SUP Footwear: What to Wear (Or Not Wear) While On Your SUP in 2024| Perfect Paddles

In Fresh Content, Instructional, SUP Gear Recommendations by Daniel

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If you're not sure what to wear on your feet while you paddle, we break it down for you here with the best options available on the market!

sup footwear

In this article, we discuss what to wear on your feet while paddling, including the best SUP footwear on the market today!


Editor's note: If you're looking for a great selection of water shoes for your next SUP adventure, head on over to REI as they have a great collection and options for virtually every paddler!  And this holiday season, they're up to 30% off for members! Here's a link to their water shoe selection: 



One of the main questions we receive is what to wear while you’re on the water...

This applies to your clothing, hats, and of course, what to wear on your feet.

For most people, the answer is simple. Go barefoot.

You are paddling on the water after all. And it can be uncomfortable to wear anything on your feet while you’re trying to balance on your board.

In certain instances though, wearing protection on your feet is a must...

But that doesn’t mean you only have to choose between bare feet and neoprene booties...

In fact, there are plenty of options out there...

To better understand the pros and cons of having footwear on while paddling, as well as examples of the best footwear we’ve found on the market, we’re going to break it all down here.

Let’s get into it!

To get a brief overview of the article that follows, check out this video below:

Seasons + Locations

One thing to remember – what you wear paddling (including on your feet) depends on the season you're paddling in and the location.

In this newsletter, we discuss footwear for summer/spring paddling which is the current season in the Northern Hemisphere.

We will cover winter paddling gear in a future post.

Consider this a general overview with more gear-related articles delving into more depth coming in the future.

Pine Tree vs. Palm Tree

When it comes to many paddling locations, you are either paddling in a palm tree climate or a pine tree climate.

Palm tree climates are characterized by beach settings with soft sands and warm weather.

Pine tree climates tend to consist of rocky bottoms, mountainous landscapes, and either rivers or lakes for paddling in.

For palm tree climates you typically don't need as much protection unless you are around oyster beds or rocky beaches. Waterproof socks or sandals can typically work in these areas.

In pine tree climates, you need extra protection from rocks, sticks, and other debris. A quality pair of water shoes are a must.

Now that we've covered what you might expect in certain climates, let's go over the pros and cons of each...

Pros of Being Barefoot

As we’ve already stated, most people prefer to go barefoot when paddling. It’s more convenient. It’s more freeing. And it helps with balance on your board.

Your toes play a huge part in the way your body is able to balance.

There are stabilizing muscles in your feet and ankles that are used to support and balance when you paddle. They work to grip surfaces.

If you have them covered by a shoe or sandals, your balancing ability naturally reduces. Without them, your balance improves.

In addition, without shoes on, you can feel the water on your feet. Immerse yourself in nature. And get some sun on skin that doesn’t often see the light of day.

Cons of Being Barefoot

The major con of being barefoot is you reduce your safety. In any water environment, there are risks inherent in walking around barefoot.

These include barnacles, rocks, glass, fishing hooks, crab pots, and the big one…oyster beds.

Oyster beds are found in many launch locations around the world...

And while they are mostly harmless when you’re on land, if you happen to walk on them your feet can leave badly cut...

Even worse, they are known to harbor many strains of bacteria that can result in bad infections.

You do not want to make contact with your skin on an oyster bed. And you definitely DO NOT want to walk on them.

While being barefoot might feel more freeing, there is a risk involved when it comes to walking around on land and on your SUP.

sup footwear

Pros of SUP Footwear Water Shoes

As you may have guessed by now, the major pro of wearing water shoes is safety.

With an added layer of fabric on your feet, you don’t have to worry about any potential water hazards.

Whether they come when you’re walking your board to the water, or when you’re on your SUP.

Plus with water shoes, you don’t have to worry about applying sunscreen to the tops of your feet...

Which is a sensitive area most people forget about until they get a terrible sunburn after paddling for a few hours in the heat.

Cons of SUP Footwear Water Shoes

The major con of wearing water shoes is poor balance.

Unless you are using a Vibram-type shoe (more on those in a bit) that allows free movement with your toes, you are always going to be able to balance better barefoot.

In addition, if your water shoes have a grippy bottom, it can be difficult to move around on the deck of your board...

The combination of a grippy rubber sole on a grippy foam deck might cause you to actually fall since it is more difficult to freely change your stance.

In addition, the grippy sole can tear up a foam pad after repeated use. Always be aware of that happening if you choose to wear water shoes.

And last, you can receive some unsightly tan lines if you wear water shoes for an extended period of time while paddling.

Now, this, of course, is a minor inconvenience. But for those who care about tan lines, it can happen!

sup footwear

What About Both?

There are obvious pros and cons to each side of the argument. Because of this, our recommendation is simple, use both when the time and environment apply.

For everyday paddling, it’s a great idea to wear water shoes when you’re launching your board to keep your feet protected while on land. And once you’re safely paddling in the ocean or bay, it’s easy to take them off and store them under the bungee on the front of your board until it’s time to return to shore.

However, for certain environments, we recommend you wear them for the duration of your paddle...

This includes on rocky bottom beaches, in river settings, in marshes where the possibility of finding an oyster bed increases, or when the water temperature is low and you need neoprene booties to keep your feet from freezing.

In these instances, always wear a pair of high-quality water shoes or booties.

You might be thinking then, “What are some good options out there?” We are glad you asked…

Best SUP Footwear on the Market

Not every type of water shoe will work for everyone. And of course, if you’re a cold water paddler it’s best to grab a high-quality pair of neoprene booties.

But for those who like options, we’ve listed our favorite water shoes and booties below. Each is proven to protect your feet while on and off the water. And provide you with the level of comfort you seek.

Vibram Five Finger Aquas

These Vibram’s give you the flexibility to still use your toes for grip while offering a quick-dry shoe that won’t fill up with water. It’s a perfect balance and a great option for SUP footwear.

Flex Foot Water Shoes

While these don’t offer the use of your toes, they are a high-quality water shoe that will still work great, and look great while you’re on land. Consider these the most versatile choice of SUP footwear on our list.

NRS Kicker Water Shoes

While this choice of SUP footwear might offer the same flexibility of our previous choices, they make up for it with their versatility. The NRS water shoes are made with neoprene. So, you get sole protection and temperature protection! Keep your feet warm and protected with these.

Waterproof Socks

If you’re more of a minimalist when it comes to your SUP footwear, consider a pair of waterproof socks. While they might not protect against everything while on and off the water, they will provide an added layer of safety. Consider these a good option for sandy beaches that might have some dangerous debris, but don’t count on them for rocky bottoms or oyster beds.

Flip Flops

Not into any of the options of SUP footwear above? How about a good old pair of flip-flops? These are easy to slip on while walking your board to the water, and just as easy to store under the front bungees while on the water. Grab a nice pair and you can even wear them to dinner if the situation calls for it! There’s nothing wrong with a classic. And a pair of nice flip-flops (that are water resistant) is an excellent option.

Another great option similar to the open flip flop experience is closed toe sandals, especially if you're combining your paddle with hiking or camping.  Also available as minimal footbed versions, you can go for maximum protection or a minimal, barefoot style experience either of which can work well on a paddle board.

Let’s Get on the Water!

We hope this answered the burning question of what you should wear (or not wear) on your feet while paddling. And we hope you picked out the right pair fo SUP footwear from our list above. Of course, if you have any questions, comments, or need any clarification, be sure to reach out! Our inbox is just a click away.

Now that you know what to wear in order to stay protected on the water, it’s time to get out there! Head to our SUP Search section on Perfect Paddles, type in your location, and contact an outfitter in your area to get on the water today.

About the Author


Daniel is a travelling author with a passion for exploring new waterways and sharing his experiences with the world.

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