A Sailor's Sole: Sailing Shoe Reviews

Whether you cruise on your sailboat, daysail or race, protecting your feet and having maximum grip on a wet deck should be on your priority list. Who among us sailors hasn't stubbed a toe on a deck cleat or stumbled on a slippery deck while going forward? I know some sailors who prefer bare feet while aboard, but I find that the right sailing shoes can prevent injury and mishaps while secondarily adding comfort and style. I've been sampling several shoes this spring that I think are all appropriate for sailing and boating. Have a read below and see which shoes might suit your needs [For additional reviews we've done for sailing shoes, click here].

From left to right: Fila, Keen, Merrell, Vibram

Keen Newport H2: By now everyone has seen Keen's Newport H2 sandals, as they're very popular both on the docks and on the trail. While some of this popularity undoubtedly comes from the Newport's classic good looks, I'm certain some of it has been earned through their rugged construction and wide range of uses. The footbed is called "Metatomical EVA" by Keen, but to me it's spongy rubber that provides comfort while resisting odor. Fabric footbed liners tend to soak up odor quickly in a sockless wet environment, so I really like the alternative material chosen by Keen. The upper webbing is polyester with "Aegis microbeshield", but again feels/looks like neoprene to my senses. The non-marking hard rubber sole features razor sipping and 3mm lugs. The sipping works well to provide very good wet traction on deck. The lugs are a bonus for shoreside hikes. While there are better boat-only shoes available, I think the Keen Newport H2 is the perfect balance for someone who wants versatile footwear at home, on the water and on the trail.

Pros: Rugged construction, breathable/airy sandal design, good blend of wet traction and onshore tread
Cons: Heavy, rigid sole may not provide enough "feel" underfoot for some people
Buy these shoes if: You're looking for a versatile, good looking sandal that can be worn on land or at sea

Fila Skele-Toes Bay RunnerVibram started the "barefoot" craze with their FiveFingers line of shoes a few years ago. Fila has recently joined this market with their own unique offering. Skele-Toes offer a pocketed glove-like fit, but unlike FiveFingers, the smallest two toes share a pocket and make putting Skele-Toes on your feet a bit easier. Another major difference is that Skele-Toes offer a much more rigid sole that doesn't allow your foot to flex as much. Depending on your preference, this may or may not be a good feature. The sole itself feels rugged and should offer good protection from deck hardware or rocks and other obstacles onshore. The tread pattern is the least innovative of any shoe in this review and doesn't offer sipping, but the wet traction still seems remarkably good in all but the wettest conditions. The bungee-toggle system makes tightening the Skele-Toes a cinch and the materials in the shoe's upper dries quickly when wet. These are very comfortable shoes that are lightweight and feel good on your feet.

Pros: Unique design, very comfortable, relatively affordable
Cons: Not the best wet traction, little arch support for those who need it
Buy these shoes if: You want a unique look, a good beach shoe, and don't require the very best wet traction

Merrell Barefoot Water Current Glove: Merrell has taken a different approach to the barefoot craze than either FiveFingers or Skeletoes. Merrell's Barefoot line of footwear offers a minimalist shoe with a flat footbed, but no pocketed toes. The Water Current Glove (tested here) is extremely comfortable. This shoes is the closest I've come to feeling like I'm actually barefoot. The big keys for achieving this seem to be lightweight, a form-fitting upper, and a thin flexible sole. The synthetic leather and mesh upper on the Water Current Glove dries quickly and is so well done that you won't experience any hotspots or friction points. Water drainage is accomplished easily through both toe and heel ports. The footbed itself features Aegis antimicrobial technology and has not taken on any odor as of this writing. The Water Current Glove also features a high quality, non-marking Vibram sole with sipping that provides excellent wet and dry traction on deck. These shoes grip like Gorilla Glue!

Pros: Very comfortable, very lightweight, superior wet traction
Cons: Relatively expensive, flat sipped sole is not the best for hiking/land use
Buy these shoes if: You want the best wet traction and comfort available in a sailing shoe.

Vibram FiveFingers Classic ($75): This is the most unique and potentially "love it" or "hate it" shoe in my review. Vibram FiveFingers Classics are the shoe that likely started the "barefoot" trend. I've previously reviewed FiveFingers before, but it's interesting to try them out again in comparison with all of the above shoes. First, you'll notice FiveFingers are minimalist footwear with pockets for each of your ten toes. They're comfortable but a bit strange feeling at first. You'll need practice/patience to get use to putting them on. Once on, the fully sipped sole provides good grip on deck and exception "feel". These are very lightweight shoes with no arch support, so your feet will be tired when wearing them until your muscles and posture adjust. Although they do have anti-microbial insoles, I've found that odor can accumulate if your feet sweat a lot.

Pros: Very minimalist, good wet traction, excellent for feeling the deck beneath your feet
Cons: The fit/feel is not for everyone, lack of ventilation can mean hot/sweaty feet
Buy these shoes if: You enjoy sailing barefoot, but want added traction and protection for your feet. 

Conclusion: My go-to sailing shoes from the above list will likely be the Merrell's, but I honestly like each of the shoes in this review and enjoy having a variety of choices for different weather (cold, hot, rainy, etc.). To summarize, the Keen's are a good choice for dual purpose sailing/shore shoes; the Fila's are a great beach shoe; the Merrel's are an excellent all-around sailing shoe; and the Vibram's are good for those that would rather not wear shoes on a sailboat at all.


  1. GR8 Post! I was interested in learning about the Merrell product. For the record, I love Keen's Newports so much, I've gone through innumerable pairs. Unfortunately, Doberwoman, too, loved one brand new pair to death!

  2. This and the other shoe review are very helpful, thanks. Anxious to see your review of the Crocs, too.

  3. I've worn leather boat shoes in the past, and still have a pair. My main sailing shoes are pairs of Merrell's and VFF's classics. The Merrell barefoot shoes tend to work for me the best. VFF's I like also. I have found that the classic VFF's do get kind of sweaty on humid days also leading to very noticeable odor issues. A good scrub down will do the trick. Also, depending on the movements of the foot. I've had the VFF's slip off the heal.

  4. what's the latest Merrell equivalent nowadays?


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