Let’s face it, having the right footwear no matter what kind of outdoor pursuit you’re doing can really make or break the experience. Paddling boots and shoes have come a long way from the soggy-sneakers era. So, we’ve selected a few of our favorite kicks preferred by paddlers of all types. And to be sure, there isn’t one size that fits all. At the end of the day, it boils down to what types of paddling you do, how cold the water is and what your budget and other uses for the shoes might look like. This list hopefully gives a good overview of some of the options available on the market. You’re on your own when it comes to dealing with bootie funk though.
A note on sizing: All of the boots tested generally come in men’s sizing. Some of the brand’s suggest ‘sizing down or up’ – or list direct correlations to women’s sizes (i.e Astral). This is of course an imperfect method, so we recommend trying boots on at your preferred retailer, reaching out directly to a brand’s customer service and reading online reviews to get a better sense for a female fit.
Level Six Creek Boot 2.0
One of the biggest issues with paddling footwear is being able to scrunch them into the tight confines of a kayak. The Creek Boot 2.0 by Level Six deals with this issue by balancing flexibility with just the right amount of stiffness. We liked the thick rubber sole and the quick-laces were easy to adjust with cold fingers, and provide more adjustability than your typical bootie. These boots are made of 3mm neoprene, which should be warm enough for most situations. Sleek neoprene boots like these also work well for water sports where mobility is key, like SUP surfing or where you need to use foot straps like in wind sports. These neoprene boots were one of the quickest to dry as well. They do feature itty-bitty drain holes, which could be a nice or not-so-good thing, depending on how much you depend on that thin water layer next to your skin to stay there and provide some warmth (like a wetsuit.) Reviews say they run a bit small to men’s sizing and with most shoes, those looking to pair with a dry suit should definitely size up.
NRS Storm Boots
The Idaho crew is well known for making innovative paddling gear, and these new Storm Boots are a welcome addition to this tradition. It’s like the design team took DNA from a standard hiking boot and took it for a good swim in the river. These things are heavy-duty and also surprisingly lightweight, considering their look. Still, they provided solid ankle-support combined with serious traction. We found them to be comfortable and liked the traditional lacing over a gusseted tongue to keep small rocks out. We also really appreciated the side-zipper that makes getting them on and off super simple (not something that can be said about other water-shoes.) The boots would be a good match for river-rescue folks, cold-water raft guides and portage loving canoe-trippers. They can be worn barefoot, but we recommend pairing with a neoprene sock or drysuit. One minor drawback is they took the longest to dry out of our lineup at 12 + hours. If you like the look of these boots, it’s also worth checking out the OG Work Boot (a boot built around a thick neoprene bootie – and worn by Navy SEALs) Perhaps one of our favorites though is the Boundary Boot – a water-proof calf-high neoprene shoe that earned much respect after multiple trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Astral Rassler 2.0
We picked two boots to review here from the company that took it upon themselves to re-invent the concept of the streetwise water shoe. And true to form, the Rassler 2.0 looks and feels like it belongs in whatever social setting you want to stomp your feet in. But make no mistake, these shoes and bred for the river life. With a grippy sole and lightweight, quick drying design, these would be our shoes of choice for summer trips – whether you’re bumping and grinding on your local tube run or running hot-laps between Buena Vista and Salida. The Rassler 2.0 features a mid-cut upper that provides great foot support, but also makes slipping the shoe on and off a bit of a tight squeeze. But once on they are there to stay, making them a much better option for not coming off your feet during any unexpected swims. One reviewer also liked them for mountain biking, and we love gear that can crossover to other outdoor sports. For those looking for an even lighter, lower-cut design, check out the Brewer and Brewess. Given the tighter fit, we’d recommend sizing up by ½ size or so and to wear them barefoot or with a light sock. All of these designs are very quick drying; basically, put them out on a hot summer afternoon and you are good to go the next morning. Astral also offers women’s sizing on their website, along with several female specific models such as the Brewess and Loyak.
Ok, so we tested two Astral boots. But we couldn’t pass up talking about the Hiyak. While most of Astral’s shoes can be viewed as a cross between street/skate shoes and river boots, the Hiyaks just screams “made for boating!” Built with higher end kayaking in mind, the Hiyak is a truly functional boot, designed to be worn over a drysuit foot, neoprene sock or even barefoot. The design is super flexible yet durable, and uses a non-neoprene insulation that speeds up drying time. Overall, we found little to fault with this boot; it’s super comfy, easy to put on and the Velcro strap locks both your ankle and laces in place. And it fits it both creekers and playboats. The tread isn’t as burly as some of the other options out there, but the soles seem more than capable of handling the slick stuff. True to size.
Orvis PRO Approach Hiker
Perhaps a bit of an outlier to this list is a wading boot from the flyfishing masterminds at Orvis. Since the PRO Approach Hiker is built with the intention of mucking around in knee deep water over slippery rocks, we figured that also passed muster to be considered as a paddling boot. And they do not disappoint. Ankle and foot support is provided by a generous upper with Velcro strap along with an “intuition foam” footbed intended to mold to your foot. One reviewer just described them as “oh, that’s nice!” The soles are made from non-marking Michelin rubber (nice marketing!) with great traction. But what really caught our attention is the built-in gravel guard that covers up the laces. Pretty cool feature, and if you plan on tromping though sandy or debris filled waters, it might come in pretty handy! The boot is fairly large, so they might not be the best fit for cramped cockpits, but if you’re looking for a boot that can migrate between the fishing kayak and the fishing stream, these might be a good fit. We found the sizing to run true and they can be worn with or without wading socks or drysuit feet, just size up accordingly if you plan to go that route. Orvis also offers them in a ‘salt-water’ version, not to mention more traditional amphibious hiking boots.
- Patagonia also offers a line of tough and rugged looking wading boots for in-stream fishing (and paddling?!) called the Foot Tractor. Your able to customize with several different sole options and for $449 I’m sure we could expect to see the quality and longevity Patagonia is known for.
- Our friends at Kokatat also provide a completely waterproof calf-high boot, comprising what looks like a gaiter attached above a more typical bootie. The lightweight and flexible design could be a good fit for kayak touring and canoeing. Check out the $135 Nomad at kokatat.com
- There are multiple brands like Muck Boots, BOGS, LaCrosse that make all kinds of mud (or gum) boots. (For example, check out the Shoreline Boot from Level Six) These boots are super versatile, and work just as well for canoeing in cold conditions as they do for shoveling out the driveway or walking the tidal flats. Just be careful not to step in water too deep!
- And don’t forget, there’s always a pair of beat-up old sneakers laying dormant in the closet or at Goodwill that can be converted into a water-shoe! At the end of the day it’s all about protecting your feet (and drysuit) and getting out on the water.