Kayaking: What to Wear on Your Feet

By Lee Richardson

Choosing what to wear on your feet when going paddling can be both an exciting and  daunting task. There are many factors to consider, including things like the weather forecast, and what kind of kayaking you’re planning to do, but I am going to walk you through the five considerations that are always top of mind for me, no matter the situation. These are things I personally value when considering the durability of my thermal protection, which can be a lifeline, and of course, comfort out on the water. 

Are My Feet Going to Get Wet? 

Part 1: Dock Launch

This consideration can be split into two categories: Water Launch or Dock Launch. When you launch off a dock your feet don’t get wet, so you can choose footwear that you don’t have to worry about getting wet. In the past I have used older running shoes, but if you choose to do that your shoes need to have a good heel cup still intact. If the heel cup is not comfortable it will affect your comfort throughout your entire paddle. Any footwear that has anything rough or pointy in the heel area, or has loose lining in the heel can be troublesome and can cause discomfort or even blisters from your shoe rubbing against the hull of your kayak


Part 2: Water Launch

If you are launching from the water, you’re probably not going to want to wear running shoes. If I am launching in the water and I want my feet to be dry I often choose rubber boots. I personally love the Level Six Shoreline Boot, I recently got a pair and they have been a go-to piece of comfort for me this season. They are great to throw on for a relaxing, flat-water paddle because of the low profile of the boot, and their small toe box and sleek fit, and they also come with a mesh bag that you can roll them up into and pack into your kayak. I really love this feature because a priority with my footwear choices is whether or not I can take them touring, and with their easy packability these boots are made for it. 


Another option for a wet launch is neoprene booties. There are lower and higher cuts that you can choose between depending on weather conditions and what kind of thermal protection you have on. For the summer my choice of booties is the low-cut Stohlquist Tideline booties, which have been a go-to product for me for a number of years. As the weather shifts and gets cooler I am planning on switching to the Level Six Creek Boot. The Creek Boot is a higher cut and fits well when wearing a wet suit (they are also a good option if your launch area is muddy) but for more casual, warm weather outfits low cut booties do the trick. 

 

Is There a Chance of Capsizing?

If there is a good chance of you capsizing you know you are going to get wet, so you want something that is fine to swim in and won’t easily come off in the water. In this situation rubber boots are not ideal, and your old running shoes can do the job if needed, but my go-to choice is neoprene booties. Booties will stay on, they aren’t bulky, and they’ll dry out quickly. If you decide to wear your running shoes don’t have any plans to use them for a few days after as they can get quite smelly and they take a lot of time to dry out.

What Kayak Am I Using?

The style of kayak you are using should have an impact on your choice of footwear.  When using a roomy kayak, by that I mean a kayak for touring or play, you don’t have to worry too much about the profile of your  foot. However, if you are using a whitewater or surf kayak you want to wear something lower profile. I find the spot for my feet in surf kayaks especially tight and I have even heard people going shoe-less in surf kayaks, so you don’t want anything bulky. My feet are much more comfortable when I wear something thin and unobtrusive in these kinds of small kayaks. I have an average sized foot, size 9, so I don’t have to worry about being extremely cramped, but when you get up to men’s shoe size 11 and up it starts to impact what kind of kayak you can choose. Just getting your footwear into the cockpit of smaller kayaks is a challenge with larger foot sizes, so your kayak’s profile should be a priority consideration if that is the case

Does it Fit With My Thermal Protection?

I touched on this point earlier when discussing launch conditions, but I will expand on it here. When I am wearing a dry suit I choose to wear booties, and if I have bare feet I like to be in either booties or rubber boots like I talked about earlier. In both situations I am making the decision based on protection, protecting my dry suit or protecting my feet. I also cannot stand sand and gravel between my toes and all over my feet, so I always prefer to have some kind of footwear on. Some people like to wear sandals with heel straps, or shoes with many drain holes in them but I find too much debris gets in them and they don’t offer full protection to my feet and thermals. When things like sand, pieces of shells, and other abrasives get between the shoe and the material they can cause friction and damage to dry suit materials. Rubber boots are a good option depending on what you’re wearing, but rubber boots definitely don’t fit well with a dry suit, and they are weird to swim in. If you are wearing a wet suit, booties are a good choice, but I also like a higher-cut boot like the Level Six Creek Boot. Overall, booties are a good choice in most situations and with most gear, and rubber boots or shoes are good alternatives. 


Grip.

One final consideration that is often overlooked is grip. This is something that often isn’t thought of until it’s too late and you are sliding around on slippery rocks or shoreline. If you think you might end up in that kind of  situation, a good option that I have used before is the Aqua Lung Evo 4 Dive Boot. Different styles of booties have different levels of grip, some can be really slick and others have proven to have great traction so keep that in mind when choosing your booties.The Evo’s have excellent traction and I have found them to be the best choice when climbing on difficult surfaces. As a tip, if you decide Evo’s are the best choice for you, I like wearing a waterproof or neoprene sock with them. 



Overall, neoprene booties are my favourite choice of footwear when kayaking. They are comfortable, versatile, and keep your dry suit safe. Most of the time I am wearing booties out on the water, but who doesn’t love the odd paddle when you can just throw on your rubber boots and go? Choosing the right footwear for an adventure is always interesting, but the most important thing is to keep trying different styles to find what works best for you.  I have been kayaking for years, and I am still trying new footwear options. This year the Shoreline Boots have definitely been winning me over.