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Kids’ water shoes are synonymous with summer and all the creek-wading, puddle-splashing, water strider-catching fun to be had. But the best of them can do double-duty as rock-scrambling and trail-stomping footwear as well. We put our fleet of kid testers in a range of water shoes for the first few weeks of summer, and here’s how they shook out. (Bonus: Many are now on post-4th-of-July sale.)
Keen Big Kids Sea Camp II CNX
A new model from Keen that’s lighter, more flexible, and with less material on the upper than their popular Newport and Newport Neo Sandals, the Sea Camp II proved comfortable and capable on little feet. The minimal straps allow water to flow freely in and out of the shoe, and testers liked how cushy and comfortable the EVA midsole with arch support felt. A slightly textured imprint under heels kept feet from slipping within the shoe when wet, but “little rocks get stuck there,” said our 7-year-old tester. A burly rubber outsole means these crossovers play well on land. Available in Toddler (4-7), Little Kids’ (8-13), and Big Kids’ (1-7) sizes. $50-55 Buy the Keen Big Kids Sea Camp II CNX shoe now.
Teva Hurricane Drift
As the only open-toed shoes in this roundup, these super-lightweight, full injection-molded EVA sandals are a cinch to get on and off and let little feet breathe freely while kids play in and out of water. They’re so lightweight, that our 6-year-old tester sometimes forgets he’s wearing them. “But when I step on rocks, I’m like, ‘Whoa, there’s my shoe! That’s awesome!’” he said. Parents loved that they’re easy to clean—simply spray down or wipe—and that they float in water. And kids like wearing them both with socks, “when I ride bikes,” and without. “No blisters!” said one. $30 Buy the Teva Hurricane Drift now.
Adidas Outdoor Kids Jawpaw Water Shoe
These seemingly simple slip-on shoes are feature-packed to keep little and big kids alike protected. A synthetic toecap eliminates toe-stubbing, a grippy outsole keeps kids sure-footed, and quick-drying breathable mesh—and an even more breathable air-mesh collar—means minimal funky build-up. “These are easy to get on and off and I like the three stripes. They remind me of my soccer cleats, so they’re cool,” said our 11-year-old tester, who wore them in and out of lake swimming, tubing, boating, and wading along the shore skipping rocks. The sole is uber-flexible, and lacks support for longer hikes. Available in sizes 10K-6. $40 Buy the Adidas Outdoor Kids Jawpaw Water Shoe now.
Chaco Big Kids’ Odyssey
The rubber bumper on these closed-toe sandals, combined with a mesh upper, and rugged outsole (made of 25% recycled rubber) make them summer camp-ready—able to protect on land, while staying on in water. The adjustable webbing keeps feet secure, once they’re in, but kid-testers (and their parents) thought these shoes were tricky to get in and out of—kids need to pull the tabs at the heel and on the top of the foot at once to successfully slide in their feet. Available in sizes 10-6. $60 Buy the Chaco Big Kids’ Odyssey now.
Merrell Little Kid’s Bare Steps H2O Sneaker
These shoes are called “Bare Steps” because they’re designed with the natural shape and flex of a child’s foot, with an extra wide toe box, rounded edges, and deep grooves for major flexibility. Parents love that they’re made with recycled materials, and both parents and kids like how they look—and protect—little feet like sneakers, but allow water to drain out through the mesh. One five-year-old tester appreciated the soft feel and fit of the Bare Steps, and wore them on full days at summer camp. Available in Little Kids’ sizes 4-10. $35 Buy the Merrell Little Kids’ Bare Steps H2O Sneaker now.
These sandals let water run freely in and out while protecting little toes with a rubber toe bumper. Stretchy laces combine with an adjustable hook-and-loop strap for easy on-and-off. Our 8-year-old tester wore these almost exclusively on a five-week trip around Europe with his family. “They were really good. They were so cushy,” he said. The Explorers especially excelled on a combined hiking/cliff-jumping/swimming adventure in Mallorca. Available in sizes 10-6. $39.95 Buy the L.L.Bean Explorers here.