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7 Best Kayak Shoes in 2022 | Top Kicks for Paddling

There isn’t a much better feeling than dipping your toe in the water while you’re lounging on your kayak. Cool water on a warm summer day, surrounded by aimless thoughts and hopes of catching a big fish is pure bliss. The feeling of connecting to nature is at once blindingly beautiful and stunningly tranquil. We think Ralphey said it best when he declared:

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything is zen; until a hammerhead shark decides to swim up and give your leg a bite (this actually happened). It’s at that point that reality comes rushing back and a great day on the water turns into a race to save your leg. Kayak fishing is an amazing sport, but not one without its own set of particular dangers. Being well prepared means having the right equipment for those worst case scenarios. Kayak shoes are an essential piece of equipment that will protect you both on and off the water. They’re also nice to have for the occasional impromptu hospital trip. In this article we’ll go over the best reasons to throw on a pair of kicks, and which ones are really worth your time.

Shoes for the Season

We’ve included a wide range of kayak shoes that are capable of serving you in any season. Although we personally aren’t too keen on the idea of going on the water in the dead of winter; there’s probably a few of you loons who are. The list below should cover you no matter where or when you decide to paddle out. All of the kayak shoes on our list are available for both men and women.

NameBest ForMenWomen
Aleader Mesh Slip OnRecreational kayaking and light fishingAleader Mesh Slip On for MenAleader Mesh Slip On for Women
Vibrams V-AquaKayaking, hiking, rock climbingVibrams V-Aqua for MenVibrams V-Aqua for Women
Columbia DrainmakerUrban fishing, going on a kayak dateColumbia Drainmaker IV for MenColumbia Drainmaker IV for Women
NRS PaddleSerious offshore or freshwater paddlingNRS Paddle for MenNRS Paddle for Women
Merrell Blaze SieveAdventures, campingMerrell Blaze Sieve for MenMerrell Blaze Sieve for Women
Muckboots Edgewater IICold weather, muddy watersMuckBoot EdgeWater II for MenMuckBoot Edgewater II Unisex
CrocsStaying comfy, making a statementBlue CrocsPink Crocs

Aleader Mesh Slip On

Aleader’s kayak shoes are a perfect choice for lazy river paddling or a day at the beach. These kayak shoes feature durable one piece construction and a rubber sole, so there’s no chance you’ll lose an insert when you’re rinsing out rocks. The mesh fabric covers both the sides and inner sole which lets water drain out quickly. A slight arc in the sole and sock-liner padding will provide better back support than river shoes with just a flat piece of rubber.

The Aleader Mesh Slip On will provide you traction on slippery rocks and protect against sunburns. It’s available in an array of different colors and is one of the more affordable options on our list. We think this is a great option for recreational kayaking, light fishing, or offshore ventures.

Vibram V-Aqua

Vibram made their name years ago with shoes that had toes. Greater articulation of the toes in shoes permits feet to operate in a more natural state; and studies have proven that there are some serious benefits to going barefoot. The Vibram V-Aqua maintains the brand’s signature toe grips, high quality construction, and funky aesthetic.

The biggest advantage Vibrams have over other shoes is their unparalleled grip. A treaded rubber sole and use of your toes means that you can grab purchase on wet rocks, kayak decks, or SUP boards better than any other shoe on this list. These shoes are great if you have any hiking to do during your trip, or plan on scurrying up a rock face or two.

Columbia Drainmaker Water Shoe

The Drainmaker may sound like a bad knockoff a John Grisham novel, but it’s a terrific kayak shoe. The Drainmaker offers a more traditional shoe look and construction while incorporating features for around the water use. Substantial cushioning and arc support will provide greater comfort while walking. Mesh fabric and drain ports will ensure quick drying.

Columbia is known for durable and rugged products geared towards the outdoors-man, and the Drainmaker is no exception. We’re also quite fond of the Drainmaker’s appearance, as we think that it wouldn’t look out of place during casual Friday. Consider the Drainmaker if your keen to go out and about after getting back from a paddle.

NRS Paddle

Northwest River Supplies (NRS) was founded by river-runner Bill Parks and stands today as one of the top brands for paddlers of all kinds. Based out of Moscow, Idaho the employee owned company makes gear especially well suited for riparian outings. The NRS Paddle draws on its heritage to present a formidable challenge to the perils any river can throw at your feet. The high ankle design will keep pebbles and dirt out of your shoes while you’re on the shore. Neoprene and mesh will keep your feet warm while also allowing moisture to vent. Although they’re designed for river wear we think the NRS Paddle would work well offshore, in cool weather, or out on the flats.

Merrell Blaze Sieve

Merrell has long been known for its high performance hiking boots. With the Blaze Sieve Merrell has incorporated its best hiking tech into a versatile, rugged, and attractive water shoe. The Blaze is the only shoe on this list to use leather as a material. The waxy leather upper part combines with synthetics to form a sleek design that repels water, drys quickly, and can go from creek bottom to mountain top. Merrell’s Blaze Sieve are the kind of shoe that can live in the back of a Jeep; they’re designed for adventure and look good doing it. Put these on your short list before your next voyage up a mountain or down a river.

Muckboots Edgewater II

Yakking in cooler weather presents numerous challenges; chief among them (after catching fish) is keeping warm. We included the Muckboots Edgewater II on this list not just because it’s good at accomplishing this, but because it’s great. 5mm thick neoprene coupled with copious rubber cladding results in a boot that can handle mud muck and everything in between. The Edgewater II excels in environments that most shoes, and people, would rather avoid altogether. Mid-knee height and a firm fit will keep your feet warm and dry even during flurries. Thick rubber tread will help when you have to haul out on a muddy bank. Consider the Edgewater II if you do a lot of cold-weather kayaking in rivers and lakes.

Crocs

Love em or hate em we couldn’t pass up the water shoe that became a cultural icon. Crocs get a lot of hate for their gawky style and garish appearance. However people love them for their comfort, durability, and excellence around the water. Crocs, for those who aren’t familiar are entirely made out of rubber. They’re simple, functional, and you can clean them with a garden hose. Crocs make for excellent kayaking shoes and are super affordable. These shoes are great for any warm weather kayak fishing setting. Whether you’re headed offshore for tuna or patrolling salt swamps for reds your Crocs are ready for you. Just make sure to use sunscreen so you don’t end up with polka dot feet.

Why you should wear Kayak Shoes

Most of us probably don’t think too much about our feet from day to day, but they’re truly mechanical marvels of the human body. Two heels and ten toes support us our entire lives. Nearly 25% of all the bones in our bodies, and our strongest tendon(the Achilles), are dedicated to helping us hump around the planet. Each foot handles one and half times your body-weight with each step, and together feet absorb up to five times your body-weight while running.

Kayak shoes protect your hooves and offer some other advantages over barefoot. There may be some earthing practitioners who disagree, but you can always connect with Mother Gaia back on shore. We can’t prove that nice kayaking shoes will dissuade sharks from biting, or help you commune with Poseidon, but they’re still a great idea for a myriad of reasons.

Protection

When I was younger I went to Sea Base in Key West, Florida with the Boy Scouts. My troop and I sailed around the keys for a week with Captain Joe, and it was an amazing experience. Unfortunately my trip was abruptly interrupted while we were playing Frisbee on an island beach. I jumped to grab the disc and landed on a glass shard from a beer bottle. They super-glued the wound shut and for the rest of the trip I got to watch my friends snorkel and swim while I had to keep my wound dry.

Unfortunately there’s a lot of nasty stuff that humans have dumped into the water over the years. Nature’s also got a few tricks up her sleeves, coral and sea urchins can make for a really fun time if you’re not careful. Kayak shoes with thick rubber soles will help protect you from puncture wounds and keep you fishing.

Warmth and Dryness

Human feet have a very high ratio of surface area to total volume and a high concentration of nerve endings, as many as 200,000 per sole. This is why our feet often feel colder than the rest of our bodies. Cold feet is a sure way to ruin any fishing trip really quickly. Proper kayaking shoes, for Winter at least, will repel water, keeping your delicate little toesies nice and warm.

Grip

If you’ve ever tried walking on rocks in a river then you’re probably familiar that they’re just like Bon Jovi, slippery when wet. Cuts from a rock can quickly put a damper on an otherwise great day at the river. Extra tread afforded by rubber soles can help provide more traction. Good shoes will stop you from living on a prayer next time you’re hopping stones in a river.

What to Look For in Kayak Shoes

Just like kayaks there is no single kayak shoe that’s perfect for every occasion. You’re simply not going to wear the same shoes kayaking in Hawaii during the Spring as you would fishing in New York during the Fall. That said there are a few qualities than any all good kayaking shoes have in common.

Hydrophobic Material

Proper kayak shoes have some degree of water resistance which is important for two reasons. First it will help prevent your feet from getting wet. Secondly, if your feet do get wet, they’ll dry out faster than if you had on shoes made of water-absorbent materials like canvas. There are three terms you should be familiar with:

Water Resistant: Material resists moisture due to tight weave or low porosity. This offers the least amount of water protection.

Water Repellent: These materials are usually coated with chemicals that actively resist water causing it to bead up on the surface rather than penetrate.

Water Proof: Material that is impervious to water.

Shoes made for wear around the water will proudly let you know their degree of moisture protection. Anything made from neoprene or rubber will always be waterproof. Leather can be if you apply the right finish, but, what are you kayaking to a business meeting?

Easy to Remove

Most kayak shoes are made with either Velcro, quick-tight elastic, or are slip ins. This feature is a must have. If you get your foot stuck in mud or a rock then you can slip your foot out and grab the shoe. Swimming with shoes on is a chore, so in any sort of hazardous scenario you’ll want the ability to quickly discard your footwear. One exception to this rule is footwear for cold weather kayaking.

Comfortable

Just like your personal flotation device (PFD) you’re not likely to keep your shoes on if they aren’t comfortable. It’s always best to try a pair of shoes before you buy them. That can be a hassle in the age of digital shopping, but it’s definitely worth your while. Shoes won’t help when you step on a hook if they aren’t on your feet. So make sure to find a pair you’ll actually wear.

Overview on Kayak Shoes

One of our chief concerns is your safety as a kayak fisherman. And shoes are an essential piece of gear. More important than what your shoes look like, is the fact that you wear them. So if nothing else throw on the moldy pair of chucks that’s been living in your closet. Or the beat up flip flops on your porch. Something is better than nothing. T


Shoes and knives make for an excellent gift; so consider grabbing a pair and a blade for your favorite paddler.