Your Best Options for Paddling Shoes

woman with packraft and paddling shoes(photo courtesy of @hawaiirish.juanita)

For both comfort and safety, having the right footwear is an important discussion for paddlers of all types of boats—kayaks, canoes, packrafts and stand-up paddleboards.

Most injuries don’t happen while you paddle. They happen when you transport your gear, launch, get out or portage. Having appropriate footwear is one of the controllable factors for safe paddling.

Paddle TV host and Aqua-Bound ProStaffer, Ken Whiting, discusses his top picks for paddling shoes in this video…

Wet Shoes

BEST FOR: All-around paddling conditions, warm to cold.

Wet shoes made of neoprene are ideal for whitewater kayaking, for sea kayaking near rocky terrain and even canoeing when you deal with rough shoreline and portages.

wet paddling shoes

These are available in both low and ankle varieties. The low model is fine for warmer weather and many paddling situations. You may prefer the ankle style for whitewater and in colder weather and water.

They offer great traction on walking surfaces, both wet and dry. They’re flexible so are very comfortable.

Water Shoes

BEST FOR: Those who want their shoes to look “normal.”

Water shoes look and perform more like a regular shoe, but are designed, obviously, to get wet. They have drain holes near the soles, the material is quick-dry, the soles have grip and are also fairly flexible.

water shoes for paddling

If you’ll do a lot of walking and/or portaging these are a great choice. They’re also nice if you don’t want to bring another pair along with you once you’re done paddling. You can wear these around town.  

River Sandals

BEST FOR: Those who like their feet to dry off quickly, stay cooler in hot weather and don’t mind a few scrapes.

Ken acknowledges that while some swear by sandals, he doesn’t like them. A few disadvantages are:

  • A tendency for your foot to slide a bit on the sole…
  • Your foot isn’t wrapped by material…
  • Sand and pebbles will get in when you walk on a beach.

river sandals for paddling

And don’t even think about flip-flops! They’re too loose on your feet for rough terrain. Remember, shoes are most important for all the times you’re not on the water.

Water Boots

BEST FOR: Extreme cold.

These are perfect for paddling trips in cold conditions—whether it’s a cold climate like Alaska or northern Canada, or winter paddling anywhere in the north.

water boots for paddling in winter

These are similar to wet shoes but there’s more to them and they go higher up the calf, even knee-high. They have a stiffer, tougher sole that’s great for lots of hiking and portaging with your gear.

Quality paddling footwear will last you for years, so if you plan to paddle a lot, it’s definitely worth the investment. Ken likes those offered by NRS, which you can see here.

For more great information on paddling shoes, including specific shoe reviews, see this article from

What paddle questions do you have? Contact our Wisconsin-based Customer Service team today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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