Tips for Choosing The Best Water Shoes

Warm-weather adventures go hand in hand with shoes that can handle getting splashed or all-out soaked—while you keep on going. From casual SUPing to hardcore sailing, here’s what to look for in shoes that are up for all sorts of H2O action.

BEST FOR PADDLING

CASUAL PADDLERS often opt to go shoe-free on the water, but, hey, you still need to get your SUP or boat to that lake, river, or ocean. And going barefoot doesn’t feel too awesome on gravel, rocky coastline, or hot pavement. For footwear, think light, and easy to stash, rinse off, and get on and off, such as the Waimea H2 sandal for men, the Bali sandal for women, or the UNEEK slide.

FOR MORE EXTREME PADDLING, SUCH AS WHITEWATER KAYAKING AND RAFTING, features that offer foot support and protection become more important. Think about how much you’ll push against foot braces or wedge your foot into the side of the raft for leverage. The full-coverage water shoe, McKenzie II, or a snug-fitting sandal, such as the Newport H2, are good rafting choices that will stay on your feet in wild waters and technical maneuvering. If you capsize, the last thing you want to look for is a lost shoe. And, with rafting or portaging while kayaking, you also need to consider the underwater terrain. The Clearwater sandal or Whisper sandal are good overall choices, with good ground feel for finding your footing.

BEST FOR FISHING

What to wear depends on whether you’ll be in a boat or wading in a creek or river. On a boat, the KEEN Aquagrip outsole on the Rialto H2 sandal can help prevent slipping when bracing your feet to haul in that biggest catch. Meanwhile, siping and lugs will help you make your way around river beds. One of our KEEN Ambassadors, James Joiner, prefers the comfort of the Newport sandal to wading boots.

BEST FOR SAILING/BOATING

Non-marking outsoles (all KEEN sandals are non-marking) and razor siping are the features to look for in boat shoes. Razor siping in outsoles works just like your tires—it helps expel water from beneath, preventing slipping on wet surfaces, such as a boat deck or dock.

BEST FOR CREEK/COASTAL HIKES

Lugs for traction, razor siping, quick-dry materials, and toe protection—these are the must-haves for adventuring in and around water. Rubber outsoles with lugs and razor siping keep you steady on slippery terrain, while quick-dry uppers help prevent blisters and discomfort due to hiking with wet feet. The shoe that checks off all the boxes: Newport H2. The Arroyo II sandal also brings together the best of the hiking and sandal worlds.

BEST FOR THE BEACH

Barefoot in the sand is definitely the way to go. But days at the beach often involve walking to boardwalks and lunch spots. Giving yourself a little extra cushioning will keep your feet peachy. KEEN’s Waimea and Rialto H2 could be some options to consider, and the Rose sandal is happy to go dressier for dinner, too.