Having the proper footwear on the river is a must. Whether you’re putting on the river, taking out, wading in the water, or performing a rescue, foot protection is a must. In today’s world of whitewater footwear has many options, which can make it tough to choose the right pair for you. Here are some key differences between the most common kinds of paddling footwear on the market today.
Aside from comfort, the actual performance of the shoe is the most important. You want to be able to trust what’s on your feet as you're navigating the river banks. The soles of most paddling shoes are made with high friction rubber that’s designed to give you confidence in your footing. It’s always good to ask fellow paddlers to see what they prefer to wear.
Fit refers not only to shoe size, but also whether or not your paddling shoe is going to fit comfortably inside your boat. Non-paddling specific water shoes tend to have thick, heavy soles which can bend ankles at uncomfortable angles once inside the boat. Paddling shoes generally have thinner, more flexible soles that allow you to fit comfortably inside your boat without sacrificing protection on the sole.
Warmth and Protection
A lot of paddling footwear is made of neoprene, but often comes in different thicknesses. If you plan on doing some winter paddling, then a thicker outsole will provide more insulation while you’re paddling. If you’re more of a solar powered summer paddler, then you might be able to get away with a lower profile shoe, or even a shoe made out of something other than neoprene. Neoprene still rules most paddling footwear because of it's warmth when wet and flexibility.
Paddling shoes also come in a variety of cuts and styles. Many paddlers prefer shoes that rise above the ankle to offer some protection from bumps and abrasions on the ankle bone, or if that’s not a concern then there are plenty of options for the more minimalist boater.
Another paddling option is to add neoprene socks for colder days.