Winter canoeing footwear

So I have my drysuit! It fits and I’ve tested it for leaks. My question is, when you are portaging in a drysuit in winter, what are you wearing on your feet? When you’re paddling, what are you wearing? If you dump and have to hike out, what are you wearing on your feet? Where are you putting all this footwear, if multiple pairs?

Right now, for short, local paddles, I’m wearing some rubber mocs that fit well enough to hike and are warm enough to paddle in, but if I dump they are going to slip off and sink to the bottom. Would dive booties be a better way to go?

I have Chotas that aren’t quite as heavy duty, but something like this would be what you’re looking for, I’d think.


I have the Boundary Boots suggested above. I don’t have a need for portages, but I don’t think they’d be great for a long hike with gear. I use mine for short distances only. I also put arch support insoles in mine. With the insoles, I could hike out in them if I had to.

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I also just got my first (semi) dry suit and am thinking of getting a pair of these one size bigger than I need so I can wear thick socks. I like max flexibility and ease of on/off for my paddling. I will bring some of those small chemical warmers to help keep my feet warm if needed. I usually take shoes off when paddling and have some big thick synthetic oversocks that I use and sometimes (like today) I also use a synthetic blanket to help keep my feet warm. For me any good size drybag is fine for carrying extra stuff (I have a Yeti duffel), I don’t expect to walk or portage far in winter. Just my two cents…may not be the best system and may not meet your needs.

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I’ve had Chota Mukluks for years. Warm Even when wet inside with wool socks.The foot tends to be a bit floppy. Short walks are OK. I don’t think they’d be good for portaging.

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Varies. I have a two-piece drysuit and for the past week have been using the bottoms as waders while I install silt cloth at my shore in the ongoing battle against erosion because of high water. For that job I wear NRS 4 mm neoprene booties.

Paddling, I wear Astral Brewess. Those are two sizes larger than my normal shoe because I have very thick SmartWool socks under the drysuit booties. Or a pair of NRS boots, similar to the Boundary Boots but without laces.

They’re stored in a large cardboard box which will be housed in a closet (with my other kayak gear) as soon as I clean out the closet. That’s a project for a cold snowy day.

Whatever you decide upon, just make sure to go up a sufficient size to handle the drysuit booties and any warm socks you may wear. Smartwool is warm, but thick.

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I use either Astral Brewers or NRS booties. The Astrals are better for walking but the booties are warmer. You might think about something like LL Bean boots in a dry bag for serious overland walking.

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Either the low cut or high top NRS water shoes. Boundary Boots are too big for my liking.

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Wading boots work well, made for fly fishing.
Chotas are favored by some canoeists.
in the old days we wore high top canvas basketball shoes.
Mostly I wear water shoes, the wet style hiking shoes. I bought them for a Grand Canyon trip and they are my regular boating shoes for all kinds of craft.

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I’ve had a pair of Kokatat Nomad high boots for about 7 years, originally intending to use them with the dry suit, and found I liked them so much I now wear them most times even in warm weather. I like that the breathable-WP upper “gaiter” can be shoved down around my ankles to keep my legs cooler on warm days and the soles are substantial and supportive enough for extended walking. Many of my local launches involve having to wade in through muck so having protection to the knees is nice even when I am wearing short pants. My only complaint is that they can be a bitch to pull on and off despite my narrowish feet and slim ankles, but I see Kokatat has revised the design on the recent models to make the ankle give more.

I used to wear Deep See 5mm shortie dive boots but they tended to fill with water during launching which meant squishy feet for the whole day. Only way to drain them is to lean back after you plop your seat in the boat And stick each foot in the air before slipping your legs under the deck.

The Nomads are pricier than the NRS Boundarys at around $130 (but I got mine on sale when they slightly changed the design). Dive booties are cheap – usually $30 to $40.

I had a pair of Chota wader overboots for a while, shorties like the Deep See dive boots, but made of perforated neoprene and with a synthetic felt sole. That was before I had a dry suit and the fact that my feet were, of course, always wet in them caused me to sell them off on consignment. They would have been perfect for a drysuit with socks though, because they drain easily so I wish I had kept them now. The synthetic soft soles were great for traction on slimy rock river beds and fairly comfortable for hiking short distances.

This does seem to be a good time to buy high boots. In checking comparitive models I see that many outfitters have broken size ranges of the Boundary discounted from $100 to $75 today – good deal if you can find one with your size. Also Dick’s (our western PA based all sports big box chain) has Neosport 5mm tall boots with hard soles for $79.


I used to have a pair of 1/2" neoprene dive boots. They didn’t keep my feet particularly warm, especially when wet.

Watch out when buying shoes with toe and/or heel bumpers. Your feet may no longer fit under the deck of your boat.

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Thank you all for the replies. I own no kayaks, only canoes, and I sit, so clearance is not a problem.

Do you kneel when paddling? I do and I often find that having stiff boots compromises my kneeling…basically my feet cramp.

Yes, I kneel.
The mukluks I use (no longer made, I fear) don’t lace as high as the boundary boots pictured and so may be a bit more flexible, but I haven’t had a problem kneeling in mine and doubt the NRS ones would be prohibitively stiff. I bought mine a bit large to accommodate extra layers of socks. They are warm enough to step out in ice water to drag over shallows or for landing/launching. I have found that if I swim in them I have to be a bit careful - I think I could kick them off with a long vigorous swim. Higher lacing may be an advantage for swimming but be a bit stiffer for kneeling. Trade-offs. The boundary boots also have a thicker sole than mine… which might be helpful for rocky portages and might bite a bit better if snow is a consideration which, I think, was something the OP was considering. The mukluks work fine with a dry suit.

Most of the time I use NRS booties which are no problem for kneeling at all but are chilly in really cold water. Again, mine are an older model, but similar to these. Great for swimming and warm enough for all but winter paddling. (They’re too tight to use with a dry suit with feet.) At the end of the day it is nice to get out of them and into something warm and dry, though.

To tell the truth, last time I did a Boundary Waters outing with rocky portages (in late November), I paddled in the mukluks and changed into a pair of regular 8" high topped work boots with vibrim (sp?) waffle-stomper soles in camp and for the only steep 200 rod portage on that trip. There was a little snow on the north facing slopes on the trail and in the pines, so the extra traction was nice. I like the traction and ankle support of regular work boots. (I often use them for winter hiking, too) On a trail a few portages out would be an inconvenient time and place suffer a twisted ankle. Changing out of the mukluks doesn’t take long…
PS: I do empathize with you - I also sometimes get leg cramps from kneeling, especially early in the season. Switching to sitting position for a while helps. I’ve had a foot simply “go to sleep” also. I can remember one early season occasion when I got stuck on a sandbar that was shallower than it looked, went to step out, and my left foot just wasn’t there… ended up kneeling with one knee in the boat and the other in the river. :blush: Felt pretty graceless on that occasion. So far my legs have always loosened up after a few outings, though. Just getting older, I guess. But I don’t think it has a lot to do with footwear.

I’m really glad this came up, because I’m struggling as well. I have the Kokatat Nomad high boots myself, and I love them…right up until water enters them from the top. Because they’re Gore-Tex, they’re basically like wearing trash bags on your legs from the knees down; they fill with water and there’s no way to get it out once you’re in your boat. I like the one comment about pushing them down since the tops are very flexible…but that won’t empty the shoe portion.

So if you do a wet re-entry, your boots will be carrying several pounds of water back into the boat with you. And if the water is deeper than the top of the boots during your put-in, same problem.

I’ve been looking at the Astral Hiyax, solely because every instructor I’ve worked with uses them. I just wonder how warm they’d be once they’re wet. They drain, but I expect that material will stay wet for a long time. Is the only option to just put up with being wet throughout the paddle? I’m wearing them over my drysuit, so I’m not actually wet, per se, but the evaporative cooling effect concerns me.

for a drysuit with feet, I don’t depend on the shoes to keep my feet warm. I just wear heavy wool socks inside the drysuit. On the outside any water shoes will do. I wear self draining water shoes. There are many water shoes that are suitable for portaging if I’m going to wear the drysuit while doing it. If not, I’ll bring along suitable hiking shoes. I have a dedicated pair of water shoes for my drysuit. I actually bring the drysuit and socks into the store to insure the shoes will be big enough to comfortably accommodate the drysuit feet and socks.


I checked Astral’s website and see the Hiyax uppers are made of the same material as the Brewer. I have a pair of the Brewess in a size large enough to accommodate a thick Smartwool sock and my drysuit booties. I cover the booties with a thin poly sock just to protect the Goretex booties from sand.

I don’t think you should be concerned that the Hiyax would stay wet, as in my experience the Astral material dries quickly. I wore them paddling when there was ice on the water and my feet were okay. On the other hand, when there is ice on the water I choose calm days and sure don’t practice re-entries.


For cold weather I use either Chota nearly knee high boots, or NRS Boundary boots. I also wear neoprene wet socks inside the boots. If my feet get cold, it’s to cold to be paddling. Anyway, never order a pair of either of these boots without being able to try them on. Unless they have changed, the sizes run small. Be sure you get them big enough to add socks inside.

Oddly, my experience has been that the Boundary boots cost less than Chotas, but I consider the NRS Boundarys to be better… NRS wet shoes are my favorites , but they are for warmer weather–which I also favor. If you ever buy wet shoes, you might as well buy a Peets boot dryer too… Trust your nose, you’ll figure out why.