01 July 2010

GEAR: paddling shoes review.

Sea kayaking takes me to paddling locations where good footwear is essential equipment.
While the climate I paddle in does not require insulated footwear I only occasionally frequent beaches where footwear is not necessary.
I need protection for my feet.

The kayaks I paddle have small footpegs that don't offer a platform large enough to push off with bare feet.
My heels also need cushioning when paddling.
Since I started kayaking a few years back I have always worn some kind of footwear in the boat.

My first choice was the obvious inexpensive "water shoe" that is sold at many chandleries and discount stores. It seems to be popular for snorkeling.

The shoe was cheap but did not suit my paddling needs.
It quickly became evident that a shoe with a soft sole, absence of a proper heel, inferior fabric and lack of decent foot retention would only last me so long.
I lost those shoes a few times in the surf when I wet exited.
My heel was getting rubbed and fortunately I had to move on.
My second choice was only marginally better then my first.
While the quality seemed better and the Velcro strap would keep those shoes on my feet, the heel was even worse than the first shoes.
The heel area is square and not stiff enough to prevent it from collapsing when resting on an angle inside the cockpit.
this soft heel would collapse when feet are in the cockpit of the kayak
After a month of cursing them I decide it was time to actually get a shoe that offered support and was suited to walk on a beach with sharp coral or cone shells.
I purchased the Merrel Waterpro shoes.
Adventuretess wearing her Merrell Waterpro
Finally there was a sole that I could trust on the sharp rocks and oysters.
A shoe with a Vibram sole that would not see me skating at the boat ramp (siping of the sole makes them stick even to wet surfaces).
This shoe has a decent lace-up to conform to most foot shapes and stays put when walking in the shore waves.
They dry fast and don't stink like neoprene booties do.
They do however collect sand inside the shoe, that occasionally does not drain that well.
Sitting in the kayak cockpit and wiggling my feet overboard usually dislodges the annoying sand...
The men's version of the Waterpro lasted me just over a year and then the sole started to separate from the upper.
A new pair proved to have the same problem after just two months, starting at the ball of the foot.
A bit of contact glue repair keeps them going for a while longer.
delaminating fabric coating repaired with contact glue
I then purchased a lower volume kayak where my size 11.5 (US) Waterpro would not fit that well under the deck.
I needed a low volume bootie.
Searching for a sole stiffer than a scuba-diving-bootie I found the Teva white-water boat shoes.
They had all the right reinforcements, low profile, good volume (for my slender feet) and traction.
the stitching used to have black rubber strips...
While not exactly easy to put on (some serious wiggling was necessary) the shoe would fit in low decked kayaks.
After half an hour of paddling I noticed that the fabric big toe divider inside the shoe was annoying and rubbing.
Some really tricky cutting inside the shoe eventually removed the web.
The shoes however started to fall apart.
The cosmetic rubber strip placed over the stitching (no longer visible in the attached image) ripped off in several places.
After a few outings there were rubber strips dangling over the shoe... I cut them off.
This shoe proved not to be all that comfortable.
Adventuretess wore out her Merrel Waterpro and purchased some Chaco water shoes.
The fit, finish and sturdiness of these shoes is impressive.
Adventuretess sporting Chacos
Chaco's reputation for long lasting sandals seems to cross over to their shoes.
However these shoes have a bit of padding in the fabric that absorbs water and takes longer to dry than other light shoes. Not a real problem in 90F heat but a bit annoying in the middle of winter.
Vanilla (maker of Vanstix) has a wider foot and he prefers the Teva Sunkosi.
Onto his second pair, he finds them very comfortable and perfectly suited for paddling, or those short hikes up a mountain in the Whitsundays.

Vanilla's Teva

After some searching I came across these Merrells.
Not marketed as water but as running shoes the design is minimalistic.
There is no padding in the fabric and plenty of ventilation.
The sole is very close fitting to the shape of the shoe (no "air" or "gel" here) and the heel is stiff enough to be supportive.
The Merrell Robotic are low volume, small enough to fit under low deck kayaks.
They don't slip on wet concrete and have plenty of traction for an exploratory hike.

The fabric is light but reinforced with "rubber dots" to prevent premature wear.
Unfortunately they are only a few months old and I can't report yet on the durability of these.
I am sure that some readers might be laughing at me with this "obsession" for good footwear just for kayaking but after witnessing a few cone shells pierce a light bootie and injuring the kayaker's foot I am glad that I seek firmer footwear.
Foot injury on long remote trips could spell disaster.
On the other hand I have observed people paddling in thongs (the Australian type, a.k.a as flip-flops on the other side of the pond) or Crocs... puzzles me how they keep them on their feet when landing on wavy shores.


  1. I have just switch to Vibram Five Fingers for paddling. I will never look back.
    BTW great blog, keep up the good work !


  2. Tommy, disappointingly the Fivefingers don't fit me since I have an "Egyptian" shaped foot (big toe longer than second toe). After trying them on, those shoes were not for me.
    If I had a more "square" type foot I would have a pair for sure.
    Any problems with sand getting into them? or do you paddle along rocky shores?

  3. I am a huge fan of the NRS Desperado sock which has a pretty minimal sole - thought there is a shoe version. I wear it winter and summer. A student of mine was wearing five fingers, and liked them in the boat, but they got a lot of sand in them which drove her crazy.


  4. Great review now I know what I will choose. Thanks for sharing those experience on product, that was a very helpful review.


  5. Time for a new review? In my absence, my partner was kind enough to lend my Merrell Acquaterra to a friend with 2 sizes bigger feet than mine. Thanks a lot! After this unexpected stretch and some serious wear, I want a new pair of somethnig. Acquaterra had a plastic sole that drained well, however, and they functioned relatively well for hiking (though a bit slippery on wet rock). They do not seem to be produced anymore and Waterpro model does not seem to have this convenient plastic sole that drained instantly (ideal for spring and autumn). They remind me of Crocs, yet they are so much better.

    1. there was an update a while ago: https://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/review-merrell-pace-glove-shoes.html
      And since then I have had many pairs of Merrells but my original yellow Trail Gloves are still getting used... it must be the most durable of them all as none have been as good since (street wear/casual)


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