Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Water Shoes of 2022

We tested men's water shoes from brands like Astral, NRS, Merrell, and others to find the best models
Best Water Shoes of 2022
By Dan Scott ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday April 27, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Are you seeking the best water shoes? After researching 60+ top models on the market today, we purchased 7 of them to test side-by-side. We wet our feet while paddling, swimming, and canyoneering throughout the Pacific Northwest and Colorado Front Range. We rigorously tested through a wide range of water sports, with many different testers. While testing in real-life use, we evaluate key performance metrics to see which shoe will keep your feet warm, comfortable, and happy, whatever the water temperature. Take a gander at our in-depth, hands-on review that's built for everybody. Whether you're trying out water sports for the first time or you're already a pro, we've got the top recommendations for your needs and budget to add to your footwear collection.

See our in-depth testing by female reviewers in our women's specific review. Are you an avid water lover with your paddle and feet in every stream and pond? Then we have all the gear reviews you need for fun and safety. Whether you need to keep your items dry, or find the best life jacket we have the details you need.

Editor's Note: We updated this water shoe review on April 27, 2022, removing a discontinued shoe from the review. We also recently included some new test information and help deciding which shoe is right for you.

Related: Best Water Shoes for Women

Top 7 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 7
< Previous | Compare | Next >
 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $120 List
Check Price at Backcountry
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$60 List
$59.95 at REI
$140 List
$140.00 at Backcountry
$49.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
80
75
73
72
67
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Extremely versatile, adjustable, excellent balance of support and flexibilityHigh traction, flexible, snug fit, great drainage, stylishComfortable, warm, great traction on wet rockExcellent drainage, durable, extremely sticky rubber, comfortableGood traction, very sensitive, sock-like feel, fun to swim in
Cons Not the stickiest rubber, not the most durableNot warm, not durableLittle support on rough terrain, no drainageLaces are a bit too short, sheds dye from inner, not as warm as other bootiesSlip off feet slighty when walking, uncomfortable in rough terrain
Bottom Line These shoes are a jack-of-all trades that we feel confident using in practically any sport involving waterThese kayaking shoes are top notch for their flexibility, traction, and off the water styleThese water shoes check all the boxes for what we are looking for in a shoe to wear for long days on the riverA comfortable, extremely sticky boot with thin, flexible solesAt a super low price, these are great for kayaking or swimming
Rating Categories Astral TR1 Junction Astral Loyak NRS Paddle Wetshoe Astral Hiyak NRS Kicker Remix
Comfort (25%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Traction (25%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
10.0
9.0
Warmth (15%)
9.0
6.0
9.0
5.0
8.0
Versatility (15%)
9.0
6.0
3.0
4.0
3.0
Sensitivity (10%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
Durability (10%)
6.0
3.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
Specs Astral TR1 Junction Astral Loyak NRS Paddle Wetshoe Astral Hiyak NRS Kicker Remix
Measured Weight (per pair, in lbs) 1.6 lbs 1.1 lbs 1.9 lbs 1.4 lbs 1.8 lbs
Size Tested (US Men's) 13 13 12 13 12
Drainage Features Front/side holes, top mesh Front/back/side holes, top mesh None Front/back holes None
Removeable Insole Yes Yes No Insole Yes No Insole
Available Widths Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Footwear Closure Lace Lace Zipper Lace with velcro keeper Pull-on/elastic synch
Upper Materials Hydrophobic canvas with TPU Hydrophobic canvas and Airmesh 3 mm neoprene Canvas/nylon Neoprene
Midsole EVA EVA None EVA None
Outsole G15 Siped G15 Rubber Siped G.ss Rubber
Relative Fit Wide toebox, high volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, medium volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, and stretches to accomodate a wide variety of foot shapes Wide toebox, medium volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, and stretches to accomodate a wide variety of foot shapes


Best Overall Water Shoes


Astral TR1 Junction


80
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction 7.0
  • Warmth 9.0
  • Versatility 9.0
  • Sensitivity 7.0
  • Durability 6.0
Weight per pair: 1.6 lb | Drainage: Front/side holes, top mesh
Versatility
Adjusts to fit insulation well
Excellent balance of support and flexibility
Good but not best in class traction
Could be more durable

The Astral TR1 Junction is a superb do-it-all shoe. We happily used it for more activities than any other shoe during testing. Its comfortable interior is highly adjustable, making it great whether you're going barefoot or stuffing in multiple socks under your drysuit. Its G15 outsoles balance traction on soft and hard surfaces better than any other water shoe we tested. The moderately stiff midsole provides excellent foot protection and support while also providing good proprioception on rough terrain.

While these shoes are great for most water activities you can throw at them, they aren't quite as warm as paddling booties, like the NRS Paddle Wetshoe, while their outsoles struggle to stick to the slickest rocks. If you need a purpose-built shoe for more narrow usage, look below. But for those looking for a single shoe that can perform great in any water sport, theTR1 Junction is our highest recommendation.

Read review: Astral TR1 Junction

Best Overall Water Shoes
These shoes perform surprisingly well in canyons, on the water, and on the trail.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Best on a Tight Budget


NRS Kicker Remix


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 5.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Warmth 8.0
  • Versatility 3.0
  • Sensitivity 9.0
  • Durability 6.0
Weight per pair: 1.8 lbs | Drainage: none
Sticky
High sensitivity
Comfortable
Swims well
Hard to keep secure on feet
Minimal foot protection
Low performance on dry land

We acknowledge that some people are just looking for a great water shoe for boating on a shoestring budget. If that describes you, look no further than the NRS Kicker Remix. The thick neoprene uppers are comfortable and keep your feet toasty warm. The thin but very sticky outsole is excellent on wet rock and provides good proprioception to balance on rough terrain.

While they work well for kayaking, these booties are too thin-soled to do much walking. Unless your feet are a form-fitting match, they also have slippage issues because there are no laces to fine-tune the fit. Both of these things are not an issue if you only need a shoe to keep your feet warm in a boat, protect your drysuit socks, and keep your feet protected at the put-in and takeout. For the price, these make a very decent boating shoe.

Read review: NRS Kicker Remix

Best on a Tight Budget
The Kicker (left) next to its bigger sibling, the Paddle (right). Both booties are plenty warm for cold-water boating.
Credit: Dan Scott

Best for Stylish Performance


Astral Loyak


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Warmth 6.0
  • Versatility 6.0
  • Sensitivity 9.0
  • Durability 3.0
Weight per pair: 1.1 lbs | Drainage: Front/back/side holes, top mesh
Excellent traction
Flexibility
Nice fit
Drains efficiently
Looks great
Warmth
Durability

Don't be fooled by the casual, stylish looks of the Astral Loyak. These are high-performing water shoes with a well-designed, sock-like fit, superb drainage, and sticky, siped outsoles. They are super comfortable on foot, whether in the water or on land. Their thin, neutral soles have a great ground feel that helps maintain balance and make them fun to swim in.

Despite solid water performance, these aren't the most durable option. They're also not as adjustable as higher-performing models that offer more insulation on chilly days. However, this option is a good value for anyone searching for a paddling or river walking shoe that's versatile enough for chilling around camp, traveling, or going from water to watering hole.

Read review: Astral Loyak

Best for Stylish Performance
The Loyaks were meant for these conditions - they stick great to slick, wet rocks and keep you upright as you walk along the river.
Credit: Dan Scott

Best for Paddling


NRS Paddle Wetshoe


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7.0
  • Traction 9.0
  • Warmth 9.0
  • Versatility 3.0
  • Sensitivity 9.0
  • Durability 6.0
Weight per pair: 1.9 lbs | Drainage: none
Comfort
Warmth
Excellent traction on wet rock
Minimal support on land
Lacks drainage, dries slowly

Designed explicitly for paddling, the NRS Paddle Wetshoe offer a super stretchy neoprene upper and a fleece interior, providing superb fit and warmth even on super cold days. Their sticky rubber kept us stable when moving over slick, wet rock in the river. With a low-drag upper and excellent ankle flexion, these are fun to wear in the water.

However, that flexibility and warmth come at the expense of on-land performance. The thin, flexible soles don't provide enough support for lots of walking, and the lack of drainage that makes these so warm ends up retaining water on land, leading to soggy, uncomfortable feet. These booties are more or less a one-trick pony: for any activity in which you expect to be on the water most of the time, they will keep your feet happy until you make it back to shore.

Read review: NRS Paddle Wetshoe

During a short portage around a low-water stretch, these shoes...
During a short portage around a low-water stretch, these shoes (pictured here on the left during a comparison with the Astral Loyak on the right) stuck firmly to wet rocks and kept us feeling secure.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
80
$120
Editors' Choice Award
These comfortable and versatile shoes are excellent in and out of the water
75
$95
Top Pick Award
Thoughtful design creates a snug but adjustable fit and high performance around water and even around town
73
$60
Top Pick Award
These booties provide stellar warmth and comfort while boating
72
$140
While not as warm as other booties, this shoe is a well-designed, functional boot that's great for whitewater
67
$50
Best Buy Award
While not a great all-around shoe, these water shoes have great sensitivity for kayaking and swimming at a very low price
63
$75
Not a particularly outstanding shoe, this pair does well all-around
49
$90
A decent running shoe for wet conditions, they lack the traction necessary for most water sports

We tested water shoes in all sorts of environments, from big rivers...
We tested water shoes in all sorts of environments, from big rivers to steep, narrow slot canyons, to find the best.
Credit: Dan Scott, Ellen Daugherty

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is led by Dan Scott, an avid pack rafter and canyoneer. Dan has spent years paddling and rafting rivers across the Western United States, from the Grand Canyon to the Main Salmon. With a passion for rivers, Dan has descended canyons worldwide, from Spain and Austria to Utah and the Pacific Northwest, with multiple first and solo descents in both high and low flow canyons. Dan is also a Ph.D. river scientist who spends much of his work time collecting data on and around rivers.

For this review, we spent a ton of time splashing around in the drink. We spent over two months in the super-wet Pacific Northwest paddling, river walking, running, hiking, and canyoneering to evaluate how these shoes measured up. We also waded up and down frigid, snowmelt streams in the Colorado Rockies. We often used a tried-and-true method of shoe testing in which we wore different shoes on each foot, making it easy to figure out which foot was happier and which shoe was higher performing.

Water shoes were assessed over 6 performance metrics:
  • Comfort tests (25% of total weighted score)
  • Traction tests (25% of score)
  • Warmth tests (15% of score)
  • Versatility tests (15% of score)
  • Sensitivity tests (10% of score)
  • Durability tests (10% of score)

We performed more than 15 individual assessments on each shoe. During testing, the two most important metrics were the comfort and traction tests, each corresponding to 25% of the overall weighted score. Throughout testing, we kept in mind what paddlers, canyoneers, and water-loving folks like about their shoes, often asking friends for their take. Rigorous testing, various testing environments and activities, and thoughtful evaluation allow us to make detailed and dependable recommendations for which products will work best for you.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


We tested these shoes in various environments and activities, determining which shoes work best on and off the water and for multiple purposes. Below, we delve into the six key metrics we used to define water shoe performance. As you read through, think about how you use water shoes and which metrics are most important to you.


Value


The value proposition (what you get for the price) depends on the activity. For paddlers, you can get a stellar bootie like the NRS Kicker Remix for half the price of most other water shoes, but don't expect it to perform well for much else. For a little more, you can get a more versatile kayaking shoe like the Astral Loyak, but that only makes sense if you need that versatility. For canyoneers, the higher cost gets you durability and sticky rubber. While many moderately priced shoes like the NRS Vibe will work alright for canyoneering, it's probably cheaper to get a burlier model in the long run, as it will likely last 2-3 times as long.

Hiking, boating, or even heading off to work, the Loyaks fit in and...
Hiking, boating, or even heading off to work, the Loyaks fit in and perform nicely.
Credit: Dan Scott

For more general water sports use, a higher price often buys comfort, effective drainage, and a leg up in durability compared to other shoes, as exemplified by the Astral TR1 Junction. For a fair bit less, you can snag a shoe like the Astral Loyak, which sacrifices some versatility and durability while still providing an excellent shoe. In general, you need to know what you'll use a water shoe for to get a good value.

Our lead tester jammed his feet in this crack during a slick, tricky...
Our lead tester jammed his feet in this crack during a slick, tricky downclimb next to a waterfall. A slip here would have been pretty gnarly, but the TR1 Junction protected his feet comfortably and stuck well.
Credit: Dan Scott

Comfort


Comfort is often the most essential aspect of a water shoe. You're subjecting your feet to harsh conditions in wet environments, and uncomfortable shoes only compound that harshness. Unlike many other shoes, water shoes need to keep you comfortable both on and off the water.


We spent long days walking over various surfaces both in and out of the water to see how well these shoes supported and protected our feet over rough terrain. We definitely preferred the protection and stability of burlier shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction for long walks over river cobbles or scrambling through boulder fields while carrying our boat. Soft booties like the NRS Paddle or NRS Kicker Remix didn't support our feet as well and, as a result, became uncomfortable after long walks. That said, the NRS Paddle is hands down the comfiest shoe we tested on the water, with a soft fleece lining that made them feel like slippers.

This shoe&#039;s sock-like comfort is great on the water, but the thin...
This shoe's sock-like comfort is great on the water, but the thin soles aren't a whole lot better than bare feet when walking on river cobbles.
Credit: Dan Scott

A water shoe needs to drain correctly to perform well during extended periods in the water. While drainage negatively impacts warmth, it's essential to manage moisture and avoid immersion-related injuries on longer trips. Shoes with lots of drainage, like the Astral Loyak or NRS Vibe, ejected water quickly once we stepped on land, then dried out fast. Surprisingly, we found that mostly mesh, airy-feeling shoes like the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 only drained marginally faster than more protective shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction.


Whether you're swimming a rapid, stubbing your feet in murky shallows, or jamming them between boulders while wading, flowing water can do a number on your feet. To evaluate the protection each shoe provided, we assessed the stiffness of uppers and midsoles. While not super burly, the Astral TR1 Junction provided a good balance of all-around comfort and foot protection, especially stepping over uneven terrain.

For cramming our feet in cracks on wet downclimbs while...
For cramming our feet in cracks on wet downclimbs while canyoneering, we preferred stiff, protective shoes. However, that protection comes with major sacrifices for sensitivity and swimming performance.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Traction


Traction can mean the difference between an uneventful trip and a significant injury. In whitewater, shoes need to grip wet rocks confidently during portages or rescues. In canyons, traction can mean the difference between a controlled downclimb and an unintended slide. It keeps your feet on the ground and your face off it on wet hikes and runs.


An excellent all-around performer, the Astral TR1 Junction balanced hard and soft surface traction better than any other shoe in our review.

Hard Surfaces

Soft, sticky rubber is key on hard surfaces, like the logs and rocks you might encounter on the banks of a river. The Astral Hiyak, with its G.ss rubber, sticks well to wet, slick rock. They stick better than any other shoes we tested. This stickiest rubber tends to be a bit less durable than harder, less sticky rubbers, but we find that uppers wear out faster than lugs wear down in wet environments.

On this slick rappel, our lead tester appreciated having super...
On this slick rappel, our lead tester appreciated having super sticky and protective shoes.
Credit: Dan Scott

The NRS Paddle, NRS Kicker Remix, and Astral Loyak all stuck just as well to wet rock and logs. A more flexible sole allows feet to wrap around logs so that you can maintain better balance.

The thin, flexible soles wrap easily around uneven surfaces.
The thin, flexible soles wrap easily around uneven surfaces.
Credit: Dan Scott

The Astral TR1 Junction lagged slightly behind these super sticky shoes, but not enough to make them a liability for canyoneering or boating.

Soft Surfaces

The TR1 Junction has deep, aggressive lugs that kept us upright on muddy trails, better than most shoes we tested.

We liked the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 as a trail running shoe, where it performed well on dirt and sand. However, it's worth noting that the Crossamphibian performed worse than all other shoes in this review for grip on hard surfaces, like wet rocks or logs.

We had fun confidently striding through creeks in the Crossamphibian...
We had fun confidently striding through creeks in the Crossamphibian Swift 2 while on a run.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Warmth


Water saps energy away from your body rapidly, and much of the water people like to play in is much colder than average body temperature. Water shoes need to either have plenty of insulation to work without thick socks or be adjustable enough to accommodate lots of added insulation without feeling cramped.


During testing, we immediately loved shoes with lots of built-in warmth for extremely cold days. The fleece-lined NRS Paddle packs on lots of insulation and has no drainage, so they limit water movement through the shoe to keep feet warm even in frigid water.

With an air temperature in the 40s (F) and frigid water, this was a...
With an air temperature in the 40s (F) and frigid water, this was a pretty cold morning. The NRS Paddle booties are perfect for these conditions, keeping our feet nice and warm.
Credit: Dan Scott

On the other hand, it can be nice to have a comfortable water shoe on warm days or on land (i.e., drains well) and allows you to stay warm on cold days. For that to happen effectively, shoes need to have a roomy toebox, adjustable midfoot, and, ideally, a removable insole. Due to its well-designed lacing and roomy fit, we found the Astral TR1 Junction to be remarkably comfortable with bare feet and three layers of socks. The NRS Vibe is a close second in this regard, with nicely adjustable lacing. However, the Vibe does not have an easily removable insole, making stuffing in lots of insulation somewhat tricky.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Versatility


Shoes offer a higher value when you can utilize them for various activities, rather than being overly specialized for one specific purpose. While super-specialized shoes are excellent for demanding adventures, the majority of the time, we need a versatile shoe that keeps up regardless of the activity.


Its versatility is a major reason we awarded the Astral TR1 Junction the top honors. Through our testing, it became our go-to shoe for water sports and things like running and mountain biking, which speaks to its superb design and performance. Another high-performing paddling shoe, the Astral Loyak, also did well in this metric due to its comfort and super low weight, making it easy to bring it along on trips.

We loved having both comfortable and sticky footwear, as we splashed...
We loved having both comfortable and sticky footwear, as we splashed through puddles and ponds on this hike.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

For water shoes, versatility means performing well both on land and on the water. Good drainage, found on shoes like the NRS Vibe, makes this easy. They are comfortable and adjustable enough for paddling but also work great on land, drying quickly and keeping feet happy with plenty of support.

Shown here on the right, the NRS Vibes can smoothly transition from...
Shown here on the right, the NRS Vibes can smoothly transition from boating to hanging out at the bar.
Credit: Dan Scott

We valued shoes that we could use for multiple sports. With plenty of support and cushioning, the Salomon Crossamphibian Swift 2 turned out to be a great cross between water and running shoes. While its poor hard surface traction would make us hesitate to use it for paddling, it would work well on a rafting trip, especially when spending a lot of time doing side hikes or hanging around at camp. We also liked the Astral TR1 Junction for running and hiking, although it has a more flat-soled, minimal drop-height feel more reminiscent of minimalist running shoes.

Our lead tester went to extremes in a huge variety of water sports...
Our lead tester went to extremes in a huge variety of water sports to test these shoes and relay exactly what you're getting into with each pair.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Sensitivity


Sensitivity is key when walking over rough terrain. Because water shoes often have to get over terrains like river cobbles, sandy beaches, and logs, it's key that they provide a good ground feel. Feeling the ground beneath your feet translates to better awareness of body position and balance and can mean the difference between being upright and flat on your back. However, high sensitivity generally translates to lower comfort when hiking longer distances.


We walked over varied surfaces during our testing to evaluate how well we could feel the ground and react to uneven terrain. Neoprene booties like the NRS Paddle and NRS Kicker Remix feature thin but stiff soles that provide an excellent ground feel — perfect for short jaunts over boulders to scout rapids or get to a put-in. Due to their low drag and uninhibited ankle flexion, these shoes, along with the super low-profile Astral Loyak, also felt great while swimming.

These flexible soles have excellent ground feel.
These flexible soles have excellent ground feel.
Credit: Dan Scott

For more amphibious activities, where walking is as important as being in or on the water, we found that multiple shoes offered decent sensitivity while also providing adequate foot protection, unlike more flexible shoes. The Astral TR1 Junction has moderate stiffness, but with enough cushioning, they give a decent ground feel and still maintain a relatively low profile underwater.

The Junctions feature an easily flexed sole that provides good...
The Junctions feature an easily flexed sole that provides good proprioception for walking on uneven surfaces.
Credit: Dan Scott

Durability


Swimming rapids, running along beaches, and canyoneering all do a number on your shoes. Durable materials and smart construction keep your shoes going on long trips and, in the case of canyoneering, can be essential if you like shoes that last more than a day or two.


While we couldn't test these shoes to failure during our test period, we looked for materials and construction that indicated either durability or the lack thereof. The Astral Hiyak scores well for durability, with minimal mesh and lots of extra reinforcement. Our lead tester has tortured these shoes in canyons that would eat flimsier shoes in a matter of hours. However, if you don't need high performance in canyons, shoes like the Astral TR1 Junction and NRS Vibe held up well during our testing due to their durable upper materials and quality construction.

Rappel-assisted slides abrade shoe uppers, making tough materials a...
Rappel-assisted slides abrade shoe uppers, making tough materials a necessity for canyoneering shoes.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

We were impressed by the reinforcements that made the NRS Paddle more than just a neoprene sock bonded to an outsole for boating-focused shoes. Like its little sibling, the NRS Kicker Remix, it held up well during our testing. We subjected the Astral TR1 Junction to a lot of hard use, only to find mainly cosmetic damage at the end of our test period.

The rubber reinforcements and zipper on these booties held up well...
The rubber reinforcements and zipper on these booties held up well during our test period.
Credit: Ellen Daugherty

Conclusion


Water shoes make time spent on rivers, lakes, and wet places much more fun. We bought and rigorously tested top models to see how well they kept feet happy, performed in various environments, and held up to both demanding water sports and the lounging around that usually follows. Water shoes can make or break your experience when paddling or canyoneering. We hope this independent review can steer you towards a shoe that will fit your watery adventures' style and needs.

Dan Scott


You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More