Do You Need Water Shoes for Snorkeling?

When it comes to snorkeling, the footwear (or lack of it) can make a big difference. While you can technically snorkel barefoot, most people prefer wearing either fins or water shoes. In this article, we will talk all about water shoes: what are they, how do they compare to snorkel fins, and do you need water shoes for snorkeling?

Purpose of Water Shoes

Water shoes are a type of footwear that are typically used for activities where the feet are likely to become wet, such as kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, wild swimming, canyoning, coasteering, or paddleboarding.

They are designed to provide protection and support to your feet while you’re in the water. Most water shoes have mesh or neoprene uppers and use a grippy rubber sole that provides better traction on land while also preventing cuts and abrasions when you’re walking in rocky terrain around the water.

Furthermore ,water shoes are lightweight and quick-drying, which makes them ideal for water sports activities. They can also help keep your feet warm in cold water. Let’s go over these benefits in more detail and how they aid you while snorkeling.

Benefits of Wearing Water Shoes for Snorkeling

Protection from Sharp Objects

Water shoes play a critical role in safeguarding your feet from potentially dangerous underwater objects. The underwater world is filled with various sharp-edged elements like rocks, corals, and shells. Even if the seabed appears smooth and sandy, hidden hazards can lurk beneath. 

A sudden step on a sharp rock or coral can result in painful cuts, bruises, or puncture wounds. In some environments, broken glass or other debris can pose a risk. 

Wearing water shoes provides a protective barrier between your feet and these dangers, ensuring that your snorkeling experience remains safe and injury-free.

Prevention of Slippery Surfaces

The aquatic environment is naturally slippery. Wet rocks, algae-covered surfaces, and muddy seabeds can be treacherous, especially when moving in and out of the water. Slips and falls are not only dangerous but can also cut short your snorkeling adventure. 

Water shoes are designed with specialized soles that offer superior grip on wet and slippery surfaces. This ensures stability and minimizes the risk of accidents, allowing snorkelers to confidently explore without the fear of slipping.

Thermal Protection

Water temperatures can vary significantly based on location, depth, and time of year. Even in tropical locations, extended exposure to water can lead to hypothermia. 

Water shoes provide an insulating layer that helps maintain the warmth of your feet. Especially in cooler waters or during longer snorkeling sessions, this added insulation can make a significant difference, ensuring comfort and reducing the risk of cold-related complications.

Bite and Sting Protection

The underwater world is a habitat for numerous marine creatures, some of which can be harmful if disturbed. Animals like stonefish, certain types of rays, or even small creatures hidden in the sand can deliver painful stings or bites. 

Additionally, brushing against certain sea anemones, jellyfish tentacles, or other marine organisms can cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. Water shoes offer a protective barrier, reducing the risk of unexpected encounters with these creatures and ensuring that snorkelers can explore with peace of mind.

Comfort and Cushioning

Engaging in snorkeling often involves more than just swimming. It might require walking or hiking to the snorkel site, traversing uneven terrains, or stepping on rough surfaces. 

Water shoes come with cushioned soles designed to provide optimal comfort, even during prolonged activities. This cushioning helps distribute pressure, reduce foot fatigue, and ensure that the journey to and from the snorkeling site is as enjoyable as the snorkeling itself.

Reduced Sand Entry

One of the common nuisances at the beach is the feeling of sand trapped inside the shoes, causing discomfort and abrasion. Traditional shoes or open sandals often allow sand to enter easily and get trapped. 

Water shoes, on the other hand, are constructed with materials and designs that minimize sand intrusion. Their snug fit and mesh-like fabric allow water to flow out while keeping the sand at bay. This means you can enjoy your snorkeling adventure without the constant annoyance of removing and shaking out your shoes.

Quick Drying

Staying in wet shoes for extended periods can be uncomfortable and might even lead to skin issues or fungal infections. Water shoes are crafted from materials specifically chosen for their quick-drying properties. 

These materials ensure that the shoes do not retain water for long, thus preventing the squishy feeling of wet shoes and reducing the chances of skin problems. This feature ensures that after coming out of the water, your feet remain dry and comfortable, allowing you to continue with your day without any hindrance.


As mentioned, water shoes are not limited to use in snorkeling. You can use them for all kinds of water activities, or even on land but in a wet environment. Therefore, if you know that you will be participating in various activities where your feet will get wet, then water shoes will be increasingly more useful for you, whereas snorkel fins can only be used for snorkeling.

Downsides of Water Shoes for Snorkeling

In this section, we go over what the tradeoffs are when you don a pair of water shoes over a pair of snorkel fins

Inefficiency in Swimming

Snorkel fins are designed to maximize swimming efficiency. By increasing the surface area of a swimmer’s feet, they allow for a greater push against the water with each kick. This design provides two main benefits. 

Firstly, it allows snorkelers to cover larger distances with fewer kicks, conserving energy. Secondly, in situations where rapid movement is necessary, such as navigating through currents or avoiding marine creatures, the increased propulsion given by fins can be invaluable. 

In contrast, water shoes lack this extended surface area. When worn without fins, they can make swimming notably slower, demanding more energy for each stroke. Over longer snorkeling sessions, this can lead to faster fatigue and a diminished experience.

Reduced Manoeuvrability

Maneuverability is crucial when snorkeling. The underwater environment is dynamic, with moving marine life, changing currents, and various terrains to navigate. Snorkel fins, with their elongated design, offer snorkelers the ability to make swift and controlled movements. 

Whether it’s a quick turn, a dive, or a rapid ascent, fins provide the agility needed for these maneuvers. Water shoes, on the other hand, do not offer the same advantage. 

Their design, primarily focused on protection, lacks the flexibility and shape required for sharp underwater movements. As a result, snorkelers might find it more challenging to navigate or react quickly to unexpected situations.

Depth Restrictions

For many snorkelers, part of the allure is the ability to dive down and get a closer look at the underwater world. Snorkel fins, given their design, support this by facilitating faster and more controlled descents into deeper waters. They aid in free-diving, allowing snorkelers to briefly explore below the surface. 

Water shoes, conversely, are generally built for shallow water activities. Their materials and construction can introduce buoyancy issues when trying to dive deeper. This buoyant nature can hinder attempts to go deeper, causing an imbalance, or making it more energy-intensive to stay submerged.

Increased Drag

Drag refers to the resistance encountered when an object moves through a fluid. In snorkeling, reducing drag is crucial for smooth and efficient swimming. 

Snorkel fins are designed with streamlined profiles to minimize this resistance, ensuring that each kick propels the snorkeler forward with minimal effort. Water shoes, however, are not built with this primary focus. 

Their broader design, combined with materials that may not be as hydrodynamic as those of fins, can introduce added resistance. This increased drag means that snorkelers will have to exert more effort to move the same distance, potentially leading to quicker exhaustion.

Compatibility Issues

For some snorkelers, the ideal solution might seem to be wearing water shoes and then slipping fins over them, combining protection and propulsion. However, this isn’t always feasible. 

Many snorkel fins are designed to fit snugly on bare feet or over thin neoprene socks. Adding the bulk of a water shoe can lead to compatibility issues. 

The fin might either be too tight, causing discomfort, or not fit at all. Even if one manages to wear them together, the altered fit can impact the efficiency of the fin, reduce power transfer, or potentially cause blisters due to uneven pressure points. 

You should either wear water shoes or snorkel fins, not both at the same time, and which one you choose depends on your needs.

Are Water Shoes Necessary? The Verdict

Water shoes are not necessary for snorkeling, but they can be helpful in certain situations. For instance, if you plan on snorkeling from the shore, the walk towards the water can be rocky and slippery, so wearing water shoes can provide extra protection and traction.

Water shoes are also useful if you’re snorkeling in an area with a lot of coral or other sharp objects. They can help protect your feet from cuts and scrapes. There are other benefits, but they are quite minor in the grand scheme of things.

However, when it comes to how well water shoes help you swim in the water, they are cumbersome compared to snorkel fins. That said, if walking to and from the water is your biggest hurdle, then perhaps water shoes are necessary for you.

If you will be snorkeling from a boat, you can still have a pair of water shoes on hand for use on the boat deck, but for snorkeling, you can just enter the water with your snorkel fins on.