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Are FiveFingers Good Water Shoes?

by Brian Patterson » on Oct 31, 2011 12

Vibram FiveFingers have found their way into the lives of many different people and an equally large and diverse set of activities.  From old standbys such as running and hiking to more unexpected uses such as CrossFit, military operations, crazy roof jumps, tree obstacle courses, a catalyst for weight loss, and the list goes on and on.  This past summer I had the idea to possibly add another use for FiveFingers to the list:  water shoes.  It seemed logical to me that FiveFingers might make for good water shoes, so I put the hypothesis through a field test.

A Trip to Assateague Island

A large (touristy) pontoon boat that travels from Ocean City to Assateague Island

I live in Northern, VA, and the typical local beach trips are to either Ocean City, MD or Virginia Beach, VA.  My wife has been going to Ocean City every summer since she was born, so we always find ourselves there at least once a year.  This year we decided to take one of the touristy boat trips from Ocean City to Assateague Island, a local barrier island with lots of great wildlife including wild horses.  This little trip proved to be a great opportunity to try out FiveFingers as water shoes, so I donned my TrekSports and off we went.

Here I am awkwardly posing with my FiveFingers and an exploring net.

With my wife and daughters in tow, we walked up and down the shoreline of Assateague, including both trekking through the fine white sand and knee deep water.  I ran around a little bit, chased some fish, walked through the grassy areas, swam, and explored a small pond.  I tried to do as much as I could to get a good idea of how the FiveFingers performed around water.

FiveFingers as water shoes

The FiveFingers fully submerged

The Good

So that you have a frame of reference for my thoughts, consider this:  I haven’t worn traditional water shoes since I lived in Guam, and then Hawaii, 13 years ago.  While I wore them quite frequently there, I haven’t worn them since.  So my perspective is from a person who would normally be barefoot in the water.

What I liked best about wearing the TrekSports in water was that I didn’t need to be constantly aware of where I was stepping. Assateague doesn’t have a lot of rocks or critters on its shoreline, but the further you go out, the more activity there is under the water.  I’m always cognizant of where I’m stepping because I’ve hurt myself several times in the past stepping on coral, rocks, and crabs.  With FiveFingers on, however, I almost felt invincible. The TrekSports have the thickest sole of any of FiveFingers, so I was fairly confident that I could put my foot wherever I wanted.

The shoes also provided good traction across the various soggy and wet surfaces I put them on.  We all expect good traction and soles from a Vibram shoe, and the TrekSports didn’t disappoint in water.  I’ve looked at other water shoes and the bottom’s almost seem like an afterthought; that certainly isn’t the case with any pair of VFFs.

On their looks…. all of us are a little vain. If I’m going to be wearing shoes in the water, I want them to look cool.  I don’t want them to look like this:

Ugly Water Socks

A pair of typical, ugly water socks

Finally, cleanup was a snap.  I just took these into the shower with me, rinsed them with a bit of soap, made sure all the sand was out, and let them air dry on our balcony.  The next morning they were good to go.  As long as you make sure to get the sand out, you can pretty much use any FiveFinger cleaning method you fancy.

The Not So Good

After wearing these for about an hour, my biggest complaint was that there was sand in the shoes. The sand at Assateague is very fine, and a descent amount of it worked its way into the FiveFingers.  I think this would be the case for any water shoes that were cut at the ankle, and probably only water boots would keep sand out.  Nonetheless, it was uncomfortable but tolerable. Dealing with sand in the shoes will be something you’ll need to get used to if you’re going to wear them in sand a lot.

Waterlogged FiveFingers

Another thing that wasn’t so great was how heavy the shoes were when wet.  One of the great things about FiveFingers is how much protection they provide with such little weight.  However, when these things are holding water, they feel heavy.  This is particularly noticeable when you are used to be being barefoot in the water.  The water really feels like its holding your feet down with a weight.  Perhaps cheap water shoes use a material that doesn’t hold as much water and thus would feel lighter (I wouldn’t know).

Finally, an unavoidable complaint is that I’d always rather be barefoot in the water/sand than wearing shoes.  I think most people would agree… but if you really need shoes in the water because of rocks, coral, or creatures, FiveFingers are a pretty good choice.  And, if you already own FiveFingers, it makes sense to wear them in the water rather than buying a pair of water shoes for just that use.

Final Thoughts

I think the simplest way I can sum up my review is this:  For any beach or water activity, if you would be most comfortable going barefoot, do so.  You’ll only like FiveFingers as water shoes if you actually want to be wearing water shoes for the activity.  If you need foot protection for your activity, FiveFingers will do a fine job protecting the bottom of your feet.

Have you used FiveFingers as water shoes?  Or do you prefer something else for water activities?  Let us know in the comments below!

Submitted Comments

  1. Melanie says:

    I find fivefingers indispensable when playing on water with rocks under it. Not only do they protect my feet from uncomfortable gravel, but they offer vastly superior traction over slippery river rocks. Unlike shoes, which reduce your sensation to the point that you can’t balance, vffs really help a lot.

  2. My wife and I have used FiveFingers in water. For kayaking we have used the KSO (me) and Sprint (her). A problem is slippage and toe jamming on rocks and stuff when out into the water, so next summer we may use heavier duty FiveFingers.

    In particular, on a crazy hike in Indian Creek we wore instead our KSO Trek and Trek Sport. Photo of me in blue and Abby in front of me at

    Yes, there’s a problem with sand getting in, and heaviness, but overall, I was a lot happier in FiveFingers either way than in regular water shoes I have (I like my toe freedom).

    More information about the hike is available (for those who are members of the Pittsburgh hiking meetup group) at

  3. Andrea McKinley says:

    I have the Treksports as well (same color too!) and I’ve used them while hiking through waterfalls and pools. I’ve also used them to go cove swimming in areas with jagged rock and reef. They are awesome shoes for water! I love that they dry so quickly.

  4. JP says:

    I’ve worn FiveFingers KSO while coastering in Wales. Excellent for swimming in the water since they are so light weight. A bit scary at first on sharp rocks and barnacles but they protected me perfectly. The main issue was the relatively light grip on slippery surfaces. I expect the Treksports sole would work better.

  5. Jessica says:

    I remember my first pair of water shoes. I was nine years old, and I really, really wanted a pair, until I got them. They were heavy and awkward in the water, but since I wanted them so much before, my parents made me wear them. I’d imagine VFFs feel the same way.

  6. Cel Woods says:

    I have worn VFF Treksports hanging out the beach. They worked pretty good for water shoes. Dries quick and keep my feet safe from tiny rocks and broken sea shells while walking along the shore ;-)

  7. MR says:

    I too prefer to be barefoot, but I’ve worn FiveFingers KSOs swimming in lakes with unpleasantly rocky shores. Definitely not like being barefoot, but much better than aquasocks. They feel kind of awkward to swim in, but they do give a little extra paddle. I also found that they loosened in the water, so, as with my watch, I tightened the strap after swimming for a while after which they were less distracting. The glove-like fit keeps them from filling with water and becoming too heavy, and they protect very well against sharp rocks. No sand on this beach, so no problem there. I’d definitely opt for barefoot when possible, though.

  8. For the record, this year I went kayaking with the KSO Trek. This was a lot more comfortable for me than the KSO, and better when taking breaks on rocky shores.

    Also, the Indian Creek hike is coming up on Saturday, but I have bailed out of it this year because of a leg injury from last week; I would have worn the KSO Trek for that again.

  9. hillary says:

    I have used the treksport sandal for floating rivers and canyoneering which included walking through waist deep water. These sandals have the thick sole and protection for the toes but also allow water to drain. I recommend trying the treksport sandals for water activities. Sand does get in them, but it’s not too bothersome.

  10. Jesse says:

    I have a pair of VFF Komodosport LS that I specifically bought for a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago to wear in the water, beach, on concrete and basically everywhere. They were the best things I could have ever bought for my feet. I have now worn the same pair to 2 trips to Mexico and have worn them all around the resort all day long. I’m actually in Mexico as I write this review on my second trip as Im leaving tomorrow. Yesterday my girlfriend and I took a 3 mile walk on the beach. I walked at the base of the water without having to be so aware of my steps while my girlfriend complained and had to avoid rocks, shells and seaweed. At home I have a 24ftx18ft Koi pond I built with a 10ft rock waterfall. Periodically I have to enter the pond to maintain the lillies and vegetation and also have to get on the slippery rocks from the waterfall that have algae on them to maintain the flowers placed in between the rocks. I use my Komodosports on the rocks with any slipping and walk around the bottom of the pond without any worries of cutting my feel on the bottom rocks. Im not sure what Vibram suggests but I have washed them in the washing machine with cold water and thrown them in the dryer about 20 times and they still look brand new without any problems. I suggest them to anyone

  11. shaun hurley says:

    The sole is a bit stiff for surfing where you will lose the feeling of the board. They need a thinner sole or softer rubber than Vibram currently provides.

  12. Ben Samborski says:

    This was a very useful article and has made me think about getting VFFs. I don’t do barefoot running, so these would be more of a fashion statement on land but one I would like, and definitely would be handy for the water. I currently own a pair of Nike Rifts which are very comfortable for walking/hiking and I usually wear them in the water. They also get heavy but I feel the VFFs would be less heavy.

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