A clothes-conscious friend once looked around our boat and said “how many pairs of shoes do you take on an ocean trip?”. At the time I thought it was a hilarious question, but here I am, trying to answer it. At the time my answer was three pair of shoes onboard: sea boots, deck shoes/sandals, and walking shoes – which is about the minimum – boots for cold wet seas, deck shoes for tropical sailing, and walking shoes for shore. But which brands? I’ll mention some of my favorites.
Clearly the material your shoes are made of also matters. Leather molds onboard so avoid leather shoes. Cotton tennies can absorb salt and never dry (see post on Avoiding Cotton Clothing). Plastic, neoprene and webbing work well as long as the shoe has enough support to be good on slippery or tilted surfaces. For example, I like the comfort of classic Crocs on shore, but need more structure for a boat shoe.
If you have shoes you just want to use on shore but are not appropriate for onboard put them in a zip lock during the voyage.
Deck Shoes Onboard
My husband prefers traditional boat shoes, or bare feet. I tend to break my toes on any excuse for a protruding object, so I make myself wear shoes especially when on watch. I need a shoe that will cover my toes but won’t get wet or hold water.
I love my Keen Newport H2Os, but even better at gripping are the spider rubber soles of the Teva Omnium. The Tevas are much lighter and more flexible. However the Teva Omnium has had a persistent problem with delaminating. Mine didn’t make it a month aboard.
Although we both love crocs and brought them for use ashore, they don’t have the stability and grip that I think a good boat shoe needs.
A new choice from the Vivo Barefoot line-up are the Ultra and Ultra Pure from last year and now the Ultra II. They are also plastic shoes, but the elastic lace up keeps them stable and supportive (compared to crocs). The difference between them is that the Ultra has a removable, stretchy liner, whereas the Pure and the Ultra II don’t. The liner might be great at keeping sand away from your foot. The liner also makes a great wading shoe all by itself since there is some padding in the sole of the liner as well as the sole of the shoe. However I prefer the Ultra Pure on board because it is cooler to wear. And although you can remove the liner from the Ultra, you then also remove a good portion of the padding on the sole, but I still find it comfortable enough on board, but less optimum for rocky paths. The Ultra Pure has a slighter thicker sole. These are the most comfortable, minimal shoes I have ever had. And cute colors!
Shoes with Toes?
Another wild choice: The Vibram FiveFingers KSO. They grip great, protect your foot, while giving you the sureness of step of being barefoot. The KSO has netting on top whereas most models tend to enclose your whole foot, which I don’t think is ideal for sailing. River boating, yes.
For chilly weather down below – a pair of cuddly slippers is worth the small amount of room they take up. Just no leather or cotton.
We use the inexpensive West Marine Cruising Boots – the price is right at about $60. However they’re very flat and and kind of hard – not the most comfortable for wearing days on end (which the North Pacific requires). Dubarry looks really great – but they run about $300. Oh well.
I’m tempted to try my neoprene dive booties, great grip on bottom, and not waterproof, but retain some warmth when wet. Not for high-latitude sailing, clearly, but might do for summer off of Washington and Oregon. Has anyone tried this?
Anyone have experience with a more comfortable sea boot? Let me know!