Rafting Shoes: the good, the bad, the flip flops

So you’re going whitewater rafting. The packing list says to wear sandals with a heel strap. What exactly does that mean?

Here’s our recommendations for our favorites, shoes that will work, and shoes that should be banned from wearing on rafts.

The BEST Rafting Shoes

If you’re looking to buy a new (or used) pair of water shoes, these babies are our favorites.


These are the guide favorite of river shoes. They are super comfortable and versatile for going from rafting to light hiking. Just be sure to wear them a few times before your river trip. They can take a little getting used to but all the straps are adjustable so pop them on and start getting that classic river foot tan.


These classics are still just that, classic. They’re great when you don’t want the toe strap that Chacos have, but they are a little less sturdy.

River sneakers are great. They are the best of sneakers but are quick draining and drying. You can also accidentally kick rocks without bleeding. (Always a plus.) These are perfect if you’re looking for a versatile shoe that you can wear on the river trip and then wear on the ride home.


Keens are great river shoes too. They also provide great protection for kicking rocks (if you haven’t yet been on a river trip, you’ll soon understand it’s easy to kick rocks). The leather variety is slow drying and I would not recommend them if you’re purchasing new. If you already have the leather, they still work!

The OK-est Rafting Shoes

Did you dig through your garage and find a pair of water shoes that may work? These shoes will absolutely get you through a rafting trip without floating down the river without you.

Water Shoes can be great, or they can break or rub your feet. If they’re high quality or shoes that you’ve worn a bunch and love, great! They will work.

If they are new to you or look cheaply made, proceed with caution. Keep in mind that you’ll be living in these shoes during the day when they’ll be almost always wet. You’ll also be getting in and out of the boat onto rocks, into sand and probably hiking around. If there’s a chance of them breaking or being uncomfortable I’d recommend packing another pair of water shoes or old tennis shoes (see below) as a backup.

Water Shoes that are more like water socks are not recommended.

The Rafting Shoes that Work in a Pinch

These are the bare bone of usable shoes. They each come with their own perils but do work and are approved for a rafting trip.

Old Tennis Shoes

Only have old tennis shoes lying around? Don’t mind your feet being wet all day? Then tennis shoes will work for you! They will get dirty from being in the river and sand for days, so be sure that they are an old pair and bring another pair of shoes to wear as camp shoes.

Fancy Strapy Sandals

Strapy sandals are iffy. If they’re an outdoor brand and have a heel strap they are ok to use. Keep in mind that they will be wet, and you will be walking around in them. Leather sandals will also get larger when soaked in water all day.

After the river trip these shoes will be a little dingy and stretched out so beware and bring old sandals.

The Blacklist of Rafting Shoes

Nope. Never. No way. These kind of shoes will float right off your feet and get lost before the trip is even over.

Flip flops

Flip flops are notorious for falling off feet, and floating away down the river. It’s not only sad to lose a pair of shoes but it’s also littering. Please do not wear flip flops on the river. However, flip flops are acceptable shoes to wear in camp at night.

Interested in Idaho whitewater rafting? Americas Rafting Co offers some of the best whitewater rafting vacations in Hells Canyon on the Snake River and on the Lower Salmon River.