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What Shoes To Wear For Whitewater Rafting? (And Which Ones To Avoid?)

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In my article What To Wear White Water Rafting, I talked about how to choose the right clothing for your whitewater rafting expedition. This article focuses on proper rafting shoe selection as your footwear can break or make your rafting experience.

The fast-flowing water and rock-covered shores mean you need shoes that stay on your feet, are comfortable, protect your feet from sharp objects, possess good grip, and are quick drying.

Luckily, there are several rafting shoes on the market that fit the above criteria. But all rafting shoes are not made equal. I’ve researched and tested several rafting shoes to bring you this list of the best rafting shoes available on the market today.

Below, you’ll find a review of the selected rafting shoes, their pros, cons, and a buying guide to help you through the decision-making process. Here we go.

Why Good Shoes Are Important For Whitewater Rafting

Getting wet is a matter of when on a rafting trip. Water is going to get into the raft from the fast-flowing rapids and you may find yourself completely drenched if you fall overboard. For this reason, you need shoes that are designed for use on or in water.

Also, your shoes must be comfortable. A new pair of shiny water shoes are great but make sure the shoe is broken in before you wear it rafting. Else, you are going to be miserable on your trip.

It’s important your shoes fit you tightly else they may come off during the trip. Go for quick-drying shoes, if possible.

Shores around whitewater are usually rocky and slippery. And this means you need shoes that can protect your feet from potentially injurious materials while also having sufficient traction to allow you to navigate on wet surfaces without falling.

What Kinds Of Shoes To Avoid

Stay away from the following shoes if you don’t want a miserable rafting experience:

  • Flip-flops
  • Loose-fitting shoes of any type
  • Heavy hiking boots
  • Any backless footwear
  • Leather footwear that takes a long time to completely dry

Rafting Shoes vs. Kayaking Shoes

While rafting and kayaking are both water sports, there’s a slight difference in the shoes required for both activities. The explosion of kayaking has caused many water shoes to be designed with kayaking in mind. This has led to the manufacture of softer and more flexible water shoes that allow kayakers to fit into their yak’s cockpit.

However, rafting requires shoes with hard soles. This is because this type of shoe allows rafters to brace more efficiently. Using kayaking shoes, which have softer soles, for rafting means you won’t be able to brace efficiently on your rafting trips.

Shoes with softer soles also have less traction. And a lot of traction is needed during rafting to navigate on wet and slippery surfaces. Your feet are also less protected by kayaking shoes as rocks, gravels, corals, and so on are commonly found around whitewater rafting locations. And these items may penetrate shoes with soft soles.

Summary: The difference between kayaking and rafting shoes lies in the soles. Rafting requires thicker and tougher soles than what is required for kayaking.

Rafting Shoes Guide1

How To Choose Shoes For Whitewater Rafting

Below are factors to consider when choosing a pair of shoes for whitewater rafting

Fast Draining and Quick Drying

Rafting shoes should be fast draining since it’s difficult to walk or even swim on footwear filled with water. You should also choose a pair of shoes that’s your size since bigger shoes will retain water more.

You may consider wearing a sandal in warmer climates as they drain water very fast. And if you prefer to wear an actual shoe, go for one with an upper mesh.

It’s preferable that your rafting shoes are quick drying. This prevents blisters, unwanted odor, and mold growth.

Toe Protection

Toe bang‘ occurs during rating when you hit your toe against rocks and may lead to a purplish bruise under the toenail or complete loss of your toenail. The nature of rafting also means your forward toe gets squished all day and this means you have to properly protect your toes.

Shoes obviously provide better toe protection than sandals. Sandals are especially beneficial in summer and on class II-III rapids. Anything above class III requires you to wear rafting shoes for the protection of your toes.

Ankle Protection

If you want to avoid spraining your ankle on your rafting trip, you need shoes that provide sufficient ankle protection. Kayaking shoes aren’t going to work since their softer soles means less ankle protection (another reason to go for rafting shoes).

Rafting shoes with good ankle protection also provide additional joint support in a raft and support the paddler while they carry heavy loads. It’s kind of difficult to find a satisfactory high top on the market currently but the shoes on this list will provide enough ankle protection for your rafting expedition.


One of the most important features to look out for in a rafting shoe. Shoes with good traction will prevent you from falling on slippery surfaces. Now, remember that the banks of rivers and lakes are usually slippery and difficult to walk on. So for your safety, get a rafting shoe with good traction.

Rafting Shoes Guide2


It’s important your rafting shoes are comfortable else you are set for a miserable time on the water. Ill-fitting shoes will cause rashes and blisters. Keep an eye on the cushioning and design of a shoe before buying it.


Breathable shoes are made of fabrics that permit water vapor to escape while maintaining water repellence. Such shoes are beneficial in hot climates as they wick sweat, prevent foul smell and athlete’s foot. Good news is that many rafting shoes are breathable thanks to the mesh materials used to manufacture the upper parts.

Final Thoughts

You now realize that you can’t just wear any footwear on your rafting trip if you want your time on the water to be enjoyable. This article will guide you on proper shoe selection for rafting. But remember that shoes are just one aspect of your dressing for rafting and check my article about What To Wear White Water Rafting for other clothing to wear. We also have an article listing our top whitewater rafting tips for beginners that you may find useful as well.

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