Barefoot Shoes vs. Water Shoes – A Complete Comparison

As the sports industry develops, different types of shoes are manufactured. The different types of shoes come in many forms, but they are often used for the same purpose.

Two examples of this type are barefoot shoes vs. water shoes. Barefoot shoes and water shoes both serve as protection from environments that could cause harm to a person’s feet, but the two each have their purposes and uses.

This blog post explores these two different types of footwear and provides information about what makes them different from one another.

What are water shoes?

a pair of orange flip flops sticking in the sand

They are shoes made to drain the water out when soaked in water. The sole is designed in such a way that when you step on the ground, the little bumps under your feet act like suction cups and drain all the water fast.

What are the characteristics of water shoes?

  • Water shoes are generally made from a very thin mesh material, giving them the advantage of drying quickly and not weighing you down as it becomes waterlogged.
  • Some of them come with a more solid sole, but they remain flexible enough to do most water sports, such as those involving the use of jet skis, kayaks, surfboards, and the like.
  • Due to their thinness, they also provide excellent grip, which helps you with your water activities and helps you navigate various terrains.
  • Some are made of rubber which gives them their solid sole but remains flexible enough to avoid discomfort when doing water sports.
  • The downside is that they are not as durable as water shoes made from a mesh material.
  • They have a smooth upper part that does not allow any dirt or debris to remain stuck inside, making them very hygienic and easy to maintain.
  • Water shoes provide protection for your feet against various parasites such as leeches.
  • Still, its thinness makes it the best choice for water activities where you are constantly in and out of the water, such as snorkeling, surfing, or kayaking.

What are the types of water shoes?

Water shoes come in two types: open-toed and closed-toed.

  • Open-toed water shoes

The open-toed shoe is what you would typically think of as a flip flop, with the rubber ‘flaps’ that sit between your toes – providing very little protection against anything except perhaps some sunburn – and offering no protection at all to the sides of the foot.

  • Closed-toed water shoes

Closed-toed shoes offer more protection, though they may not look like it at first glance. They are also called water sandals. The most basic design is similar to a flip flop (which isn’t held on by your toes as you might expect), but other methods are more akin to athletic sandals.

The main difference is that most designs of this type have a strap across the top of the foot, which keeps it in place.

For what activities can you use water shoes?

  • They are highly flexible the moment you put them on.
  • Water shoes are incredibly lightweight, and some of them can even be folded up to fit into your pocket, which makes water shoes a great choice if you need to travel light while still doing all kinds of sports in or on the water.
  • Water shoes are suitable for people with sensitive feet.
  • The thin material that constitutes water shoes is often very soft and ensures ultimate comfort.
  • In addition, the thin material doesn’t retain much moisture, so your feet will stay nice and dry after swimming in the sea or a river.

Are water shoes suitable for everyone?

Water shoes are suitable for everyone. You can wear water shoes to run, swim, play sports or go on camping trips.

They are easy to carry and lightweight; hence, making traveling safer and more enjoyable. People who love fishing will also find them perfect for use on the beach as they protect your feet from sharp objects like seashells, rocks, and oyster shells.

What should I look for when buying water shoes?

Different water shoes are designed for various purposes. For example, some are designed for wearing on rocks to avoid sharp edges, while others are designed to be worn in the ocean depths to avoid sensitive corals.

However, as a general rule of thumb, you should buy water shoes with shoe-like straps because they provide more stability, and durability and help you better conquer slippery surfaces. Other likely things to consider are size and fitness, comfort, and traction.

Can I wear water shoes for running? 

Running water shoes have good traction, so you can wear them if you are going through shallow waters. However, they do not have a high enough sole for running on rocky terrain or solid ground.

Therefore, you will need to consider wearing barefoot shoes for running on such surfaces as the latter provide excellent cushioning and shock absorbance. Water shoes are only designed for your comfort in the water and hence, don’t provide as much cushioning as you will receive in barefoot running shoes.

They also tend to lose traction quickly when wet, making it hazardous to perform any workout with them.

Can I swim in water shoes? 

a pair of blue flip flops on the beach

No, water shoes are not designed for swimming and diving, but they reduce the impact on your feet when doing water sports such as kayaking, rafting, and boating. Water shoes let you get into whitewater or ocean waves that otherwise would be too violent to stand in.

People who love to snorkel also wear water shoes because they protect the feet against sharp rocks and broken shells.

Can I go hiking in water shoes?

No. It is not advisable to hike in water shoes as the terrain may be too harsh for your feet and legs. However, waterproof hiking boots are made especially for trekking and fishing, which you can buy online.

Flip Flops

  • Flip flops will protect your feet from the hot sand.
  • They do not serve well against rocks or sharp shells.
  • It is only advisable to wear it to the beach or walk around your neighborhood.

Water Shoes

  • Water shoes are mainly designed for swimming in deep waters or rivers.
  • The shoe’s upper part is made of rubber and contains tiny holes that drain water as you walk through the river.
  • It also comes with a thicker sole.

Are there water shoes for children? 

Flip Flops

  • No, these shoes should only fit kids who are old enough to go on adventures
  • It is advisable to watch out for shoes with thick soles and slippery bottoms.

Water Shoes

  • Yes, there are water shoes for kids.
  • They should be at least one size more significant than the kid’s actual foot.
  • For example, a shoe size 9 should order a 10 to ensure it fits properly and doesn’t leave any room for growth.

Barefoot shoes vs. water shoes

a pair of orange pool shoes

People can wear barefoot and water shoes for similar protection, shock absorption, or grip. However, there is also overlap between their functions which causes them to be categorized in the same group.

The overlapping characteristics are their ability to protect one’s feet from hazards such as sharp or pointed objects, prevent slips on certain surfaces, and act as shock absorbers when an athlete is running or jumping. There are differences between these two types of shoes.

What are the differences between barefoot shoes and water shoes?

Barefoot shoes

  • Barefoot shoes provide more stability
  • Flexible sole to feel the ground
  • The wide toe area allows the feet to breathe freely
  • Barefoot shoes, which have no gripping qualities for wet surfaces

Water shoes

  • It helps prevent blisters by allowing your feet to breathe
  • Stiff sole to avoid injury
  • Narrow toe area, tends to make the feet overheat easily
  • Water shoes have a grip on wet surfaces

Can I use water shoes as barefoot shoes?

Absolutely! Water shoes are created to protect the feet in wet environments such as boating, and they can also be used as regular shoes.

My top recommendations for the best barefoot water shoes

After putting countless water barefoot shoes to the test, below are the ones that I recommend:

Vibram Men’s Five Fingers, V-Aqua Water Shoe 

The Vibram is a multisport shoe. The upper is polyester mesh, and the wave grip rubber outsole offers traction to avoid slipping in wet conditions. 

  • Super comfortable with little or nothing in them.
  • They conform to your foot perfectly.
  • They’re super lightweight, and drain and dry quickly.
  • Perfect barefoot feel.
  • Great design: cool looking and easy to slip on and off.
  • They’re flexible yet secure enough to do light jogging in.
Vibram Men's FiveFingers V-Aqua Water Shoe, Black, 40 EU / 8-8.5 US*
  • Silicone prints inside the shoe for a secure fit.
  • Megagrip Vibram Rubber
  • Machine Wash Cold / Air Dry

Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport 

The Aqua X Sport is in the middle of the pack in terms of comfort. The footbed provides excellent protection from stones and shells, but it can feel a little chafing after a while for long walks. 

  • It’s great for walking and running on uneven surfaces – very close to barefoot (it feels like you’re not wearing shoes). 
  • The footbed has an incredible texture that feels great and provides excellent grip, whether wet or dry.
Xero Shoes Barefoot Water Shoes for Women | Aqua X Sport Women's Water Shoes | Wide Toe Box, Zero Drop Heel, Minimalist for Beach, Hiking, Running | Sparrow, Size 5*
  • LIGHTWEIGHT & WATER-FRIENDLY - The Xero Drop Aqua has a quick-dry lining, non-absorbent tongue, and toe guard drain holes that quickly shed water so it’s barely any heavier wet. It's so lightweight...
  • MADE FOR ACTIVE LIFESTYLES - The Aqua X Sport is made for your active lifestyle. This ultra-packable activity shoe is perfect for everything from paddleboarding to mud runs and anything in between
  • FLEX YOUR FEET, FEEL THE FLOOR - Our patented 5.5mm FeelTrue sole is low to the ground for proper balance and agility. 3.5mm dual chevron lugs offer all-terrain traction for natural movement through...

Body Glove Men’s 3T Barefoot Cinch Water Shoe

The Body Glove Men’s 3T Barefoot Cinch is a water shoe with an innovative design that lets you feel the environment without drawbacks.

In addition, the shoe features several unique qualities to make it more comfortable and functional than your average barefooted footwear, such as how it absorbs impact when walking on rocks or coarser surfaces, so there’s less chance of injury.

  • Superior grip on wet surfaces – the 3T is far more stable and offers a better grip than any other pair of water shoes I’ve ever worn. 
  • The “tread” at the bottom of each shoe (especially the heel) can grab onto wet surfaces as if they were dry surfaces. 
  • The upper part of the boot is made from a mesh material that makes it easy to dry, and there are small drainage holes in the outsole to help with this process.
Body Glove Men's 3T Barefoot Cinch Water Shoe, Black/Black, 7*
  • MINIMALIST BAREFOOT FEEL- Three toe design makes for barefoot feel but still easy on experience. Zero heel lift and low-profile ultra-grip outsole provides maximum traction for walking or hiking...
  • EASY ON - Stretch fit upper and adjustable shocklace system allows for an easy slip on entry while maintaining a snug fit
  • DESIGNED FOR WATER- Flexible, breathable and lightweight water shoe makes it perfect for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, swimming, or any other activity in or near water


Barefoot shoes and water shoes are different in the most fundamental of ways. Barefoot shoes and water shoes are not the same.

Several vital differences make wearing one over another in an aquatic environment difficult or even impossible at times. Depending on what material is being used for each type of footwear and how much traction you need when wading through deep waters with those types on them!

After going through this post, I hope you will make an informed decision between these two types of shoes.

Feel Grounded


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