When to Use Water Shoes
Water shoes are intended for use with water-related activities. They are intended to both keep your feet safe and provide comfort while walking, hiking, or running around water (lakes, ocean, rivers, streams, etc.).
However, they are NOT intended to keep your feet dry. They are not waterproof shoes (like hiking boots). Instead, they are made with quick-drying synthetic materials that offer ventilation and drainage. They can be worn with or without socks, and are useful for a broad range of outdoor recreational activities:
- Rafting/whitewater rafting
- Trail running
Seeing as the shoes can get wet without being damaged, they are great for use in wet conditions. Their thick rubber outsole will protect the bottom of your feet, while the sandal or shoe-style shell will prevent toe, heel, and forefoot injuries.
When to Use Aqua Socks
Aqua socks are usually made of latex, and they differ from water shoes in that they don't have a thick sole or sturdy upper. They are designed to be worn in low-impact, low-intensity situations, such as:
- Water aerobics
- Swimming pools
They can be worn on the beach, but their lightweight sole won't provide cushioning or protection against rocks. They are mainly intended to prevent bacterial foot infections rather than serve as a durable pair of shoes to use in wet environments.
Water Shoes Features
Planning on buying water shoes? Here are the most important features to consider:
- Material – Natural fabrics and cloths retain moisture, while synthetic materials are lightweight and dry more quickly. Real leather gets very heavy when wet and breaks down more quickly. Synthetic leather is almost as sturdy as real leather, but isn't as easily damaged by water and weighs far less.
- Sole – A thick sole may be better for hiking and walking, as it offers protection, traction, and longer durability. A thin sole is better for use on the beach, in the pool, and in the water. The type of sole you purchase will depend on the use of the water shoe.
- Toe Guard – A toe guard will protect your toes from rolling or falling objects (such as rocks), and can prevent injuries from underwater obstructions.
- Ventilation – Ventilation serves two purposes: to help your shoes, socks, and feet dry more quickly, and to prevent mold. There should always be a breathable mesh to allow for good ventilation.
- Drainage – This works hand in hand with ventilation! You will be using the shoes in the water (hence the name "water shoes") and getting them wet, but you don't want the water to remain trapped in the shoes. Proper water shoes include holes and vents to allow the water to drain from the shoe.
- Lacing – If you're going to use the water shoes for hiking, trail running, or climbing, you need a lacing system that grips your feet firmly. For more casual use, you may prefer something that is easier to slip on, such as a sandal strap design.
- Heel reinforcement – The reinforcement isn't in the heel itself, but in the collar. The reinforcement and padding can reduce chafing on your bare feet (a common problem with water shoes), reducing hot spots and blisters. Neoprene is an excellent material for heel reinforcement, as it's soft, flexible, and offers good insulation.
- Support and cushioning – Some water shoes are intended for more active use, so they offer good cushioning and support for your heels, midfoot, and forefoot. If you're going to run, walk, or hike long distances, you'll want shoes with this added cushioning. It will reduce the impact on your joints and keep your feet comfortable over long distances.
- Stability – The shoes should provide a stable platform, especially if you're using them to hike, climb, or run.
Types of Water Shoes
Water shoes come in a few different styles. Each style offers a benefit for different purposes and activities.
Sandal-Type Water Shoes – These shoes tend to come with a thick sole, open toe, and strap lacing system. They may have a mesh lining around the shoe or simply feature a sturdy sandal. They're almost considered sandals thanks to their open-toe design. However, they wrap around the heels and offer better cushioning and support than regular sandals. These offer superior ventilation and breathability, but they're not the most protective for use while hiking or trekking.
Closed-Toe Water Shoes – Think of a shoe that's a cross between a sandal and a pair of running shoes. They feature the sandal design (sturdy straps crossing over and around the foot), but with a proper lacing system, padded collar, and mesh lining. They offer good ventilation, comfort, and drainage, and tend to be more supportive and protective than sandal-type water shoes.
Hiking/Active Water Shoes – These are water shoes intended for runners, hikers, backpackers, or trekkers. They're built with the same durability, cushioning, and stability as running or hiking shoes, but they feature drainage holes around the sole to allow water to run out of the shoe. They're heavier than other water shoes, making them ideal for anyone who wants a sturdy pair of shoes that perform as well in the water as they do on dry land.
Barefoot Water Shoes – Brands like Vibram and Vivobarefoot have designed minimalist running shoes specifically for use in water. They're made of durable rubber, have no outsole, but are lightweight and offer excellent drainage and ventilation. They're good for barefoot runners, beach sports, and water sports. The fact that they're flexible means they can be used by surfers who need a good pair of water shoes.
Aqua Socks – Aqua socks aren't always technically socks. While many are designed as socks with a bit of traction on the sole, some use thick rubber to provide cushioning and support. Think of them as half-socks, half-flip flops. They're ideal for use by the pool, on the beach, or in calm waters.
Water Shoes Buying Guide
When buying water shoes, here are the three most important elements to consider:
- Use – The style of water shoes you buy will depend on the activity. If you're hiking, running, kayaking, or climbing, you want a pair of shoes with a sturdy sole and good cushioning and support. If you're lounging poolside or at the beach, you want something lightweight and easy to slip on. Buy a water shoe according to its intended use.
- Lacing – The lacing system affects the uses of the shoes. Proper shoelaces are ideal for active shoes, but they're less convenient for lounging. Slip-on aqua socks or strap-on sandal-style water shoes are great for use at the beach or poolside, but they won't stay in place if you're doing hardcore running, hiking, or climbing.
- Traction/Outsole – A thicker sole can handle more heavy-duty use and action, while a thin sole is more flexible for use in the pool, for aquaerobics, or for water sports.
These three features are the most important! Everything else—style, comfort, colors, etc.—are of secondary concern.
Benefits of Water Shoes
Why use water shoes?
- Better traction. Whether you're hiking, strolling around town, or walking by the pool, the rubber outsole of your water shoes will give you better grip and reduce the chance of slipping.
- Good protection. Water shoes will protect your feet from sharp rocks, stop you from stubbing your toe on poolside furniture, and prevent sunburns. They will prevent injuries as you walk, hike, climb, swim, or explore.
- Versatile. A good pair of water shoes can be used for trekking, hiking, rock climbing, or running. You can bring just one pair of shoes on your beach or island vacation no matter how many activities you're planning.
- Multi-terrain. These shoes are intended for use in and out of the water. You don't have to worry about getting them wet as you're crossing a mountain stream, walking along the beach, or running in the rain.
If you're going to be spending time around water—at the beach, riverside, lake, resort, or water park—you'd do well to consider water shoes.
Drawbacks of Water Shoes
Water shoes aren't perfect. There are a few limitations and drawbacks to these shoes:
- Not proper active shoes. If you're looking into hardcore hiking, distance walking, running, or water sports, these shoes may not be the perfect solution. They don't have the same arch support, stability, or durability of running shoes or hiking boots.
- Pricey. You'll spend more on a pair of water shoes than you would on other beach footwear, including sport sandals.
- Limited options. Water shoes aren't as popular as other types of shoes, so there is less variety on the market than with running shoes, sports shoes, or trekking shoes.
They're not perfect, but they serve a very specific purpose. If you need shoes that can handle wet and dry terrain, they may be just what you need.