If you love fording rivers, following streams, exploring waterfalls and wet canyons, swimming in lakes and the sea, paddling a canoe, kayak or SUP, or simply messing about in rockpools, then you’ll know how important it is to get the best water shoes you can find.
Particularly in the warmer months, water shoes and sandals are brilliant for swimmers, aquatic sports enthusiasts and coastal walkers who want the freedom to get in and out of the water, with some protection for their feet.
We’ve picked the best water shoes for men and women to suit all kinds of adventures (and most budgets, too). From lightweight slipper-style shoes ideal for swimming to tough strappy sandals and trainer-style ‘shandals’ that can also deal with challenging trail walking almost as well as the best hiking shoes or best hiking boots.
The best water shoes vary in design, but each is perfect for particular conditions and sports. Plus, our buying guide below explains what features to look for when selecting the best water shoes for you. If you're unsure of the best application of water shoes or where or not you need them for your sport, check out our guide 'What are water shoes?'
The best water shoes you can buy today
Vivo Barefoot Esc Tempest
This excellent trainer-water shoe hybrid is ideal for swim runners, athletes and explorers
RRP: $143 (US) / £170 (UK) | Weight: 342g / 12oz | Sizes: Women’s: 3–9; Men’s: 6–14 | Colors: Black / Coral / Grey | Compatibility: Perfect for swim runners, triathletes, kayakers and coasteering fans
Swim runners and dedicated open-water swimmers in need of a shoe that can keep up should look no further than Vivo Barefoot’s excellent Esc Tempest, our pick of the best water shoes for serious athletes, racers and outdoor instructors who regularly work in the water. The Esc Tempest feels like a hybrid of a running trainer and wetsuit bootie, and is designed to help you move fast and feel protected in and out of the water. Like all of Vivo Barefoot’s designs, the Tempest features a flexible but tough sole – this one is made by Michelin, technology that is usually applied to hiking boots rather than the best water shoes, and it makes this shoe brilliantly grippy even on muddy trails or wet submerged rock. When you’re in the water, the Tempests feel light and buoyant, and back on land the shoes dry quickly and are comfortable to run in – we like the snug sock-like ankle opening. The Tempest is perfect for the swim run racers it was designed for, but is also one of the best water shoes for coasteering, canyoning and river swimming. These shoes are also vegan friendly, and have been made using recycled materials, and ethical and environmentally friendly methods.
Mountain Warehouse Bermuda Shoe
These simple neoprene booties offer lightweight protection when swimming
RRP: $27.49 (US) / £20 (UK) | Weight: 180g / 6.3oz | Sizes: Women’s: 4–9; Men’s: 6–11 | Colors: Black / Blue / Pink / Purple | Compatibility: Good extra protection for casual swimming
These simple neoprene water shoes are great for more casual swims where you need a little more protection under foot, or for popping on when you’re kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding. They’re super lightweight, and their neoprene and mesh construction means you’ll barely notice them on your feet – they feel rather like an extension of your wetsuit. If you don’t like swimming in heavy, bulky shoes or sandals the Bermudas make a great choice. The soles are on the thin side but do offer fair grip thanks to their surface, covered in rubber dots. It’s a pity there isn’t any toe protection to speak of – we’d stick to wearing the slipper-style shoes for a bit of extra protection when swimming rather than for scrambling about on rocks. The light weight and the pocket-friendly price of the Bermudas makes them a handy addition to your swim kit bag if you already own a tougher water shandal and one of the best water shoes out there for buyers on a budget.
Speedo Zanpa AM water shoe
In there, swim wear – these aquatic shoes will protect your feet on wild swimming escapades
RRP: $29 (US) / £21 (UK) | Weight: 300g / 10.5oz | Sizes: Women’s: 3–8; Men’s: 6–12 | Colors: Black | Compatibility: Great for year-round wild swimming
If you’re strictly shopping for a water-only shoe rather than a hybrid sandal, one of the best water shoes is Speedo’s Zanpa. These close-fitting rubber booties are designed to protect feet once you’re in the water, with a thick rubber outer material and springy light soles. We didn’t find that the Zanpas gripped the ground well enough to work for activities such as coasteering where you’re clambering over rocks and need sticky grip – they’re better suited for swimming in lakes and rivers where you aren’t sure what’s underfoot, when want added protection when getting in and out of the water, or just for tackling slippery poolside tiles at your local lido. The Zanpas trap in heat nicely, adding a bit of warmth and comfort in cold water year-round. While there are tabs on the heels to help pull the snug Zanpas on and off, they can take a minute or two to get on properly.
Decathlon Aquashoes 500
Simple and affordable unisex water shoes with good comfort and grip and versatile looks
RRP: $24 (US) / £17 (UK) | Weight: 250g / 8.8oz | Sizes: 36–47 | Colors: Dark blue / Turquoise | Compatibility: Wear in the water, poolside or for casual walks
Decathlon’s unisex Aquashoes are perfect for warm water swimming, paddling and snorkelling – they’re lightweight and quick to dry thanks to their mesh uppers, and their rubber soles offer fair grip and stop you feeling even sharp stones underfoot. Where we think the Aquashoes stand out is that once out of the water this unisex design looks like a casual summer trainer and can be worn with shorts around town or on relaxed walks as well as in the water, which can’t be said for most dedicated water shoes. While the soles are thick and bouncy enough to walk on established paths or stand on the seabed and feel like your feet are protected, there’s no decent grip to speak of. The Aquashoes offer great value for money, and are a comfortable and fuss-free pair of shoes to pack in your backpack for coastal adventures, or in your suitcase for beachy holidays.
Trespass Paddle Shoe
An affordable slipper-style water shoe to take to the beach or the river bank
RRP: $20 (US) / £18 (UK) | Weight: 150g / 5.3oz | Sizes: 40–45 | Colors: Black / Black & pink | Compatibility: Take these unisex water shoes to the beach, riverside or the pool for a touch of added protection
If you haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past year you’ve probably noticed that wild swimming, lido swimming and open-water swimming are all having a bit of a moment. If you’ve joined in the world’s love for swimming outdoors, you’ll have realised that swimming requires pretty limited kit – a swimsuit, a changing robe and some goggles will see any beginner through. We’d add a pair of basic water shoes like these Trespass Paddle shoes to that list. These lightweight, very comfortable slipper-style water shoes are made with mesh and neoprene on top and studded rubber on the bottom to offer some extra warmth in the water and some extra protection when you’re standing on a lake floor. They definitely aren’t the most technical or high-performing water shoe in our round-up – which is why they only get a two-star rating when compared to the other shoes in our test – but for just over £10 they’re a fuss-free choice for casual swimmers of both sexes (and a kid’s version is available too), or a nice spare pair of water shoes to get out on more relaxed swim sessions.
The best water sandals and shandals you can buy today
Keen Astoria West Shandals
A great quality, grippy shandal that protects feet on active adventures on the water
RRP: $115 (US) / £90 (UK) | Weight: 400g / 14oz | Sizes: Women’s 2.5 – 9 | Colors: Light green / Pink / Navy / Grey / Black | Compatibility: Made specifically for women, you can take the Astoria West rock pooling, sailing, paddling or on hiking routes with river and stream crossings
Keen’s hiking sandals are deservedly popular with walkers, and we’ve yet to review one of their summer shoes we didn’t like. Our top pick for 2021 is the female-specific Astoria West (men after a similar style will get on with the Clearwater shandal). Designed to go from trail to town to waterfront, the Astoria Wests stood out on test for the walking comfort they offer – oversized but very cushioned soles make these sandals feel barely there despite their middling 400g weight, and we liked the close-fitting but comfortable webbing straps, designed to let your feet breathe and quick to dry once wet. The Astoria Wests have a wide protective rubber toe box (something Keen are known for) that’s brilliant if you encounter rocks both under the water and on shore, and their ‘Aquagrip’ soles are designed to be superbly sticky even on wet surfaces. A good do-it-all summer shandal. This design fits on the narrow side – if you have wide feet they may not suit you.
Merrell Choprock Sieve Shandal
The trainer-like Choprock Sieve offers excellent grip and protection for hikes and water sports
RRP: $138 (US) / £100 (UK) | Weight: 552g / 19.5oz | Sizes: Women’s 2.5–8.5; Men’s 6.5–13 | Colors: Purple/Green/Blue/Blue | Compatibility: Take the Choprock Sieve on more challenging summer walks and paddle adventures – it’s not breathable enough for casual beach days
The most trainer-like shandal we reviewed, Merrell’s Choprock Sieve is brilliant if you like to go exploring off established trails and in and out of the water and need a summer walking shoe that can go anywhere you do. As the Sieve part of this design’s name suggests, these shoes are basically active trainers with lots of extra drainage and breathability thanks to plentiful vents in the sides – these help keep your feet cool and dry but still far more protected than if you were wearing your average water shoe, with extra help from a wide toe box, built-up ankle and chunky, grippy sole. The compromise is obviously that the Choprock Sieve is heavier and less breathable than a barely-there sandal, and is thus perhaps less versatile if you want just on sandal to wear on your summer travels. But for active adventures such as hot weather mountain walking, summer scrambling or water sports such as canoeing and kayaking these are an excellent choice that will keep your feet cool and protected.
Regatta Westshore Sandal
A well-priced sandal offering good grip and comfort
RRP: $60 (US) / £50 (UK) | Weight: 266g / 9.5oz | Sizes: Women’s: 3–8; Men’s: 6–12 | Colors: Navy / Grey / Pink / Red / Dark Brown | Compatibility: Ideal for more casual beachside walks, coast path hikes and paddles
We aren’t quite sure if Regatta’s Westshore is a sandal or a shandal – but either way it offers good value for money for adventures in and out of water. The Westshore is built with soft and comfortable straps over a central mesh panel, and feels light and airy to wear. It’s also very easy to adjust the shandal for a good fit thanks to a bungee cord and an adjustable Velcro strap around the heel. While these sandals feel pleasingly lightweight and springy underfoot, they still sport decent soles that offer good trip on trails and rocky surfaces. Our only issues on test were that while there’s some toe protection from the sturdy sole and around the middle of the toes, there’s only mesh covering the sides of the toes, which seems a pity and stops these sandals working on more challenging terrain. The inner sole is soft and comfortable but does feel a tad sweaty on hot days, especially around the toes. That said, in most respects the Westshore stands up on test when compared to other more expensive shandals.
Teva Hurricane XLT2 Sandal
A great all-rounder of a walking and adventure sandal that can also hit the water when required
RRP: $82.50 (US) / £60 (UK) | Weight: 450g / 16oz | Sizes: Women’s: 3–9; Men’s: 6–13 | Colors: Black / Grey / Tan | Compatibility: Great all-rounder adventure sandal for hikes near water
Teva sandals are a bit of a classic in the outdoor world, and the brand’s more technical Hurricane design is one we find ourselves reaching for again and again for summer days out and travelling in hot climates. We’ve tested these walking sandals out everywhere from river crossings in the Himalayas to hiking the South West Coast Path – they’re definitely built to last. The Hurricane’ tough, adjustable straps sit in a T-shape around the foot and are easily adjusted for a snug fit around the ankle and across the toes. The moulded rubber sole gives good ankle support and has reliable grip even on wet slippy ground. This is more of a walking sandal you can take into water than an aquatic-specific sandal, but it’s quick to dry if you do venture into water – the only downside in water is that your toes aren’t covered. The Hurricanes also aren’t super lightweight, so you will feel you have them on when you swim. These smart sandals come in a range of bright patterned and retro designed straps as well as more subtle colourways.
This rather smart sandal is equally at home on water or land
RRP: $90 (US) / £65 (UK) | Weight: 200g / 7oz | Sizes: Women’s: 3–10; Men’s: 6–11 | Colors: Women’s: Grey Ice & Red Coral / Black & Ti Grey Steel / Shark & Ti Titanium; Men’s: Oxford Tan & Red Jasper / Ti Grey Steel & Steam / Black & Red Element | Compatibility: Ideal for walking, beachside adventures and travelling
The Columbia Sandal is designed ‘to be at home on water or land’ – after testing we’d agree that this is a great go-everywhere aquatic sandal designed to do it all. When you’re in or near water the grippy rubber sole gives great confidence, and the hydrophobic webbing straps hug your foot underwater and dry quickly when you get out. The only downside for water adventures is that there’s no toe protection in this design. Back on land, the Sandal boasts great arch support (which we don’t see in all the outdoor sandals we test), and the cross-foot straps and adjustable ankle strap stay put when you’re walking. The Sandal looks slim and is not too chunky or heavy underfoot, so it’s ideal for wearing in the city, too – a great quiver-of-one travel sandal. We’d recommend picking the black or grey colourways over the white version, which will look grimy fast.
What to look for when buying the best water shoes
As you can see, there is quite a degree of variance when it comes to footwear for aquatic adventures, so what are the best water shoes for you? Following are some considerations we’d recommend chewing on before you buy.
Water shoe or aquatic sandal?
Our round-up includes two kinds of water-ready footwear – the best water shoes and the best water sandals. The former are snug-fitting pull-on booties designed to be worn only in the water rather than for walking in, and are ideal for swimming and aquatic adventures such as canyoning and coasteering. Water-friendly sandals (and ‘shandals’ – sandal/shoe hybrids with more coverage than a sandal) are usually designed to be hiked in but can also be worn in water, and this are great for walking near water, river crossings, rockpooling and wearing on holidays where you might be in and out of the water all day. They’re quick-drying but usually heavier than water shoes. If you do want to the best water shoes for deep water, we recommend picking a design with toe protection rather than open toes.
As a general rule, both water shoes and sandals are flexible enough to squeeze into a 3 to 5-litre dry bag. For more on dry bags, check out our buying guide to the best dry bag for 2021 and instructions on how to use a dry bag.
Good grip is essential if you’re planning on wearing your new water shoes or sandals on rocks or wet terrain. Look for a design with a tough rubber sole that has deep ‘lugs’ or indentations that grip the ground as you walk. A solid rubber toe cap is also a good choice for protecting your toes when you’re on rockier ground or when walking immersed in water, such as when coasteering.
Fit and looks
Your new shoes or sandals may feel more casual than technical hiking boots, but it’s just as important that they fit you well, to help you walk confidently in and around water and to avoid blisters and discomfort if you’re walking in them. Try on your new shoes or sandals and check they fit snugly, and that if they are adjustable that you can strap or bungee them tightly for a stay-put fit. Make sure there’s no tightness or rubbing, especially around the toes and heels. Hiking sandals come in all kinds of finishes, from smart leather to neoprene, but we recommend picking a fabric or nylon material, as these tend to be tough when walking but quick to dry if you do get them wet. If you’re choosing a water-specific shoe, performance is your only real concern, but if you want a water sandal you can also wear on dry land, it makes sense to pick a style you like the look of, and can wear in town as well as in the great outdoors.
An award-winning travel and outdoors journalist, presenter and blogger, Sian regularly writes for The Independent, Evening Standard, BBC Countryfile, Coast, Outdoor Enthusiast and Sunday Times Travel. Life as a hiking, camping, wild-swimming adventure-writer has taken her around the world, exploring Bolivian jungles, kayaking in Greenland, diving with turtles in Australia, climbing mountains in Africa and, in Thailand, learning the hard way that peeing on a jellyfish sting doesn’t help. Her blog, thegirloutdoors.co.uk, champions accessible adventures.
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