Here at Trek Tech, we’re the type of folks who take our fun seriously, and water is all kinds of fun. An excellent trend in outdoor footwear has been the domesticating of the water shoe; the evolution from sub-par neon 90’s water socks to full-blown hybrid shoes has been a welcome change in the way we play. Hybrid water shoes serve multiple purposes with all terrain grip, light and fast drying materials, and super drainage to keep us playing longer. The shoes also look and perform as well on the asphalt as they do on the paddle board.
We took an excellent line up of hybrid water shoes and really worked them over. The shoes came along with us trekkers on paddles, floats, runs and swims; through whitewater, flat water, creeks and rivers. A few pair even tagged along to the office. Here is the lowdown on what goes into a great shoe, and how these styles measured up.
According to our ratings, the overall best shoe in the line-up is the Teva Fuse-Ion. It drains fast, dries quickly and is versatile enough to wear while playing in the water or hanging with peeps at the watering hole. One feature that set this shoe over the edge (the only 5 we handed out) is the sticky traction of the Spyder and J-Step Rubber combination. However, with such a small margin between styles, all the shoes reviewed have unique strengths that should be compared to the needs of your brand of water fun. Breaking down the components will help to really highlight the important features to look for in a set of water shoes.
1. Sole Design
The foundation of a shoe should provide traction, cushion, and protection from the terrain. It is very important to balance durability and comfort, as well as encourage natural flex for lasting comfort.
Siping – is the razor microcutting feature that creates small slices in the sole of the shoe. This process increases the surface area that is in contact with the ground. More surface area means better traction on slippery surfaces. This technique is found on all the shoes reviewed with the exception of the North Face Hydroshocks which have a thin enough rubber layer that a different tread pattern is utilized for acceptable traction. To see siping on a shoe, arc the sole of the shoe and the small slices should become visible.
Materials– There are many types of tread material available, most tread is a soft or semi-soft non-marking rubber. This material is durable enough to last but soft enough to mold to the terrain and provide grip. Some shoes rely on different tread zones, for example Teva Fuse-Ions use two rubbers, a J-step outsole that is hard and durable, and a softer spider rubber for the tread areas to provide extra sticky grip.
Minimalist – Shoes are moving away from soft and cushy, into thin, lightweight, and tactile. The Minimalist feel means less padding, but more connection with the ground. Minimalist tread designs allow for the foot to move back to a natural form improving balance, reducing fatigue, and feeling more like the real barefoot experience. The Minimalist design is most defined by a zero drop from heel to toe, but is also characterized as lean and lightweight.
The lacing system on a shoe should match the anticipated activities. As with most features, performance and convenience are usually polar opposites but the tradeoff is important to consider.
Laces – Laces provide for a nice tight cinch to the foot. There is very little flex so the shoe stays firmly in place without slop. This increases traction of the shoe, providing a strong connection between the foot and tread. The trade-off is that the lack of flex can pinch if too tight, and shoelaces are a pain to tie (is it over, around then under?). It is also much harder to get the shoe on and off which is rough when emptying out gravel or sand frequently. Laces are best for high impact water sports like running, whitewater, jet skiing and surfing.
Elastic – The elastic cinch is much more convenient and flexible. It will provide adequate holding to keep the shoe firmly on the foot, but the flex allows for some slop which reduces traction. If your shoe will come on and off frequently, this is the system to look for. Elastic is perfect for low impact activities like flat water paddling, SUP, beach fun, and light hiking.
Boa Cable System – The technology featured on The North Face Hydrashocks is worth a look. It provides fast adjustment and the flexibility of elastic while cinching down even and securely like laces. This system is worth a look and I would love to see it move into more outdoor applications. Worth a look if your watery adventures span across both high and low impact.
The shoe should not only provide protection and grip when in the water, but should also quickly drain and dry to reduce the occurrence of blisters and pruned feet.
Drain Holes in sole and toe box – Some of the shoes like the New Balance 720s provide large diameter holes along the sole to quickly drain out water. But keep in mind large holes also can allow for sand and grit to enter while in the water.
Mesh material – All water shoes utilize some type of mesh upper material to allow for the flow of water out of the shoe. Keep in mind that the larger the holes in the mesh, the faster water will drain out. Of course this also can allow the infiltration of sand and mud so a smaller weave may be appropriate depending on the soils in your area.
Lastly, if we could play Frankenstein and mesh all the best features into one super shoe, it would be something like this:
- The soles would be razor-siped of course. This is a great feature that all water shoes in our review have, with the exception of The North Face Hydrashocks. The razor cuts in the tread significantly increase surface area and improve overall traction which really matters on moss covered boulders.
- The Boa Lacing system on The North Face Hydrashocks is absolutely awesome. A dialed in fit with one hand. Cinches quickly and adjusts easily.
- The draining footpad and drain holes in the sole of the Columbia Powerdrains and the NB 720s really helps get all the water out. The permeable footpad with mesh protected drain holes allows for a very fast drying experience.
- Microbial treatment like the Merrell Water Currents means less stink which is just good all around.
- Minimalist flexibility like the North Face Hydrasocks for an intimate contact with the terrain for better balance and traction.
- A Protective rubber toe box is a must to keep stubbing to a mimimum. Check out the bulletproof box on the Keens and the Merrells. A plus with the Merrell toe box is the holes to allow for water to drain.
So, if it is a water logged adventure you crave, don’t forget to strap on a set of water-friendly footwear. You’ll benefit from the increased traction, better protection, and look better doing it. Play on.
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Tags: 720, 720s, barefoot running, Boa, columbia, columbia sportswear, footwear, Fuse-ion, gear, hiking, Hydroshock, kayaking, Keen, Lacing, Mckenzie, Merrell, minimalist, NB, new balance, North Face, Power Drain, Powerdrain, Shoe, shoes, Siped, Siping, sportswear, teva, the north face, vibram, Water, Water Current, Water Current Glove, water shoe, watersports, Whitewater
Author: David Skinner