Best water shoes 2021: seaside-friendly shoes for aquatic adventures

A grippy, protective pair of the best water shoes makes the perfect footwear for wild swimming, coastal walks and watersports

Best water shoes: person wearing Vivobarefoot tempest water shoes on a rock near the sea
(Image credit: Vivobarefoot)

A pair of the best water shoes is a great investment for any one whose adventures tend to take place in or around water. That's everyone from wild swimmers to SUP enthusiasts to keen kayakers, or even just those who spend a lot of time at the beach or love exploring coastlines. Water shoes and sandals are perfect for going from dry land to rivers and oceans and back again. 

Water shoes aren't typically waterproof, but instead have built-in drainage channels and are designed to dry out quickly. The best water shoes are lightweight yet protective, with grippy rubber soles that make them ideal for rockpool scrambling and trail hiking. 

In short, if you've been making do with a pair of walking sandals or walking flip flops, now might be time to upgrade; dedicated water shoes will do a much better job of protecting your feet and keeping you comfortable and stability in and around water.

Our top five picks of the best water shoes for women and men include Keen's versatile Astoria West sandal, Vivo Barefoot's high-performing ESC Tempest boot, which is ideal for outdoor professionals, and Decathlon's affordable unisex Aquashoe, which is a stone-cold bargain.

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Black Friday water shoes deals
The best Black Friday deals often include some decent outdoor kit bargains. We'll be reporting on all the offers worth paying attention to, in the run up to black Friday and on the day itself. Even if November isn't typically when you think of replacing your outdoors gear, it could be a great time to bag a bargain. 

How to choose the best water shoes for you

There are generally two types of water shoe on the market – aquatic shoes and aquatic sandals or 'shandals'. The latter often have wide vents or holes to release water and help to dry your feet quickly, but both types usually have closed toes, to protect your feet from rocks and submerged objects.

Whatever style you pick, there are a few key features to look out for. A good water shoe should be comfortable and lightweight, so it doesn't drag you down when you swim, but still have a tough rubber outer sole with indentations (also called 'lugs') offering good grip, so that you can stride confidently across wet surfaces such as coastal rocks or river banks. Look for a stiff rubber toe cap for added protection, and a lightweight main material such as mesh or neoprene that will dry quickly when you're back on land. 

Check your new water shoes fit well – bungees or straps are ideal for making sure they sit snugly on your feet when you're exploring. Make sure there's no tightness or rubbing anywhere, especially around the toes and heels. If you're investing in a new pair of water shoes it's a good idea to pick a design that can also be used for walking, and that looks smart enough to wear casually, so that you'll get a decent amount of wear out of them.

As mentioned before, the best water shoes aren't typically waterproof. If walking if the priority, and you'll just be tackling puddles and showers, head to our best walking shoes for men and best women's walking shoes roundups instead. 

The best walking shoes to buy now

Keen Astoria West Sandals

(Image credit: Keen)

The best water shoes for most people

Specifications
Weight: 305g
Main material: recycled plastic webbing
Colour options: red / navy / grey / black
Reasons to buy
+Good toe protection+Easily adjustable for a custom fit
Reasons to avoid
-Narrow fit-Chunky wide sole

Not quite a sandal, not quite a shoe, Keen's Astoria West is a 'shandal'-style water shoe that's ideal for going from wet to dry conditions. The Astoria West (and the similar Newport sandal for men) has a chunky, bouncy rubber sole with slip-resistant grip, so it can tackle wet surfaces. On top, plastic webbing with plenty of vents lets feet breathe, while a tough rubber toe cap protects feet in and out of the water and a bungee makes it easy to adjust the shandals for a snug fit. Ideal for water sports, and ready to take on the trail and to town, this is a very versatile aquatic shoe. The only flag to raise here is that the Astoria Wests fit on the slim, narrow side, and may not suit anyone with wide feet, or bunions. Head to our Keen Astoria west sandals review to find out more. 

Vivobarefoot ESC Tempest water shoe

(Image credit: Vivobarefoot)

2. Vivobarefoot ESC Tempest

The best premium water shoe

Specifications
Weight: 342g
Main material: recycled PET mesh
Colour options: grey / black
Reasons to buy
+Reliable grip, including for running+All-over protection+Recycled materials
Reasons to avoid
-Overkill for casual days out-Styling isn't for everyone

Aimed at 'amphibious athletes', Vivobarefoot's ESC Tempest water boot is ready to take on any adventure on or off of land. If you're serious about water-based exploring, this is the best water shoe on the market right now. The design may look like a simple wetsuit bootie at first glance, but it's actually packed with high-performing features. A Michelin rubber outsole offers brilliant grip even on wet surfaces or seaweed-strewn rocks, and is strong and supple enough to allow you to run as well as hike in the ESC Tempest. A taller bootie-style neoprene design, made from recycled materials, stays snug around the foot and offers extra warmth and protection. We really only have good things to say about this high-performing boot – except that it doesn't come cheap, and may only be worth investing in if you work outdoors or if you're serious about triathlons, coasteering and other water adventures.

Decathlon Aquashoe water shoes

(Image credit: Decathlon)

3. Decathlon Aquashoe

The best budget water shoe

Specifications
Weight: 180g
Main material: polyester
Colour options: navy, turquoise
Reasons to buy
+Very comfortable+Quick to dry+Bargain price
Reasons to avoid
-Not much grip-No arch support

If you want a bit of extra protection when swimming or paddling but don't want to break the bank, Decathlon's affordable Aquashoe is a decent water shoe with a bargain price tag. These comfortable pumps are lightweight enough that you won't know you're wearing them as you swim, rubber soles have decent grip and stop you feeling stones or shingle underfoot and the mesh upper wicks away water and sweat, drying the shoes (and your feet) in a jiffy. They may not be quite tough enough for proper walking, but these shoes work for casual strolls and they look enough like trainers that you can pair them with shorts when you aren't swimming. The Aquashoe is a unisex design, so read Decathlon's sizing guide before ordering. 

Craghoppers Locke Packaway shoes

(Image credit: Craghoppers)

The best water shoe for walking and travelling

Specifications
Weight: 210g
Main material: mesh and neoprene
Colour options: navy / grey / black
Reasons to buy
+Quick to dry+Great grip+Good looks
Reasons to avoid
-Fiddly laces-Limited toe protection

The Locke Packaway (and Lady Locke Packaway for women) are primarily designed for travelling and backpacking adventures, and lightweight, packable and easy to wear anywhere. What we discovered on test was that the Locke doubled up as a brilliant water shoe. The top is a quick-drying mix of mesh and neoprene, while the thick, cushioning rubber outsole offers surprisingly sticky grip even on wet rock. Wear them for ocean swimming, coasteering and other aquatic adventures and they'll go from shoreline to sea really well – and once back on land, they are quick to dry and comfortable to hike in. Their good looks and easy portability make the Locke and Lady Locke well worth the spend, although in an ideal world we'd have liked tougher toe boxes, and bungees rather than laces. Head to our Craghoppers Locke Packaway shoe review for more info.

Person wearing Vivobarefoot Ultra Bloom III water shoes on waterside

(Image credit: Sian Lewis)

The best lightweight swimming shoe

Specifications
Weight: 100g
Main material: Bloom foam
Colour options: black, turquoise
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Great comfort+Ideal for swimming 
Reasons to avoid
-Not tough enough for hiking-Look dirty easily

The best water shoes for wild swimming are the sieve-like Vivobarefoot Ultra Bloom. Designed with swimmers in mind, these water shoes are pleasingly lightweight, very comfortable, and easy to pull on and off even when wet. Once you pop them on, bungees make it quick and easy to adjust the Ultra Blooms, and they stay snugly in place when you're swimming or clambering over rocks. Once in the water, they're light and buoyant and won't weigh you down – ideal for swimmers who need to cross shingle to reach their favourite swim spot, or who want added protection in the water. Back on land, the shoes dry quickly and wick away sweat. We found the soles weren't tough enough to make hiking more than short distances comfortable – save the Ultra Blooms for swimming and casual use. Head to our Vivobarefoot Ultra Bloom III water shoe review to find out more.

Merrell Choprock Shandals in blue, grey and green

(Image credit: Merrell)

6. Merrell Choprock Sieve

The best water shoe for grip and protection

Specifications
Weight: 803g
Main material: synthetic
Colour options: Blue / purple / green
Reasons to buy
+Rubber toe bumper keeps toes protected+Vibram Megagrip delivers excellent grip+Webbing loops aid a secure fit
Reasons to avoid
-Can get a bit sweaty when not in water

A good all-round water shoe that will take you comfortably around the coast too, Merrell's Choprock Sieve's Vibram Megagrip outsole and 5mm lugs deliver excellent grip on rocky coastlines. Elsewhere, a generous toe bumper provides reliable protection, and the webbing loops deliver a pretty secure fit. There are visible cut-outs to allow water to drain, as well as an insole you can remove when not in use, to speed the drying process and air things out a bit better. The only downsides were that these do have a tendency to feel a bit sweaty when worn on hot days (although that's not such an issue if you're hopping in and out of water regularly), and sand can get clogged in the drainage ports – although it's easy to rinse it out. 

best walking sandals: Keen SOLR sandals

(Image credit: Keen)

7. Keen SOLR sandals

Another excellent pair of water shoes

Specifications
Weight: not stated
Main material: TPU upper
Colour options: Blue / black / grey / navy / peach
Reasons to buy
+Recycled bottle webbing+Good grip+Machine washable
Reasons to avoid
-Grip is not quite as good on land

The Keen SOLR – that's 'Sea Ocean Lake River' – is a great all-round sandal with plenty of protection for taking on the rough stuff, as well as a design that's well suited to use by stand-up paddle boarders, kayakers and the like. The sole unit is non-marking, with a grip pattern designed to keep you stable on wet decks or paddleboards – we found it wasn't quite as good on land, though. The webbing, made from recycled plastic bottles, offers gives good wrap-around support and protection, and a simple bungee fastener delivers a snug fit. One welcome extra touch is the retaining strap to tuck the end of the bungee into and prevent it getting snagged on anything.

Vans Surf Boot 2 Hi V surf bootees

(Image credit: Vans)

The best surf boots

Specifications
Weight: not stated
Main material: neoprene
Colour options: Black / black + gum
Reasons to buy
+Ankle seal keeps water out+Warm, comfortable and grippy+Available in 3mm or 5mm thickness
Reasons to avoid
-Tricky to get on and off-Strictly for surfing

While surf bootees are technically a different beast to your standard water shoes, if you've landed on this article looking for something to clad your feet in when surfing, the Vans Surf Boot 2 Hi V is the model we'd recommend. This the second-gen version  of boots from the skate brand, and they deliver excellent warmth, reliable grip and impressive flexibility. Made from glued, blindstitched and dipped neoprene, they'll keep your toes warm even in cold seas, with the ankle seal keeping the water reliably out. While some customers found them too tight, they impressed our tester (head to our Vans Surf Boot 2 Hi V review for more details) – although beware they're not easy to get on and off. Head to our roundup of the best wetsuits for our recommendations to keep the rest of you cosy while surfing.