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Are you seeking the best water shoes? After researching 60+ top models on the market today, we purchased 7 of them to test side-by-side. We wet our feet while paddling, swimming, and canyoneering throughout the Pacific Northwest and Colorado Front Range. We rigorously tested through a wide range of water sports, with many different testers. While testing in real-life use, we evaluate key performance metrics to see which shoe will keep your feet warm, comfortable, and happy, whatever the water temperature. Take a gander at our in-depth, hands-on review that's built for everybody. Whether you're trying out water sports for the first time or you're already a pro, we've got the top recommendations for your needs and budget to add to your footwear collection.
Editor's Note: We updated this water shoe review on April 27, 2022, removing a discontinued shoe from the review. We also recently included some new test information and help deciding which shoe is right for you.
Weight per pair: 1.6 lb | Drainage: Front/side holes, top mesh
Adjusts to fit insulation well
Excellent balance of support and flexibility
Good but not best in class traction
Could be more durable
The Astral TR1 Junction is a superb do-it-all shoe. We happily used it for more activities than any other shoe during testing. Its comfortable interior is highly adjustable, making it great whether you're going barefoot or stuffing in multiple socks under your drysuit. Its G15 outsoles balance traction on soft and hard surfaces better than any other water shoe we tested. The moderately stiff midsole provides excellent foot protection and support while also providing good proprioception on rough terrain.
While these shoes are great for most water activities you can throw at them, they aren't quite as warm as paddling booties, like the NRS Paddle Wetshoe, while their outsoles struggle to stick to the slickest rocks. If you need a purpose-built shoe for more narrow usage, look below. But for those looking for a single shoe that can perform great in any water sport, theTR1 Junction is our highest recommendation.
We acknowledge that some people are just looking for a great water shoe for boating on a shoestring budget. If that describes you, look no further than the NRS Kicker Remix. The thick neoprene uppers are comfortable and keep your feet toasty warm. The thin but very sticky outsole is excellent on wet rock and provides good proprioception to balance on rough terrain.
While they work well for kayaking, these booties are too thin-soled to do much walking. Unless your feet are a form-fitting match, they also have slippage issues because there are no laces to fine-tune the fit. Both of these things are not an issue if you only need a shoe to keep your feet warm in a boat, protect your drysuit socks, and keep your feet protected at the put-in and takeout. For the price, these make a very decent boating shoe.
Weight per pair: 1.1 lbs | Drainage: Front/back/side holes, top mesh
Don't be fooled by the casual, stylish looks of the Astral Loyak. These are high-performing water shoes with a well-designed, sock-like fit, superb drainage, and sticky, siped outsoles. They are super comfortable on foot, whether in the water or on land. Their thin, neutral soles have a great ground feel that helps maintain balance and make them fun to swim in.
Despite solid water performance, these aren't the most durable option. They're also not as adjustable as higher-performing models that offer more insulation on chilly days. However, this option is a good value for anyone searching for a paddling or river walking shoe that's versatile enough for chilling around camp, traveling, or going from water to watering hole.
Designed explicitly for paddling, the NRS Paddle Wetshoe offer a super stretchy neoprene upper and a fleece interior, providing superb fit and warmth even on super cold days. Their sticky rubber kept us stable when moving over slick, wet rock in the river. With a low-drag upper and excellent ankle flexion, these are fun to wear in the water.
However, that flexibility and warmth come at the expense of on-land performance. The thin, flexible soles don't provide enough support for lots of walking, and the lack of drainage that makes these so warm ends up retaining water on land, leading to soggy, uncomfortable feet. These booties are more or less a one-trick pony: for any activity in which you expect to be on the water most of the time, they will keep your feet happy until you make it back to shore.
This review is led by Dan Scott, an avid pack rafter and canyoneer. Dan has spent years paddling and rafting rivers across the Western United States, from the Grand Canyon to the Main Salmon. With a passion for rivers, Dan has descended canyons worldwide, from Spain and Austria to Utah and the Pacific Northwest, with multiple first and solo descents in both high and low flow canyons. Dan is also a Ph.D. river scientist who spends much of his work time collecting data on and around rivers.
For this review, we spent a ton of time splashing around in the drink. We spent over two months in the super-wet Pacific Northwest paddling, river walking, running, hiking, and canyoneering to evaluate how these shoes measured up. We also waded up and down frigid, snowmelt streams in the Colorado Rockies. We often used a tried-and-true method of shoe testing in which we wore different shoes on each foot, making it easy to figure out which foot was happier and which shoe was higher performing.
Water shoes were assessed over 6 performance metrics:
Comfort tests (25% of total weighted score)
Traction tests (25% of score)
Warmth tests (15% of score)
Versatility tests (15% of score)
Sensitivity tests (10% of score)
Durability tests (10% of score)
We performed more than 15 individual assessments on each shoe. During testing, the two most important metrics were the comfort and traction tests, each corresponding to 25% of the overall weighted score. Throughout testing, we kept in mind what paddlers, canyoneers, and water-loving folks like about their shoes, often asking friends for their take. Rigorous testing, various testing environments and activities, and thoughtful evaluation allow us to make detailed and dependable recommendations for which products will work best for you.
The value proposition (what you get for the price) depends on the activity. For paddlers, you can get a stellar bootie like the NRS Kicker Remix for half the price of most other water shoes, but don't expect it to perform well for much else. For a little more, you can get a more versatile kayaking shoe like the Astral Loyak, but that only makes sense if you need that versatility. For canyoneers, the higher cost gets you durability and sticky rubber. While many moderately priced shoes like the NRS Vibe will work alright for canyoneering, it's probably cheaper to get a burlier model in the long run, as it will likely last 2-3 times as long.
For more general water sports use, a higher price often buys comfort, effective drainage, and a leg up in durability compared to other shoes, as exemplified by the Astral TR1 Junction. For a fair bit less, you can snag a shoe like the Astral Loyak, which sacrifices some versatility and durability while still providing an excellent shoe. In general, you need to know what you'll use a water shoe for to get a good value.
Comfort is often the most essential aspect of a water shoe. You're subjecting your feet to harsh conditions in wet environments, and uncomfortable shoes only compound that harshness. Unlike many other shoes, water shoes need to keep you comfortable both on and off the water.
We spent long days walking over various surfaces both in and out of the water to see how well these shoes supported and protected our feet over rough terrain. We definitely preferred the protection and stability of burlier shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction for long walks over river cobbles or scrambling through boulder fields while carrying our boat. Soft booties like the NRS Paddle or NRS Kicker Remix didn't support our feet as well and, as a result, became uncomfortable after long walks. That said, the NRS Paddle is hands down the comfiest shoe we tested on the water, with a soft fleece lining that made them feel like slippers.
A water shoe needs to drain correctly to perform well during extended periods in the water. While drainage negatively impacts warmth, it's essential to manage moisture and avoid immersion-related injuries on longer trips. Shoes with lots of drainage, like the Astral Loyak or NRS Vibe, ejected water quickly once we stepped on land, then dried out fast. Surprisingly, we found that mostly mesh, airy-feeling shoes like the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 only drained marginally faster than more protective shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction.
Whether you're swimming a rapid, stubbing your feet in murky shallows, or jamming them between boulders while wading, flowing water can do a number on your feet. To evaluate the protection each shoe provided, we assessed the stiffness of uppers and midsoles. While not super burly, the Astral TR1 Junction provided a good balance of all-around comfort and foot protection, especially stepping over uneven terrain.
Traction can mean the difference between an uneventful trip and a significant injury. In whitewater, shoes need to grip wet rocks confidently during portages or rescues. In canyons, traction can mean the difference between a controlled downclimb and an unintended slide. It keeps your feet on the ground and your face off it on wet hikes and runs.
An excellent all-around performer, the Astral TR1 Junction balanced hard and soft surface traction better than any other shoe in our review.
Soft, sticky rubber is key on hard surfaces, like the logs and rocks you might encounter on the banks of a river. The Astral Hiyak, with its G.ss rubber, sticks well to wet, slick rock. They stick better than any other shoes we tested. This stickiest rubber tends to be a bit less durable than harder, less sticky rubbers, but we find that uppers wear out faster than lugs wear down in wet environments.
The NRS Paddle, NRS Kicker Remix, and Astral Loyak all stuck just as well to wet rock and logs. A more flexible sole allows feet to wrap around logs so that you can maintain better balance.
The Astral TR1 Junction lagged slightly behind these super sticky shoes, but not enough to make them a liability for canyoneering or boating.
The TR1 Junction has deep, aggressive lugs that kept us upright on muddy trails, better than most shoes we tested.
We liked the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 as a trail running shoe, where it performed well on dirt and sand. However, it's worth noting that the Crossamphibian performed worse than all other shoes in this review for grip on hard surfaces, like wet rocks or logs.
Water saps energy away from your body rapidly, and much of the water people like to play in is much colder than average body temperature. Water shoes need to either have plenty of insulation to work without thick socks or be adjustable enough to accommodate lots of added insulation without feeling cramped.
During testing, we immediately loved shoes with lots of built-in warmth for extremely cold days. The fleece-lined NRS Paddle packs on lots of insulation and has no drainage, so they limit water movement through the shoe to keep feet warm even in frigid water.
On the other hand, it can be nice to have a comfortable water shoe on warm days or on land (i.e., drains well) and allows you to stay warm on cold days. For that to happen effectively, shoes need to have a roomy toebox, adjustable midfoot, and, ideally, a removable insole. Due to its well-designed lacing and roomy fit, we found the Astral TR1 Junction to be remarkably comfortable with bare feet and three layers of socks. The NRS Vibe is a close second in this regard, with nicely adjustable lacing. However, the Vibe does not have an easily removable insole, making stuffing in lots of insulation somewhat tricky.
Shoes offer a higher value when you can utilize them for various activities, rather than being overly specialized for one specific purpose. While super-specialized shoes are excellent for demanding adventures, the majority of the time, we need a versatile shoe that keeps up regardless of the activity.
Its versatility is a major reason we awarded the Astral TR1 Junction the top honors. Through our testing, it became our go-to shoe for water sports and things like running and mountain biking, which speaks to its superb design and performance. Another high-performing paddling shoe, the Astral Loyak, also did well in this metric due to its comfort and super low weight, making it easy to bring it along on trips.
For water shoes, versatility means performing well both on land and on the water. Good drainage, found on shoes like the NRS Vibe, makes this easy. They are comfortable and adjustable enough for paddling but also work great on land, drying quickly and keeping feet happy with plenty of support.
We valued shoes that we could use for multiple sports. With plenty of support and cushioning, the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 turned out to be a great cross between water and running shoes. While its poor hard surface traction would make us hesitate to use it for paddling, it would work well on a rafting trip, especially when spending a lot of time doing side hikes or hanging around at camp. We also liked the Astral TR1 Junction for running and hiking, although it has a more flat-soled, minimal drop-height feel more reminiscent of minimalist running shoes.
Sensitivity is key when walking over rough terrain. Because water shoes often have to get over terrains like river cobbles, sandy beaches, and logs, it's key that they provide a good ground feel. Feeling the ground beneath your feet translates to better awareness of body position and balance and can mean the difference between being upright and flat on your back. However, high sensitivity generally translates to lower comfort when hiking longer distances.
We walked over varied surfaces during our testing to evaluate how well we could feel the ground and react to uneven terrain. Neoprene booties like the NRS Paddle and NRS Kicker Remix feature thin but stiff soles that provide an excellent ground feel — perfect for short jaunts over boulders to scout rapids or get to a put-in. Due to their low drag and uninhibited ankle flexion, these shoes, along with the super low-profile Astral Loyak, also felt great while swimming.
For more amphibious activities, where walking is as important as being in or on the water, we found that multiple shoes offered decent sensitivity while also providing adequate foot protection, unlike more flexible shoes. The Astral TR1 Junction has moderate stiffness, but with enough cushioning, they give a decent ground feel and still maintain a relatively low profile underwater.
Swimming rapids, running along beaches, and canyoneering all do a number on your shoes. Durable materials and smart construction keep your shoes going on long trips and, in the case of canyoneering, can be essential if you like shoes that last more than a day or two.
While we couldn't test these shoes to failure during our test period, we looked for materials and construction that indicated either durability or the lack thereof. The Astral Hiyak scores well for durability, with minimal mesh and lots of extra reinforcement. Our lead tester has tortured these shoes in canyons that would eat flimsier shoes in a matter of hours. However, if you don't need high performance in canyons, shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction and NRS Vibe held up well during our testing due to their durable upper materials and quality construction.
We were impressed by the reinforcements that made the NRS Paddle more than just a neoprene sock bonded to an outsole for boating-focused shoes. Like its little sibling, the NRS Kicker Remix, it held up well during our testing. We subjected the Astral TR1 Junction to a lot of hard use, only to find mainly cosmetic damage at the end of our test period.
Water shoes make time spent on rivers, lakes, and wet places much more fun. We bought and rigorously tested top models to see how well they kept feet happy, performed in various environments, and held up to both demanding water sports and the lounging around that usually follows. Water shoes can make or break your experience when paddling or canyoneering. We hope this independent review can steer you towards a shoe that will fit your watery adventures' style and needs.
After comparing over 125 different SUP paddles, we...
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