The NRS Paddle Wetshoe is the shoe we repeatedly reach for when going out on the river, making it an easy choice for our Top Pick for Paddling. The Terraprene upper with a checkered fleece lining provides excellent warmth and stretches to ensure a snug fit whether you wear it with lots of insulation or bare feet. Out of the boat, it sticks well on wet rock, making portages and scouts easier. In the water, it allows plenty of ankle flexion and makes swimming a little bit more fun. While it can't measure up to other shoes for activities like canyoneering, we heartily recommend it for whitewater kayaking, rafting, or SUPing.
NRS Paddle Wetshoe Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Comfortable, warm, great traction on wet rock
Cons: Little support on rough terrain, no drainage
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Paddle Wetshoe is a high-top bootie designed to provide maximum warmth while boating. It fits like a sock due to its stretchy neoprene. Focused primarily for being in a boat, it isn't particularly supportive or comfortable to walk in for long periods. Instead, these shoes swim well and keep your feet happy on long, cold days on the water, performing just well enough on land to get you to and from your boat.
As a neoprene bootie, the NRS Paddle fits very well. Unlike some neoprene socks and booties, it has a very anatomical shape that wraps around your foot snugly. It doesn't have much of a lacing or closure system, but we found that between the super stretchy neoprene and burly side zipper (which has a velcro catch to prevent it from unzipping), the bootie stayed on our feet well and didn't move around as we walked.
In a boat, we liked that this bootie has a slightly stiffer sole than other booties we tested. With a super thin sole, we found our feet having to work harder to press against a foot brace. This sole strikes a nice balance — it supports your feet to give you control in the boat while also being plenty flexible to swim in comfortably.
Over rough terrain, the Paddle really doesn't provide enough protection for more than short jaunts. We didn't mind doing short portages or scouts in this bootie, but boulder hopping for long distances or even just walking over cobbles got pretty tiresome. If you love the feel of being barefoot and have strong feet, this won't be as much of an issue, but we doubt that most people will find these boots comfortable for long walks - the price you have to pay for their excellent performance in the water.
Because they don't have any drainage and are made mostly of neoprene, these shoes take a long time to dry. After one day of paddling, we left them in front of a gas fireplace and found the insides still wet after five days. That's by no means a standardized test, but it indicated to us that it would be a good idea to invest in boot driers (small, low-temperature heaters that can slip inside shoes) to prevent mold growth in wetter climates. On long trips, if you're wearing these over a drysuit, this shouldn't be an issue, but these could easily get pretty gross if exposed to bare feet for days on end without drying.
These are among the stickiest shoes we tested. On rough rock and logs, they performed very well, partially because of how much rubber you can get on the rock with their soft and flexible soles. The outsole isn't the stickiest we've tested, especially on smooth, wet rocks, but it comes close and is honestly plenty sticky for most paddling applications. We wouldn't hesitate to take on talus while scouting a rapid or scramble up a short section of low-angle rock during a portage.
On soft surface, the tread design of the Paddle Wetshoes did passably, but not as well as shoes with more aggressive lugs. The tread pattern utilizes a mix of lateral ridges and pits (inverted lugs) that stick well on a variety of surfaces but start slipping in deep mud or dirt, such as what you might find in steep river banks.
We also found the lack of support to be detrimental to soft-surface traction. Unlike more supportive shoes, these shoes just let your feet flex in response to undulating, slippery terrain, instead of allowing you to dig the tread in.
The Paddle Wetshoes were among the warmest shoes we tested. 3 mm of limestone-derived neoprene (Terraprene) plus a layer of soft fleece lining makes these a very warm shoe. As with most warmth-focused shoes, they lack drainage. However, if you're using these booties for their intended purpose - paddling - drainage would only be a hindrance to keeping warm on cold days.
The inside of the Paddle is lined with a checkered fleece that feels incredible on bare feet and adds a little warmth. With how stretchy the neoprene is, we were able to fit this boot comfortably (and get it on and off easily) with anything from bare feet to 3 layers of insulation (thick wool socks, drysuit socks, then thin outer socks). Adding more insulation is a breeze, unlike other shoes that require you to adjust lacing.
The NRS Paddle Wetshoe is not a very versatile water shoe. We wouldn't use it for much other than kayaking, rafting, or SUPing. For canyoneering, these shoes are alright if you plan on being in the water almost all the time. However, for most canyons, which involve hiking to the canyon and substantial walking along the creekbed, we prefer more supportive shoes. These also lack the durability for heavy use outside of a boat.
Off the water, it lacks the support or soft surface traction to make it a decent shoe on longer walks. Because these shoes focus on warmth, feet would likely get far too hot on land, and sweat would have nowhere to go, leading to excessive moisture.
Given that these shoes are easy to squish into a duffel bag, they are easy to bring along on trips in addition to some more land-focused shoes. For rafting, they come off super fast at camp, and can make a great pairing with some better drained or more hiking focused shoes to give you effective footwear on land and the water.
With a slightly thicker outsole compared to other booties we tested, the NRS Paddle strikes a decent balance between sensitivity and protection. While some shoes are more flexible, we didn't find that we really wanted any more flexibility than this shoe provided. Walking over cobbles and logs, the Paddle Wetshoe provides excellent proprioception.
We really loved swimming in these shoes. In our testing in the cold Pacific Northwest, we jumped into deep pools in canyons and swam around in rivers while padding. With super-warm feet, you can make more efficient kicks and feel less encumbered by your footwear, which makes spending time in the water all the more enjoyable.
As a neoprene bootie, these aren't meant for the rigors of canyoning or walking long miles. They are held together mainly by glue and stitching, and have no rigid or even stiff components to speak of. On the one hand, having all stretchy and flexible materials can allow a shoe to bend before ripping or being punctured. However, seeing well-worn pairs of these booties on friends, it's clear that they won't hold up to much abuse.
Like most NRS products, the craft on these booties is excellent. All seams are glued neatly, and we found no separation during our test period. The rubber reinforcement patches are thick (we estimate at least a couple millimeters) and held up even during a day of canyoneering.
The closure on these shoes is a YKK, large-toothed, plastic zipper. It didn't seem to be phased when we stepped into soft sand or rubbed it around on a rock. We don't have any reason to believe that it will be any less durable than the lacing systems on comparable water shoes.
These shoes are really meant to be worn on the water. They don't have the reinforcement or construction that would allow them to hold up to lots of walking or scrambling. However, this allows them to maintain a very stretchy, comfortable fit that we find perfect for on-the-water activities.
For their price, these shoes bring a ton of value to a dedicated boater. It's hard to believe that such high-quality neoprene, sticky rubber, and anatomical design come so cheap. In fact, these shoes almost won our Best Buy Award, missing it only because of their lack of versatility. If you're looking for a shoe to be used primarily on the water, these are very hard to beat both from a performance and price perspective. However, if you're expecting a lot of use out of the water, you can probably get a better value with a more versatile water shoe.
As a dedicated paddling bootie, the NRS Paddle Wetshoe is our clear favorite. It was an easy pick for our Top Pick for Paddling Award, with its sticky rubber, sock-like fit, and warmth. While it isn't great on land, we suspect that people buying this shoe for kayaking or rafting will be very pleased with it.
— Dan Scott