Do You Need Water Shoes for Snorkeling?

Are you planning to go snorkeling for the first time and wondering what equipment to bring? Many people focus on finding the best mask and snorkel, which is certainly essential, but they forget about protecting their feet. Bare feet can be fine when snorkeling, but there are several things to think about when making the decision of whether or not to wear water shoes.

You do need water shoes if you’re snorkeling in the heat of the mid-afternoon or on rocky beach because water shoes can provide great protection against hot temperatures and debris compared to barefoot. But if you’re just on sandy beaches in the cool weather, barefoot is perfectly fine.

If you decide to purchase water shoes, there are several different types available, including water socks, pull-on water shoes, athletic water shoes, water sneakers and fins. The kind of water shoe you select depends solely on your activity level, your budget and your style preferences. To make this decision easier and send you on your snorkeling trip stress-free, we have compiled the advantages and disadvantages of each footwear type in this article.

Bare Feet Vs Water Shoes

Many people are more comfortable in their bare feet, but there are important factors to consider when doing an outdoor activity such as snorkeling barefoot. Here is a quick overview of the advantages and disadvantages of water shoes:

Pros
  • Protection
  • Traction
  • Temperature control
  • Support
Cons
  • Difficult to swim in
  • Can damage coral
  • Can get water-logged

One of the most essential functions of water shoes is protection. Water shoes keep you from getting stubbed toes or painful cuts from sharp rocks and coral on the beach and in the water. In tropical destinations where sea urchins are prevalent, water shoes also protect you from poisonous stings.

Even if you prefer to snorkel barefoot, you might want shoes to wear on the beach until you get to the water, especially if you have to hike or climb through caves or other rocky terrain to get to the snorkeling location. If that is the case, then water shoes also provide the necessary traction to keep you from slipping on wet or sandy rocks.

The time of day is also crucial to consider. Sand can get surprisingly and unbearably hot in the mid-afternoon, and water shoes protect your feet from burns that will sting even more once you get into saltwater.

Lastly, if you have high arches or recurring foot pain, doing a high level of activity barefoot can aggravate this problem. Water shoes give your feet the crucial support they need during walking and snorkeling.

However, with all these benefits in mind, there are a few disadvantages to wearing water shoes. They can be awkward and slow to swim in, causing you to exert more effort while snorkeling. If you pick a model that is not made in the most efficient way, it can easily become heavy and water-logged.

Even more importantly, water shoes often make people feel safe enough that they do not pay as much attention to where their feet are landing. Even though your feet will be protected, coral is fragile and can be damaged by water shoes easily, hurting the fish and other aquatic life that live in the coral and need it to survive. Thus, if you choose to wear water shoes, it is crucial to still avoid stepping on any coral or rocks that you would not step on with bare feet.

Types of Water Shoes

With the increase in the ease and popularity of traveling during the past few decades, there are now many different kinds of water shoes to choose from when going on a snorkeling trip.

People used to only have one primary style of water shoe to select, but now there are water socks, pull-on water shoes, athletic water shoes, water sneakers and fins. Below is a table with the primary benefit and downside to each type of water shoe:

Water socksPull-on water shoesAthletic water shoesWater sneakersFins
GoodFlexibleSleek shapeTractionProtectionFaster
BadLess protectionLow arch supportHeavierHeaviestBlisters

Water Socks

These are made of a thinner, more flexible material than most other shoes, so they provide the closest feeling to swimming barefoot. That also means that they are easier to swim in because they do not have an awkward, clunky shape. On the other hand, because the material is thinner, your feet have less of a barrier between them and sharp objects.

Pull-on water shoes

These strike a great balance between a lighter and heavier type of water shoe. They have a streamlined shape that is not too heavy, while still providing adequate protection against any painful rocks. The only downside to this type of water shoe is that it is fairly flat and does not provide enough arch support for people with high arches.

Athletic water shoes

Athletic water shoes are perfect for rockier beaches or snorkeling spots where hiking or climbing are involved. They provide a high level of traction and protection and decent arch support. However, if you are primarily looking for a shoe to use in the water, these are heavier than the previous types of water shoes and may be more awkward to swim in.

Water Sneakers

Water sneakers have all the benefits of athletic water shoes, but they are even thicker and heavier. These would be the ideal type for the most rugged snorkeling terrain and hiking, but they would slow you down considerably if you are using them to swim for a long period of time.

Fins

Lastly, fins are the first choice of many seasoned snorkelers. They are the most aerodynamic, and they give you a considerable amount of power, helping you move through the water much faster and more effortlessly. This is a major advantage if you are new to snorkeling or plan to snorkel for a long time because they will keep you from getting exhausted too quickly and help you keep up with the beautiful fish. The only disadvantage is the possibility of blisters.

How Much Should You Spend on Water Shoes?

Best water shoes for snorkeling

When you are deciding which water shoes to purchase, it is important to not only consider the type of beach you are going to and what you will do, but also how much you would like to spend.

Because they have a thinner material, water socks are fairly inexpensive, with popular brands starting at as low as $8.99. This makes water socks one of the most cost-effective options.

Pull-on water shoes are the next step up in both protection and price. Most basic pull-on water shoes are priced around $12–$13, but the category is wide enough that there are more rugged models ranging up to $30.

Decent athletic water shoes start at approximately $20. Considering the high amount of protection and traction that this type of water shoe offers, the price is still very reasonable. Because they offer similar features, water sneakers are comparable in price to athletic water shoes.

Fins have the highest degree of variation in price, as there are very basic fins available from $20 or less, and fins suitable for more intense aquatic sports such as diving that cost up to $70. However, for snorkeling, fins in the $20 range are more than adequate.

How Do I Choose Water Shoes?

Tip #1: Research whether or not you might be hiking to your snorkeling location and how rocky the area is by reading through forums on websites such as Tripadvisor.

Tip #2: Consider the shape of your foot and your history with foot pain, if any—if you have high arches or frequent aches in your feet, a water shoe type with excellent support is crucial.

Tip #3: Think about how long you would like to snorkel and your level of stamina and experience with swimming—choose water socks or fins if you do not want a water shoe model that will slow you down.

A Word from Love at First Fit

With so many options, choosing the right water shoes can be daunting. That is why it is so crucial to plan ahead regarding your activities, your comfort level while swimming and the location of the snorkeling. Above all, consider your individual needs when it comes to the style and feel of the shoe.

You might not need water shoes at all if you are snorkeling in a sandy area in the early morning. Alternatively, water socks can provide minimal protection while still giving you almost the same feeling as bare feet. Fins can enhance your experience by increasing your speed in the water, but if you struggle with aching feet, more athletic styles of water shoes can keep you from having to end your excursion early due to foot pain.

With all this in mind, if you keep your safety and comfort as your top priority, you are sure to select the best footwear (or lack thereof) for your snorkeling trip. The choice is up to you.