What Shoes to Wear White Water Rafting? Best and Worst

What Shoes to Wear White Water Rafting

White water rafting is a great outdoor activity that can provide the thrills adventure seekers love. But fast-flowing rivers, with lots of submerged boulders and rocky beaches means your feet need protection. White water rafting shoes that protect your feet from sharp rocks, glass, and other obstacles are a must.

What shoes to wear white water rafting? The best shoes to wear white water rafting are Tevas, Chocos or water shoes that won’t be ruined when they get wet. White water shoes should be comfortable to wear without socks, stay on your feet even in fast flowing water, and provide protection to the soles of your feet while carrying the raft.

Finding the perfect shoe for white water rafting can be a daunting task, but there are a few options to consider before going out. You’ll need the comfort and support of a standard shoe because you’ll have to carry the raft in and out of the water.

Though tennis shoes will do, you don’t want to ruin a good pair of sneakers by getting them soaked either.

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Shoes You Can Wear While White Water Rafting

White water rafting is an excellent hobby to enjoy as a group. But because of the nature of the the sport, more often than not, you’ll get soaked from head to toe. And that includes your feet.

But more than just getting wet, wear shoes wile white water rafting will protect your feet from all manner of objects that can cut, bruise and scrape them.

Especially on overnight and multi-day rafting trips, you’ll have to walk out into the shallows to get the raft in and out of the river and to push off when you get going for the day. Many riverbeds are very rocky and dangerous to walk barefoot across.

In addition, not-so-eco-friendly participants in the outdoors have been know to “accidentally” break glass along the river. And that sharp broken glass finds its way into the river and onto the beach. Water shoes protect your feet from broken glass.

Along with gripping the bottom of riverbeds, white water rafting shoes also have to be able to get wet and dry quickly. No shoe will be completely waterproof while you’re white water rafting, so finding shoes that can get splashed and have most of the water leave the shoe (a.k.a. open shoes) are ideal. Plus, being able to dry quickly is critical to avoid mold growth in and on the shoe.

Shoes or sandals that have a tight heel or, at the very least, a strap that goes behind the heel are probably the most ideal shoes to wear on a rafting trip. These shoes are less likely to fly off than shoes with no strap or heel. 

Toe coverings are also not a huge concern, but there is the chance of a paddle coming into contact with your foot while white water rafting, so having some protection over your toes is a good idea.

Most companies with a white water raft service available will recommend aquatic-based shoes or river-specific footwear that can get wet without getting damaged and also provide good comfort and reliability. One name brand shoe company that is highly recommended by numerous white water rafting companies is Teva.

Tevas as White Water Rafting Shoes

Teva is a sandal company that specializes in activewear sandals. This means that their sandals are ready to be worn outdoors while doing some hiking or fishing and even white water rafting. 

Their website even boasts specific “river shoes” that are perfect for white water rafting. They have a rugged bottom, which is ideal for gripping slippery rocks. Plus, Tevas are perfect for white water rafting because they are open: the sandals take on water but drain fast and dry faster.

Can You Wear Normal Street Tennis Shoes with No Socks?

Now, probably the most frequent question river rafting companies get when asked what kind of shoes to wear for white water rafting is this: can I wear regular tennis shoes?

Tennis shoes are a fantastic choice to wear if you don’t want to have to go out and buy a new pair of shoes/sandals for your white water rafting trip. Tennis shoes have the heel that is ideal for white water rafters to wear, so their shoes do not fly off. Also, tennis shoes generally have a substantial amount of padding on the soles, so protection from the rocky riverbeds is covered as well.

However, the biggest drawback of wearing tennis shoes is the question of wearing socks with them or not. On dry land, you almost have to be wearing socks with tennis shoes; otherwise, your feet and shoes will start to smell or your heels will get rubbed raw. However, with white water rafting, wearing socks with tennis shoes isn’t ideal.

Socks will just absorb all of the water that comes into your shoe, and then you have soggy feet all day long. At the end of the trip, you will have a hard time peeling off your shoes and socks if they are drenched. 

With that in mind, tennis shoes that fit comfortably without socks are a good choice in a pinch, or if you’re working with a budget for a white river rafting trip.

If you’re just on a day trip, you can find an old pair of tennis shoes and designate them as a sacrifice to a day of whitewater rafting. Because when the day’s over, depending on how much abuse they take and how much water they’ve absorbed, those sneakers may be ruined.

Note: The biggest caution to have with tennis shoes is to ensure that the shoes get completely dry after using them. You do not want any sitting water to get absorbed into the shoe itself, as that can cause problems later. Plus, if the shoes do not dry quickly, there is a chance that mold and mildew can grow in/on the shoes, which will ruin them.

Shoes You Shouldn’t Wear White Water Rafting

For white water rafting, being comfortable with the shoes you’re wearing is key to having a good time. You don’t want to be complaining that your feet hurt because there’s not enough padding on the bottom of your feet or that your shoes will be ruined because they got too wet.

Regardless, there are plenty of shoes to never wear while white water rafting. For instance, open-toed sandals, like flip flops that people would wear to the beach, are not ideal. 

Flip flop sandals usually offer very little protection on the bottoms of your feet from the rocky riverbeds. Plus, they aren’t secure enough with the straps to prevent them from coming off and getting lost while white water rafting. 

Also, water socks may seem like an excellent option to wear, but be careful. By themselves, water socks seem like the ideal choice: they are designed to get wet and still function. However, they do not dry all that well and tend to fall apart if they are worn as shoes. If you find water socks that say they act like water shoes, those are not a good fit.

White Water Rafting Shoes Wrap Up

White water rafting is a great way to get out into the water and have some fun flying by on the rivers and other waterways. To protect your feet and get the most out of the day’s adventure, though, you want to make sure you have the proper footwear.

Sandals like Tevas, with straps across the toes and behind the heel, are always the most ideal ones to wear when white water rafting. These provide the comfort needed but also have the capability to shed water and dry quickly. Tennis shoes are also a great option if you’re in a pinch and don’t mind getting them wet.

Be wary of flip flops or other sandals similar to water socks because they can be troublesome. Many of them tend to fly off while in the river or offer little to no protection from the riverbed’s rocky bottom.


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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