outdoor leisure

What Are the Best Water Shoes?

Photo: retailers

For many, the summer means spending as much time as possible at the beach, the pool, or by any body of water. While there are plenty of styles of footwear to wear near water — from slides to flip-flops to sandals — the options become thinner when you start thinking about shoes you can also wear in the water. A good water shoe should of course dry quickly, but also be secure enough to keep you stable on any slippery ocean or lake (or pool) floors, and protective enough to cushion your feet from sharper rocks or other debris lining them. If you’re wearing them to swim in a lake or pond, water shoes should not perceptively slow you down. And if you’re wearing them in public, ideally, they will look cool enough to go from the water to dinner. To find the best water shoes, we talked to a range of people — from travel writers to sock designers to art advisers — about the pairs they wear and where they wear them. The ten recommended styles below include water shoes for most any occasion, whether you’re looking for a pair for hiking across rivers, swimming through ponds, or just strolling along the surf.

Best overall water shoes

Sandals from Teva, perhaps not surprisingly, were far and away the most recommended for wearing both around water — and in it (for most every activity except swimming). Of the brand’s various styles, five people recommended sandals from its Hurricane line, which all have a chunkier sole that makes them grippier than Teva’s flatter sandals (and, of course, an ankle strap). The Hurricane XLT2 came up the most: Both Emily and Berty Mandagie, the husband-and-wife founders of travel website The Mandagies, and Strategist senior editor Anthony Rotunno own pairs that they’ve worn for various water-related pursuits. The Mandagies, in fact, say they each own several pairs; Emily Mandagie told us they’ve worn XLT2s when “crossing a river or jumping in a lake” on hiking or backpacking excursions. The duo lives in the Pacific Northwest and adds that the shoes are excellent for the rainy climate there. As Emily Mandagie notes, a helpful feature is that “you can fix the Velcro straps on all the sides of the sandals for a custom fit that keeps them snug on outdoor adventures.” Rotunno agrees, telling us his pair has protected his feet on “tubing trips down various rivers” in the almost ten years he’s owned it. He adds that the shoes “dry fast enough so that they’re not sopping wet if you go to eat” after wearing them for a dip.

Best (less expensive) water shoes

Sam Han, a self-described outdoors enthusiast, wore Teva’s (slightly) cheaper Hurricane 4 sandals on a recent month-long trip to Kauai, where, the way he tells it, he barely took them off. “I wore them all the time in the water, and they stayed on my feet really well — I could even swim in them when we went snorkeling,” Han says. Hudson Wilder founder Conway Liao is the fifth person who recommended a pair of Teva Hurricane sandals as water shoes. His preferred style, the Hurricane Verge (for men and women) is a bit more expensive at $80 but has a criss-cross strap that Liao says makes the feel even more secure because “there are multiple points of contact” with your feet.

Best (even less expensive) water shoes

Rotunno also owns Teva’s Hurricane Drift sandals, which are made entirely of rubberlike EVA — including the straps — making them even faster-drying. He’s worn these tubing and rafting on (lazier) rivers, as well, and says they’re just as good as the XLT2s for low-impact activities in the water. But unlike the other Teva Hurricane sandals on this list, the straps on these are not adjustable, so they don’t offer as snug a fit.

Best full-coverage water shoes

Next to Teva Hurricane sandals, Merrell’s Hydro Mocs came up the most. Fans include art adviser Ryan Simons, along with a couple Strategist editors (including Rotunno and editor Maxine Builder), and Chris Black, who calls them a “shoe-sandal hybrid.” Simons says the Hydro Mocs are “comfortable and sturdy enough for me to jump in some water with them” and Rotunno agrees. Also made of rubberlike EVA, he says they’re “what I’ll wear when I’m walking into a body of water, like a lake, and want to ensure no flotsam or jetsam float between my feet and the shoe.” The porous upper, Rotunno adds, helps both your feet and the shoes dry faster.

Best water shoes to wear swimming

Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo’s go-to water shoes come from a tried-and-true brand in the water-sports space but have a mesh patch across the upper that she says makes them a bit cooler-looking than the pair you might have worn as a kid. “I would even go so far as to call them stylish and would totally wear them with shorts post swim,” Corsillo says. She typically wears them while swimming in “freshwater lakes and ponds” to avoid “stepping on sharp rocks and the occasional fish or turtle bite,” promising the shoes are “really comfortable, stay on well, and don’t do that annoying thing where they lag behind your feet when you swim.” Corsillo adds that the soles are thick — “Nothing is getting through them” — and notes anyone interested might consider sizing up (or taking a closer look at measurements) because the shoes “run a touch small.”

Best ultra-thin water shoes

Stefan Arestis, a co-founder and editor of the Nomadic Boys travel blog, told us he and his work (and life) partner Sebastien Chaneac both like these pull-on polyester-spandex blend shoes because “they’re comfortable, light, and easy to pack” thanks to their more socklike design. While thinner than other styles on this list, Arestis says their rubber soles do the job at “protecting our feet on rocky shores” and while walking to “off-the-beaten track areas where a lot of gay beaches around the world are located.” The most affordable water shoes on our list, they also come in more than 50 colors and patterns.

Best extra-secure water shoes

Given how many athletes and other experts swear by its running shoes, we are inclined to take ILYSM founder Alice Wang’s word for it when she says this Hoka pair she wears in the water is “really comfortable.” Hokas have a neoprene collar around the foot and are made of a rubberlike material that’s porous on top, plus there is added security in the form of laces that you can adjust with the push of a button to make them snugger. Wang says she’s worn them while lazily rafting down a river “with occasional bumps” as well as on “rocky beaches in Maine.” But the shoes, like some of the Tevas on this list, are designed for hiking, so you can get even more mileage out of them.

Best (less expensive) extra-secure water shoes

More similar in style to Corsillo’s Speedos is this pair recommended by lawyer and outdoor enthusiast Candice Hyon, who says “they’re lightweight and dry relatively quickly.” Like the pair above, these water shoes have elastic laces built into their mesh upper that you can adjust to help them stay on your feet. On the bottom are grippy rubber soles that “pebbles don’t get stuck in,” according to Hyon.

Grippiest water shoes

In talking to experts about the best hiking sandals, several have recommended styles with Vibram soles because they are known to be among the most slip-resistant you can get. Those very soles are found on the bottom of these Teva sandals recommended by writer Alexis Cheung, who told us she “bought them for a family trip to the Galapagos and wore them on bumpy zodiac-boat rides and while walking through shallow beach waters.” Like most other Tevas on our list, these have adjustable straps and an upper made of synthetic material that dries relatively fast.

Best unconventional water shoes

While these jelly sandals may not look like your typical water shoes, sewist Nozlee Samadzadeh, who works as a computer programmer for the New York Times, told us they work just fine in the most basic of wet conditions. “I recently wore them as water shoes in the pond behind our Airbnb,” she says, describing the shoes as “comfortable and nostalgic, but not saccharine.” Samadzadeh notes the shoes are unisex, adding that “they’re my go-to beach day shoes, too.” While she didn’t recommend them as water shoes specifically, former Strategist writer Hilary Reid also owns these and has said that they’ve resulted in “no blisters or squeaking while walking.”

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What Are the Best Water Shoes?