While you may not think of shoes as a crucial part of kayaking, the wrong shoes can end up causing you a lot of problems. Much like you do for your PFD, paddle and equipment, the you need to find the right shoes for your kayaking journeys and do your due-diligence to make sure they will provide the necessary support and protection for your time on the water.
Factors To Consider
When you start doing your research and shopping around there are a few main factors you need to consider when looking for the right kayaking shoes. These include:
It is important to find the right footwear to protect your feet while kayaking. While you may spend the majority of your time with your feet inside the kayak, it is crucial that you plan for what is outside of the kayak. You never know when something will go wrong and you can end up having to deal with what is in the water as you try get back in the boat.
Kayaking in shallower water like rivers and smaller bodies means you can be exposed to jagged rocks, mud, debris, and sand. This means you need to not only have enough protection for the sharper objects, but also have enough tread and grip to prevent you from slipping and getting hurt. Deeper waters like the ocean or large lakes need to be able to protect your feet while not being so heavy as to weigh you down.
No matter where you are going to be kayaking, you need to have al least a basic degree of protection to make sure your feet stay uninjured. You will need to assess how much protection you will need for your feet based on the individual locations you choose to kayak in. But at the bare minimum, you need soles thick enough to handle walking on objects without punctures and your shoes should be waterproof to prevent hypothermia.
Additional protection like an overall thickness on both the underside of the shoes and the sides, tow area and upper part to prevent any punctures to your shoes. If your shoes are too thin you can risk getting not only holes in your shoes that can let water in, but can scratch, puncture, and severely hurt your foot. Thicker protection around the ankle also helps prevent injuries related to tripping or losing your footing. A thicker shoe can greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. At the very least you should have an overall medium thickness to prevent possible injury.
Remember that the shoes you will be wearing in the kayak are also the ones you will be wearing to get in and out of the kayak and back to shore. So consider the terrain you will be trekking through to get to the water and what you will need to wade through to get deep enough to start kayaking without damaging your kayak. So planning ahead is key to getting the right shoes for your kayaking trip and making sure you have all the necessary elements to properly protect your feet.
Terrain is a major factor for picking the right shoes because some places need far more protection in certain parts of the shoes than others. You also need to look at what is in the water in addition to what is in the way to get there. Just because you start off in a kayak doesn’t mean you will stay in the bat the whole journey.
For example, consider kayaking in a body of water connected to a sandy beach. The shoes needed to walk across sand to get into smooth, deep water will not need nearly as much protection as going through a rocky or wooded path to get to a rocky river. So consider the places you have to walk and if you will need thicker soles to accommodate the terrain.
To fully ensure your feet’s safety, you also need to consider the material’s ability to handle the terrain. Softer materials like mesh or fabrics can tear easily and not hold up for the kayaking trip. It is always better to be over-protected for the terrain than to end up ruining your shoes and getting hurt just trying to make it to and from the water. You also need to consider what you will need to walk comfortably and confidently on the terrain without worrying about slipping or tripping.
Kayaking shoes are classified by their qualities like temperature of the water, the level of insulation, and cut.
There are three types of water temperatures kayak shoes are designed for. They include cold water kayaking shoes, neutral kayaking footwear and breathable shoes for warm water. Every kayak shoe is designed with specific temperatures in mind for it to be used in. Some kayaking shoes are made for cold to freezing water, while others are simply made for warmer waters. Knowing what they can handle is crucial because without this your feet can be at risk of not being properly protected from the water’s temperatures.
The level of insulation is also an important classification because it indicated how well the kayaking shoes will hold in heat. Obviously, you want to have a greater level of insulation in the colder weather. But when it is warm, having too much insulation and wreak havoc on your feet and cause added problems besides sweating and overheating.
The cut is not only a stylistic preference, but a decision on how much protection you will need on the rest of your legs. Calm and clear areas may not need anything above a low cut shoe, but if you are trudging through a lot of debris or unseen areas, you should opt for the most protection.
There are three standard cut options when it comes to kayaking shoes. These cut options directly correlate to the height of the shoes itself on your body. That means that the lowest cut is a low top shoe, the medium cut is an ankle high shoe, and the highest cut is a knee high shoe. There is also a high top style kayaking shoe that is similar to the ankle high medium cut shoes but slightly lower. But it is important to recognize that each cut style serves a purpose beyond style and appearance.
The low cut style kayaking shoe is designed to be ideal in warmer environments to prevent excess heat and sweating by allowing more room for your feet to breath. They are also designed to be the most versatile and easy to move in because there is no ankle coverage so you have full range of motion. But in exchange for the full range of motion, you are losing a lot of support and protection. So while they may be comfortable in the kayak, they are not going to offer any support or protection against the rougher terrain.
Ideal for most beginners to use, these shoes cover the ankle and provide added support and protection against a wider range of terrain types than the low cut kayaking shoes. While it does restrict your range of motion more than the low cut because it covers the ankle, ankle high kayaking shoes are more often than not waterproof and can even provide heat retention.
If you are looking for something between knee high shoes and low top with more range of motion than the standard ankle high boots. The high top provides a more comfortable fit to prevent water from coming in and are more often than not made from waterproof materials. While not providing as much support as ankle high or knee high kayaking shoes, the high top offers more support and protection than the low top so it is ideal for mild to slightly rough terrain. If you only want one pair of shoes and like to go on a variety of different terrains and water bodies, the high tops can be a great option.
Ideal for providing protection from both terrain and climate, knee high kayaking shoes are designed to be worn in the roughest of environments. Made of durable and waterproof materials, the knee high kayaking shoe is made to retain the heat in your feet and lower legs no matter where you choose to go. These are the heaviest and bulkiest of the kayaking shoe options, but while they may not work in smaller boats or a large variety of situations, the knee high serves the specific purpose it is designed for better than any others.
When looking for the right kayaking shoes, you need to factor in water temperature. If you will be kayaking in cold water you must make sure the kayaking shoes are capable of handling it. Otherwise you can end up battling numb feet and hypothermia as you try to get back to shore. If the water and weather are hotter, you will need to make sure the shoes aren’t going to overheat your feet and cause sweating and irritation. If you are going to be kayaking in neutral water temperatures, you should stick to a neutral pair of kayaking shoes so your feet are not going to overheat or be too cold in the water.
While a cool dip in the water can be refreshing on a hot day, it is important to consider the longer term and consider why it is so important to keep your feet dry. In warmer waters it may not seem like a huge deal to have waterproof shoes, but you need to focus on the bigger picture and consider whether or not you will always be going out in warm water and if you only want one pair of shoes.
Cold water, even if you are inside a kayak, can get in and reduce your body temperature. This is why it is so crucial to have waterproof kayaking shoes when it is cold out. If your feet get wet it can seem hopeless to get them dry again and without being dry. they can’t get warm. Consider how you get in and out of a kayak and how long your feet will need to be in the water before they can be in the kayak or on shore. Even a few minutes in the water can mean hours of drying time for your shoes and therefore your feet.
Waterproof shoes serve other purposes besides simply keeping your feet dry. For example, a waterproof shoe works far better to create traction and allow you to get a solid grip on what you are walking on than the non-waterproof options. Waterproof shoes also prevent bacteria and fungus from growing and won’t start to smell. Non-waterproof shoes, even if they only get wet once, can smell horrible and if the shoes start to grow mildew or other things like bacteria or fungus, they will have to be thrown away.
Insulation is key for your feet in colder weather and is almost as important as waterproof kayaking shoes when it comes to freezing water. Your feet are a vital part of keeping your body warm and if your kayaking shoes are not insulated, there is nothing keeping that heat in. This means that you can end up getting cold easily and quickly without being able to get it back. Once your body’s temperature drops it can make it not only difficult to paddle, but make you highly susceptible to hypothermia which could be life threatening if you can’t get back to shore to warm up. Your kayaking shoes must be able to keep your feet warm without overheating them, so if you are on the water and your feet start to go numb you do not have enough insulation and you need to head back to shore immediately.
Unlike insulation, the breathability of your kayaking shoes focuses on the amount of air flowing through the shoes. Your shoes need breathability, especially on the warmer days, because your bodies heat up more while exercising. As you continue to kayak your body will generate more and more heat which leads to sweating. The sweat can turn into irritation on your feet and even lead to bacteria and fungus growth. Sweaty feet also add to loss of traction and sensibility and an increase in odor.
The material your kayaking shoes are made of are key to getting the most out of them. Hands down, the most popular material for kayaking shoes is neoprene and it is easy to see why. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber compound that is waterproof and used for everything from wetsuits to shoes and other kayaking gear. The material is flexible enough to allow you to move in it, while still being thick enough to offer a certain amount of protection. However, neoprene does not offer enough protection for more dangerous terrain and does not have an insulation quality so it is not good for colder temperatures.
Gore-Tex is also a well-used material for kayaking shoes because of its above average breathability. The material is a membrane-like that allows the air to pass through the shoes while still keeping the water out. This is done by utilizing water vapor in the material so the gas molecules are smaller than the liquid molecules and blocks and water from passing.
Mesh is a less expensive choice of material for those who want shoes with breathability without stressing about being waterproof. Mesh is great for hotter climates because it allows a great deal of air flow through the shoes and can be durable enough to handle a day out on the water. But you need to take greater precautions with mesh to make sure you don’t end up with mildew or fungus growing if they do not dry properly.
While shoes that offer the greatest protection may be heavier than the shoes with less protection, the overall weight needs to be considered when picking out your kayak shoes. If your shoes are too heavy they can weigh you down and make it difficult to walk or move regularly. You should be able to move freely and not have to exert too much energy to move your feet.
The fit of your kayaking shoes is not only for your comfort, but for your safety. If your kayaking shoes are too loose you risk them rubbing your feet and ankles causing blisters, slipping while you walk and causing you to walk with difficulty and causing you to get an improper seal between your shoe and foot. This means you can end up with water getting into waterproof shoes as well as cold air which renders all those features useless. Loose shoes can also end up coming off which leaves you unprotected.
Kayak shoes that are too tight can cut off circulation and cause you to lose feeling. The proper fit for kayaking shoes should be snug, but allow your toes to move freely as you go. If your toes are pushed together, the shoes are too tight. If your foot moves freely and can slide in and out, they are too loose. If you go with a waterproof pair of kayaking shoes you should have a slightly tighter fit around the opening to keep the water out, but not too tight as to be painful.
If you still aren’t sure about the shoes, the best way to tell if they are right is to spend a few hours wearing them around the house to see if you like the fit. If there are any problems while you are simply walking around your home, there will more than likely be problems out on the water.
The higher the quality of the kayaking shoes, the longer on average they are going to last. But it also matters greatly how you handle your shoes. If you take proper care of them and don’t use then in inappropriate ways, they can last a pretty long time. But if you mistreat them and don’t take the time to care for them after every trip, you will end up buying another pair of shoes within a matter of months.
Price really isn’t the biggest thing to focus on but it is important to understand that you will be paying at the very least, thirty dollars per pair. Under that, the shoes may be okay for more causal use, but should be more of a back up pair. For people who are dedicated kayakers, you can easily end up spending one hundred dollars or more on a single pair of shoes. But you don’t need to spend one hundred dollars for quality shoes, and anything in the thirty to one hundred range will be absolutely fine The main thing is to focus on what the shoes offer and what they lack and let the price consideration come second.
What Is The Difference Between Water Shoes and Kayaking Shoes
While there isn’t a massive difference between the two it is really all about design. The words are often used interchangeably so it can sometimes get confusing but the key differences between water shoes and kayak shoes are how well they meat the needs of a kayaker. This means that water sandals are not kayak shoes and some water shoes are kayak shoes. But while all kayaking shoes are technically water shoes, not all water shoes are kayaking shoes.
Water shoes, to be truly considered kayaking shoes need to be able to provide the correct support for navigating the needed terrain and provide proper insulation, protection, grip and breathability to keep you safe in and out of the kayak.
Why You Should Avoid Cotton Socks
If you are going to wear socks under your kayaking shoes it is important that you never wear cotton socks. This is because cotton absorbs and retains moisture when in the water and can take hours to dry. Even if the kayaking shoes are waterproof, you may compromise the seal with bulky cotton socks and allow water to get it.
If you want to wear socks under your kayaking shoes you should opt for a water sock to make sure your feet stay dry and your kayaking shoes are able to retain their seal to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected. But it is really preferred by most kayakers to go barefoot under the kayaking shoes to get the best fit and seal.
Top Ten Shoes For Kayaking
To help you save time on your research and guarantee you get the best shoes on the market, here are the top ten best shoes for kayaking available.
The Aleader mesh slip-on kayaking shoes are ideal for the causal user because of the affordable price and wide range of features. Available in a large variety of colors and designed to keep your feet cool and dry, the Aleader is great for those who prefer kayaking in warmer climates with clear terrain. But the low cut design is not ideal for areas where you need more protection like rough terrain or cold temperatures.
- ComfortDry sock liner to create a cool and dry environment inside the shoe as well as added comfort
- Water grain outsole
- Solyte midsole for bounce back and durability
- Mesh on the upper shoes for breathability and quick drying
- Large variety of colors
- Full range of motion
- Water draining outsole to get the best traction in a variety of conditions
- Narrow sizes
- Men’s sizes
- Low-cut so there is less protection
- Not for cold weather kayaking
Designed for maximum breathability, the Dreamcity water shoes are ideal for hot weather kayaking. While the lower cut does not offer you any protection on your ankle and legs, the Dreamcity water shoes provide amazing grip to give you traction wherever you are.
- Rubber sole
- Breathable mesh on the upper shoe
- Soytle midsole for greater bounce back and durability
- Water Grip provides great traction for wet or slippery areas
- Dry sock liner to keep your feet cool and dry
- Variety of colors available
- Drainage holes
- Men’s sizes
- Tongue can rub and irritate skin
- Lace up design can be a turn off for some
- Low cut design offers little protection
- Not for cold water kayaking
Designed to be puncture proof, the Merrell all out blaze sieve kayaking shoes is designed to be similar to a hiking shoe with great grip and a unified midsole. The shoes are waterproof and utilize leather and neoprene to create the best shoes for getting to and from the water without issue.
- Unified midsole
- Anti- microbial treatment
- Thick rubber outsole
- Upper shoe a combination of leather and neoprene
- Protective bumper on toe
- Five color options
- Bigger investment
- Heavy when wet
- Low cut offers less protection
NeoSport premium kayaking shoes come in three thickness options to work for warm, neutral or cold water temperatures. The ankle cut design creates added protection and the neoprene material means these shoes are completely water proof. The zippers are heavy duty and the soles are puncture resistant to make these kayaking shoes incredibly durable and easy to navigate a variety of terrains.
- Three thickness options
- Ankle cut
- Neoprene material
- Puncture resistant outsole
- Heavy duty #10 zippers
- Seal creates a water entry barrier
- Sizes run small
- Men’s sizes
- Larger price range
Cior’s barefoot quick dry kayaking shoes are designed to have plenty of options for men and women of all ages. You can easily use them for other water or beach sports and the material is designed to move with you as well as allow air to flow easily to keep your feet cool and dry.
- Optimal traction
- Flexible material
- Added arch support
- Thick rubber outsole
- Quick Dry holes
- Lots of color options
- Sizes for men and women
- Breathable fabric
- Prevents chaffing
- Works for a variety of different sports
- Drainage holes can clog if not monitored
- Low cut design offers less protection
- Not for cold water temperatures
The Mares Equator dive boots are designed to feel more like socks than shoes to create seamless movement and prevent bulky shoes from inhibiting you as you navigate the terrain. While they may be called diving boots, the equator shoes work wonderfully as kayaking shoes as well.
- Tall heel
- Sizing chart makes it easy to convert men’s sizes to women’s
- Vulcanized rubber sole
- Ankle high cut
- Added traction
- Temperature control
- Waterproof Neoprene material
- Increased flexibility
- Sizes run large
- Only one color option
Designed to be easy to put on and stay on, the Viakix water shoes are made to allow air to flow through the shoes to make them ideal for hot days. The shoes can be used for a variety of water sports which makes them incredibly versatile and the lightweight design means you will never want to take them off.
- Quick dry mesh
- cushioned insoles
- Foam added to outsole
- Sizes run narrow
- Only men’s sizes
- Only three color options
- Low cut does not provide much protection
- Not for cold water temperatures
While not technically shoes, these aqua socks work great for an added layer of protection on your feet. They come in a large variety of colors and sizes so there is something for everyone and are affordable enough to have multiple pairs. Ideally, these should be worn under your kayaking shoes, but you can wear them on their own if you are walking on the beach or in the water if the terrain is calm and clear.
- Upper shoe made of a combination of polyester and spandex
- Breathable design
- Flexible of optimum movement
- Quick drying
- Comes in dozens of styles
- and children’s sizes available
- Sizes run small
- Not for walking off the beach or water
- Not for cold water temperatures
- Less protection than other shoes
The Cudas Shasta water shoe features a liner inside the shoes to help insulate your feet as well as mesh on the upper shoe to provide breathability. This makes them ideal for neutral water temperatures because you get the best of both worlds.
- Heel and toe bumpers
- X-band to securely hold your shoes in place
- Non-slip design
- Liner for warmth
- Waterproof Neoprene material
- Mesh for breathability
- Can rub and irritate heel
- Liner can cause sweating in warm weather
- Only three colors
- Only women’s sizes
- Low cut design lacks protection
Designed to work for basic kayaking excursions, the WateLves water shoes are very similar to their water socks, but slightly thicker. If you want to get a feeling of being barefoot without risking injury to your feet, this is the way to go.
- Comes in men’s women’s and children’s sizes
- Dozens of color options
- Polyester and spandex material
- Foam arch support
- Quick dry drainage holes
- Added flexibility
- Anti-slip design
- Low cut lacks protection
- Not good for cold water temperatures
- Minimalist footwear
No matter which kayaking shoes you choose to go with, make sure you focus on the details, read the reviews and aren’t settling for the cheapest option.