Can I Kayak Barefoot? The Guide for When to Wear Water Shoes

On any kayaking adventure it’s fair to expect you’re going to be stepping in an out of water at some point. Whether that’s just at the launch or landing sites, eventually your feet will need to touch land. And, as we all know, most shoes aren’t really the best at handling water. So, you may be wondering, can I kayak barefoot?

Yes you can kayak barefoot, but it’s only recommended if you’ll be launching or landing in certain conditions. If the launch site is a sandy beach without lots of rocks or shells, then go right ahead. But, if you’ll be launching from a wooded area, or one filled with rocks, having sturdy shoes with you while launching is essential to keeping your feet protected.

Below I’ll go over which conditions are fine for kayaking barefoot, and which conditions you should watch out for before making your final footwear decision. We’ll also go over my top recommendations for water shoes should you decide to pick some up before your next kayaking adventure. 

barefoot on a sandy rock beach: can I kayak barefoot?

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When and Where Can I Kayak Barefoot?

If you’re planning to kayak barefoot then you’ll want to make sure the conditions you’re launching or landing in are totally fine for your feet. 

Now, this will depend on how rugged your feet are. I’ve seen people with super calloused feet that can manage walking on sharp rocks without wincing. But for my manicured (or at least used-to-shoes) feet, I need some protection. 

I’d recommend only kayaking barefoot in conditions with:

  • Warm, sandy, and soft-on-the-feet beaches
  • Well-maintained docks 
  • Muddy embarkments without rocks or wood

In these conditions I have very little ability to seriously hurt my feet walking barefoot while entering or exiting a kayak. They’re all gentle on my shoe-conditioned feet and allow me to step wherever I need without feeling unbalanced, unsteady, or in pain. 

When Should I Avoid Kayaking Barefoot?

Unless you have the perfect launching or landing conditions, or your feet resemble sandpaper, then I suggest picking up some water shoes to protect yourself. 

So, what qualifies as non-perfect launching or landing conditions? Generally, I’d recommend kayaking with shoes if the launch or landing sites have the following conditions:

  • Anything that can hurt your feet, including lot of sharp or wet rocks or an area with lots of wood or sticks
  • Wading wildlife (think snakes, water insects, crabs…)
  • Water that carries disease
  • Water that is cold

Let’s dive into each of these in more detail so you can determine if you’re all set to kayak barefoot, or if you need to pick up some foot protection before heading out. 

Rocks, Woods, Sticks, and Other Things that Hurt Your Feet

Launch sites, and various landing sites if you’re stopping your yak along the trip, can often have sharp objects just beneath the water. At the very least whatever you’re stepping on is typically not entirely sturdy. 

And if you’re carrying a heavy kayak while trying to enter the water without losing all your gear – you want to feel confident about where you’re stepping and that you’re not going to fall. This won’t be the case if you’re attempting to launch in these conditions while barefoot. 

A great pair of water shoes can protect your feet from sharp objects, provide you with more traction on uneven growth, and make you feel more sturdy as you arrive at and launch your kayak from the launch site. 

Preparing for Wading Wildlife

This won’t apply to everyone who kayaks, but if you’re kayaking in a place with some critters underneath the water you’re launching from then you’ll want to be prepared with foot protection.

No one wants to step in the water and land on a snake, and if you’re barefoot then this is so much worse than if you’re wearing shoes that can protect you from the brunt of the bite. Plus, if you’re anything like me, then it applies not only to snakes but also crabs, insects, and even harmless fish. I mean, I don’t even want to touch seaweed with my feet because I think it feels like some long lost underwater monster. 

Wearing shoes helps me to protect my feet and my mind from leaping to conclusions about everything that touches my feet. And, if it turns out that thing I felt actually was dangerous, then it gives me even more protection. 

Water Can Carry Disease

Many who kayak, especially in the Western world, don’t typically think about the diseases that can be found in water. But, if you’re kayaking internationally it’s important to be aware about the parasites that can swim in the water and love to enter the body through your feet. 

Schistomiasis is one that comes to mind, and is caused from a parasitic worm that enters through your skin (a lot of times through your feet), but really more common worms like hookworm can also enter your body through the water. 

Now, shoes aren’t going to be the only way to protect yourself against these diseases, but they’re an important step to limiting your contact with these parasites in the water you’ll be kayaking. 

Water that is Too Cold

Many new kayakers only think about kayaking in warm conditions. But as you get more used to the activity, you’ll learn that a lot of people continue to kayak through colder weather and even throughout the entire winter season. 

If you’re one of these cold-weather kayakers then you’ll want to wear proper gear on your feat. And, going barefoot in cold water is NOT a safe choice at all. 

Water temperature can often be colder than air temperature, which is why cold-weather kayakers often wear wetsuits or drysuits to help keep themselves warm. With all this gear, going barefoot doesn’t make sense at all. In these cases, neoprene socks are your best go to for keeping your feet dry and warm while kayaking in the cold. 

grey and brown smooth rocks next to a wave crashing into land: can you kayak barefoot

Which Kayaking Shoes Do I Need?

If you’ve discovered that you’ll be kayaking in a place that needs water shoes, then you may be wondering which shoes should you get? To help you out I’ve provided some recommendations that will work no matter where you’ll be yakking. 

  • Best Budget Water Shoe: DLGJPA Water Shoes are a basic shoe with a sturdy bottom and breathable mesh that lets the water flow through it. 
  • Most Rugged Water Shoe: Brown Oak Water Shoes have a sturdy bottom and can really withstand some wear-and-tear. 
  • Best Cold Water Shoe: Neoprene Socks are the go-to choice for anyone kayaking in cold water. They’ll keep your feet warm, dry, and at a safe temperature for your entire trip. 
  • Splurge-Worthy Water Shoe: TEVA sandals are fantastic sandals that double as water-shoes and are great for any outdoor adventure, including kayaking. 

No matter which water shoe you choose, you’ll be happy to not be barefoot if you encounter a launch site with sharp objects or biting critters. But, if you’re in warm water with a soft beach or muddy entrance, then by all means, let those feet go free!

Wondering if it’s okay to go kayaking barefoot? Hopefully this post helped answer that for you and you’re ready to take on your next kayaking adventure – shoes or no shoes! 

For other tips like these check out our Life Jacket Guide for kayakers,  a guide to kayak a river with only one car or head over to our kayaking tips page to learn everything you need to be even more confident getting on the water. 

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