Keen Clearwater CNX
The Clearwaters aren’t as wide, heavy, or high volume as Keen’s flagship models, and they feature a barefoot-running-shoe-like four millimeters of heel drop, encouraging a more natural stride. You still get all the good stuff—namely, the armored toe protection and ample arch support—just in a slimmed-down version.
OluKai Kia'I Trainer II
With aggressive lugs (for water shoes) and thick midsoles, the Trainer IIs are the most substantial shoes here. But they don’t feel oppressive on bare feet or in the water, thanks to mostly mesh uppers and aerated footbeds. They quickly became our go-to shoes—even when we were nowhere near a river or beach.
Sperry Top-Sider Son-R Pong
Sperry claims its Son-R Pong technology—articulating pods on the sole—heightens your natural sensory perception to help you react faster in an emergency. That seems like a stretch, but the shoes are impressively grippy, and we liked how the densely woven mesh uppers kept fine sand out but let cool air in.
Columbia Powerdrain Cool
The Powerdrain Cools were supportive enough for an eight-mile day hike yet grippy enough to stick to mossy rocks. The sweat-activated technology in the liners—tiny rings that swell with a cooling polymer when wet—is no gimmick: it works so well it was actually startling the first time. Bungee laces make ’em easy to cinch down on the fly.
The Brewers’ rockered toes and flexible midsoles are designed to be jammed into cramped whitewater boats, and the sticky rubber adhered to even the slickest rocks while we scouted rapids. Note: the Cordura uppers, while nearly indestructible, are also a bit abrasive against bare skin; we had to wear them with socks.
Teva’s well-named Bombers prove the outdoor powerhouse hasn’t forgotten its raft-guide roots. Supersticky outsoles allowed us to confidently scramble down steep granite rocks. The rugged uppers should stand up to seasons of abuse but were supple enough to ward off hot spots on a two-mile hike.