Difference Between Water Shoes and Water Sandals

You may have seen them before. They aren’t hiking shoes, but they aren’t flip-flops either. A good water sandal is meant to provide comfort and superior traction in wet conditions without making the user wear a full on waterproof sneaker.

Water sandals are a type of water shoes. Water sandals are great for activities around rivers, lakes, beaches, and other bodies of water with sometimes questionable footing. You’ll find that water sandals offer much better traction than the average sandal.

While they may not be as fashionable, they will certainly keep you safe on uncertain ground.

You can take a walk in a river, stroll along the lake shallows, and even visit the beach without fear of slipping or hurting your feet.

Are there other types of water shoes?

Yes! Water shoes come in many different forms. Some are open-toed, some are full on sneakers, and some are right in the middle. Let’s dive into some of the varieties of water shoes on the market.

Types of Water Shoes

There are 4 main types of water shoes that works great for activity involving water in various terrain. Let’s take a look at them:

Water Sandals

Water sandals are one of the most popular styles of water shoes for vacationers. Most brands are made of high quality rubber and provide excellent traction on slippery and wet surfaces.

They’re easy to slip on and off, and they typically come with thick soles for more comfortable walking and travel. You can even use them for climbing!

Just like all sandals, water sandals have straps that open and close easily. This means you can slip them on and off with ease. Sandals are open on top, providing breathability for your feet.

They are especially ideal for hot climates and warm summer trips. You can enjoy the soothing feel of the water, and you hike and walk, all well keeping your feet safe and secure.

Teva Women's Tirra Sandal,Bering Sea,8 US
  • Sporty sandal featuring logo and multiple straps with hook-and-loop closures
  • Nylon stability shank
  • Compression-molded EVA midsole
  • Shock Pad heel

Closed Toe Water Shoes

Closed-toe water shoes give you all the coverage of a running shoe, but they feature some of the breathability and water feeling of a sandal.

Like water sandals, closed-toe water shoes have comfortable rubber soles that provide tread and support on slippery surfaces.

They also have a closed top with padding to help with ankle comfort while walking. The covered top gives extra protection to your feet in the water.

They usually feature mesh tops that allow you to feel the water while still providing coverage. They feature either laces or an elastic collar for a good fit.

On Sale
SIMARI Water Shoes Mens Womens Sports Quick Dry Barefoot...
  • BREATHABLE FABRIC: The upper is made of mesh material with stretch, like socks...
  • UNIQUE DESIGN: The design for our product is based on ergonomic principal which...
  • CONVENIENT WEARING: The elastic-shoelace with locking mechanisms can quickly...
  • SAFETY: The soles is made of rubber materials and the unique bump texture design...

Hiking Shoes For water

Hiking shoes for water are heavy when compared to sandals and water shoes.

They provide the most comfort and support, but at the cost of being bulky and hefty. These shoes are ideal for long hiking trips where you’ll come across slick surfaces.

They lack the breathability of other kinds of water shoes, but they make up for it with superior cushioning and full protection.

On Sale
L-RUN Summer Water Shoes Men Women Hiking Aqua Shoes Black...
  • STRETCH MATERIAL: Upper with stretch breathable ultra light weight fabric for...
  • ELASTIC BAND: Elastic band with removable shoeslaces help adjust the shoes...
  • FLEXIBLE&LIGHTWEIGHT: Take advantage of the textile, high-quality flexible and...
  • NON-SLIP&FOOT SAFETY: Thicken outsole with stronger traction, prevent you from...

Water Socks

Don’t let the name fool you. These aren’t actually socks. They are an extremely lightweight and fitted shoe that looks very similar to a sock. They provide traction in calm waters.

The downside of water socks is that they lack support and protection. Their main purpose is to provide extra grip when exploring the waters.

On Sale
DigiHero Water Shoes for Women and Men, Quick-Dry Aqua Socks...
  • FASHIONNABLE:DigiHero water shoes for women and men is a variety of styles like...
  • QUCIK DRY&BREATHABLE:Our womens and mens water shoes'upper is smooth and stretch...
  • UNIQUE DESIGN: This swim shoes super lightweight and flexible,only 0.4-0.6lb...
  • OCCASION:Unisex water shoes for women and men. Perfect for beach, swimming,...

What are Water Shoes Used for?

So what activities are water sandals often used for? These are the most popular activities where people wear water sandals:

  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Walk on Beach
  • Kayaking

Water Shoes for Boating

Water shoes are also good for riding in a boat.

  • Non-marking tread – you’ll want a shoe that won’t mark up the inside of your boat. Cheaper rubber can leave marks if you scrape against the inside.
  • Non-slip tread – it’s important to get a tread that will prevent you from slipping on your boat.

Every model of KEEN sandals feature outsoles that won’t mark your boat up. You can also look for something called razor sipping. This actually pushes the water out from beneath your shoes in the same way that your car tires do to keep you from hydroplaning.

Water Shoes for Fishing

Whether you’re fishing on a boat or fishing on the shore, you’ll need a water sandal to keep you from slipping and sliding.

Water sandals with a good set of lugs will give you extra traction in the water and on a slick boat floor. One good option is the SOLR sandal. It features a KEEN Aquagrip outsole to give you superior traction on all slick surfaces.

Water Sandals for Hiking

Water sandals for hiking require the highest level of cushioning out of all these options. You’ll be doing the most walking in these sandals. You’re going to want to look for a lot of the same features as the boat shoes. Hiking water sandals should have the razor sipping that we talked about earlier.

  • Good traction – you should also look for big lugs on the bottom of your sandals.
  • Quick drying materials – if your sandals won’t dry quickly, you may end up with uncomfortable blisters during your walk.

Some good options for you are the Newport H2, the Newport Hydro, the Evofit One, and the Arroyo II.

Water Sandals for the Beach

We know that feeling the sand under your feet is the best part of walking on the beach. But what about the sidewalks, boardwalks, and parking lots? All of those areas get boiling hot in the sun.

You’ll want a shoe that’s easy to slip on and off, and comfortable to walk around in with wet feet. The KEEN ultimate travel flip, Kona sandals, and Waimea sandals, and Rose sandals are all great options.

Water Sandals for Kayaking and Rafting


When kayaking and canoeing, you typically don’t want to wear shoes inside the boat. Shoes tend to be much less comfortable on a long paddle trip. However, you still want a shoe for trekking your boat into the water!

  • Comfort and cushioning -You’ll want a shoe that’s comfortable on concrete, dirt, and even slick rocks all in one trip. They’ll give you plenty of cushioning on almost any surface.
  • Good tread – Water sandals have excellent tread for slick rocks.
  • Ease-of-use – Water sandals are easy to slip on and off between the shore and your boat.

Some good examples are the Waimea H2 sandal, the Kona flip-flop, and the Bali sandal. Each of these shoes are easy to slip off, rinse off, and store in your boat.

Now when we’re talking about kayaking, we aren’t just saying regular kayaking. Even whitewater kayaking and whitewater rafting require a good pair of water sandals! When taking on these extreme activities, you need a shoe with good support. When the big rapids are coming, you’ll be bracing your feet to help give you support for paddling.

Water sandals can be easily tightened down for a nice, secure fit that won’t slip when you’re bracing your feet. This also means they’ll stay on no matter what happens, even if you capsize! Flipping over is bad enough, but you really don’t want to hunt for a lost shoe racing down the river.

Some good options for white water kayakers and rafters are the Clearwater Evofit One and the Whisper sandals. They both feature a snug fit and excellent traction.

Related: What Shoes to Wear for Kayaking?

Water Shoes vs Water Sandals

We’ve already discussed the difference in features between water shoes and water sandals.

We’ve also discussed different wanter sandals for different activities. But what makes water sandals better for some activities than closed-toe water shoes?

As we’ve discussed, water sandals give great cushioning and traction for slick surfaces. They are great for walking through rivers and lakes, but they will also serve you well on dry land.

They’re a versatile footwear that can go from wet to dry terrain with ease. They also provide the most breathability for hot climates and strenuous activities.

Water Sandals Usage

Let’s go over some activities that people typically use water sandals for instead of water shoes:

Day trips on the water

Floating down the river will allow you to spend most of your day in the water. You’ll only need a comfortable sandal to walk to and from your car.

Vacation on Beach

Cheap flip flops get uncomfortable in just a couple of steps. Do yourself a favor and get some water sandals to trek down the boardwalk.

If you want more protection from stubbing your toes in the water, then you’re going to want the closed-toe protection from a water shoe.

Trail Walking

When you’re up in the mountain where there are river streams, water sandals are great due to their breathability and can dry fast during your walk.

Why wear Water Shoes instead of Water Sandals

Water shoes offer a little more protection than water sandals. They cover the tops of your feet and give you a closed-toe that protects you from hitting rocks and other sharp objects.

You’ll lose some of the breathability of a water sandal, and you may find that water shoes don’t dry out as quickly. However, they give you the same amount of traction and support as a typical water sandal does.

Water shoes are great for long-term activities. Here are some great uses for water shoes instead of water sandals:

Overnight floating trips

When taking a long floating trip, it’s important to pack light. That means you probably only want to bring one pair of shoes. Water shoes will give you extra protection when venturing out into the unknown.

Long hiking trips on an overnight floating trip

You’ll want the extra coverage if you’re king for a while after getting out of your boat. You don’t want to injure your feet or toes before you have to climb back into your kayak to paddle.

Paddling through rough terrain

There may come a time when you have to get out of your boat due to shallow water on a long trip. You’ll want a shoe that can protect you from rough terrain under the water.

Hiking through wet terrain

If you’re going for a long hike, you’ll probably want a good pair of hiking shoes. However, if you’re doing a shorter hike through marshland or swampy terrain, water shoes would be ideal for you. They’ll keep you safe from injury while giving you plenty of comfort and support in the wetlands.

What to Look for in Water Sandals

Choose the footwear that fits all the criteria that you are looking for and choose something that feels comfortable for you. Typically, easy-going, leisurely water activities are perfect for water sandals. Meanwhile, rougher terrain may require tougher, more protective water shoes. The footwear you choose is really dependent upon the activities that you plan to partake in.

There are a lot of features when it comes to water sandals. We’ve narrowed it down to help you spend your money wisely and pick out an above average sandal. The last thing you want is to be fooled by marketing jargon.

Check the sole

The bottom of the shoe should be nice and thick. Give it a little bend to test how strong it is. You should also look for deep and numerous treads that will give you an excellent grip. Look for a sandal that has a Vibram sole if possible. This will give you even more grip on wet areas of the rivers and lakes

Quality check

Don’t just look at the price tag. You may have to pay a little more for quality. A quality sandal will last you for a long time, so be sure you’re comfortable with its durability.

Types of materials

You should see a lot of high-quality synthetic materials in a good water sandal. Avoid sandals with leather, as water will actually cause the leather to break down over time! Nylon is an extremely popular material for water sandals right now.

Beach sandals are not the same

Beach sandals are not water sandals, repeat after me! A beach sandal has one purpose only: walking on the beach. If you’re planning to partake in any water activities, you’ll need a true water sandal. Beach sandals won’t have the superior grip and support that you need to keep your footing in a river or slippery lakeshore.

It is a good idea to check with the professionals at your local sporting shoe store to get fitted for the right size and ask them these factors before you buy for reassurance.

Loveatfirstfit.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Last update on 2021-07-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API