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We researched 44 of the best women's water shoes available today, then bought the top 5 to put through months of boating, hiking, splashing, and creek-stomping. Our experts took them down the Arkansas River in Colorado and on a 24-day rafting mission down the Grand Canyon, which included wading frigid creeks of side canyons, rafting Class IV whitewater, and long hikes. They endured cold water, sand, mud, and ice. We evaluated each women's shoe (and men's!) for comfort, traction, versatility, durability, sensitivity, and warmth. Whether you're looking for a shoe that functions equally on dry land and the river or one to take your kayaking game to the next level, our extensive testing and analysis help you find the right shoe for you.
Weight per pair: 0.95 lbs | Drainage: Quick-drying mesh, front holes
REASONS TO BUY
Adjusts to fit added insulation
REASONS TO AVOID
Good but not best in class traction
The Chaco Torrent Pro is the do-it-all shoe. We love it for rafting, hiking, light canyoneering, and for wearing around town. Chaco's Luvseat Footbed technology makes it feel like you're walking on a cloud without sacrificing sensitivity. The outsole, ChacoGrip Plus rubber compound, sticks great on wet, hard surfaces and has deep enough lugs to dig into mud and sand. This design makes it easy to transition from scrambling around a rocky shore to crossing a sandy beach and back to a raft. It's adjustable enough with the help of a quick-to-use elastic lace and stretchy mesh to add extra insulation without wrestling the shoe on or causing the feet to feel cramped or toes to go numb. After a long day on the river or a side hike, the elastic lace remains secure, tightening the shoe around the whole foot for top-notch snugness. This design contrasts with other models tested that only tighten around one portion of the foot, causing a loose heel or uncomfortable arches.
While these shoes are superior in comfort and versatility, they have great but not the best traction. They also started to show signs of wear—beginning signs of separation between the mesh uppers and outsole—lacking the durability you might want for a more intense mission like canyoneering. Their potentially short longevity is worth considering if you're into rafting, where you'll be jamming your feet under thwarts day after day. Yet, if you're looking for a shoe that checks the boxes for almost any water activity and is good on dry land, we recommend the Chaco Torrent Pro.
We reach for the NRS Kicker Remix - Women's when we need a low-profile shoe that functions well on hard, slick surfaces and fits well in our kayaks. It functions as a classic neoprene bootie with a durable, sticky sole and snug-fitting ankle elastic. Its rubber outsoles adhered well to a slippery boat ramp and mossy rocks, helping us launch a kayak on a muddy river with confidence. It’s most comfortable and warm with bare feet as the neoprene uses the body’s radiating heat to warm the foot. Their flexible soles bend around rocks easily, assisting with traction. A two-millimeter plastic shim gives extra protection from sharp rocks and sticks. For a river bootie, the lugs are quite deep, allowing for a bit better purchase on soft surfaces. Best of all, its price is very reasonable.
While they are comfortable in a raft, kayak, or paddleboard, these shoes are limited in use to on-water activities. They lack sufficient arch support and cushion for longer side hikes or portages. While the smaller ankle opening is a boon for keeping water out, it also makes them a bit harder to get on, and the tighter fit makes them difficult for layering. A thin wool sock was all our lead tester could get on underneath the booties. While there were no signs of wear and tear during the two-week testing period, the seams may pose an issue for long-term durability with heavy use. Given the neoprene nature of the shoe, they aren’t designed to drain and thus take about 24 hours to dry completely. Nevertheless, we recommend the NRS Kicker Remix for boaters looking for a classic neoprene bootie that fits well in their kayaks or gives more stability on a paddleboard without costing much.
Weight per pair: 0.87 lbs | Drainage: Holes at toe and heel
REASONS TO BUY
Minimal weight and profile
Fits snug and comfortably
REASONS TO AVOID
Our favorite minimalist women's water shoe is the Astral Loyak - Women's. Our testers prefer the low-profile and lightweight canvas uppers for a day of kayaking on a river or lake. The siped outsole has a lot of surface area contact with the ground. As a result, it boasts the best traction of any model we tested when it comes to gaining purchase on wet rocks. Due to a thin, removable insole, they are also quite sensitive. To most of our testers, they look and feel like a shoe but perform similar to neoprene booties.
The main drawbacks of the Loyak lie in their warmth and durability. Our lead tester found it tough to fit any significant layers inside this shoe, and the thin upper itself doesn't provide much insulation. This problem may not be an issue for you, depending on when and where you prefer to paddle. This pair also showed noticeable signs of wear after our few months of testing. These things considered, we still love these light and low shoes that any kayaker and more will appreciate.
This review is led by Monica Nigon. A passionate whitewater raft guide on the Arkansas River of Colorado, Monica grew up kayaking and canoeing on the rivers and lakes of her home state of Minnesota. Thus, she is familiar with water activities in extreme weather conditions. Now an avid boater, Monica has rafted all over the world, from afternoon trips in New Zealand to multi-day expeditions in the Grand Canyon. She has taught flat-water kayaking and canoeing to all ages.
For this review, we spent a lot of time splashing around. From hikes on muddy trails to a 24-day trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, we made sure to thoroughly evaluate what these shoes could handle along with defined performance metrics—comfort, traction, versatility, warmth, sensitivity, and durability. Women's water shoes were tested across 6 performance metrics:
Comfort tests (25% of total weighted score)
Traction tests (25% of total 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 pair during testing. The most critical metrics we assessed were the comfort and traction of the shoes. Each metric corresponds to 25% of the total weighted score. We wore them on short canyoneering adventures, strode around sandy beaches, waded through shallow creeks, navigated mossy shorelines, and scrambled about an 18-foot rubber gear boat. We encountered everything from 80 degrees and sunny to 25-degree (F) days with icy put-ins. We sought out the opinions of fellow water enthusiasts for what is important to them in their water shoes, keeping these in mind as we evaluated the products.
Analysis and Test Results
After our months-long testing period, we reviewed our notes and assessments to determine which shoes work best for specific purposes and off the water. Below, we describe our six scoring metrics and which models stood out in each. One metric may be more important than another depending on your water activity of choice, so keep them in mind as you choose the best shoe for you.
The value of your shoe depends on how you want to use it. You can get a neoprene bootie for a lower price than a more versatile shoe, but it's only worth your cash if you're using your shoes purely for boating. If you need shoes that can protect your toes on a side hike, you'll want something more versatile, but this may come with a potentially higher price tag. In this case, you may want to go for the Astral Loyak, Chacco Torrent Pro, or Xero Aqua X Sport - Women's for excellent use on and off the water. Suppose you're doing more of a water-accessed canyoneering or hiking trip. In that case, it's worth spending the extra money on a more durable shoe that sacrifices a bit of sensitivity and flexibility on the water.
At lower price points, you will likely sacrifice versatility. For example, NRS Kicker Remix packs a punch for the price with great traction and impressive warmth. And while it performs excellent on the water, it's just a neoprene bootie with a rubber sole, so they don't stretch to service beyond the boat — you'd be very unlikely to go on a long side hike with these. If you don't need your shoes to transition from water to land use frequently, though, you stand to save significant cash by going for the Kicker Remix.
Comfort is usually the first thing to consider. You're often subjecting your feet to extreme environments with potentially cold water, sand, rocks, roots, and mud. We also want our water shoes to be comfortable on dry land.
We wore the shoes extensively in and out of the water while evaluating how they felt on variable terrain, including slippery trails, wet rocks, and mossy logs. We took adjustability into account, which determines how comfortable a shoe is when adding warm layers to the feet. We prefer the Torrent Pro or Xero Aqua X Sport for hikes with creek crossings and slippery scrambling. Their sticky rubber outsoles helped us trust our footing while having enough cushion to go longer distances. While the Sea to Summit Ultra Flex Booties and NRS Kicker Remix are comfortable sitting in a boat, they lack the cushion for longer scouts and portages. Their sensitivity and sock-like fit are a boon for water but are not ideal for on-land use.
A shoe isn't comfortable if your feet are sloshing around in the water for the whole day; they need to drain well and dry quickly. For this, we like the Astral Loyak, which utilizes outsole drainage and quick-drying mesh. Likewise, the Chacco Torrent Pro features quick-drying drainage through the sole as well as mesh. They drained instantaneously, and it took much less time than other models to dry once on land.
Trusting your shoe will hold you in place on slippery terrain is critical. In whitewater, you want to ensure a simple scout on wet rocks won't result in an unintentional swim or an injury. You want to navigate a raft without fear of falling and hitting your head on an oar frame or run in place on a wet, slippery path while your friends charge ahead.
We tested these shoes on many surfaces with the potential danger of slipping. These included a wet, icy trail, slick rafts that we scrambled around to strap in gear, slippery rocks on the shore, and soggy, muddy side hikes. Given you might be just as likely to walk along a rocky river bed as a muddy takeout, it's essential that shoes can grip hard and soft surfaces.
We found that the Chaco Torrent Pro performed well on soft and hard surfaces. Their sole had an ideal lug depth for this versatility, allowing us to trust our feet on a wet raft as well as a short descent in a canyon where we navigated smooth rock. While the Astral Loyak took the cake in stickiness for hard surfaces, it lacks the lug depth for something like a sandy scout.
The NRS Kicker Remix rated higher in traction and thrived on hard surfaces, which is typical of a river bootie. Their shallower lugs don't lend themselves to digging into dirt or sand. Conversely, the Xero Aqua X Sport - Women's has deep lugs, ideal for sandier scouts or a side hike.
For the general water enthusiast or those looking for a shoe that performs well across various activities, versatility is key to getting the most out of your dollar. Often, we want to wear our shoes for off-the-water activities as well.
While a more sport-specific shoe like the NRS Kicker Remix is the best choice for in-water use due to its sock-like fit, flexibility, and swimming performance, most of us want one shoe that can do more. The Chaco Torrent Pro earns our top recommendation, as we reached for it when hiking, on the approach to the crag, and to our post-river watering hole. They're comfortable and effective for all these other pursuits without sacrificing performance on the river. Similarly, the Loyak thrives in the water and for casual wear. Its Flexi-grip outsole sticks like adhesive to a raft or rocks, and its design passes as a regular street shoe. However, it lacks the cushioning and support for long hikes or hours standing on your feet.
For a shoe to be versatile, we want to be able to wear it all day. This means it must drain efficiently and dry quickly, which is why we enjoyed the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport. Because of its quick-drying synthetic mesh uppers, it dried out quickly enough and drained almost instantaneously, letting us enjoy the post-trip hangout without the discomfort of soggy feet. We put them on in the morning, waded around a slippery boat ramp to launch a canoe, and went on a muddy side hike, all without changing out of the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport.
You're likely to be slogging through water of varying temperatures on sunny and frigid days. We looked for shoes with sound insulation and adjustability for layering. We either want to be insulated while barefoot or able to add thick wool socks, neoprene, or a drysuit without feeling pinched or struggling to get the shoe on and off.
For keeping our feet warm with bare feet, we like the NRS Kicker Remix. The neoprene of this model utilizes your body heat to warm the water and insulate your feet. That said, river booties like these are meant to fit like a sock, so it was difficult to add anything more than a wool sock for those truly frigid mornings when you need an extra layer. The Chaco Torrent Pro is the most adjustable, with its stretchy mesh and quick, elastic laces that stay secure throughout the day. It didn't pinch the toes or cramp the foot of our lead tester when worn with thick wool socks and a drysuit.
We also appreciate shoes that are comfortable on warmer days and dry land, draining and ventilating well without our skin becoming irritated by the seams. For this, our favorites are the Astral Loyak, Torrent Pro, and Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport. These models allowed our feet good airflow and drainage on more toasty floats in the desert and drying quickly enough to prevent pruney toes.
River shoes are subject to a lot of abuse, but you still don't want to have to buy a new shoe every year because of holes, broken laces, or separated outsoles. Walking along abrasive rocks, swimming rapids, and exploring canyons can wear shoes down quickly. Even if a shoe has an impressive warranty, it's a hassle to send them in and wait for a new pair, potentially missing out on an excursion.
Due to its durability in relation to other models tested, the Chaco Torrent Pro gets our top recommendation in this metric. The synthetic mesh stood up against punctures from rocks and sticks, and the thick sole allowed us to jump on sharp rocks and stumble over sticks with no fear of injury. It showed only minor fraying on the mesh after exposure to extreme environments and had sound stitching between the mesh and sticky outsole.
The NRS Kicker Remix is notable in its durability as well. It has a thick outsole, especially for a neoprene bootie, and it's reinforced on the outsole with strips of thin rubber. While this is good for sharp rocks and pokey surfaces, a stick is still likely to puncture through the top, given enough force.
In water sports, you'll often have to navigate uneven and rough terrain on scouts, portages, and canyons. Good balance and body awareness in this situation are critical. Differences in sensitivity can mean the difference between a wipeout and deftly navigating a shallow riverbed. Yet too much sensitivity can cause pain in the arches and lack versatility.
The most sensitive shoes we tested were the Sea to Summit Ultra Flex. The neoprene sock-fit of the booties allowed them to curve around logs and rocks with ease. We deftly navigated a rocky walk to the kayaking play wave. However, anything longer than that 100-yard approach would have caused pain and irritation. The Astral Loyak scored high for sensitivity as well, with a thin midsole just 7mm thick. They were flexible enough to bend around obstacles, with more protection than the Ultra Flex. They're a classic low-profile kayaking shoe: sensitive enough to navigate shorelines and put-ins but too sensitive to wear for long scouts and not protective enough for canyons.
We found the Xero Aqua X Sport or Chaco Torrent Pro our top choices for activities where you're likely to be walking as much as floating. The Torrent Pros balanced sensitivity and comfort the best. The Chaco Luvseat EVR provides comfort and rubber rand protection without sacrificing significant sensitivity. The barefoot feel of the Xeros allowed our toes to spread apart in a wider toe box to navigate a technical side hike without sacrificing durability in its FeelTrue rubber outsole.
On the water, your kicks can either enhance or detract from your experience. We tested some of the best models on the market, evaluating them on criteria that most river rats find most important. We hope our in-depth independent analysis will help you buy the best shoe for your watery pursuits. Happy paddles.
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