Water shoes have never been the most stylish footwear. Traditionally, the readily available options are unflattering aqua socks or chunky rafting sandals, so fashion-minded folks are forced to either endure sartorial shame or simply go without. But protective, quick-drying shoes made to be worn in water are often necessary for island adventures or water-based activities like kayaking. After a handful of broken flip-flops or a few days of wearing damp shoes, even the chicest people will look for lighter-weight options that perform well.
But there’s no need to choose function over style (unless you’re participating in an ocean-based multisport competition, like a triathlon or a Swimrun, which requires the most high-performance shoes). Today, there are options for women, men, and even kids that work well while looking good. Follow along in our sandy footsteps to find the best choice for you.
OluKai Ohana Sandals
Buy Now: $70, olukai.com
The Classic With a Pop
The Ohana line from OluKai puts a fancy spin on the classic flip-flop. Long beloved by casual outdoor folks, the water-resistant sandal with colorful synthetic straps stays on much better than many of its competitors. The men’s Ohana sandals have ultra-soft straps with a quick-drying jersey knit lining, and the compression-molded EVA midsole gives the shoe a comfortable, anatomical fit. Wear them in and out of the water, whether on the wet pool deck or on the beach.
Reef Little Ahi Beach Sandals
Buy Now: $27 (was $30), reef.com
The “Slippas” for Kids
Children often prefer to go without shoes at the exact moments you really want them to keep shoes on, but when you need to keep little feet covered, you need sandals that will stay on securely. Reef’s Little Ahi Beach Sandals have a handy backstrap that does the job, so parents don’t have to keep an eye out for missing flip-flops. Think of them as good-looking training flip-flops for kids who still need protection on those little chubby feet. With a recycled webbing strap, contoured EVA footbed, and rubber outsole for great traction on all sorts of slippery surfaces, these are great for places such as Hawaii, where your little keiki will be island stylin’ when temperatures soar and the beach beckons.
Sea Star Beachwear Seafarer Slingback
Buy Now: $96, seastarbeachwear.com; zappos.com
The Mediterranean Explorer
Casual canvas espadrilles may be the shoes of summer, but they get soggy when exposed to the sea. And those wedge versions aren’t stable enough for a dune walk. The Seafarer Slingback from Sea Star Beachwear features the protective rubber sole of a deck shoe sole and an upper made of water-friendly neoprene (the same material used for wetsuits); unless you get really close, it’s hard to tell that the shoes aren’t classic canvas. The closed-toe slingbacks stay securely on your feet when you’re skipping through the surf on your way to a beachside café and they still have plenty of style for navigating city streets or beach-town sidewalks.
Buy Now: $85, chacos.com
The Strappy Sandal for Everyone
Often, strappy sandals that work for men and women are burly and feature enough straps to strangle your feet. Tegu sandals from Chaco Footwear have four straps that make them secure, but you can still slide right in and out of them when you’re in a rush. The comfortable midsole provides contoured arch support, which promotes healthy alignment and helps ease the strain of many hours on your feet. The colorful polyester jacquard webbing wraps over the foot and passes through the midsole, so you can easily tighten or loosen the shoe for the perfect fit. The straps are dyed using a waterless color system, which eliminates a wasteful step in the manufacturing process.
Keen Bali Strap
Buy Now: $60 (was $80), keenfootwear.com
The Light Adventurer
Go from beach to boardwalk (and maybe stop for some river rafting in between) with the pretty Bali Strap women’s shoes, which let you dial the action up or down without having to change footwear. These durable sandals have adjustable straps, a covered toe, and a midsole made of compression-molded EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate, a tough material with rubber-like flexibility) so you can focus on the adventure ahead without worrying about hurting your feet on sticks and stones along the way. The sandals incorporate Cleansport NXT, a natural odor-control technology, and the washable polyester webbing upper cleans easily in the washing machine. If you don’t have room to pack more than one pair of shoes, this wear-everywhere style is the one you should choose.
Adidas Terrex Climacool Sleek Boat Shoes
Buy Now: $65, adidas.com
The Modern Boater
Old-school boat shoes have one essential: nonmarking, grippy rubber soles that allow wearers to stay sure-footed and don’t scuff up the deck. The women’s Terrex Climacool Sleek Boat Shoes from Adidas give those traditional soles an update by pairing them with a breathable knit upper that’s made from yarn created in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans; like other Parley products, the yarn is made from recycled plastic waste collected on beaches and in coastal communities. Aside from featuring Earth-friendly fabric and a sure-grip rubber outsole, the shoe drains water to keep feet dry. And whether you’re aboard a sleek sailboat or a speedy motor yacht, these stylish shoes get the job done and then carry you to the yacht club afterward for a cocktail.
Columbia Spinner Vent Moc
Buy Now: $28 (was $55), columbia.com
When you plan to spend equal time on land and on the water, wiggle your toes in the versatile, comfortable Spinner Vent Moc slip-ons from Columbia Sportswear. The shoes look like street trainers, but also have midsole ports that allow any water to drain out, and the upper, a combination of open mesh and synthetic, dries quickly. In both women’s and men’s versions, the shoes have a nonmarking traction outsole that ensures you keep your balance, no matter how slippery things get on your adventures. And when the water’s rough and you stay land-based, the shoes look good in the places you want to go.
>>Next: 7 Islands That Will Make You Want to Buy a Sailboat
Jill K. Robinson Jill K. Robinson writes about travel and adventure for AFAR, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Outside, Sierra, and more. She has won Lowell Thomas, Society of American Travel Writers, and American Society of Journalists and Authors awards for her work.