Water hikes. There’s almost nothing better.
In Israel, waterfalls and cool streams are part of the country’s best hikes. An oasis (think Ein Gedi) turns an average trail in the desert into a spectacular journey. And all of Israel’s popular long-distance treks (Yam El Yam, Israel Trail) include some sort of water element on the itinerary.
Many would-be hikers aren’t properly prepared to hike wet trails in Israel. We all have swimwear and sneakers, but for most non native Israelis, water shoes are simply not part of the standard wardrobe.
But if you like to hike, they should be. Walking wet trails in the wrong footwear is not only uncomfortable, it can also be unsafe. To keep good traction in rushing rivers, water shoes are essential. Whether you’re going on a multi-day trek, or just taking a day hike through a stream, bringing along good water shoes can make all the difference in your hiking experience.
I’ve gotten asked the question many times: can’t I just skip the water shoes? Aren’t crocs good enough? The answer is a definitive: no. Crocs are worn for comfort, flip flops for the pool. For hiking, you need hiking shoes.
Invest in a good pair of water sandals, and they’ll last you for years. Here’s what you should be looking for when picking out a pair:
What’s the biggest difference between water shoes and regular sneakers? Water sandals dry out quickly (or at least they should!) Slogging along in wet shoes is both uncomfortable and bad for your feet, leading to blisters and infections. When you purchase a pair of hiking sandals, make sure that the shoe you chose is made of quick drying material.
I’ve owned a pair of hiking water shoes that never seemed to dry. It wasn’t fun.
Probably the most important factor to consider is the way the sandal holds your foot. Just as with regular hiking shoes, you want to make sure that your feet are well supported. Slippery rocks are great places to twist your ankle. Get a shoe with straps that hold firmly onto your feet, and don’t leave them slipping around inside.
Good fit and good grip are the main differences between a water hiking sandal and regular old flip flops.
Get a Grip
Back to those twisted ankles again: you want a water hiking shoe with solid traction. A sole with plenty of ridges, made of the right material, will keep you from slipping while hiking in the water.
I can tell you from experience that the texture of your shoe’s sole makes all the difference. Take a look at the bottom of the sole before you buy the shoe. Buy something with ridges and grooves, and you’ll have a better grip. It’s that simple.
Many water sandals nowadays include features to keep them from getting smelly. This is actually super important. It helps to have a hiking shoe that seems to miraculously stay clean and odor free, no matter what kind of day you’ve had. Especially if you’re a thru hiker (or just going on vacation), having a shoe that you can put on day after day, without an odor or moisture problem, is really helpful.
Many people forget that water shoes are essentially an extra shoe. Sometimes, you’ll be wearing them for a full day. But other times, you’ll only be wearing them for part of a hike. Or bringing them along just in case. Make sure you chose a compact pair of sandals that you can easily strap to your bag.
You may think that the look of your shoe is completely unimportant, but I think it matters! You want something that you’re actually going to wear. If you hate it, you’ll be less likely to put it on. Pick water sandals that you like, and you’ll be eager to put them on your feet at every opportunity. No wet sneakers for you.
Just Do It
Use these guidelines to get the water shoes that are right for you. My favorites right now are Source brand (Shoresh, in Hebrew). They have basic models for kids and more sophisticated styles (great for adults). Bonus feature: they come with their own quick-dry pouch, so it’s easy to throw them into your bag and carry them from place to place. You can find them in any hiking store in Israel.
Remember: by failing to prepare, you prepare to fail. Save your flip flops for the beach. Invest in a good pair of water hiking shoes and you’ll be ready for every desert oasis and sparkling stream you encounter on the trail.