What Shoes to Wear Whitewater Rafting

Written by Ben Sack, 11.04.2022

Rafters throw their paddles up in celebration after paddling a rapidTo have the best time possible whitewater rafting, you should consider both comfort and safety. This means not only booking a trip with a reputable rafting company, but also showing up with the right clothes and equipment

No matter what type of river adventure you’re planning, an appropriate pair of river rafting shoes should be pretty high on your list. Not only will having the right river shoes keep your feet protected, but they’ll keep you prepared in the event of unforeseen circumstances like an ‘out of boat experience’.

As longtime river guides in Colorado, the team at Echo River Canyon Expeditions has years of experience testing different rafting shoes. We know what will stick to your feet and what will end up as an offering to the river gods. So we’ll walk you through this brief guide before you head out on your next adventure.

Why Should You Wear Shoes Whitewater Rafting?

close up of rafters' feet and sandalsThere are a number of reasons why shoes or other secure footwear is necessary while rafting. To begin with, it’s immensely helpful to have a good grip on the raft with your feet when bracing and paddling through the rapids. There are also times when need to walk on rocky shorelines to access the raft at the start and end of the trip, or while taking a break over the course of the tour.

Similarly, if you fall out of the boat and go for a swim, appropriate rafting shoes will help keep your feet protected. During a swim and on your way back to your raft or to shore it’s common to bump your feet on rocks – good shoes are super helpful in this situation. They’ll also protect your feet when it comes time to walk along a rough shoreline on your way back to your raft.

Can You Wear Sandals for Rafting?

A common question that people have about rafting trips is whether or not they can wear sandals on the river. While sandals with secure, adjustable heel straps work just fine for whitewater rafting, flip flops simply won’t cut it. It’s not unusual for people to lose their flip-flops when they are first climbing into the raft, where a little bit of current simply whisks them away. Even more, if you fall out of a raft, there is simply no chance of saving your flip-flops.

How about Crocs? While we have nothing against the brand itself, the most popular style of Crocs, the Classic Crocs with the hinged ankle loop is truly no better than flip flops. Comfortable when dry? You bet. But once they’re wet they tend to slip off quite easily. Avoid this style of footwear for water activities.

So what are the Best Shoes for White Water Rafting?

While there are a number footwear options or shoes to wear white water rafting, they are not all created equal. Below is a recap of what style of footwear you should consider, and a few you should definitely avoid…

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Rental River Shoes

While you may not see our rental shoes on the fashion runways, they’re pretty amazing for a day of rafting. Our river shoes are insulated so they keep your feet and ankles warmer, they have have a semi-rigid sole to protect your feet, and we wash them after each use.

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Sport Sandals

Sandals with heel straps such as those made by Teva and Chaco are great river shoes. Not only do they have durable bottoms that grip to wet rocks, but they stay on your feet extremely well. Many people also enjoy hiking in these types of sandals. 

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Water Shoes

Water shoes are fully enclosed shoes made of mesh that were designed specifically for the water. These shoes are known for their quick-drying ability, as well as their style and comfort. Because they are made to get wet, water shoes won’t wreak havoc on your feet. 

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Tennis Shoes

Tennis shoes, running shoes, or really any lighter weight shoe with laces are always a great option for white water rafting. It’s not necessary to purchase a brand-new pair of water shoes for your rafting trip, so repurposing an old pair of tennis shoes for a weekend adventure is a great idea.

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Flip Flops

Nope. Flip flops are not a good call for rafting footwear. They slip off way too easily and will leave you barefoot on the banks of the river. 

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Classic Crocs Sandals

Nope. Classic Croc sandals slide off just as easily as flip flops, especially once wet. Granted, there are certainly some solid Crocs brand water shoes that lace up and securely stay on your feet, but save the Classic style for après-rafting lounging.

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Bare feet

Big nope. Unless you’re a Hobit, bare feet are not allowed on our rafting trips. It’ll be challenging enough walking on our gravel parking lot, let alone walking across the shoreline, bracing in the raft, or protecting your feet from rocks in the river.

Contact Echo Canyon River Expeditions

You need to be prepared if you want to maximize your fun on a whitewater rafting trip. Please Contact Us today with additional questions about the best rafting shoes.

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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