3 Tips For Hiking in Water and How to Keep Your Feet Dry

Last Updated on 26/03/2022


Tips For Hiking in Water and How to Keep Your Feet Dry

Hiking in water without the right footwear can lead to discomfort, blisters, and cold feet. Planning and preparation can help you to decide what footwear you should wear and whether you should carry any extra with you. Waterproof socks, fast drying shoes, and checking the waterproofness of your boots can all help make hiking in water more comfortable.

Whether you’re out in the rain in long grass or snow, hiking up a river or exploring a gorge, or having to cross a river or two on your trek, having wet feet can be uncomfortable. In this article, we’re going to look at ways to limit the impact of hiking in water on your trip. We will see what you can do in advance, as well as ways you can adapt on the trail to keep your feet blister-free.

What Are Your Options When Hiking in Water?

As with most aspects of hiking, deciding on your approach to dealing with water is best done in the planning stages. Your plan will depend on the style of wet hiking you’re facing, as well as the general weather and your experience.

Get Your Boots Wet

The most simple option here is to simply put up with the wet weather and get your boots wet. How wet your feet will get will depend on the waterproof quality of your boots as well as how deep the water is. For example, Doc Martens are not very waterproof compared to boots lined with a Gore-Tex Membrane.

If you are walking in water over ankle depth, you’re almost certainly going to get wet feet regardless of how good your walking boots are. Lower than this and you may escape with dry feet. Boots withstand varying degrees of water pressure and while a pair of boots may be adequate for hiking in long grass, they may not do so well in creeks or gorges.

We’ll have a look later on at crossing rivers with, or without boots. One of the key things to remember is that once a pair of waterproof boots are loaded with water, they do not dry out quickly. Your boots hold water and this can cause your feet to rub and lead to blisters, or can cool your feet dangerously.

Wear Breathable Footwear That Dries Out Fast

If you’re in a warm enough environment, it can be easier to embrace the wetness. Wearing non-waterproof, breathable footwear, like running trainers or lightweight hiking shoes, means your feet have no protection from water. They do allow your feet to dry quickly once you are out of the water though.

The heat from your feet will vaporize the water held in your shoes and this vapor will leave through the vents. This relies on you being active as well as wearing a pair of socks that aid the process. Crocs are often overlooked but some people do actually wear them to hike in.

In some situations, you are going to get wet feet regardless of your footwear. It can be better to give your feet the chance to dry out rather than hold moisture against your feet. This way, you can avoid blisters and cold feet and may even have dry feet by the end of the day.

Take a Second Pair of Shoes

Unless your entire hike is in water, you might want to change shoes for the river crossing, or a gorge section. A spare pair of shoes in your pack is a reliable way to ensure that you can have dry feet for the rest of the day.Theres nothing like putting on a dry and warm pair of camping slippers after a day of having wet feet.

Most people choose to carry either neoprene shoes or socks, sandals, or water shoes, for this purpose. These are all lightweight and should be enough protection against the elements. They all have benefits and drawbacks though, and you should think about water temperature, terrain and comfort before selecting your spare footwear.

Go Barefoot or Wear Just Socks

Taking off your shoes, or boots, and going barefoot is a quick and easy way to prevent you from having to put up with wet feet for the rest of the day. On short river crossings, where the river bed is not sharp and you can trust your footing, this might be the answer. The bonus to this method is that you don’t need to carry any extra footwear with you.

On longer crossings or journeys upstream, you may choose to keep your socks on. A thick pair of socks can give you enough protection against the river bed or bashing your toes against rocks. Once you reach the far banks, you can either wring your socks out, or change into a fresh pair, and you will have dry feet for the rest of the day.

river crossing

How Do You Prepare for Hiking Through Water?

What’s the best way to make sure you’re prepared before hiking in water? There are many dangers you shoukd be aware of and it is worth giving this water saftey guide a read before you attempt anything beyond your comfort zone.


When you plan your trip, you should make a note of any section of water and how it will impact your journey. If they can be avoided, this could be the time to alter your plan. If they can’t, or if you’re preparing for rain or snow, think about the best equipment or strategy you can use to counter the effects of water.


There’s no better teacher than experience. Head out with your chosen kit before your trip and practice crossing rivers, or exploring creeks. Try to replicate similar conditions to what you expect to encounter on your trip if you can.

Refine your chosen style, or scrap it and start again, depending on the results. Extra steps like enhancing the waterproofing on your boots, or trying out methods you aren’t sure about, can make all the difference.

Should You Leave Your Boots on When Crossing a River?

Whether you should leave your boots on when crossing a river is a difficult question to give a straight answer to, but we’ll try.

Boots On

Keeping your boots on at all times is usually preferable on a hike, even when crossing a river. You can protect your feet from the river bed, as well as from bashing your toes against rocks. Boots will also give you ankle support, so you are less likely to twist your ankle as you cross the river.

Once your boots are wet, though, they are likely to remain wet for the rest of the day, maybe longer. Wet boots in warm weather are less of an issue and may dry out, or at least not be a big deal. They can lead to blisters, though, and in cold weather, your feet can cool down fast and this can become dangerous.

If you are going to keep your boots on, look for stepping stones or shallower areas to cross the river. You may even be able to stop the water from going over ankle deep.

Boots Off

We all want to have dry feet on our hike and a few minutes of really wet feet is a small sacrifice for dry feet the rest of the time. If you remove your boots and socks and cross the river barefoot, you can then replace your boots on the far bank and not have to deal with wet feet.

If the riverbank is sandy, or smooth rock, you should be okay. However, you have far less grip without boots on and no protection from whatever you stand on or bump against. A slip in the middle of the river, a twisted ankle, or punctured foot, is far worse to deal with than wet feet.

If you are crossing the river barefoot, you are usually best to avoid standing on large rocks. These are often slippery or sharp and the river bed itself can usually provide better grip and comfort.

how to keep your feet dry when hiking in the rain

How to Keep Your Feet Dry when Hiking In Water

Here are our top five ways, then, of keeping your feet dry when you are hiking in water.

Wear Waterproof Boots

Most hiking boots are waterproof to an extent. These range from boots with a waterproof treatment to expensive Gore-Tex membranes. Whether these boots will keep you dry depends on just how much water you are going hiking in.

Although fishing waders are unnecessary for most hikes, rain boots can be used for shorter hikes or shallower river hikes. On longer hikes, rain boots are usually unsuitable and can lead to blisters. They do not breathe, either, so if you work hard you may end up with feet as wet from sweat as they would be from the rain.

Use Boot Wax and Other Treatments

Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather , 3.4 oz

Making sure your boots are as waterproof as possible is often the answer to keeping your feet dry. Hiking in the rain and snow can strip your boots of their waterproof qualities. You should use boot wax, or fabric-specific treatment, to reinvigorate this waterproofness.

Even boots with a membrane, such as Gore-Tex, need to be treated. Membranes rely on breathability to keep your feet dry inside and these membranes work more effectively if they are routinely cleaned and the repellent on the outer of the boots is replenished.

Wear Waterproof Socks

SEALSKINZ Unisex Waterproof All Weather Mid Length Sock, Black/Grey Marl, Large

No matter how waterproof your boots or shoes are, all waterproof garments have their limit. In snow, heavy rain, or wet grass, boots or shoes can soak through quickly. A pair of waterproof socks can go a long way to keeping your feet dry when hiking in water.

Waterproof socks pair well with running trainers, or lighter hiking shoes, as your feet can still breathe. If you are on a longer hike and only rarely expect to hike in water, they are a lightweight option for keeping your feet dry on those days.

Put Plastic Bags Over Your Socks

Plastic bags might be the oldest, cheapest, and lightest means of waterproofing your feet. A set of bread bags over your socks, and under your boots, will stop water from soaking into your socks. This is tried and tested by thousands of hikers, but that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable, or a long-term solution.

Plastic bags do not breathe and are not hard-wearing. They can lead to sweaty feet, blisters and can constrict blood flow to your toes if they pull tightly. If you’re in a tight spot, though, they might just solve a problem.

Use Neoprene Socks

RANDY SUN Men's Waterproof Neoprene Socks Hiking Wind Resistant Outdoor Wick Dry Ultra-Lightweight Liner Socks 1 Pair (Navy Blue,Medium)

Neoprene socks are waterproof, to a point, as well as being warm and offer reasonable protection from rocks and river beds. They are also lightweight and barely noticeable in a pack. They are a good option to change into before a river crossing as your feet will remain warm in the water and you can feel your way across better.

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This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

  1. […] you are doing a hike that has a lot of river crossings then you need to decide between keeping your feet dry, embracing wet feet, or taking a second pair of footwear like neoprene socks. We recommend a good […]

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