(The Gear Loop) - Summer is here and with it comes watery fun. The best water shoes are designed to allow you to enjoy all manner of amphibious adventures comfortably and safely, from paddle boarding and canoeing to coasteering and ghyll scrambling.
As well as this, they’re often crafted to look acceptable at the pub/bar/restaurant/taverna afterwards. Quite the balance to strike then…
Usually, when we’re out and about in the great outdoors, we try to avoid wet rock wherever possible, yet we seem suddenly attracted to it during summer.
Our holidays are full of beachside strolls, rock-pool explorations, boat trips, poolside shuffles and mini cliff scrambles. The best water shoes boast grippy soles that provide unbeatable traction and features that give us protection against abrasion during all of these aquatic adventures.
Versatility is also key. No one buys a specific shoe for every eventuality in life and no one wants to take (or has space for) 13 pairs on holiday. A water shoe that can double-up as a hiking or running shoe, even if it costs a little more, will please us outdoorsy folks more than something that’s only appropriate for wearing on the beach or around the pool. Many of the best water shoes do just that.
In this guide, we feature four of the best water shoes and our favourite pair of women’s specific sandals. From the wonderful versatility of the Astral TR1 Junction and the unbeatable value of Decathlon’s Aqua Shoes to Keen’s sturdy Astoria West Sandals, there’s a quality water shoe here for you.
The best water shoes
Astral TR1 Junction
- Stylish (ish) looks
- Well thought out features
- Traction not quite as strong as some
In JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there was ‘one ring to rule them all’. Similarly, in the world of aquatic adventures, there might just be one water shoe to rule them all: the Astral TR1 Junction.
Fortunately, this is not the work of fantasy but instead the carefully crafted product of a watery adventure-obsessed company born in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, in the US.
On first acquaintance, the TR1 Junction impresses with its relatively stylish, street-ready looks, yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. They’re grippy, lightweight (at 730 grams per pair), comfortable, breathable, fast-drying and perform brilliantly during all manner of wet adventures.
The shoe’s G.15 high friction rubber outsole features aggressive 5mm lugs, giving you excellent traction on both rugged trails and wet rock, while the midsole’s shank gives you supreme comfort when walking. Moisture is managed by the hydrophobic yet breathable upper and toe vents, while everything dries quickly once out of the water.
The upper is flexible yet supportive, with TPU overlays at the toe and heel cap adding robustness and durability. In the long term, they won’t last as long as a pair of hiking shoes, but where watery adventures are concerned, they adapt superbly to a wide range of activities. While they may carry a high price tag, this versatility makes them a shoe-in (ahem).
Vivo Barefoot Esc Tempest
- Great traction
- Capable in the water and on land
- Environmentally conscious construction
- Very expensive
- Looks aren’t for everyone
Vivo Barefoot say its excellent Esc Tempest water shoes are "born to swim run”, though we think their applications go way beyond this. Don’t be fooled by their wetsuit bootie appearance, these are shoes that gladly take to solid surfaces too.
With an outsole that packs Michelin rubber and aggressive lugs, they grip a wide variety of wet and dry surfaces with aplomb, making them a good choice for activities like coasteering, canyoning and even ghyll scrambling, as well as the swimming and running they were designed for.
So, that’s traction sorted, but how about comfort? When a product claims to do more than one thing, there’s often a compromise somewhere. Fortunately, this is not the case here. The Esc Tempests feature a lightweight cage for flexibility, draining and protection that performs just as well in the water as out of it, while they dry quickly and are just as comfortable to run in.
The elephant in the room is their interestingly patterned upper, which is inspired by coral structures and won’t suit everyone, looks wise at least. However, they do come with the additional selling point of an environmentally friendly construction, using sustainably-sourced algae instead of the usual petrochemicals. All in all, a great product for amphibious adventurers, though relatively expensive considering they are not quite as versatile as some of the competition.
Craghoppers Locke Packaway Shoes
- Flexible, quick drying material
- Great grip on wet rock
- Pack down small
- Toes not as protected as with some
- Not as high performing as purpose-built water shoes
The Craghoppers Locke Packaway Shoes are not marketed specifically as water shoes, yet their packability, low weight, quick-drying qualities and solid grip make them a good option for use as a casual water shoe for your summer holidays. Their trainer-esque looks might also turn heads while you’re enjoying a pina colada by the pool.
Their uppers feature Craghoppers’ proprietary Nosilife anti-insect fabric, which is stretchy and flexible, making them ideal for travel and giving you a lasting fit. The fabric is collapsible, while the shoes’ TREADLOCK interlocking treads mean you can tie them up together in one compact, stow-able unit that takes up minimal space in a backpack or dry bag. The uppers are also very quick drying, which is great if you’re in and out of the water all day.
The outsole features 50 per cent recycled rubber and grips well on wet surfaces. Bear in mind that these are not specifically designed for water shoe use and won’t give you as solid performance on canyoning or coasteering adventures as more specialised products, while you also have no reinforced toe protection either. However, for stylish shoes for the pool or beach at a decent price, look no further.
Keen Astoria West Sandals
- Great grip in and out of the water
- Good toe protection
- Adjustable fit
- Sole a little bit wide for some
- Heavy for an aquatic shoe
Shandles take the performance of a hiking shoe and open the top up to make them more suited to aquatic adventures. Like an open-top car, they represent a more easy-going vibe during the summer months. Keen’s Astoria West Sandle is the best option for women, boasting a tailored fit.
Contoured for the female foot, a cupped heel ensures stability, while you also get that all-important toe protection, which still allows enough space for toes to splay. Comfort and fit are ensured thanks to adjustable, quick-dry webbing, while Aquagrip rubber provides slip-resistant grip.
The Astoria Wests will take you from trail to sea and back to town comfortably, though at 400g per shoe, they’re a little heavier than others in our guide and some may find the sole to be a little too wide for their liking.
For men, we’d recommend taking a look at the Keen's Targhee III Sandal, the open top version of their award winning Targhee boot, or the Clearwater SNX, which is specifically designed for amphibious use.
Decathlon Aquashoe 500
- Great value
- Easy to slip on and off
- Decent looks
- Not as durable as more expensive products
- Performance lacking for technical adventures
Another holiday-ready pair, Decathlon’s Aquashoe 500s are for those looking to get wet and wild, without making too much of a splash in their bank account.
They do everything that‘s required of them with minimal fuss: they’re comfortable, quick-drying, very light and easy to take on and off thanks to their elastic uppers, while the outer sole also protects you from abrasion and they grip reasonably well on wet rock.
Unlike some of the products featured here, they don’t double-up well for walking considerable distances, nor would you be able to totally trust their grip to hold on a technical coasteering adventure. There’s no reinforcement, so toes would take a bashing on a scramble.
However, at this price point, we wouldn’t expect any different. So, if you’re after a decent-looking pair for the beach or pool this summer, they’re a solid option.
What to look for when buying water shoes
Water shoes or shandals?
When it comes to amphibious footwear, there are broadly two main varieties: water shoes and aquatic sandals, otherwise known as shandals.
Water shoes are lightweight, snug-fitting and usually boast sneaker-like looks. They are designed to be worn primarily in the water, while still giving you confidence in your grip and comfort when walking across wet surfaces, which makes them ideal for activities like coasteering or canyoning, as well as for swimming in.
Shandals occupy the middle ground between a hiking shoe and a sandal and are designed to be versatile enough to walk in comfort all day, even if you’re in and out of the water.
This makes them ideal for holidays, picnics by a local stream or rock pooling. Both shandals and water shoes usually feature a closed toe, giving you protection against rock abrasion and the like.
For water shoes designed for more technical use like canyoning, coasteering or ghyll scrambling, you’re going to want some toe protection so that you can be aggressive with your foot placements.
Some water shoes go even further, with protective rands that wrap around the whole foot. Of course, these features come with a weight penalty, so you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you.
A real selling point of many water shoes is their ability to transition effortlessly from aquatic excursions to the bar or restaurant . For this to be achieved, they need to be quick drying and feature dashing good looks.
Are you in the market for something stylish or are you after water shoes for technical adventures? The reason products like the Astral TR1 Junction are so popular is that they do both with aplomb. Meanwhile, cheaper shoes are great for casual use but could get caught out grip-wise on a slippery crag.