Summertime was made for the water
For many families, lakes, creeks, or the ocean represent an escape from the summer heat. You probably have your own memories of spending your childhood summers off from school swimming, kayaking, fishing, and more. By taking your kids out to the water, you can give them the same great experiences and have fun together as a family.
Your children don’t need much gear to hit the water, but one of the essentials for your kids is a good pair of water shoes. Kids’ water shoes are designed to protect their feet from sharp rocks and other hidden dangers that can quickly spoil a fun day. Plus, they enable adventures out of the water as well since water shoes dry out within minutes of leaving the water and are well suited for hiking and running.
In fact, water shoes are good for a lot more than just summer at the lake. Chances are, your kids will get even more use of their water shoes at home than they will in the water. The best pair of kids’ water shoes is perfect for running through your yard, exploring the woods, or getting down and dirty in the mud. Since they’re designed to get wet, kids’ water shoes are easy to wash down no matter how dirty your children get them.
The versatility of water shoes means that this footwear is now more or less ubiquitous. That can make it hard to find the best pair of water shoes for your kids, which is why we’re here to help guide you to shoes that can handle any amount of summertime play. Our favorite kids’ water shoe is the Bare Steps water shoe from Merrell, but we’ll review fully 10 options that are suitable for boys and girls.
How to Choose the Best Water Shoes for Kids
Before we dive into reviews of our 10 favorite kids’ water shoes, what exactly goes into choosing the right pair for your child? Here, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what makes water shoes different from other types of footwear and how to pick a pair that will enable your kid’s adventures.
All water shoes need to be good at a few different things.
First, they need to be able to protect your child’s feet against rocks and other sharp, painful obstacles under the water. That protection needs to extend to land so your child doesn’t hurt his or her feet when running around on dirt.
Second, kids’ water shoes need to dry out quickly. Some water shoes achieve this by adding drains into the bottom of the shoes, while others rely on fast-drying mesh. The faster water shoes dry out, the better.
Finally, water shoes need to be comfortable to wear, in and out of the water. If they’re easy for your child to put on and take off, that’s an added bonus.
Different models and styles of kids’ water shoes approach these needs differently. So, it’s important to consider a handful of factors when choosing a pair of water shoes for your child.
How a water shoe is built and the materials it is built with is the single biggest determinant of how fast it will dry out, whether it will provide protection, and whether it will be comfortable.
The vast majority of water shoes are built with a mesh upper, which allows moisture to escape quickly and for your child’s feet to breathe when running around in the shoes. However, some water shoes are built with a closed-knit upper. This type of water shoe isn’t necessarily slow to dry, especially if the fabric wicks water well, but it probably will retain water for longer than a fully mesh shoe. On the other hand, this material can be much more comfortable against the skin than a mesh grid.
It’s also worth considering whether all-rubber water shoes are right for your kid. These shoes are extremely easy to clean since you can just hose them down, no matter how muddy they get. Rubber shoes are also made with tons of holes, so they breathe and drain easily. However, rubber can cause chafing that can make them uncomfortable for many children.
The material underfoot is also important. Some water shoes skimp on the sole, opting for a thin rubber pad rather than a thick one. A thin sole may make the shoe feel more like a tight-fitting sock, but the thinner the rubber, the less protection your kid will have against sharp rocks. In addition, a water shoe with a relatively thin sole will be less durable than one with a thick rubber sole.
- Drainage Holes
While the upper fabric plays a big role in allowing water to escape from the water shoe after your kid gets out of the water, many water shoes speed up the drying process by adding drainage holes to the soles. These holes are great for ensuring that water doesn’t become trapped in the bottom of the shoe, which can keep your kid’s feet wet and lead to blisters if they run around on land after going for a swim. Watch out for drainage holes that are too large, though, as these can actually lead to reduced traction on the bottom of the water shoes.
Whether your child will be hopping across water-covered rocks or running around on in their water shoes, traction is important. Most kids’ water shoes feature rubber soles, which offers a measure of traction to begin with. But the best water shoes have well-designed patterns carved into the rubber to provide grip on rocks, dirt, and mud. While the exact pattern isn’t super important, it’s essential that the water shoes’ soles aren’t just blank slabs of rubber.
- Closure System
Ideally, water shoes are footwear that your kids can throw on in a matter of seconds. That way, they’ll actually want to put their shoes on before heading outside or into the water. Shoes that are too difficult to get on, or for kids to tighten and adjust themselves, aren’t likely to see much use.
Many kids’ water shoes use a single Velcro strap for tightening and loosening the upper. That’s easy enough for most kids to use, without appearing childish for older kids when it’s on a pair of water shoes. Lace-up options are available for older kids who can tie their own knots, and these can be more comfortable because of their added adjustability. Slip-on water shoes can be ideal for the youngest children, but they can also inadvertently slip off while swimming.
No matter what closure system they use, almost all of the best water shoes for kids include a simple grab loop on the heel. This can help your child create space to get into the shoe as well as help them take the shoes off quickly.
The 10 Best Water Shoes for Kids in 2020
1. CIOR Boys and Girls Water Shoes – Best Aqua Sock-style Water Shoes for Kids
This kids’ water shoe from CIOR is relatively basic, but it has everything your child needs to play comfortably in the water and out. The shoe’s upper is built with a thick mesh upper, which allows water to wick out easily and doesn’t leave an uncomfortable mesh impression against your kid’s foot. Plus, the thicker mesh weave is more durable than what you’ll find on other water shoes and cleans off easily with a hose down.
The fit on these water shoes is tight, since these are designed to perform as aqua socks. But, the shoes are elastic enough around the cuffs to pull on and off easily. A Velcro strap is simple for most younger kids to adjust, but it works well for older kids, too.
The sole is similarly simplistic, but the rubber tread pattern does provide enough traction for most underwater rocks and logs. Better yet, the sole includes drainage holes so your kid’s feet will never be sitting in a pool of water.
- Thick mesh upper
- Single Velcro strap
- Tight aqua sock fit
- Drainage holes in sole
- Can be difficult to get fit right
- Relatively basic design and traction pad
2. AMAWEI Slip-on Amphibious Running Shoes – Most Comfortable Water Shoes for Kids
These amphibious sneakers are ideal for older kids who like to move from the water to the trail without a stop in between. The shoes feature an athletic design, similar to many kids’ running shoes. That allows them to perform surprisingly well as all-around shoes when they’re not being used in the water.
These water shoes are designed to slip on, but they are adjusted with a lace-up closure system. For that reason, these shoes are better suited for kids who are comfortable tying their own shoes. The lace-up system provides slightly more adjustability than Velcro, but in most cases it seems like more of a hassle than is necessary.
What we liked best about these shoes is that they are designed with an air mesh upper. It’s smooth and comfortable on the inside, but moves water away from your kid’s feet from the moment they step out of the water. The shoes also feature an EVA midsole, which makes them far more comfortable when running around on hard ground. Drainage holes in the sole round off these shoes to ensure that your child’s feet stay dry out of the water.
- Running shoe design
- EVA midsole
- Lace-up system is very adjustable
- Air mesh upper
- Lace-up closure is difficult for younger kids
3. DADAWEN Breathable Mesh Running Sneakers – Most Breathable Water Shoes for Kids
These water shoes from DADAWEN are designed with toddlers in mind. They feature an extremely breathable, loosely woven mesh upper and a single large Velcro strap. There isn’t much to these water shoes – in fact, they are a lot like sandals with an enclosed upper. Altogether, that makes these water shoes an ideal choice for younger kids before upgrading them to a more advanced pair of shoes.
These shoes are designed to slip on, so it’s important that you get the size right. You’ll want to aim for shoes that fit now, rather than shoes that your toddler will grow into. The Velcro strap offers a little room for expansion, but not much.
What we really liked about these water shoes is the sole. They don’t feature drainage holes, but they’re not necessary given the open upper design on these water shoes. Instead, the soles are ready for anything, with a well-designed traction pad and a thick rubber that protects your child’s feet.
- Breathable, loosely woven upper
- Single large Velcro strap
- Thick rubber sole
- Well-designed traction pad
- Not much room for expansion in sizing
- Design is mostly suitable for toddlers
4. ALEADER Kids’ Slip-on Quick Dry Water Shoes – Best Mesh Water Shoes for Kids
These mesh water shoes are perfect for spending the whole day on the water with your kids. The shoes are built with a loose mesh upper, which is relatively comfortable while allowing water to freely escape the shoes. That means your kids can move faster through the water, since they won’t experience the feeling of taking on water with each step. Plus, you never have to worry about rashes from water sticking around in the shoes.
To take the drainage capabilities of these shoes eve further, ALEADER designed them with a multitude of drainage holes in the bottom. This somewhat precludes the addition of a real traction pad, however, so beware that these shoes are less adept at moving around on solid ground.
The shoes slip on, so you’ll need to get the sizing correct. A pull tab makes them easier to get on, while a small lace-up closure allows you to adjust the tightness on the top of your foot.
- Extremely breathable mesh upper
- Water moves freely through the shoes
- Many drainage holes on bottom
- Small lace-up closure for adjustability
- Relatively expensive
- No real traction pad on bottom of shoes
5. EQUICK Lightweight Aqua Sock – Most Protective Water Shoe for Kids
These durable aqua sock-style water shoes for kids are extremely versatile. The thick mesh and fabric upper ensure that water is able to wick away from your kid’s foot as soon as you step out of the water, while also providing more serious protection for the sides and top of your kid’s feet than most all-mesh water shoes. However, keep in mind that these shoes are nowhere near as breathable as a fully mesh water shoe for kids.
The shoes fit tightly, so they don’t leave much room for your child’s foot to grow. That said, the large Velcro strap is suitable for all ages from toddlers to older kids, and provides a small amount of adjustability.
We would have liked to see more attention paid to the sole on this shoe. The rubber sole features drainage holes to allow water out of the shoe, but the traction pad design is rather uninspired. While these shoes will protect your feet, they won’t grip well on slippery rocks or dirt trails.
- Aqua sock comfort
- Excellent protection for your child’s foot
- Large Velcro strap
- Drainage holes on sole
- Not the most breathable water shoe
- Traction pad is poorly designed
- Tight fit doesn’t leave much room to grow
6. JIASUQI Athletic Water Shoes – Best Slip-on Water Shoes for Kids
These basic slip-on water shoes from JUASUQI are perfect for younger kids who don’t want to be bothered with laces or Velcro closure systems. The elastic band around the cuff makes getting these shoes on and off extremely fast, which means your kid is more likely to throw them on before getting into the water.
The shoes are extremely comfortable thanks to a fabric liner on the inside of the shoe. The thin mesh on the outside is highly breathable, but it’s not very durable because of how thin it is. In particular, sharp rocks and stocks can tear holes in the mesh if your child isn’t careful. Thankfully, the shoes can hold up to machine washing and drying.
The other thing to watch out for with these shoes is that they aren’t overly versatile. The sole is minimalist, so it’s not great for running or hiking out of the water. In addition, your child can easily lose the shoes off his or her feet if they move too quickly since there is no closure system.
- Fast slip-on and slip-off
- Extremely comfortable fabric liner inside
- Breathable mesh outer
- Machine washable
- Mesh is not very durable
- Minimalist sole
- Lack of closure system means shoes can fall off easily
7. Bigib Swim Water Shoes – Best Water Shoe Design
These adorable water shoes for young kids and toddlers feature whimsical designs, like an octopus or dinosaur on the upper. That makes them stand out from the crowd, which can encourage your young child to wear their shoes before heading into the water.
The shoes themselves are extremely simple. The fabric is the same all around, with just a thin rubber sole on the bottom of the shoes. We wish that the rubber sole was a bit thicker, since it’s easy for your child to hurt their foot on a sharp rock or other obstacle. The fabric is also not super breathable or fast drying, although it will dry out much faster than similarly designed shoes. An elastic cuff allows you to get the shoes on and off your child’s feet, but there is no closure system for adjustability.
- Excellent designs for children
- Simple elastic cuff for on and off
- Rubber sole is not very thick
- Upper fabric is not breathable or wicking
- No drainage holes on bottom of shoes
8. Nerteo Cute Aquatic Water Shoes – Best Water Shoes for Toddlers
These toddler-ready water shoes from nerteo are beaten only by the Bigib water shoes when it comes to design. The shoes feature a variety of cute, colorful patterns to choose from, which can encourage your child to want to wear the shoes every chance they get. Plus, the shoes are machine washable so you can always keep the design looking clean and new.
The shoes feature a hook and loop closure, which was designed to be usable by toddlers. While it may take a bit of a learning curve because it differs from the standard Velcro closure system, we liked the simplicity of the hook and loop system.
The rubber sole on these water shoes is just enough to protect against rocks ad other sharp obstacles underwater. Unfortunately, they don’t have much in the way of traction patterning and there is only one small drainage hole for removing water from the shoes.
- Excellent toddler-friendly designs
- Hook and loop closure is extremely simple
- Durable and protective rubber sole
- Machine washable
- Hook and loop closure requires some teaching for toddlers
- No traction pattern on soles
- Only one small drainage hole
9. Merrell Boys Bare Steps Water Shoes – Overall Best Water Shoes for Kids
These durable and versatile kids’ water shoes from Merrell are our overall top pick. They feature an extremely protective upper that’s encased in mesh to add breathability. A rubberized toe box protects your child’s toes against banging against rocks and other obstacles, which is very important for walking around in rocky creeks and lake shores.
The rubber sole on these water shoes is significantly thicker and more durable than on most of the other water shoes we’ve seen. That means that these shoes will likely outlast your child’s feet, so you can even pass them down onto your younger child as they grow into them. A well-designed traction pad also ensures that these shoes can move easily between the water and the yard or trails.
The only thing we didn’t love about these shoes is that the heel isn’t very elastic. That’s a price of the shoes’ durability, but it can make it harder for your child to get the shoes on and off.
- Extremely burly, durable design
- Breathable mesh outer
- Rubberized toe cap for protection
- Thick rubber sole with excellent traction pad
- Heel is not elastic, making it harder to get shoes on and off
10. Native Unisex Kid’s Jefferson Slip-on Sneaker – Best Rubber Water Shoe
If you’re interested in water shoes that are incredibly easy to clean, these rubber water shoes for kids may be the right choice for your child. The shoes are made entirely of rubber, with no mesh for dirt and muck to get caught in. Holes around the side and top of the shoes, as well as in the sole, ensure that the shoes drain extremely quickly.
However, keep in mind that rubber can cause chafing against your child’s feet. The heel in particular doesn’t add any fabric material to keep your child’s feet from rubbing, so you shouldn’t expect them to walk particularly far in these shoes. The shoes can also be slightly hard to get on and off since there is no closure system, and the rubber isn’t overly elastic.
Some other features that we liked about this shoe were a thick rubber toe cap to protect your child’s feet and a well-designed traction pad underfoot. The shoes also include EVA footbeds, which makes them significantly more comfortable for your child’s arches.
- Fully rubber construction
- Incredibly easy to clean
- Fast drainage
- Well-designed traction pad
- EVA footbed
- Shoe can be hard to get on and off
- Rubber can cause chafing, especially around heel
Frequently Asked Questions
Having the right pair of water shoes for your kids can allow you to have family fun out on the water without having to worry about making a mess of footwear or stepping on sharp rocks. Better yet, your child can use their water shoes at home, splashing through mud in the yard with their friends. There are a huge variety of water shoes for kids, but our guide to the 10 best models available in 2019 can help you find the right water shoes for your child.