Whether you are waist deep in a Zion slot canyon or trail running a section of Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail in early summer, you are going to be mired in moisture and slick footing—whether by immersion, splash or plain ol’ smushing. Your safety and completion of your sojourn depends on the integrity of your footwear. In this article we are going to help you choose the best shoes for hiking in water or wet conditions.
Your feet must remain as dry as possible once out of water and grip as surely as possible in the water. If tackling chilly mountain rivulets and streams your feet must be kept warm. If wending through sun-baked yet rain-filled desert slots, your feet must be kept as cool and ventilated as possible.
Each end of the weather spectrum requires a different kind of hiking shoe. Our experts in the field present their top nine for either intermittent dunking of the feet or more prolonged immersion. Use the quick links below to jump to the section that interests you most.
- Buyer’s Guide to the Best Shoes for Hiking in Water
- The Sublime 9: These Hiking Shoes Should Keep You Trekking Dry and Safely in Water
- Parting words
Buyer’s Guide to the Best Shoes for Hiking in Water
An adventurer never lacks for a way to get his or her feet wet. Whether canyoneering in the Southwest during spring, through-hiking around your favorite peak or trail running in the high country, your zeal will fizzle from your toes up if you embark with the wrong footwear.
To avoid a miserable and perhaps dangerous misadventure, you should know what to look for in waterproof footwear as it pertains to your preferred hiking activity. Trail runners, canyon trekkers and those who hike where water prevails all require particular footwear features unique to their given activity.
The mix of fabric blends, their flexibilities, their drying time and a shoe’s grip all come into play to different degrees for each water-filled activity. Indeed, the nuances in each type of waterproof footwear can dizzy the entry level hiker, canyon trekker or runner.
However, if you break it down in relation to your chosen activity, the picture of a functional pair of waterproof shoes becomes a lot clearer.
Shoes for Canyoneering
When tackling the maze of a canyon’s slots and its pinched-in landscape, you need footwear that will not absorb too much water, will grip the bottom solidly, provide agility and remain light when you return to dry ground on your route. A canyon trek can involve spring freshets that test your ability to not only walk in chest-high water flows but beat more dangerous floods by treading quickly (i.e., ably and lightly) through notorious sections of a canyon.
Therefore, good waterproof shoes should consist of a blend of waterproofing materials in the interest of remaining light on your feet. Nubuck leather keeps a lot of water out but it can be heavy in or out of water.
A combo of nylon or similar synthetics with leather or hard rubber can relieve you of the agony inherent in picking up a couple pounds of shoe and water on the dry stretches of a canyon under an unrelenting Southwestern sun. Look for synthetics (Salomon’s Climashield for example) for lightness in a waterproof pair of shoes.
Protection and Stability
Meanwhile, look for shoes with capped toes and reinforced heels. Canyon rocks submerged from your vision during a spring freshet can do some damage to your feet without some armor around them. Strong toes and heels also aid stability when the current is strong.
Because canyoneering primarily takes you to dry, hot climates, avoid waterproof membranes that don’t allow your sweat to escape or provide ample ventilation. Ultimately, you will risk a quick end to your trip if the moisture does not drain or quickly dry from your shoe, especially given the frequency of immersion through a canyon.
Thanks to technology, however, waterproof shoe makers are finding ways around the issue of non-breathable membranes. Gore-Tex Surround does this by adding waterproof vents in its liners that funnel out heat and moisture from the footbed in a 360-degree fashion. La Sportiva Stream also manages to create membranes that breathe quite amply.
Despite this technology, sand and grit tend to find a home between the membrane and the rest of your shoe. This small debris can wear on the membrane and other fabric to the point of ruining the shoe’s ability to remain waterproof. A couple of our picks in this article boast materials that prevent such accumulations, however.
As for grip, it is tough to beat Vibram or compound rubber soles for canyoneering. Wet sandstone proves too much for common tennis shoe soles or similar types of rubber; avoid relegating your safety to them.
If you want lightness of foot in the canyon and excellent grip, consider some of the better waterproof approach shoes that rock climbers use, but make sure they are waterproof because many lack this quality. La Sportiva, Arc’Teryx, Scarpa, Boreal and Salewa serve as just a few examples of makers offering waterproof approach shoes.
Amphibious Shoes – Sieves and Sandals
Though sieve shoes—including those from Keen, Omnium and Merrell among others—provide great water runoff, comfort and lightness, the constant transition from moisture to hot sun treats the joints between straps and soles the same as it does wood on your house (shrinkage and warping). Over time, this beat-down stresses the seams and eventually risks a split between sole and strap.
A combo of mesh and synthetic material such as nylon or polyester in the upper provides the best option for durability outside of weightier Nubuck leather. Make sure any sieve shoe you choose sports an upper solidly connected to the sole (you will usually get what you pay for in this regard).
A well-constructed sieve shoe or sandal can turn any arduous trek into a delight because of their comfort qualities and the fact that they host no real harbors for water. Those selected here by our experts serve as solid examples of sieves and sandals built for the long haul.
Trail Running Shoes
Trail running is an intense fitness routine with glory at your side: the glory of a wilderness environment. With the wild comes muck, erosion, runoff, streams and whatever wet recipes Ma Nature can throw onto your path. Rain-slickened logs and rocks, puddles, unmitigated mud and lingering spring slush from earlier snows demand not only foot support and unflinching traction, but protection of your feet from the ensuing moisture.
Just like canyoneering, foot support, dryness, traction and lightness become paramount on a trail run. The major distinctions between the two are warmth and cushion from impact. Waterproof membranes earn a place on your checklist for trail-running shoes, especially around mountain environments, but they must also breathe.
Blisters from moisture-induced slippage in the foot chamber will wreck your trail run faster than a bolt of lightning tearing through a nearby tree. Some trail-running shoes include tiny perforations in the liner and even the midsoles to mitigate the capture of moisture inside a shoe.
Blends are a trail-runner’s best friend when it comes to dryness and lightness. Tightly woven mesh with a nylon or polyester blend add less weight and more breathability than waterproof leather and hard rubber. Some trail runners incorporate Gore-Tex while providing a porous design that keeps water out while allowing sweat to escape. Check out our list of waterproof trail running shoes here.
As for small debris entry, gusseted tongued shoes help deflect the trail’s unseen flotsam as do some newer aforementioned fabrics in those shoes that sport liners.
For shock absorption on your runs, lean toward EVA midsoles and footbeds of light yet reflexive material. Each maker touts their own comfort and support material. For Salomon it is Ortholite and for La Sportiva it is MEMlex EVA.
If you are a trail runner who seeks very rugged trails demanding yet stronger protection and buffering, consider buying some light hikers that offer exceptional grip and a rigid sole construction for bulging rocks, all while keeping water from collecting inside the foot chamber. Some are nearly as light as low-cut hikers. They also offer a bit more warmth in cold situations than an average trail-running shoe.
Grip is as important on running trails as it is in a canyon freshet. Again, Vibram outsoles shine in this regard. Look for shoes with an aggressive tread design such as multi-directional lugs and lugs made of rubber compounds designed to grip on slick surfaces.
Shoes for Through-hikers
The very act of through-hiking, or basically bagging the traditional overnight camp routine, involves wetness. Low-lying, dew-ridden ground cover in pre-dawn or post-dusk as well as moistening in the ground after the sun sinks or before it rises all demand a waterproof yet rugged and comfortable shoe, similar to that for trail running.
Some zealots simply don tennis shoes or conventional runners while solely relying on their natural dexterity or instincts to recover in touchy terrain situations. As in canyoneering, this is a risky approach to through-hiking. Often your through-hike involves high, chilly altitudes and wet feet with a deliberately light pack that lacks some of the Ten Essentials important for warmth can add up to hypothermia.
Even the evenings in canyon country can bring unpleasant chill to your feet when wearing something less than a hiking shoe.
Use the specifically designed footwear for through-hiking, such as light hiking shoes. Your model through-hiker will include strong traction on the outsole, cushion and support at the midsole level and an upper that rejects water but doesn’t induce inner-chamber sweat.
It also requires outsoles with a design and material meant to grip. Of course, light materials must be used in meeting all of these prerequisites. Again, blends and porous material that keeps water out yet breathes become critical to comfortable, light yet safe hiking.
As for waterproof membranes, a through-hiker doesn’t cotton to the necessity of waiting for feet to dry. If you can find a shoe that uses other blends and designs besides a non-porous membrane that doesn’t breathe, your through-hike is the better for it. On the other hand, if you are a seasoned through-hiker who knows exactly how much time your trek will consume—as in 24 hours or so—then a waterproof membrane can be inconsequential.
In short, when considering membranes, use your best through-hiker discretion based on your experience.
Quick note about laces
Quick laces that simply cinch up by tugging on a plastic cinching knob find efficiency for those whose feet are under water a lot or those who don’t want to stop while hiking. These laces are all-synthetic, unlike some light-hiking shoes, which minimize water absorption and extra weight. They are ideal for canyon slot situations when water predominates the route, for trail runners wanting a personal best time and for through-hikers setting their own pace and style of hiking.
In short, quickness, ease of adjustment, a tight shoe tongue and no extra weight from water absorption stand out as the biggest advantages to quick laces.
The downsides? You cannot adjust for tightness or comfort in particularly strategic points along the top of your foot. Also, traditional lacing usually stretches closer to the toe than quick laces. This allows the hiker to adjust for comfort along a longer span of the foot. Note that some traditional laces do consist of synthetics rather than natural textiles and therefore don’t absorb water.
The waterproof clause
Because the lightest of waterproof hiking shoes are predominantly low-tops, their claim of being “waterproof” only goes so far—from only toe to collar and sole, in fact. If you decide to splash into a puddle or freshet higher than your ankle, well, you can figure it out. In such case, the drying time will be a lot longer inside the shoe, no matter how ingenious its design.
Most of our picks come in men’s and women’s sizes. Unlike hiking boots, most light hikers fit to your normal size shoe. Some of our picks, however, do not come in wide foot widths.
Be sure to check with the retailer or maker to see about your options should your feet be extra-wide or whether you must opt for a different model of light hiker entirely. The better the fit of your shoe, the better your agility in the tricky freshets of a slot canyon or rock-pocked trail while running.
The Sublime 9: These Hiking Shoes Should Keep You Trekking Dry and Safely in Water
Asolo Megaton GV
BEST FOR: Through-hikers and those trail runners who gravitate to the roughest, off-cambered trails.
Pros: Tough, comfortable and very resistant to water entry; warm yet breathable; fairly light; great traction.
Cons: Lace-up design takes some tugging and time to tighten the bottom rungs; hefty price.
For simply beating wet conditions while providing support, comfort and especially grip, our experts agree that the Asolo Megaton hiking shoe fits the bill admirably.
A waterproof upper of suede and polyester aids in support and comfort when it comes to rugged yet watery terrain. Although it employs a membrane, a blend of textiles with Gore-Tex allows this membrane to breath and release moisture generated by sweat.
Support, protection and stability are packed in heaping portions for a low-cut hiker. Molded, dual-density EVA at midsole and a thermoplastic urethane plate below equate to great comfort and support while keeping each shoe just shy of one pound each.
The Asolo Megaton is not the lightest waterproof hiker on the market, but certainly not a burden for a through-hiker, canyon buff or even a trail runner who gravitates to the toughest terrains, who will appreciate the Megaton’s protective toe box.
Its footbed may prove a bit restrictive for feet of wider girth and its price might lend the notion that it is selling brand over performance. However, its overall merits will produce many trail and canyon adventures in very wet conditions.
Merrell Capra Rapid Hiking Water Shoe
BEST FOR: Canyoneering, paddling and portaging, and moderate through-hiking.
Pros: Very light (1 lb., 6 oz. combined); great water drainage; quick drying; multi-directional rubber lugs on outsole provide excellent grip and traction.
Cons: Support insufficient for rugged hiking; not for cold environs; a bit pricey.
In the Capra Rapid Hiking shoe, Merrell figured the best way to keep water out of your feet is to let it flow through. Meanwhile, great sole support takes care of the rest of your needs should your preferred adventures require a lot of time in water.
Perfect for canyoneering especially, the Merrell Capra rates among the lightest waterproof shoe you are going to find because of its amphibious, let-it-flow design. Its sides incorporate drain holes and water release is built into not only the outsole but the midsole as well. In short, the Capra expels any water that enters.
Merrell stations pull-on loops at the rear and front of the collar for easy entry. Combined with a quick, easy cinch lace and pull-up locking tab prove ideal for those needing to adjust the shoe while it’s submerged. Even its EVA, perforated foot bed can be removed during extreme water exposure and reinserted for comfort and added support during your stints on dry land.
Think of this shoe as a convertible sedan that miraculously disallows any water from residing inside. Canyoneers and through-hikers who can wait long enough for snow to run completely off the mountains will find this featherweight a delightful complement to their favorite adventures.
Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R2 GTX
BEST FOR: Through-hikers in rugged alpine or similar; canyoneering in rugged terrain.
Pros: Very rugged and durable; keeps water out; light enough; great support.
Cons: Liner not ideal for hot environments; on the stiff inflexible side; lacing lacks smoothness.
This shoe fits the adventurer who wants low-cut lightness on the most rugged terrain—whether in canyon slots or sub-alpine and beyond. Its footbed and sole support, along with solid toe protection, emulate a full-fledged hiking boot but it weighs in at only 1 lb., 8.6 oz.
Its deep, tough lug design on Continental (yes, the tire maker) rubber rates this as one of our field testers’ faves for traction and grip. The Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift R2 GTX utilizes a Gore-Tex lining to achieve its waterproof status—not the best option for extreme water exposure in hot-weather—but is designed to allow ample airflow and breathability when your feet become hot and sweaty. If you have time to dry them out, they are fine for wetter environments.
To keep things light, the R2 GTX uses a tough, rip-stop mesh upper that keeps water out. Though light, this is not the most flexible shoe among its competitors (take note, anyone who wants to morph this into a trail runner). It fits tight and its sole support lends to comfort, but you will find the shoe a bit on the stiff side.
Its cinch-up or quick-lace design (what Adidas calls its Lace Bungee) proves functional but a bit tight when fully cinched because the lacing stops far short of the toe. Therefore, our testers found adjustment for comfort around the bridge of the foot lacking. Coming in a little under its genre in price, the Swift R2 GTX smacks of a tough, durable shoe that fends off water.
Salomon X Ultra Low 3 GTX
BEST FOR: Through-hiking and rugged trail running.
Pros: Nimble and responsive; strong grip; good foot protection; comfortable; quick, efficient lacing.
Cons: Gore-Tex liner captures heat in canyon country despite its breathing qualities; laces end a little short for optimal adjustability and comfort.
Think of the Salomon X Ultra Low 3 GTX as the Adidas Terrex GTX with more responsiveness and better fit, a couple more ounces and not quite as much sole, with a better quick-lace system (actually dubbed Quicklace by Salomon).
Just a hair heavier than its Adidas counterpart, the Ultra 3 GTX features a new Salomon tread design to improve its overall grip and stability. If you are a trail runner, its design will look familiar, to the point of being a little more narrow than your average hiking shoe.
For through-hikers, the shoe provides smooth, quick laces that add little weight and a well cushioned midsole with ample padding along the collar and inside the tongue.
The soles, though feeling a bit thinner than a hiking boot, provide a lot of support and its Contagrip outsole performs well in just about any conditions with a strong rubber compound and an innovative, grill-like heel section that especially improves downhill traction. Rigid toe protection also aids on descents; an aggressive trail runner might even look at these as his or her sub-alpine running shoe.
La Sportiva Stream GTX
BEST FOR: Through-hiking in sub-alpine terrain and serious canyoneering, if you can tolerate traditional lace-up.
Pros: Great support through the ankle; waterproof up to the ankle; decent grip; rugged and durable.
Cons: On the high end of price scale; traditional lace-up; can be too narrow for some feet.
The only ankle-high boot chosen by our water dogs, it earns a spot because of its ability to move above the ankle without adding much weight to the shoe, which beats many of the low-cut shoes with a thrifty 1.75 lbs. combined.
Through Gore-Tex Surround technology, the La Sportiva Stream GTX hosts a waterproof membrane liner that incorporates tiny, waterproof vents that expel moisture inside the footbed. It works just well enough to keep the feet feeling cool and comfy when on dry, sun-drenched terrain.
Call the Stream an aggressive canyoneering shoe or the best ankle-supported through-hiker. Despite its lightness (thanks to a fully synthetic, abrasion-resistant upper using Nano Cell 2.0), it remains tough and stable. A TPU insert and sticky Vibram outsole aid in this effort.
Diagonal scores on the heel of the outsole and plenty of mud-shucking lugs contribute to great traction, whether descending or ascending the trail. Moreover, if you are tackling canyon slots or sometimes want a little added comfort in your backpack on through hikes, this shoe holds up well.
Even a more traditional hiker or backpacker will find it ample with a 30-40 lb. load on the back. Its only drawback to an otherwise deft and light design is its narrowness in the footbed; a complete test drive at a store comes highly recommended.
Salomon Speedcross 4 – Best Trail Runner
BEST FOR: Trail running and common canyoneering.
Pros: Extremely light (1.6 lbs. combined); keeps water out; comfortable fit; Quicklace system.
Cons: Snug toe box proves too narrow for some; lacing could stretch closer to toe for ultimate comfort adjustment; some stability issues; even with Surround Gore-Tex, ventilation underachieves compared to most of the other picks here.
Like the Sportiva Stream, Salomon uses a 360-degree, breathable, Gore-Tex mesh combo to abate sweat-foot in its Speedcross 4. It therefore trades off a little breathability for extreme waterproof qualities.
The Speedcross 4, however, incorporates a mesh designed to prevent small debris from lodging where membrane and upper meet, a common occurrence in some liner-clad shoes—one that can compromise the shoe’s integrity. It’s logically branded by Salomon as Anti-Debris Mesh. It results in an excellent trail-running shoe, despite the bit of added weight from the breathable Gore-Tex.
The grip proves excellent on slick roots, rocks, in mud, puddles or snow runoff, thanks to it’s unusual, soccer-cleat looking tread. The Speedcross 4 doesn’t feel strong in its outsole support, but an extra-thick midsole actually compensates quite well in sub-alpine terrain.
Extremely rugged, off-camber terrain may prove a challenge, however, especially in terms of lateral stability. Its uncommonly vertical lugs also add a degree of instability when on uneven rocks or protrusions. At the same time, the toe and heel are well-protected and buffered—perhaps too much for feet prone to swelling or wide feet. Be sure to sample them first.
For most canyoneering it performs ably and sheds water easily when in or out of water. Because of its excellent traction, lightness, and resilience in mud, rain or standing water, the Speedcross 4 wins the crown among our magnificent seven as a trail runner.
Keen Newport H2 Sandal
BEST FOR: Common canyoneering or semi-easy day hiking in hot climates.
Pros: Good value for the money (around $100); little if any water retention; comfortable.
Cons: Not for technical approaches or full-fledged hikes requiring more stability; gets a C for traction.
This closed-toe, open-heel water hiker from the maker who practically invented the market for such shoes in general accomplished a lot for a near-sandal.
However, it can’t shuck inherent stability and support issues plaguing all similar shoes: Bungee, quick-lace or cinching lace systems simply allow the shoe to flex too easily if a hiker should encounter one of the many protrusions on a trail (e.g., roots, rocks, rigid ruts) and need to reflexively recover before a fall ensues.
Beneath the lacing, the Keen Newport H2 smartly opts for an all-textile upper rather than leather, as used in the Keen Arroyo. This keeps the shoe lighter and drier.
As for other support, the Keen excels as a closed-design sandal. The footbed and midsole provide ample shock absorption and cushion for comfort. Its compound-rubber outsole, characteristic of Keen, remains one of the sturdiest on the market.
You will not find it quite as sticky as many other of our favorite picks. Still, it grips sufficiently on both wet and dry ground. If you are well aware of the degree of torrid terrain on your route and accept the inherent downsides of such open-aired shoes—including more small-debris entry—the Newport H2 can be your able sidekick.
Merrell Men’s All Out Blaze Sieve Water Shoe
BEST FOR: Easy to moderate day hikes on warm days in wet zones; hikers who like to ramble around camp’s perimeters in something light and resilient while using it as a stream-crossing shoe.
Pros: Light; comfortable; durable; exceptional water expulsion and drainage; smooth quick-lace system.
Cons: Some traction issues on very slick surfaces; footbed just insufficient enough to possibly cause blisters on long haul; not best support shoe.
A water-expedient sieve shoe, the Merrell All-Out Blaze can justifiably be regarded a slight step down in ruggedness and utility from its Keen counterpart, just mentioned. Therefore, take its name with a grain of salt, or sandstone, as it serves particular purposes quite well but others not so well.
Let’s get the give-some-thought matters out of the way first. Our testers found some slippage not present in most other picks, including the Keen Newport. The All-Out rubber on the outsole found a few slides when it came to very wet surfaces but performed admirably on dry land. Its Vibram outsole possesses grip with 3-millimeter outsoles, but not the kind for catching yourself on some of the unseen skating rinks that lie below water’s surface.
When combined with the inherent support compromises in a cut-out sandal—as alluded in our Keen Newport assessment—the buyer should be knowledgeable about his or her likely terrain before dishing out the $100 or so.
Meanwhile, it proves to be a comfy slip-on (though no pull rings) with open heel and a protective closed toe. The all-leather upper’s drainage proves very effective and it dries quickly but not as fast as some synthetic uppers. The midsole provides adequate cushion.
The lightness of this shoe, its comfort and ease on light terrain pose a perfect fit for the day-hiker in hot climates who might encounter shallow rivulets along with a few large puddles or erosion runoff.
This is not for the waist-high water tromper tackling long canyon slots, the seasoned trail runner or hiker who can’t avoid technical terrain on their routes.
Columbia Drainmaker III
BEST FOR: Canyoneering in fair climates with lots of water involved; trail running on most everything but very technical terrain.
Pros: Light; superb water drainage for an enclosed upper; reflexive; ample support; versatile; usable with or without socks.
Cons: Toe and heel protection could be stronger; lacing takes longer than quick laces; can fit a bit small or narrow compared to your normal size.
A light versatile shoe that dries fast, drains fast and vents well—akin to our Merrell Capra pick—the Columbia Drainmaker III performs almost like a cut-out sandal in these regards.
It ingeniously mixes a aqua-sock feel with the features of a trail-runner. It is so versatile and comfy, it can double easily as a deck shoe while sailing the soggy climes of the Pacific Northwest. Its Omni-Grip outsole with strategic scoring in the rubber even leaves the deck free of those skid marks that raise a skipper’s dander.
However, the strength of these shoes lies in their lightness, ability to manage water drainage and the support they offer a light hiker, trail runner or canyon trekker. An efficiently sized and weighted rubber toe cap keeps unseen impacts at bay. A removable insole to adjust your particular demands for cushion and fit teams with traditional lacing for ultimate adjustments in tightness and comfort.
Some testers reported its fit a bit narrow for their feet. Therefore, experiment with size when sampling and buying. Because of its large drain ports and open-mesh upper with pores designed to drain and not retain, this shoe ranks higher than No. 9 on sheer water management. It runs well in the wet and tackles canyon slots with agility and support, thanks to its well-cushioned midsole.
When it comes to a shoe for hiking in water or wet conditions, be careful of compromises. Sure, many of the shoes mentioned in this article range in the $90-$150 range or greater. Sounds like a lot to pay for something less than an alpine boot or even a backpacking boot. But, in reality, canyoneering, trail running and through-hiking are not lesser activities than any other wilderness or alpine endeavor.
Look at the shoe’s waterproof capabilities, its comfort, its resilience to rugged ground, its weight when dry or wet and its overall durability. If you find equal measure in all of these instances, you will find that doling out three figures for this type of footwear will lengthen your interest in your chosen sport and save you money in the long term by not being forced to replace a bad buy.
Image credits: All product images courtesy of the respective manufacturer.