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Don’t let one slippery rock interrupt your day of white-water rafting, trekking across a riverbed, or strolling a pebbly beach. Choose the right water shoes to prevent a dangerous fall or a nasty cut. Although they’ve historically been known more for their function than style, we found several pairs that are nice-looking enough to also wear on dry land.
The five great pairs we recommend all come in men’s and women’s sizes. Choose from a durable, classic sock-style water shoe; a surprisingly affordable pair; a sporty water sneaker; a tougher shoe with a grippier sole for more-intense activities; and a water-safe shoe that doubles as a stylish espadrille.
The Speedo Surf Knit Pros are comfy, quick-drying, and look good for what they are: a basic pair of water shoes. They come in men’s sizes 7 to 14.
Just as comfortable and quick-drying as the men’s version, available in women’s sizes 5 to 11.
How to wear these: The Speedo Surf Knit Pros (men’s and women’s) are traditional sock-style water shoes. They’re soft booties that you can pull on and off easily; this also makes them well suited for people who might have trouble tying laces.
Why they’re great: The Speedos are protective and comfortable, and they dry about as quickly as other pairs we tried—in about 2½ hours. Plus, their 90-day return window is the longest of any among shoes we recommend. The Surf Knit Pros are about as good-looking (sleek, unadorned, in non-wacky colors) as you can hope for in this type of water shoe—not suited to going out for a nice dinner but just fine for grabbing burgers after a day at the lake.
In testing, the Speedo Surf Knit Pro water shoes were light, with comfortable polyester knit uppers that had plenty of stretch. And they had thick outsoles that I felt confident would protect my feet from rocky environments. The shoes have soft—and prominently ribbed—hydrophobic rubber insoles, which are supportive without feeling bumpy. The insoles are easy to remove, so the shoes can dry more quickly, too. The Surf Knit Pros aren’t as hearty as some of our other recommendations, like the extra-durable Astral Loyak Water Shoes. But this pair’s stitching and materials have a high-quality feel, and we think they strike a good balance of comfort, simplicity, and reasonable price. We’ve seen some reviewers say they run small, but in our testing, the Surf Knit Pros were true to size.
The Surf Knit Pros air-dried in 2½ hours with their insoles removed—not as quickly as the hour it took the Crocs Swiftwater Mesh Waves, but faster than it took most other shoes in this style. For example, the Lands’ End Slip On pair we tested dried in 3 hours 45 minutes, and the Easy USA water shoes dried in 5 hours 10 minutes. Though 2½ hours may seem like a while, it’s enough time for the shoes to be dry enough—after a quick morning dip—on the drive back to the city after lunch.
At the time of writing, both the men’s and women’s versions come in five colors, but we believe some of these are seasonal, so that may change.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Speedos are about as attractive as a basic pair of slip-on water shoes can be, but they’re not exactly what we’d deem to be “stylish.” Though the color gradients are a nice touch, they still look like you’re wearing an adult-size pair of baby booties.
Shoe sizes: men’s 7 to 14, women’s 5 to 11 Color options: five colors Return window: 90 days
If you need water shoes as soon as possible, this pair is available with two-day Amazon Prime shipping. They’re not as durable as some we tried, but they’re affordable and functional. And they come in a myriad of colors.
How to wear these: The DigiHero Water Shoes are best to wear during water activities, so bring another pair to change into for lunch afterward. However, they come in so many colors and patterns—from neon to black—that you can match them to almost any swimsuit.
Why they’re great: For 10 bucks, these basic booties are comfortable and functional, and they cost a fraction of the price of other shoes we recommend. They’re easy and quick to order with Amazon Prime, so they’re ideal if you’re planning an upcoming vacation and need a basic pair of water shoes delivered to your door as soon as possible. Compared with the two other pairs of nearly identical cheap shoes we ordered from Amazon, these shoes protected our feet better and dried more quickly. DigiHero Water Shoes come in a bunch of colors, too, from subtle to bright.
The DigiHeros are comfortable and lightweight, thanks to their thin polyester construction (we’re guessing about the polyester part, since the company doesn’t specify). So they’re also easy to flatten for travel. Their thick soles protected our feet from rocks and twigs during testing, and the elastic around the ankles was snug enough to stop any errant objects from sneaking in. The stretchy material took more time to bounce back into shape than higher-quality-yet-pricier shoes we tried. That, combined with the flyaway threads we spotted, indicate low-quality materials and construction—but again, these cost $10.
The DigiHeros dried in 1 hour 45 minutes (about half an hour less than other aqua socks we tested), which set them apart from the competition. As of this writing, they come in 19 colors, ranging from leopard print to rainbow. If you prefer something simpler, we would recommend the basic “black 2” pair we ordered.
We noticed some discrepancies between the images on the Amazon listing and what we received. In the photo, the “black 2” shoes we ordered have a white logo, but the shoes we received had no logo or branding whatsoever (a look we actually prefer). We ordered a second pair to be sure it wasn’t a fluke, and we received the logo-free design again. We think DigiHero recently changed the design but didn’t update the photos. We’ve reached out to the company to confirm this, but at the time of writing, we haven’t heard back. A printed pair we ordered came exactly as advertised.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Although the shoes received largely positive reviews—4.4 stars from more than 4,000 Amazon customers—a quick scroll of the one-star reviews highlights various complaints, from the shoes being defective upon arrival to immediately developing holes. And multiple reviewers say they were sent two left shoes. We didn’t have these problems with our three orders, but if you do, Amazon has a 30-day return policy.
Shoe sizes: men’s 4½ to 12½, women’s 5½ to 13½ Color options: 19 colors Return window: 30 days
The comfiest water shoes we tested, the ultra-lightweight Crocs LiteRide Pacers dry quickly and look similar to a pair of fresh sneakers—though the drainage holes might give them away. These are available in women’s sizes 4 to 11.
The comfiest water shoes we tested, the ultra-lightweight Crocs LiteRide Pacers are quick to dry and look similar to a pair of fresh sneakers—though the drainage holes might give them away. They come in men’s sizes 4 to 13.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.
How to wear these: Unlike many of the water shoes we recommend, the Crocs LiteRide Pacers (men’s and women’s) look like a pair of sneakers, rather than socks. So whether you’re traversing a tropical island (lucky you) or dipping your feet into a nearby creek, when you come out of the water, you won’t look out of place strolling down city streets. They’re pricier than the other, simpler water shoes we recommend. But they’re one of the few options I found that I wouldn’t mind wearing when I run into a friend.
Why they’re great: The LiteRide Pacers are a different breed of Crocs than you may be used to: They’re protective, waterproof, ultra-comfortable, dry quickly, and look like sneakers rather than, you know, Crocs.
The Pacers are soft, surprisingly lightweight, and flexible. And while the DigiHero shoes have virtually no footbed support and the Speedos have small ridges that offer a little comfort, the Pacers have cushy bubbles in the footbed that made the soles plusher than those of any other shoe I tested. They were easy to slip on and off, and they were comfortable right out of the box, without needing to be broken in.
The Crocs dried more quickly than any other shoe we recommend, in 1½ hours. When I retrieved them from my fire escape, I thought there must have been a mistake—they couldn’t have dried already, right? Because their body is made from EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam—which is light, soft to the touch, and doesn’t absorb water—they were ready to go in no time. They would have been dry even sooner, but the fabric laces and tongue were slower to dry. Note that the Crocs should be air-dried only; exposing them to too much heat (like leaving them inside a hot car all day or on top of a radiator) may cause the foam to shrink or warp.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The plastic uppers caused my feet to sweat more than anything else I tested. Some wearers have complained about blisters on their toes and on the backs of their heels, but even after a few weeks, this wasn’t an issue for me. If you’re between sizes, consider sizing up to help prevent this. And though their shape and style are very different from that of original Crocs, the Pacers do have the brand name written across the shoe tongue and embossed across the sides. If you’re someone who has difficulty tying shoelaces, either due to arthritis, limited mobility, or other reasons, our slip-on options, like the Speedos and the Sea Stars, may serve you better.
Shoe sizes: men’s 4 to 13, women’s 4 to 11 Color options: 10 colors Return window: 45 days
If you spend most of your time around water doing vigorous activities, these shoes have good traction and are super-durable, so they’ll last a long time. They’re available in men’s sizes 8 to 13.
If you spend most of your time around water doing vigorous activities, these shoes have good traction and are super-durable, so they’ll last a long time. They come in women’s sizes 6 to 11.
How to wear these: If the Crocs LiteRide Pacers are the intramural sports players of the water-shoe world, the Astral Loyak Water Shoes (men’s and women’s) are the triathletes. They’re perfect for any wet outdoor activities, but you can also get away with wearing them more casually. They’re minimal-looking and low-cut, so they won’t draw a ton of attention if you decide to wear them to a bar after you’ve finished white-water rafting with your friends.
Why they’re great: The Astrals are built for heavy use—they’re specifically made to be extra-durable. These shoes are one of the most expensive pairs we recommend. But since we expect them to last a long time, they’re a good value if you do a lot of hard-wearing, water-specific activities, or you want a pair you can stick with for the foreseeable future. We found tight stitching throughout, with good traction on the bottoms of the shoes. If you do notice defects, the company offers a lifetime warranty. They also come with a couple of different laces colors, so you can switch up the look.
Even though the Astrals are super-tough, they’re both comfortable and attractive (in a very functional way). The shoes are easy to pop on and off, with a secure fit, thanks to the stretch mesh opening. Despite closely hugging our feet, they didn’t rub or become painful. The uppers are made from water-resistant canvas. And they have a hard, durable outsole, which is less cushioned than the Crocs shoe we recommend but better suited to scrambling over sharp rocks. The Astrals have two small holes on each side for drainage. The insoles are removable, though the shoes still took five hours to completely dry.
You could get away with wearing these to a restaurant. But because of a few athletic flairs—mesh netting, angular stitching, and large logos—they’re better suited to a casual brewery than an upscale winery.
The Astral Loyak Water Shoes took five hours to dry, longer than almost any other pair we tested. Crocs’s LiteRide Pacers—shoes less suited to intense activities—dried in a third of the time, and many other “adventure shoes” took about half the time it took the Astrals. That said, the Astrals stayed comfortable when wet (confirmed by many REI customers). And because you’ll likely be wearing them in more-extreme circumstances than any of the other shoes we recommend, you probably won’t mind if they stay damp in between repeated river crossings.
The Astrals come in only three colors (black, gray, and blue), compared with 10 color options for the Crocs and five for the Speedos. But all three Astral colors are neutral, so they should suit most people.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: These shoes took a long time to dry, and they don’t come in as many sizes as the competition (most of which go down to both men’s and women’s size 4). If you aren’t planning a rigorous regimen, look to the other shoes that are easier to carry around.
Although the Astrals have a comfortable stretch mesh opening for your foot, you’ll need to bend over and tie their laces to secure the shoes fully. If tying laces is difficult, you can leave the shoes tied at all times, or you can remove the laces entirely and rely on the mesh to keep the shoes in place. However, we didn’t test for this, and it may mean they’re less secure.
Shoe sizes: men’s 8 to 13, women’s 6 to 11 Color options: three colors Return window: 45 days
The Sea Star Beachwear Beachcomber Espadrilles were the best-looking water shoes I tested—a stylish statement shoe that you can wear in and out of the water—but they’re pricey. They’re available in women’s sizes 6 to 11.
The Sea Star Beachwear Beachcomber Espadrilles were the best-looking water shoes I tested—a stylish statement shoe that you can wear in and out of the water—but they’re pricey. They’re available in men’s sizes 8 to 13.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $96.
How to wear these: The Sea Star Beachwear Beachcomber Espadrilles (men’s and women’s) are the perfect waterproof addition to a great outfit, especially when there’s a chance you might take a long walk by the ocean or step into a puddle in front of your crush. For maximum vibes, pair them with a linen shirt, light shorts, and a classic Italian aperitivo. These all-in-one shoes were the best-looking water shoes I tested; they seamlessly married fashion and function. I plan to wear them all summer long.
Why they’re great: Great news for my fellow style-heads who are looking for a pair of water shoes that are chic enough to wear to a café: The Sea Star espadrilles look exactly like a classic pair of summer shoes, but they’re water-friendly. They’re comfortable and have a quick-drying neoprene upper with a tough rubber sole, plus they come in a myriad of colors and patterns.
The Sea Stars are handsome, light, and easy to wear. Unlike many of the shoes I tested, these fly completely under the radar with their simple neoprene upper, crocheted toe cap, and hand-painted, jute-like rubber sole. They looked far and away more refined than anything else I wore.
The shoes’ grommets—hidden on the inside of the shoe, right by the arch—circulate air and quickly drain water. The Sea Stars’s midsoles are made with EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) foam, which is waterproof, soft on the foot, and extremely light. Simply put, they were a pleasure to wear. But because of their more-basic construction, and their lack of hardcore stitching and laces, they didn’t feel as durable as some of the other water shoes I tested, so I wouldn’t put them through the wringer in the wild. These are more suited to a beach day than to a backpacking trip.
The Sea Star Beachwear Beachcomber Espadrilles took 2 hours 20 minutes to dry, faster than most other water shoes we tested. The neoprene uppers also mean that (like a wetsuit) they’re still soft and comfortable when wet—far less squishy and slick than others we tested.
Because they’re $100, we’re disappointed that Sea Star doesn’t seem to offer any warranty and only a 30-day return window (with a vague “Please notify us immediately ... if items appear to be damaged” note). However, if you buy through a different store, you might get access to a better return policy. We’re big fans of Zappos and its 365-day return window. We’ll be long-term testing these shoes, and we will report back about their performance and durability.
The men’s Beachcomber Espadrilles come in six different colors, and the women’s come in 16. And the women’s version also has handful of interesting designs, like floral and LOVE embroidery.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Sea Stars are available only in full sizes; if you typically wear a half-size, we suggest sizing up. Although I didn’t find them difficult to put on—and the band around the shoe’s opening loosened up a bit over the few weeks I tested them—some wearers noted that the back of the shoe was hard to slide over their heels. Since these shoes aren’t as easy to slip on and off as some of our other picks (notably the Speedos), we don’t recommend them for people who might not have the flexibility to wrangle them on.
Shoe sizes: men’s 8 to 13, women’s 6 to 11 Color options: six in the men’s version; 16 in the women’s version Return window: 30 days
Water shoes are absolutely necessary when you’re in the water and you need your feet to be protected and have some grip. They’re ideal for activities like hiking up rock-filled rivers or clambering over jagged tide pools. But they’re also useful for times when you might simply want a bit more support and comfort than going barefoot, like strolling on a pebbly beach or walking from kayaking to the car without changing your shoes.
I encountered my first pair of water shoes as a kid. Every summer, we’d go to Vermont to vacation in a cabin by a lake, and my mom would wrangle an ugly pair of water shoes onto my feet so I wouldn’t cut myself on a sharp underwater mussel. Of course, I hated wearing them. Later, when I had grown out of being forced to wear water shoes, I did exactly what she was trying to prevent: I skipped the water shoes and tore open my foot, requiring surgery. Lesson learned.
But water shoes don’t have to be as hideous as they were when I was a kid, and I set out to find ones that I’m not ashamed to wear. The ones we discovered are comfortable, dry quickly, and will protect your feet. And they look good, too.
To find a great pair of water shoes, I searched through social feeds, customer reviews, and best sellers on Amazon, Swim Outlet, REI, and Backcountry. I found 76 different pairs of water shoes in men’s, women’s, and unisex sizes across a variety of styles. Depending on how and when they might be used, we categorized these as sock-style water shoes, inexpensive slips, slip-ons, and rugged adventure shoes. I reviewed each pair’s style, size ranges, retailer availability, price, and color options. We cut any shoes that we considered ugly, came in only a few sizes, or had terrible reviews. This left us with 15 pairs to test in person. Throughout our testing, we considered the following criteria:
Protection: I wore the wet water shoes to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and I walked over rocks and uneven ground to get a feel for what it might be like to wear them on craggy boulders, sand, and rough terrain.
Comfort: While wearing and walking in the shoes, I paid attention to how comfortable they were. What did it feel like to slip them on and off? Did they retain water and drag my foot down, or did they drain seamlessly? I made sure to note how aggressively they squished and squelched.
Appearance: Would I be comfortable wearing these to a bar? Did they have a water-specific look? I was looking for water shoes that looked subdued, without loud, embarrassing labels. They should come in a few different colors—if not a wide range—so you can choose the design that’s to your taste.
Drying time: I stuck them underneath the bathroom faucet, and then I placed them out on my fire escape while the sun was brightly shining. I set a timer and waited for them to dry, checking the shoes every 15 minutes or so. Here’s how fast each pair dried:
Price: I primarily looked at shoes in the $40 to $60 range, since that seemed to be the sweet spot for both style and function. But I also included higher- and lower-end options, for people who wanted something either a bit extra or a bit more affordable.
Inclusivity: I prioritized water shoes that came in a wide range of sizes (ideally half-sizes, when possible), and I made sure to include options that are easy to slide on, forgoing straps, buckles, or ties.
Return policy: In addition to our practical tests, I looked at the return policies for each pair of water shoes when bought directly from their manufacturer.
I ordered each pair in my regular size (men’s 11), following manufacturer sizing instructions. I wore each pair for a day of testing dry and then a day of testing wet, walking around my block. I tried my best to ignore the looks people shot at me in the street—then again, it is Brooklyn. After evaluating each shoe’s performance, fit, and comfort while outside, I timed how long each pair took to dry.
If you want a unique pair of water shoes that dry relatively quickly (in just over an hour), try the Crocs Swiftwater Mesh Waves. They’re not very attractive, though. Stylistically, they’re halfway between a slingback sandal and a pair of sneakers. Ultimately, we decided that if you wanted a traditional water shoe, you should probably buy the Speedo Surf Knit Pro instead. These Crocs also don’t come in a version that’s specifically sized for women, but they go down to a men’s 4, the equivalent of a women’s 5½. However, if you have trouble slipping the back of traditional water shoes around your ankle, the slingback style of the Swiftwaters may help you get them on and off.
If you want water shoes that will cinch down tight around your ankle, and you don’t mind a slower drying time, the Lands’ End Slip On Water Shoes (in men’s and women’s) were comfortable, and—thanks to the drawstring—easier to fit if you’re between sizes. You’ll have to look past the four hours it took for them to dry, though.
If you want a pair of good-looking and extremely quick-drying water shoes made from EVA foam (and you’re a sucker for a progressive mission statement), check out Native Shoes’s Miles pair. They dried completely in one hour, faster than any other shoe we tested. We also like that the company encourages customers to donate their old shoes to be repurposed in community projects like playgrounds. But the shoes weren’t as comfortable as others I tested because they were made from stiffer material. If you do try these, go up one size because they’re short but wide.
As I finished writing this guide, I saw that Vans had released the Slip-On Trks. They look like a pair of classic Vans, but instead of fabric, they’re made from a lightweight waterproof material. And they’re designed with big, checkered drainage holes that are reminiscent of Vans’s classic checkerboard design. We hope to check them out soon and report back.
The super-cheap Barerun Barefoot Quick Dry Water Sports Shoe and the Vifuur Water Sports Shoes were similar to the DigiHero Water Shoes: They are all generic slip-ons from Amazon, with tens of thousands of positive customer reviews. All three looked virtually the same when I received them for testing. The difference came down to how quickly they dried: The DigiHeros dried in 1 hour 45 minutes—35 minutes quicker than it took either the Vifuur or the Barerun pairs. The DigiHero shoes also came in a nice reusable zippable bag, but the Vifuur and Barerun shoes came in open plastic bags.
The Chaco Torrent Pros (men’s and women’s) looked quite extreme, not the stylistic vibe that we think most people want. The insole is non-removable, which made them slow to dry, and they weren’t as comfortable as the others I tested. They were also the most expensive shoes on our list.
The Easy USA Water Shoes (men’s and women’s) seemed poorly constructed, with threads coming loose after a single wear. They also took forever to dry—5 hours 10 minutes, which was longer than it took other shoes I tested. The Easy USA shoes were also not aesthetically pleasing; they looked retro, but not in a good way.
The Mayzero Water Shoes appeared to be surprisingly well made, but the drawstring closures didn’t have an end cap, so the slide toggle popped off during testing. They’re also very busy, with contrasting patterns we didn’t like. Although they’re not expensive, we recommend spending more on a pair of water shoes without Mayzero’s many issues.
I really liked the North Face Skagit Water Shoes (men’s and women’s), and they performed well in testing—they were comfortable and they dried quickly. But they’re most comparable to the Astral Loyak Water Shoes, which are marginally cheaper and have a better and tighter fastening system. Plus, at the time of writing, stock levels for the Skagits are extremely unreliable.
Justin Krajeski is a staff writer reporting on everyday carry at Wirecutter. He previously wrote about tech at Wirecutter. He carries things every day. He’s very well versed in carrying.
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