Choosing Footwear for Tidepooling

When you’re planning a trip to the tidepools, it pays to give some advance thought to what you’ll wear on your feet. Footing on the reef can be tricky; you’ll be climbing up and down on slippery, sometimes wobbly rocks. Plus it’s a rare explorer who completely avoids stepping in a tidepool or getting splashed by incoming waves, and that water is COLD!

Over the years our volunteers, who spend dozens of hours out on the reef each year, have tried just about everything; here are some guidelines on what works — and what doesn’t!

  • The simplest solution is to wear a pair of athletic shoes nearing retirement age. They’ll give you a good grip, and when one foot inevitably slides into a shallow pool, you won’t have to worry about how to clean off the salt stain that will result when it has dried. If you choose this option, be sure to bring a pair of warm, dry socks and shoes to change into when you get back to the car. Otherwise the drive home — and any dining and shopping you plan to do along the way — may be miserable.
  • Sandals designed for watersports are an option if you don’t mind having your feet get cold to the point of numbness. They should have a good gripping sole and really secure strapping to keep your feet from sliding. Closed-toe sandals will give you a bit more protection against having your toes mashed between wobbling rocks.
  • Some visitors wear neoprene shoes or boots typically worn for snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing. Your feet will get wet, but the neoprene gives you some insulation and theoretically keeps you warm. They don’t give your foot and ankle much support, though. And the sole, while usually giving a good grip, is often quite thin, so you feel every little rock and sharp shell you step on.
  • Rubber boots seem to be the most popular footwear among our volunteers. For years now I’ve worn a pair that comes almost to my knees, which is great for wading out into shallow pools; but on the rare occasions that I misjudge depth, I do end up with a flooded boot! So I’ve learned to wear acrylic hiking socks (my favorite are Thorlos). They provide plenty of padding and warmth, and if they do get wet, they remain comfortable once I dump out the water in my boot. I know of at least one volunteer who wears chest-high waders like those used by fly fishermen, which really cuts down his chances of a flooded boot!

I’ve seen visitors tidepool in bare feet, but generally not for long; the rocks, shells, and sand make it uncomfortable. Your feet may go numb in the frigid water, making you more likely to stumble, stub a toe, or do worse damage. Flipflops are even worse; although they provide a bit of protection for the sole of your foot, a sideways slip is likely to result in a turned ankle or badly stubbed toes. And don’t even think about wearing smooth-soled slippers or high-heels onto the reef!

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