What Shoes To Wear For Kayaking: Best Tips For Any Situation

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
What Shoes To Wear For Kayaking: Best Tips For Any Situation

When you’re planning a kayaking trip, there is one thing that many people tend to neglect. And that’s what shoes to wear for kayaking.

And this can be a huge mistake!

You see: 

You need to choose your footwear depending on the weather, the water, and how much walking you will do on your trip.

And of course, you might opt to bring multiple footwear options with you, but you still need to consider which style will be best for you.

So, in this article, I will explain what options you have for kayaking and what shoes you should be looking at based on your location. 

But, before we get into that, let’s talk about the question I get asked the most…

Can You Kayak Barefoot?

There are many reasons you might decide that going kayaking barefoot is the best option.

Maybe you want to protect your inflatable kayak from punctures? Or perhaps you might find that your shoes feel too bulky to fit comfortably in a smaller kayak?

Or you might want to relax in your sit-on-top kayak with no shoes to prevent your shoes from getting wet in the first place.

Whatever your reasons are, you need to know that choosing to go barefoot does come with risks. And it’s up to you to weigh the risks and decide whether it’s the right option.

Let’s talk about some of the risks:

Of course, one of the biggest risks with barefoot kayaking is falling in the water and standing on something hidden beneath the surface. It could lead to you getting sick or going to the hospital to get stitches.

Even walking across a sandy beach barefoot can cause you harm. There are known to be several pathogens in and around sandy beaches, which include:

  • Fungi
  • Hookworm
  • Stomach bugs
  • MRSA
  • Roundworms

And the troubles don’t stop there:

Having your skin exposed to water for long periods can make your feet more susceptible to abrasions or blisters from your feet rubbing against the kayak.

So, should you wear shoes or not?

Well, you need to weigh the risks and decide whether it will benefit you to kayak barefoot or being uncomfortable with shoes.

What Shoes Do You Wear When Kayaking?

If you’ve decided to opt against going kayaking barefoot, you’re probably wondering what shoes you should wear.

There are probably around five options you might be considering:

  1. Running shoes or sneakers
  2. Sandals
  3. Crocs
  4. Flip flops
  5. Whitewater shoes

So, in this section, I will run through your options and explain them with their pros and cons.

Don’t go anywhere:

Can I Wear Running Shoes For Kayaking?

One of your go-to options might be using an old pair of athletic shoes or sneakers. And while they can do a relatively good job when they’re dry, you can run into problems when they get wet.

The biggest problem with sneakers is that they can get waterlogged very quickly when you fall into the water.

And this is down to the material used in sneakers easily absorbing water. And this means capsizing can make it difficult to escape and even harder to swim.

That being said:

Some running shoes are being made with more breathable materials that drain water quickly and dry in a reasonable amount of time.

  • You probably already have some old ones lying around, so you don’t have to purchase a pair.
  • When you wear them with socks, your feet will be warm.
  • With the right pair, you’ll notice they dry relatively quickly.
  • You can walk long distances with them without them getting uncomfortable.
  • They give you more support than many other options.
  • They give you good protection if you stand on anything hidden underneath the water’s surface.
  • When the shoes get wet, they become very heavy, making it harder to swim.
  • If sand gets in there, they can become very uncomfortable.
  • You can lose support at the ankle and heel when the shoes get wet.
  • If the laces snap, they won’t hold on to your feet very well.

Are Sandals OK For Kayaking?

Another option you might be considering is a pair of sandals. You might have even seen people wearing them on lakes and rivers before.

The main problem with sandals is that they aren’t designed for being out on the water. And this means they can’t withstand being wet for long periods of time and, over time, will become very flimsy.

Luckily, you could opt for some water sandals.

They have less material than traditional sandals and allow water to slip out of the sides and the top.

When picking your sandals, you need to look for ones with thicker soles to give the bottom of your feet more protection from glass and rocks.

  • You can get a good pair for a relatively low price.
  • They have pretty good traction if you get the right pair.
  • They are very adjustable, so you can loosen or tighten them when needed.
  • You can wear them with socks to keep your feet warm.
  • They can flatten down well, which makes them easier to store.
  • Some float, so you can easily retrieve them if they fall off your feet.
  • Extremely tough and durable.
  • They are more comfortable than flip-flops.
  • They don’t chafe if you get a correctly fitted pair.
  • They provide enough support to carry your kayak to the water.
  • Your feet can feel freezing when they are wet.
  • If they use velcro, they can lose their stickiness when sand is inside.
  • Pretty much no ankle support if you have to hike over tricky terrain.

Can You Wear Crocs Kayaking?

If you’re looking for another option for sandals, you might want to look at Crocs. They are a very comfortable style of footwear that just so happens to be great for water activities.

One major benefit of Crocs is that they have plenty of holes around the shoe, allowing water to drain. And this helps to reduce the chances of the shoe weighing you down when you’re trying to swim.

Not only do they drain water from the shoe, but they also don’t absorb water, which offers even more benefits.

If you’re worried about Crocs falling off your feet, you don’t have to be. You can easily find options that feature straps to secure them in place.

And to make things better:

The material they use in Crocs floats, so you don’t have to worry about losing them in the middle of the ocean.

  • They are pretty durable, so they should last a long time.
  • They float in water, so you don’t have to worry about losing them.
  • You can wear socks with them to keep your feet warm on a cold day.
  • You can find ones with heel straps to help prevent the Crocs from falling off your feet.
  • They are very lightweight, often weighing less than sandals, so they don’t add extra weight to the pack.
  • You can squeeze them down, so they don’t take up too much room in your backpack.
  • The water drains out of them exceptionally quickly, so they don’t weigh you down when swimming.
  • They don’t hold to your feet as well as running shoes or sneakers.
  • They don’t provide any ankle support when you’re hiking.
  • The hole in the Crocs can trap sand or dirt inside.

Can You Wear Flip Flops Kayaking?

Another option people might be looking at is wearing a pair of flip-flops on their kayaking trip. And while they work, they’re not my favorite footwear style when I’m paddling my kayak.

My main concern is that they’re not great if you have to walk long distances to the water. They provide no support and can easily twist and turn while walking on uneven surfaces.

To make it worse:

They can easily fall off your feet if you slip into the water. They do float most of the time, so you should be able to retrieve them relatively easily.

The final downside is that they aren’t very durable, and when put under pressure, you’ll find the connector between your toes breaks very easily.

They do have a few good points though:

One of the best things about them is that they are very cheap; you can often find them in shops for a few dollars.

They also don’t soak up water and can dry very quickly due to the material they’re made with. 

You can also easily store them in your backpack thanks to their small size and flat design.

  • Super cheap, you can pick them up for a few dollars.
  • Most float, so you can easily retrieve them when they slip off your feet.
  • Very slim, so you can fit them inside your backpack without taking up too much room.
  • They are made with rubber, so they quickly dry out when they get wet.
  • Very easy to find in shops.
  • You can’t wear socks with them so your feet can get cold.
  • They don’t offer any support for your ankles, so you won’t be able to carry your kayak very safely.
  • They are not very durable, so they can break easily. You’ll usually find the connector at the toe snaps.
  • They can fall off your feet very easily.

Should You Splash Out On Whitewater Shoes For Kayaking?

If you’re keen on kayaking, you have another option to consider. And that’s whitewater kayaking shoes, or water booties.

They’re an excellent choice of water shoes for you to consider, thanks to their slim, compact design and solid sole.

You’ll mainly find them made from neoprene, the same material as wetsuits. And this means they can provide you with excellent protection from colder weather.

The neoprene works as an insulator when wet, so you won’t feel the cold as much as other shoe styles.

  • They’re not overly expensive, so you won’t have to break the bank to get a pair.
  • They provide excellent protection from the cold, making them perfect for whitewater kayaking.
  • They provide a lot of support, so they’ll not fall off your feet very easily.
  • They have excellent traction, so you’re not going to slip while carrying your kayak.
  • They are very slim and pack well so that you can fit them inside your backpack.
  • The neoprene doesn’t get too heavy when you’re in the water, so it’s not too hard to swim.
  • Harder to find, you’ll have to get them online or at a dedicated kayaking store.
  • The high-rise fit can limit your foot motion around the ankle.
  • It can be challenging to take off your feet when they’re wet.

Choosing Your Footwear Based On Your Kayaking Location

What Shoes To Wear For Kayaking

I’ve mentioned five styles of shoes you can wear for kayaking, but if you’re still lost, I want to give you a helping hand.

In the following sections, I will be breaking down what shoes you should be looking for depending on what style of kayaking you’re taking part in.

And as a bonus, I’m also going to introduce you to an option so you know what you’re looking for.

Sound good?

Great, let’s get started:

What Are The Best Shoes For Whitewater Kayaking?

When you’re whitewater kayaking, you’re going to be contending with fast-flowing rapids, which means you’ll need shoes that stay on your feet.

There’s a chance of you falling in the water when you’re whitewater kayaking. So, you need something that will stay on your feet securely if you’re in the water.

Another thing you have to consider is whitewater kayaks can be pretty limited for space around the footrests. If the shoes are too chunky, you’ll struggle to get your feet where they need to be, which can ruin your kayaking experience.

Whitewater is also extremely cold, so you need something to keep your feet warm while you’re paddling. And even more so when your feet get wet, so you should look for a shoe with neoprene.

The neoprene material acts as an insulator when the material is wet, and this can help to protect your feet from the cold.

You also need to look at the shoe’s soles; there are chances of sharp stones hiding under the water, and you don’t want to cut your feet.

Let’s take a look at one of your options:

EVO 2MM Neoprene Low-Cut Boots

The boots are carefully crafted with neoprene, which helps to keep your feet protected and warm when you’re in cold water. They also added a non-slip vulcanized rubber sole that locks onto slick surfaces.

Another thing I really liked about these boots is they have a tall heel guard to help to prevent blisters. And this is great for kayaking because there’s nothing worse than wet shoes rubbing against your heel.

You’ll also find that the shoes are built to stand up to the elements and the abuse you’re going to put them through. And this is thanks to the glued and blind stitched construction that add rugged durability.

Overall, it’s an excellent shoe for kayaking in cold whitewater. Some people like going for one with a high cut, but it’s a personal choice.

  • Very durable, it doesn’t feel like it will break anytime soon.
  • It keeps your feet reasonably warm when you’re in cold water.
  • It’s a thin design, so it doesn’t take up too much room in your cockpit.
  • The sizes don’t seem the same as typical shoe sizes; you might need to play around a little.

What Are The Best Shoes For Sea Kayaking?

If you’re sea kayaking, you need to contend with cold water, tight spaces, and waves, so again you might be looking for something tight on your feet.

If you’re in a sit-on-top kayak in warm weather, you don’t need to worry about what shoes you wear as long as they are comfortable.

If you’re kayaking in a sea kayak, you might want to opt for small and comfortable shoes because of the limited space.

Again, your best option is probably something that can be worn with your wetsuit, like water booties. You could even look for a pair with extra straps to help them stay on your feet if you capsize.

I’m not going to mention the same kayak shoes here, so let me give you another option, but for kids this time:

O’Neill Youth Heat 3MM

If you’re looking for a shoe to keep your feet warm when you’re kayaking, the O’Neill Youth Heat boot will do a great job. It features a 3mm neoprene design that helps insulate your feet from the cold.

They also don’t feel too big on your feet, so it doesn’t feel like it’s going to take up too much room in your cockpit.

I also really liked the ankle strap provided on the boot. It made the shoe feel more secure when swimming; It also helped prevent the boot from twisting when you’re trying to roll your kayak.

Overall, it’s a perfect shoe for using in cold water and will keep your feet feeling warm. It also has a high cut, so you don’t have a gap between the shoe and your wetsuit. But, if you’re paddling in warm water, you can use whatever water shoe you want.

  • A high ankle design means you don’t have a cold spot between your wetsuit and boot.
  • 3mm neoprene helps to insulate your feet from the cold.
  • The strap on the boot helps to keep it secure on your foot.
  • A bit of an overkill if you’re paddling in warm water.

What Are The Best Shoes For Kayaking At The Lake?

If you’re going for a leisurely paddle in a lake, you’ll probably not need to go all out on a pair of kayaking shoes.

The water is usually a lot calmer/warmer, and most of the time, you won’t have a long hike to get to the water.

For this reason, I like to go for something a little more comfortable (depending on the conditions).

Something like Crocs should do a good job, but you could also use an old pair of sneakers or kayaking shoes.

Check these out:

Crocs Unisex Clog

One of the things I love about Crocs is how comfortable they are on your feet. And this makes them perfect for anyone looking to take a leisurely paddle across a lake.

They’ve got plenty of holes to help drain the water if you fall in, and they also have a strap on the back to help keep them on your feet. But one of the best features is that they float in the water, so if you lose them, they are easy to retrieve.

Finally, they are made with Ethylene-vinyl, which doesn’t absorb water and doesn’t get too heavy to swim in.

Overall, these are an excellent choice for people looking for something comfortable to paddle in. That being said, you can use pretty much any shoe you feel comfortable in a lake; just make sure it protects the sole.

  • The shoes sole protects your feet from anything sharp at the bottom of the lake.
  • Drain water quickly, so you don’t have to worry about them feeling heavy when you’re in the water.
  • It has a strap on the heel to help them keep in place.
  • They can feel loose when you’re in the water, but they float so that you can retrieve them easily.

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

I hope this article has helped you understand what shoes you should be wearing for kayaking in different types of water.

In a nutshell, you have five options to choose from:

  1. Running shoes/sneakers
  2. Sandals
  3. Crocs
  4. Flip flops
  5. Whitewater shoes

I’d stay away from flip-flops when possible, unless you’re in sunny weather. And if you’re paddling in cold water, I’d aim for whitewater shoes; they keep your feet nice and warm.

The other shoes on the list will depend on when you want to use them or which one suits you the best.

Frequently Asked Questions

What To Wear Kayaking In The Fall?

During the fall months, you’re going to find the weather is getting a little colder. You’ll need an outer layer to keep the water off you and an excellent insulating layer. Check out my article about what to wear kayaking in hot and cold weather.

What To Wear On A Sit-On-Top Kayak?

It really depends on where you’re going to be paddling. If it’s a nice day, you probably won’t need much more than your swimming costume and some sunscreen. If it’s colder, you’ll have to wear more layers and maybe something waterproof.

What To Wear For Sea Kayaking?

One of the most important factors is that you dress for the temperature of the water, not the outside temperature. If the water temperature is nice, you can wear a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, but for cold water, you’ll need to layer up in a wet or dry suit.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.