If you want to spend any time sailing open water, you don’t want to be caught in the wrong footwear. The best sailing shoes are designed with special soles that can provide ultimate grip and stability as you move around on deck. Not only are sailing shoes equipped with a special sole, they’re also made out of breathable material and often designed to keep your feet nice and dry.
We’ve done our homework and reviewed several leading models of sailing shoes and boots, to help you narrow down your choices and find a pair of shoes or boots for sailing that will work with your budget, sailing needs, and activity, and even a variety of weather and water conditions.
Finding the Top Shoes and Boots for Sailing
While on our journey to find the best sailing shoes, we reviewed several leading models that didn’t make the cut. We finally narrowed it down to our top three choices, starting off with the classic boat shoes that have remained popular throughout the years and top sailing sneakers that look like your everyday sports shoe but have much more to offer.
We’ll begin by going over the classic boat shoes by Sperry, a trusted name in the industry.
Boat shoes are not only functional and affordable, they’re specifically designed for sailing and come equipped with the non-marking non-skid sole that provides the type of stability you need when you’re out for a cruise.
Best Casual Sailing Shoes-Sperry Men’s Sea Kite Sports Moc Deck Shoes
The Sea Kite classic boat shoes by Sperry aren’t just the perfect choice for casual boat wear. In fact, these shoes come equipped with a non-marking, durable sole designed for improved grip on slick surfaces. These boat shoes scored big with both beginners and pro sailors and they’re the perfect choice for sailing gear in warm climates.
Top Sailing Sneakers-Dynamic Pro Lite Musto Sailing Shoes
Musto shoes always fly off the shelves, mainly because they’re so comfortable and functional. The Dynamic Pro Lite are sporty looking sailing sneakers that are a great choice for racing and cruising. These sneakers are made out of quick-drying materials, which also make them highly breathable. The shoes feature an innovative XPL drainage design that prevents water from pooling inside the shoes, combined with a mono mesh construction that improves ventilation.
Best Racing Sailing Shoes-Musto GP Race Sailing Shoes
The GP Race sailing shoes offer a sporty look and plenty of functionality when you’re on the water. These are pro quality sailing shoes that provide all the stability and gripping power you’ll need during an intense competition or when sailing in choppy water conditions. The shoes are pretty versatile and offer the type of lightweight design sailors are looking for. They also come with a lining that’s made out of Gore-Tex, so you know the shoes are breathable, yet the liner also works to keep water out.
Leading Sailing Boots
Sailing boots are much different than sailing shoes. They tend to provide a higher level of protection against the elements and are often worn with gaiters in rough sea conditions. There are dozens of best-selling models of sailing boots available to choose from, but many of the boots we came across were popular for all the wrong reasons. If you’re searching for the best sailing boots, the price shouldn’t enter the equation. Lower priced boots may seem like the perfect choice for work or racing, but you’ll quickly notice that many of them don’t offer the type of design needed to prevent water from entering the boots or the type of breathability you need in order to keep your feet nice and dry. We’ve found the leading three models of sailing boots, starting off with a pair by Dubarry.
Best Sailing Boots-Dubarry Ultima Sailing Boots
The Ultima sailing boots by Dubarry can be used for work, racing, or recreation. They’re versatile, built strong, and come loaded with some great features including a tough Gore-Tex liner that’s designed to keep your feet dry. The boots have a built-in lycra panel located in the back that’s designed to make putting the boots on and taking them off a breeze. They also feature the type of classic look that makes the boots suitable for on or off deck use. With a reputation for lasting more than a decade, these sailing boots are at the top of their class.
Most Durable-Gore-Tex Ocean Racer Sailing Boots
The Ocean Racer sailing boots are durable, high-performance boots that are equipped with a Gore-Tex liner for ultimate breathability and protection from seawater. These boots are the perfect choice for winter sailing, work, recreational use, or racing. In the hotter months, these boots provide too much protection and may be uncomfortable to wear for a longer period of time. However, in the fall and winter, these boots will be a total asset when sailing.
Best Dinghy Racing Boots-Gill Competition Dinghy Sailing Boots
These dinghy sailing boots will keep your feet warm and dry. They come with a top of the line full grip sole that’s perfect for any onboard occasion. The boots are made out of quick-drying materials, that can keep your feet nice and warm when you’re at work or play. The innovative Gilly lacing system will keep your feet securely in place and allow you to quickly pull the boots on and off.
Sailing Shoes Buyer’s Guide
When you’re moving around on a boat, you need the best sailing shoes for sure footing. Sailing shoes feature non-marking, non-slip soles for ultimate traction. Depending on your range of activity, and the kind of boat you have, the type of sail shoes you need can vary.
We’ll go over the different types of appropriate sailing boots and shoes, and the pros and cons of each style, so you can determine which type can offer the best protection on your next sailing adventure.
The Right Sailing Footwear and Accessories
When you’re spending time in the open ocean, you may need shoes that offer ultimate protection against rain and saltwater, or you may simply need a pair of comfortable casual sailing shoes that can provide a moderate amount of traction, so you can remain upright if the waters become a little choppy. But finding the right boat shoes can become a little complicated if you don’t know where to start.
Additionally, you’ll need more sailing gear than just a good pair of shoes. If you spend a lot of time offshore sailing, then a sailing wetsuit, paired with the right footwear, can keep you warm and comfortable, even during the winter months.
For mild to moderate weather, you can easily get by with a pair of the best sailing pants designed with Gore-Tex, or another type of durable material that’s designed to protect you from the elements.
It’s All About Style
Do you need sailing shoes for casual wear or work?
Flip flops and sandals do not provide much in the way of protection since they can slip on and off easily and get caught in lines.
Sneaker style sailing shoes provide a sporty footwear solution that men and women love. They’re also perfect for active cruising, racing, and work well for a wide range of applications.
Sailing boots range from breathable and waterproof offshore boots to flexible dinghy styles.
The dinghy boot is designed to protect the feet from bruises and bumps and will provide support when trapezing or hiking out, providing top of the line gripping power.
In order to choose the right sailing shoes or boots for the job, you need to base it on what type of sailing you’ll be doing. If you’re a sailor who only uses a hiking strap and doesn’t trapeze, then your needs will be different from the crew members who are on the trapeze most of the time.
Last of all, depending on the construction and material, some dinghy boots can help to keep your feet dry and can keep your feet warmer in the winter months.
Basic Sailing Shoes
Sailing shoes, also known as deck shoes, and boat shoes, are not only designed to help you easily navigate the deck of a sailboat, they’re also made with special soles that will not damage the deck of your boat by preventing grit and small stones from becoming stuck in the tread. From the first pair of leather shoes created in the 1930s that were designed to protect the feet of sailors from rain and sea salt, to the innovative dinghy boots of today, sailing footwear has come a long way.
Thanks to the technical materials available, sailors can now push the boundaries even further, safe in the knowledge that their sailing boots and shoes are designed to withstand a wide range of conditions.
These shoes are designed for the serious sailor. They’re very hardwearing and light and use a wide variety of multidirectional grip patterns that are designed to provide ultimate protection and safety. Their shock absorbing midsoles also ensure comfort and stability, while the durable, thick outer sole works to protect the feet against the elements.
Trainers are equipped with drainage systems complete with anti-microbial technology and fast drying fabrics that are designed to keep the feet comfortable and in top condition when you’re out for an extended period of time.
Dinghy Boot Styles
Dinghy hiking boots are designed for sailors who use a hiking strap and are not for general trapezing. These boots will keep the wearer attached to the hiking strap via a reinforced upper foot area to distribute the load of the wearer’s weight against the strap.
Trapeze boots are designed primarily for trapezing. These boots feature more flexible, thinner soles that will allow your foot to mold around the gunwale when you’re trapezing. This will provide plenty of surface area connection between the boat and the wearer, which results in a better grip. This style of sailing boot also has a padded hiking strap located on the upper foot for improved hiking comfort for those times when the wind doesn’t allow you to trapeze.
The environment that comes with offshore sailing is best described as challenging. Because of this, you need a pair of sailing boots that can provide ultimate traction and warmth and protect your feet from the elements. These boots are usually made out of technical materials such as Cordura and Gore-tex, both of which will ensure long-lasting durability and protection from the cold, abrasions, and seawater, in order to keep you prepared for anything. Newer technologies provide outsoles with a thick sticky compound runner that improves your grip even in the worst conditions.
Skiff boots are designed for skiff style sailing where the wearer will never or seldom use a hiking strap but will trapeze. These sailing boots tend to be much lighter and more minimalistic in terms of construction and material compared to other styles of dinghy boots. They usually have minimal or no hiking strap reinforcement. They have more flexible and thinner soles compared to other styles of trapeze and hiking boots.
With this style of sailing boot, the uppers are incredibly flexible throughout, which makes them very comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. The neoprene’s thickness will determine how much insulation they will provide the feet. Thickness typically runs between two to five millimeters. Since neoprene is stretchy, they’ll form fit to your feet.
Basic Rubber Boots
Rubber boots are waterproof, but their design makes it difficult to keep the water from coming in at the top of the boot, due to their short height. They also do a poor job of keeping your feet warm on cold days and cool on hot days. The soles are more protective of the bottoms of the feet and are much firmer.
Your legs, ankles, and feet are constantly straining on an unstable, pitching boat. By ensuring you have boots or shoes that fit well, you can easily prevent aching, cold feet. When you try on boots, if you intend to wear them with socks, make sure you do so wearing the socks you intend to use when sailing. If you are wearing them barefoot, try them on that way.
When you try the shoes or boots on, are your toes cramped or is there sufficient room in the toe-box? The toes should be free to wiggle and there should be no side or forward pressure. Do you feel that the footbed is supporting your arch and foot? Most sailing boots don’t provide adequate arch support, so if you need more arch support you should consider replacing the existing footbed with an orthotic insert. If this is the case, make sure you try the boots on with a thin insert. With the insert, does the heel cup allow for up and down heel movement, but also feels supportive to the heel without a lot of side to side movement? This should be the case to provide you with stability and cushion in the heal, but also freedom to move athletically. The boot’s upper should be wide enough for your calf and leg to fit comfortably.
Overall, you don’t want the sailing boots to fit too tight in any area because this will cause uncofortable restriction of blood flow and cause blisters.
As we mentioned, knowing what socks you’ll be wearing, if any, with your sailing boots is also important. The socks can consist of liners designed to wick moisture from the surface of your foot, thin to thick knit socks, Gore-Tex dry suit booties, and lycra drysuit socks.
Make sure you measure your foot with your regular socks on. If you’re sailing in the winter or fall, measure your foot when wearing your cold weather socks.
Because of the major variation in foot sizes between no socks or light socks that are worn in the summer and potentially three layers in the winter when you’re sailing in a dry suit, one size of sailing shoes or boots may not meet your needs. We recommend a regular sized boot for the summer and boots that are one size bigger for winter sailing. Keep in mind, tight boots in the winter can result in cold feet.
Boots and shoes made with breathable, waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex will allow the moisture in the boot to travel to the outside of the boot, via the membrane. This process of expelling moisture is driven by the difference in temperature outside the boot compared to the temperature inside the boot.
As long as you’re wearing wicking socks, breathable boots will continuously allow the moisture to escape through the material of the boot. When you’re wearing boots for several hours at a time, your feet will feel noticeably drier.
Boots made from a non-breathable material such as rubber, are waterproof, but they have no way to get the moisture out. If you’re sweating that moisture will remain trapped in the boot until you’re able to change socks and dry the boots out.
For reduced bulk and weight and limited protection, a shorter boot is often recommended for casual use. Often, tall boots will provide the best protection. This level of protection is accomplished by maximizing the overlap between the pants and the boot’s length. Water can migrate or rush up the inside of the pants in tubulent conditions, however, if your boots are high enough, the water will be unable to make it up into the boots.
You should consider boots with gaiters if you often find yourself sailing in severe sea and weather conditions. Gaiters can be the perfect way to keep water out of the boots. A pair of gaiters can provide an additional barrier that will keep water from making its way into your boots, directing water down the sides of your boots and sides of your foot. They keep perisitant water from entering the top of your boots.
When you don’t need the type of extra protection gaiters provide, you can wear them pulled up on the boots with your pants legs pulled over the top.
Drying Out Your Sailing Boots
When you’re onboard your boat in inclement weather, drying out your boots can be very difficult. If you end up getting wet and you have to wear them anyway, make sure you change your socks as frequently as possible. If the boots are breathable, then the more you wear them the more moisture will escape from the inside of the boot. When you’re not wearing the wet boots, remove the liner in order to promote a faster drying time. You can also stuff the boots with dry rags or newspaper to help soak up the moisture faster.
Maintaining Your Sailing Shoes
The lifespan of your sailing shoes will depend on proper care. Whenever possible, rinse out the shoes with fresh water, then clean and condition them. Before storing them in a cool, dry place, make sure they’re completely dry. If they’re made out of rubber, then they will only need to be rinsed out in fresh water.
Boating shoes are designed specifically for each type of onboard activity. The key features to all modern sailing footwear are a good non-marking sole and a low-profile grip for stability on all types of wet slippery surfaces to keep you safe and secure underfoot.
The Sailing Experience
If you’re new to sailing and you’d like to learn more about this exciting sport and the skills you need to navigate sailboats like a pro, click here to read our article on how sailboats work.