What footwear is sturdy enough for kayak portaging?

Could you recommend some shoes for water-based activities like kayaking, rafting, and even canyoneering? Water socks are great inside a whitewater kayak, but they don't lend enough support for side hikes and portages. Mike Tempe, Arizona

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

Finding the right footwear for alternating wet and dry terrain is always a headache, particularly when you want to do a little trail walking or have a portage to make. Neoprene water socks, of course, keep your feet warm and offer a little protection, but they aren’t much good for walking more than a few yards. Aquatic sandals have been a great improvement on this front, but I find their utility for real walking pretty marginal. The combination of wet skin and sand under the straps inevitably leads to blisters.

Fortunately, in the quest to devise a product for every possible application, shoemakers have come up with a pretty substantial number of products that perform like aqualung-equipped trail runners. In general, the idea is that they have sticky soles for traction on wet logs and rocks (although there are limits to this); enough support for walking without feeling like boots; drain holes so that water can get out as you transition from the river to the trail; and water-resistant, fast-drying materials that can take repeated soakings.

A good example of this genre is the Salomon Tech Amphibian ($85;, which has all the requirements listed above. This pair even works well with Neoprene socks—the back of the shoe collapses so it can be worn like a slip-on. Or, lace the shoes up for extended walking. Teva’s Rodium shoes ($80; embrace a similar concept, with a sole designed for especially good traction on slick surfaces. Adidas’ Hellbender ($90; is a shoe I like, having worn it over the past year—like the Tech Amphibian, it’s sort of a modified trail runner, and I’ve found it to be very stable for a low-cut shoe. As a bonus, REI has some sizes of the Hellbender on sale for $60.

Nike is in on the action, too, with their Toketee Mid ($60;, essentially a Neoprene sock with a water sandal wrapped around it. It skews a bit toward the “water” side of things, as it’s a little soft for extended portaging, but it has adequate support and good foot protection for dry-land use, with good insulation for long wet periods.

So there you go. Any of these shoes should do a great job for you.

promo logo