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SwimTrek News

Find Your Footing: Swim Shoes Buyer’s Guide

By Jack Hudson , 08 February, 2022

We’ve covered most things a swimmer can shop for with our Wetsuit, Watch and Goggle Buyer's Guides. This time, we're training our sights below the ankles and looking at the best swim shoes for adults, which are currently on market…

It might not seem the most essential piece of kit for swimmers, but for anyone who's ever tried to climb a pebble beach after a stint in the cold chop, or found themselves in a tidal pool clambering over a jagged rock, these items are assured life-savers. A little extra padding underfoot often means a much more comfortable swim in open water (for example, you'll be especially thankful for this kit addition if you ever have a run-in with the dreaded spiky sea urchin!). Swim socks, shoes and boots can also ensure smoother water entry and exit. While an added layer of neoprene, or some other insulating material, acts to protect your numb extremities in colder water.

swimtrekkers SwimTrek HQ test their pre-swim footwork on pebbled Brighton Beach...

What's more, good water footwear comes in all shapes and sizes now. Stylish designs and lightweight materials are commonplace. High-tech features continue to stack up - from extra thermal protection to improved traction underfoot. Yet the use of swim shoes is often condition, or location, dependent - you probably won't need them if you're swimming from smooth white sand beaches, in tropical waters - and the designs on offer reflect the varying difficulties posed on different swim days.

Following is a brief overview of the different styles and features you'll find out there - accompanied by our own selection of swim-hardened footwear we've picked up over the years (as well as a few newer releases), backed by some trusty SwimTrekker logic:

mesh shoes 1

Mesh Swim Shoes

A cross between a running shoe and a wetsuit boot. The feature that stands out on this particular water shoe design is the breathable mesh. Quick-drying, lightweight and usually pretty minimalist in design, these shoes slip on and off easily and are ideally suited for combined beach runs and coastal swims. These shoes can be worn with swimsuits as well and allow your feet to get wet, without losing anything in the way of support or comfort. In short, this is a highly functional swim shoe option that looks good and protects your feet from abrasion or injury.

mesh shoes crocs 1

  • First up, we have the ever-practical Croc’s Men’s Swiftwater Mesh Sandal, built to function in all coastal terrain, with a synthetic sole and a stretchable textile upper portion with fast-drying mesh for added support. The design utilises hook and loop closure for a more secure fit and greater ease of use in case the mood suddenly strikes and you're compelled to sprint in for a swim. The comfortable outsole and wraparound toe bumper protect you from any unwanted toe stubs and painful stumbles. While the patented Croslite footbed offers maximum comfort on rushed water entries and padded lining to assist on any longer, pre-swim hikes.

'The design utilises hook and loop closure for a more secure fit and greater ease of use in case the mood suddenly strikes and you're compelled to sprint in for a swim...'

mesh shoes speedo 1

  • The Speedo Surfwalker makes short work of all kinds of waterside terrain. These shoes are fitted with a water-shedding design and durable construction, suited for more difficult open water exits and maneouvres. They were put together with hikers in mind and serve as tough outdoor footwear, even if you decide to stay dry and leave out the swimming. The Surfwalkers can also double as hybrid trainers - easily adapted for dry land in addition to any undersea adventures. The four-way stretchy upper portion moulds to your feet and allows you to quickly change footwear, as well as offering improved comfort and making it easier to balance your steps on an uncertain river or seabed. The S-trac outsole is well-designed (with no-slip grip) to give you added stability and there's an air mesh insert panel that means these shoes are quick drying too.

athletic water shoes

Athletic (Swim/Run) Swim Shoes

At a glance these might look like running trainers - breathable mesh is also featured in a few of these designs, so there's a little overlap with the above - but these swim shoes are unique in so far as they are a little bulkier and more suited for long distance trail runs, which evolve naturally into open water swimming adventures. Of course, nothing beats ending a sweaty summer run with a plunge into a cool body of water somewhere. And these designs are made for the trails. They won't restrict you when you stomp in a deep puddle, make an impromptu river crossing, or suddenly decided to go and properly acquaint yourself with the sunlit surf. These semi-aquatic shoes perform well on land and in the water, never sacrificing anything in terms of comfort and protection. They dry quickly, feel like feathers in your kit bag and are functional in all kinds of difficult conditions.

salomon water shoes

  • The Salomon SwimRun series has been immensely popular among hybrid swimmers and runners. You'll see plenty of Salomon logos come race day and it's no secret why, when you feel their superior grip and snug construction. These shoes are pretty lightweight too and adapted to stand you in good stead for that next impending swim section. The S/LAB XA AMPHIB 2, in particular, is a super stylish swim shoe that many waterborne athletes go crazy for. They can take on whatever terrain the trail throws at you. The Mud Contagrip® offers maximum grip on uneven ground, with deep lugs designed for adhesion. TPU-injected Skinguard™ mesh is durable and protects the more sensitive parts of your feet. At the same time, different foams are combined of two densities to offer extra cushioning and motion control to the midsole. Then there's the Quicklace™ system, using strong laces with one-pull tightening for easy-on/easy-off capability. We could go on all day about the technical features - these SwimRun beauties are especially made for an amphibious athlete and they won't let you down!

adidas water shoes

  • The Adidas Terrex Jawpaw swim shoe plays no games and passes the Ronseal test in bringing you exactly what it says it will. The clean, minimalist look belies the fact that you're getting full comfort and support when you put these on. They're easy to wear in the slip-on style, with all kinds of well-hidden technical features that stand up to even the most gruelling water activities. Expect good underfoot and ankle support from a textile upper portion with synthetic overlays. The shoes have in-built 360-degree 'climacool' cooling technology to ventilate your whole foot and reduce chafing and other forms of irritability. The fit is snug and the perforated mid and outsole allow for water draining when you're on the move. They offer fantastic grip on slippery ground and include a 'Stealth' rubber sole, enabling you to take the marine environment in your stride.

wetsuit boots

Surf and Wetsuit Boots

The shoes we've listed so far are all quite suitable (to a lesser degree) for demanding water sports. Whereas the surf or wetsuit boot is specially made to provide on-board support when you're cruising over some monster wave, or extra warmth if you're delving down to icier levels on a scuba diving trip. They look more durable - as though they offer a distinctly tougher construction - and frankly they are. These are the shoes you choose if you're walking over a boulder-strewn lakebed, or stumbling down a river somewhere. They offer more neoprene and better protection from the cold. They also come in a range of styles and designs, including the popular 'Split Toe', which you'll spot on the feet of more serious surfers. The split toe boot keeps the big toe separate from the others, which can present issues in the cold - as opposed to the more rounded toe boot, in which all toes are bunched snugly together. However, by freeing up the big toe, your foot gains more freedom of movement and increased grip.

neo sport

  • The NeoSport Premium Zipper Boot might not win any awards when it comes to aesthetic - the clean style describes a no fuss multi-purpose neoprene boot, with effective thermal protection (the neoprene is either 3mm, 5mm or 7mm thickness) for seasonal, or even year-round, swimming outdoors. These boots are tough, toasty and technically sound. The strong zipper, higher ankle cuff and traction sole allow you to hold a strong grip on slippery surfaces. The sole is also puncture-resistant and the entire construction is durably glued and sewn. While a web entry barrier stops water from entering through the zip closure. If you want a swim boot you can trust, without too much additional information or any unwanted niggly features, the NeoSport Zippers could be just what you're looking for.

rip curl

  • The Rip Curl Flashbomb Surfing Boots were a bestseller among surfers, swimmers and snorkelers, often paired with a Rip Curl wetsuit (namely the Flashbomb). They're super lightweight and warm, with E5 flash lining that dumps nothing extra on in terms of added weight restriction. They're a durable alternative to neoprene socks and the slide on system allows for easy on/off usage, giving you less time fumbling on the shore and more time thrashing about in the water. The super soft sole is thin with an aerodynamic grip and the pull on heal strap and Velcro shaft closure combine to create a snug fit, moulded to your feet. These beauties have a compression strap with no stitches that seal your feet, keep cold water out and allow for greater mobility in the water. Neoprene boots like these are essential for long distance river swimmers, or anyone who might need to spent time walking in shallower water, where the ground is easily disturbed and the occasional stumble is inevitable.

swim socks

Swim Socks

Finally, we come to perhaps the most common form of footwear found on your average outdoor swimmer. If you don't like boots, or athletic shoes, then we still might be able to sell you on the most lightweight neoprene option out there. Neoprene socks are worn mostly by winter swimmers who hate the pain, ache and tingle sub-10C waters bring to our extremities. Socks and gloves are usually worn together in these circumstances and many find that even a thin layer of neoprene can make a huge difference to how long you can stay in at the more punishing lower degrees. They're also great protection against stray pebbles and that one big, knobbly pebble you always seem to find as you exit the sea.

c skins swim socks

  • The C Skins Swim Socks are thermal socks seemingly custom-made for open water swimming. Want to keep your feet toasty in those unforgiving winter months? These lightweight socks come equipped with warm Thermotech PolyPro thermal lining and a tough Kevlar sole to keep your underfoot protected at all times. The nylon overlay, GBS construction and Duraflex neoprene all combine to give swimmers mobility, warmth and that vital sole protection.

blueseventy swim socks

  • These Blueseventy Neoprene Swim Socks are designed to insulate your feet in the coldest waters. There's a long list of important technical features we can attempt to skim the surface of now. Let's start with the Zirconium liner, which reduces water absorption and bolsters the sock with an additional layer of insulation, cut for a snug fit. Also, factor in the longer ankle for more warmth and the non-slip seal on the top of the sock to keep them pulled up. Ultimately, what you've got here is a robust, long length design that prevents water ingress (at least it keeps it to a minimum) and protects your underfoot against any sharp protrusions on rocky ground.

"Can’t manage without my C Skins Swim Socks in winter. Snug and easy to get on and off." - (Nicky Chapman, SwimTrekker)

swim fins

What Do I Need in a Swim Shoe?

Of course, we could do a whole other piece here on swimming fins (please comment below if you think this might be useful)! What we've learned so far in our studies is that swim shoes come in more shapes and sizes than you might think. When it comes to choosing the right ones for you, you'll need to consider the material... Do you want a flexible mesh upper for trail runs? Do you need more neoprene to protect against the cold? When it comes to the underfoot - are you looking for something more durable? Is a bulkier construction right for you?

You'll find rubber is more commonly found on the underfoot to absorb shock and give support. Whereas mesh appears in lightweight designs, to make the shoe more breathable and for drying purposes. Then, of course, you have to take fit into account. Discomfort in an ill-fitted shoe will come back to haunt you, and you might even lose a pair before you find this out for certain. Always remember to check sizes carefully, try on shoes wherever possible and refer to support from fellow swimmers, who've taken their footwear out into our watery battleground and discovered exactly what works best in the outdoors.

'Do you want a flexible mesh upper for trail runs? Do you need more neoprene to protect against the cold...?'

In the end, swim shoes should be barely noticeable on your feet. All you should experience are the added benefits of being able to plant your feet on that rough seabed and leave those colder waters with some feeling still left in your tingling toes!

If you have any questions at all, or would like to offer us a quote/additional suggestion for this piece, please don't hesitate to contact us at:

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