EXTRA,  GEAR,  March 2023,  Product Reviews

Water shoes: what footwear do you need for wild swimming?

Lightweight, insulated or easy to slip on pre- or post-swim – read our guide to water shoes and neoprene socks for outdoor swimmers 

With the exception of those verruca socks we had to wear back in the day, most people swim barefoot in pools. Having anything on your feet interferes with your swimming and feels odd, so why would you do it in open water?

One good reason is protection. When we swim outdoors, we sometimes have to walk over rough ground to reach the water. Wading into the water, we might step on sharp stones or broken glass.

Pebbly beaches can be a nightmare for those of us with soft feet, and sandy beaches may hide weever fish that can deliver a nasty sting. Second, in cooler water, having something on your feet can stave off painful or numb toes. Let’s look at some footwear options.

Flip flops, sliders or crocs

These are all useful if you need foot protection while getting to the water but not while you’re in the water. The main question is what do you do with them while swimming?

If you’re entering and exiting the water in the same place, and the water level won’t change, just leave them at a convenient spot. Otherwise, put them into a tow float bag, or attach them to the strap of your tow float. I have even swum with flip flops tucked inside the legs of my jammers.

Water shoes

Usually water shoes have a tough plastic sole and a mesh upper. They’re great for scrambling over rocks and stay on your feet while swimming. However, they don’t provide much insulation from the cold and can feel heavy while swimming. Best for days on the beach and short swims.


You might want to consider wearing fins if you regularly swim with people who are faster than you or if you want to pootle around gently while looking at the underwater scenery.

As you can’t easily walk in fins, and prolonged use can cause blisters, you might want to combine them with neoprene socks so you have something on your feet while walking to and from the water.

Neoprene socks or booties

Speaking of which, neoprene socks or booties are a popular choice, especially in winter when they can ward off the cold. They can be notoriously hard to remove – see our guide to taking off neoprene accessories fast – but many come with tough grippy souls and give some protection from gravelly ground.

Running or trail shoes

In a swimrun, you swim in whatever shoes you’re running in. Many swimrunners use a pull buoy to compensate for the extra drag caused by swimming in running shoes but it’s not necessary.

While running shoes wouldn’t normally be a first choice for wild swimmers, if you’ve got
nothing else they are better than nothing for foot protection.

The best water shoes for open water swimmers

Vivobarefoot Ultra III Bloom


They say: Foot shaped (not shoe shaped), to let your feet do their natural thing. The Vivobarefoot Ultra III carries you across land and through water with grip, flexibility and full barefoot feeling. The open- honeycomb design is made with BLOOM® foam, which removes harmful algae blooms from waterways to reverse the damage of water pollution.

We say: A hefty price tag, but Vivobarefoot’s expert design justifies it. Designed to fit the shape of your foot, and built to be thin and flexible, the shoe works to promote the foot’s natural strength and movement. Not only is it super comfortable, but durable enough to wear on both land and water for a long time. Definitely a winner for me.

Subea Elasticated Aquashoes 120


They say: Our Subea design team have developed the Aquashoes 120, comfortable and easy to put on aquatic shoes to protect you on the sand. The Aquashoes 120 will make your snorkelling trips easier! They are easy to slip on and prevent sand from entering. The studded soles will also prevent you from slipping.

We say: The funky design on these aquashoes is great. The studded soles are a lovely touch and I felt really secure wearing them, even when walking on slippery ground. The ease in which they come on and off is a great benefit when trying to get changed in a post- cold swim hurry.

Nabaiji Aquabiking-Aquafit Water Shoes Fitshoe


They say: Our design team developed these shoes for regular Aquafit or Aquabiking classes. Looking for a shoe that combines comfort and good fit for your weekly Aquafit sessions? The Fitshoe has integrated socks, water drainage holes and grip on the bottom.

We say: A sleek design for a reasonable price; I particularly like the drainage holes at the bottom. Due to being designed for indoor pool fitness sessions, the shoes are slightly less flexible than others on the list, being more suited to walking to and from the water and going in for short dips where grip is a priority.

Lomo Slip on Water Shoes


They say: These lightweight slip-on water shoes are perfect for keeping you on your feet when you’re surfing, sailing, kayaking or by the pool. The shoes are made of a polyester/elastane mix with a durable rubber anti-slip sole. This makes them flexible yet durable and quick drying. They’re super lightweight and flexible with stretchy, breathable fabric making them comfortable, easy to put on and easy to wear.

We say: Even with the affordable price tag, these shoes do the trick. They are incredibly lightweight, when swimming with them I barely felt them on my feet. The rubber anti-slip sole felt as if it provided a good grip when I was walking towards my swim spot. A great option if you want an easy-to-wear pair of shoes that will take up very little space in your swim bag.

Speedo Zanpa Watershoe Black


They say: Made for around the pool or on the beach, these water shoes are great for protecting your feet in wet areas. Made from soft, comfortable materials, and with handy tabs at the back to help you put them on easily.

We say: These water shoes are durable enough to protect feet from rocks and other items when swimming, while remaining lightweight and comfortable. Before putting them on, I expected them to be slightly stiff, but they were flexible enough to allow me to swim efficiently in the water

HUUB Neoprene Swim Socks


They say: The HUUB Neoprene Swim Socks have a protective reinforced sole which provides ‘non slip’ protection and abrasion resistance, and a split-toe design to avoid ‘rolling’ on the foot. They also have adjustable Velcro closures to make this neoprene sock suitable to be worn either over or under your wetsuit.

We say: The remarkably comfortable split-toe design of these HUUB socks allowed me to kick through the water with ease, while the reinforced and grippy sole provided a surprising amount of protection on gravelly ground. Their longer length means you can wear them over or under your wetsuit to reduce water ingress, while the Velcro adjusters provide a tight seal. In skins, some water still seeped in though, but overall I was impressed.

LOMO Neoprene Open Water Swimming Socks


They say: Our soft and stretchy neoprene socks are comfortable to swim in and the glued, double-blind stitched seams have been liquid-seamed on the outside to keep as much water out as possible. Most neoprene socks let in a considerable amount of water and you often feel like you have large water bags attached to your feet. We’ve made a sock that keeps more water out by a combination of being tighter fitting, having better seams and an ankle gasket. 

We say: LOMO takes a buckle and braces approach with glued, blind-stitched seams on the inside and liquid seams on the outside for minimal water ingress. All that engineering means a snug fit, like a second skin, which took a bit of wrestling to get on and felt tight across my toes on dry land but I soon got used to it in the water. The soft soles mean you feel the bumps on the walk in.

Orca Hydro Booties


They say: These neoprene booties provide maximum thermal comfort to your feet. And thanks to their fit, they stay put and will not bother you while swimming. The pattern with a separated toe improves the fit, allowing the hydro booties to stay in place, thus preventing water from entering. In addition, the soft thermal lining provides added comfort and prevents chafing on the skin. This accessory should be worn under a neoprene wetsuit to minimise water entry. 

We say: These booties kept my feet so snug and warm during my swim. They’re super flexible and comfortable – I barely noticed they were on – yet the soles were thick and sturdy enough for walking about on the shore. As with the HUUB split-toe design, they feel a bit strange at first but I soon got used to it. They’re also easy to take off with cold, numb fingers – something I’ve found tricky with other neoprene boots.

Zoggs Neo 3 socks


They say: These Zoggs Neo 3 socks are perfect for the multi-sport athlete, especially when there is open water swimming involved. They are made of 3mm double stretch neoprene which provides great thermal insulation when in cold waters. This material means they have a longer life whilst still giving you breathability and freedom of movement. The 3mm neoprene is extremely robust with bonded outer seams.

We say: The stretchy 3mm neoprene fits snugly around the ankle, meaning minimal water ingress, and gives a good degree of flexibility and warmth in the water. Like the Huub socks, they have a nice long ankle length, meaning they can be tucked under your wetsuit leg (although I wore them without a wetsuit and they were fine, too). Unlike other socks tested, the sole doesn’t offer any grip, however.

All products were chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Click here to subscribe to the magazine. Read more Outdoor Swimmer gear reviews.

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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.