment and gives a portion of its profits to various charities including including Grand Canyon Conservancy, Camber Outdoors, and Conservation Alliance.
- Water and Hiking Sandal
- Fully adjustable straps
- Anti-microbial footed for less odor
- Decent grip on the sole
- Fast drying straps
- Light weight (average 1.25 lb per pair)
- Not as durable as other similar brands
- Thinner sole, so you can feel the ground underneath
- Sizing concerns among users (order a 1/2 size smaller)
- Foot tends to slide in the sandal when wet
Relatively new to the market is Astral Shoes. They merge style with practical use when in and near the water. You can easily go from being on the water, to a quick hike along the shore or a picnic break, and finally grab a beer at the local pub all with one pair of shoes.
Astral was founded in 2002 and started making life jackets, then in 2012 they joined the footwear scene. They offer a versatile shoe that maintains style, comfort and grip. Utilizing hemp canvas, rip-stop canvas and hydrophobic canvas with low profile rubber, they make a really nice looking shoe that puts their “nature first” commitment front and center.
The Astral website says that Astral shoes tend to fit “true to size” when worn barefoot or with a thin sock. Size up 1/2 a size if you plan to wear thicker socks. They feature a wide toe box and the shoe is low profile. The shoes will stretch and comfort to your foot as you break them in.
They do not offer wide sizing. Women’s sizing goes up to a size 11 and men’s sizing goes up to a size 14.
A warranty against product defects is included with every shoe purchase.
- Foot & toe protection
- Multi-purpose shoe (raft, hike, fish, climb)
- Keeps rocks out
- Sticky rubber sole to provide stability
- Comfortable and unrestricted foot bed
- Anti-odor protection
- Drainage ports to help keep feet dry
- No option for wide feet (size E)
- Thinner tread, long hikes may make your feet feel tired
Water Socks, Water Shoes with Toes and More!
Looking for something other than water sandals and high performance river shoes? There are a few options, like water shoes with toes like the Vibram five finger water shoes and slip on water shoes like Aleader mesh slip on water shoes. I’ll cover a few nice options and what pros/cons they have compared to the options listed above.
Most of these shoe options would not be recommend for white water rafting with water currents. However, they are a good option for calm waters, fishing, river tubing, visits to the water park and smooth terrain.
- Where can I find water shoes to purchase in person?
- Local retailers such as REI, Dicks, Backcountry, or LLBean.
- What are some cheap water shoes options?
- If cost is a concern, Amazon has some great options, such as the UBFEN Mens Womens Water Shoes.
- What are some lightweight water shoes options?
- If you want something really lightweight, you’ll want a water sock, minimal sole water shoe. The Barerun Barefoot Quick-Dry Water Sports Shoes are a good option.
- What water shoes do you recommend for people with wide feet?
- Chaco’s come in wide widths and are an excellent choice. Keens also run wide, but do not feature wide sizing options.
- What are the best shoes for rafting?
- What are the best shoes for kayaking?
- What are the best river shoes?
I hope this guide to the best white water rafting shoes for men, women and children was helpful. We are very much a water loving family and like having gear that is up to the challenge without wearing out after one season.
Want to read more about our travels, including tons of European adventures, head over to my destinations page to check out my interactive map! I also have a huge guide to all the places that we’ve travel to Europe, so check that out for some great tips, ideas on where to go and more!
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