"Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm." -Abraham Lincoln
When the art of sailing gets technical, having a firm foothold on the deck is critical. If you've ever had to go forward to release a snagged jib sheet or tie in a reef when the seas are snotty, then you understand the importance of being able to stand firm in the most literal sense.
I have a hard time narrowing my shoe choices when it's time to set sail for a cruise. Sometimes I like a shoe because of how it looks, sometimes because of how it feels, and other times because of how it performs. Occasionally there's a pair of shoes that checks all three boxes. Today I'm going give you the lowdown on four relatively new sailing shoes and see if any are the right place for a sailor's feet. [Check here for for a couple of the sailing shoe reviews I've done in the past].
XTRATUF Finatic: First up is a pair of modest deck/dock shoes from a company that's known for durable rubber fishing boots. Hang around on San Francisco's Pier 45 and watch what the commercial groundfish trawler crews are wearing. Odds are, many are wearing XTRATUF boots. The Finatics aren't made for commercial use, but rather a more leisure activity like sportfishing. The neoprene and Nubuck leather uppers are surprisingly comfortable, as well as water resistant. The sole is of the non-marking variety and feels just like the sole of an XTRATUF boot. There's nothing flashy about the design, but their simplicity and materials make them feel more durable than most boating shoes. Finatics go for about ~$75, but I'd be surprised if they don't last several seasons on deck. Speaking of on deck, the grip from the sole is surprisingly good on wet surfaces, considering that it looks like the tread pattern from 70's era Converse All-Stars. XTRATUF also makes a very similar "Sharkbyte" slip-on shoe and "Chumrunner" full lace-up (sneaker-style) shoe if you don't care for the docksider look of the Finatic.
Pros: Durable materials, quality construction
Cons: A bit on the heavy side and non-distinctive look
Buy these shoes if: You like the "docksider" look, and want something with great durability/utility
Lems Mariner: Want a shoe that is flat, flexible and fits the natural shape of your foot? That's the number one goal for all of the shoes from Lems. The Lems Mariner represents a very lightweight boat shoe designed to be worn without socks. "Live easy and minimal", as the Lems' slogan says. That's my kind of shoes, since I despise socks! This shoe is made from full-grain leather with just enough mesh on the upper to allow some breathing for those sockless feet. And the leather is oh so soft and smooth! It almost feels like suede. The rubber sole reminds me of something from Crocs, but a bit harder. How do they feel? Awesome! These shoes fit my feet perfectly and are so light that I'm worried I may end up skipping down the dock next summer. I'm not sure if you can tell from my picture, but the shape, particularly the front part of the shoe, is uniquely rounded and adds interest to the look. Grip is moderate, but not great on a wet surface. So maybe these aren't the best for sail changes in bad weather, but they're perfect for life at the marina. They also aren't cheap at $105, but you can't beat the comfort, style and custom look.
Pros: Very comfortable and suitable for life without socks
Cons: Pricey and probably not the choice for foul weather
Buy these shoes if: You'd rather not wear socks but want something ultra-comfortable and you spend lots of time on the dock or deck in good weather.
Sperry Shock Light 2: Sperry is probably best known in the boating shoe world for their more traditional looking Topsiders, but check out these new Shock Light 2's that should meet the needs of active sailors and racers. The keystone feature in this model is the "ASV Technology" in the heel, which Sperry says absorbs vibration and shock from hull pounding to reduce muscle fatigue. Given that I'm a patient cruising sailor, my hull rarely pounds, but I will say that these are some cushy shoes with an almost mattress-like padding for your foot. The uppers are nylon and mesh, so shedding water and drying quickly come easy. The sole has sipping on the tread, which I found to be quite grippy. These shoes easily slip on and off, but can be tightened down with the adjustable bungee strap. They come in a variety of colors, almost all of which are eye catching. The Shock Light 2's aren't even on Sperry's website yet, but look for them soon if you're interested in a sporty boat shoe that's lightweight and grippy for deck work. You can find them online at some retailers for about $90 USD.
Pros: Great grip, soft/cushy inner sole
Cons: Flashy look may not be for everyone
Buy this shoe if: You value grip and want an athletic look
Sperry H20 Escape: Here's another Sperry shoe that breaks from the traditional boat shoe look. The H20 Escape is being marketed as an amphibious shoe...a water shoe for adventure! It's lightweight, fast-drying and provides the best wet deck grip of any shoe in this review. The perorated foot bed has water channels that allow water to exit quickly (remember the name "H20 Escape"?) . The upper is extremely flexible, but provides only minimal support. The sole is a bit heavier and stiffer than the sole on the Shock Light 2 above, but the overall shoe still feels light and comfortable because of the airy upper. I personally really like the color and style of this shoe, but Sperry also offers it in both a blue and much more subtle gray if you want to be more inconspicuous. The price of entry (~$90) is steep for a water shoe, but this is a water shoe that's more versatile than most.
Pros: Excellent grip (best in the group), a true water shoe
Cons: Minimal foot support and pricey if used only as a water shoe
Buy this shoe if: You need the best possible grip and plan to be on deck in wet conditions or want a shoe that can double as your kayak/paddleboard/beach shoe
Want more choices? Read our other sailing shoe reviews before picking the right place for your feet: