Xero Aqua X Sport are ultralight, super flexible, very versatile water sneakers, ideal for a wide range of paddling and other water-based pursuits in mostly warm conditions.
These good-looking aqua sneakers are made by Xero, a US-based brand that specializes in super minimalist footwear, mainly for ‘barefoot’ running on trails. (Obviously, since we’re talking about a shoe brand here, ‘barefoot’ doesn’t literally mean naked feet in this context, it means there is no midsole or heel-to-toe drop in the design, all of which are more important considerations in running shoes than they are in kayaking footwear.)
With the Aqua X Sport, Xero have taken the plunge into watersports, and produced a highly versatile, very lightweight shoe that can be used for almost any activity enjoyed along the coast, lakeside or riverbank, from kayaking, canoeing and SUPing through to wild swimming, canyoning and deepwater soloing.
Here we’re only really concerned about the shoe’s performance for paddling pursuits, but it’s worth knowing that the Xero Aqua X Sport can be used in myriad ways. For the last couple of months I have been wearing these shoes during a range of paddling adventures to see how they measure up to the more dedicated and best kayak shoes currently available.
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.
Xero Aqua X Sport: look and feel
Far from being a traditional paddling shoe, the Aqua X Sport looks more like a barefoot running shoe built with materials that work well in water – which is no surprise whatsoever, given that’s exactly what it is, and taking into account Xero’s origins and heritage.
The surprisingly pleasing result is a lightweight aqua sneaker that feels comfortable on the foot, performs well when you are out paddling and looks reasonably stylish (in a sporty way) when you get off the water.
Xero Aqua X Sport: design and materials
A minimalist sneaker, built specifically for use during watersports such as kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, the Xero Aqua X Sport shoes feature a substantial outsole armed with multiple 3.5mm dual chevron lugs, which provided the best grip on any of the water shoes I have tested this year.
The upper is made from a fairly loose-knit mesh material, which is synthetic and doesn’t absorb water, and also facilitates quick drainage. The tongue, which is partially integrated to try and avoid grit and sand getting in, is also made from a non-absorbent material that feels comfortable next to the skin.
There is a pull hoop on the heel, to help you get the shoes on nice and quickly, and they can be pretty securely tightened by the speed laces and toggle (although I wouldn’t trust them to stay on in truly boisterous conditions).
I have been wearing the Xero Aqua X Sport shoes while paddling a range of sit-inside and sit-on-top kayaks this summer, and I’ve also regularly put them on to go out for fair-weather SUPing sessions – and these are exactly the kind of environments and pursuits that this shoe was designed to deal with.
On the water they excel, with the breathable mesh upper, quick-dry lining, non-absorbent tongue all shaking off the wet stuff nice and quickly, so they remain light no matter now often they’re submerged.
Considering there is no lining between the mesh and my skin, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable these shoes felt on my feet – after a while, I genuinely forgot I had them on whilst paddling my sit-inside kayak.
Using the speed laces you can get the Aqua X Sport nice and tight on your feet in a matter of seconds, aided by a heel pull-loop, and start paddling safe in the knowledge they’re not going to fall off (unless things get really hectic, and these are not appropriate for whitewater or winter conditions).
The low ankle has some padding and an Achilles notch for extra comfort on and off the water.
There’s no thermal protection, so these are not shoes for mid-winter paddling, and they don’t have any anti-odor treatment, so time will tell if they start to get a bit funky (especially as they’re designed to be worn without socks).
There is no toe protection at all, so you need to be very careful when moving around in shallow, murky water, where stubbing injuries can occur, and the partially integrated tongue and low-cut design does mean that sand and grit can occasionally get inside the shoe.
Overall, though, I have been really impressed with he Xero Aqua X Sport shoe, which offers paddlers something a bit different, while supplying absolutely brilliant grip, good underfoot protection and superb drainage, plus some degree of support and a bucketload of versatility.
Worn in the right scenarios (casual summer paddling in a variety of boats and on boards), they’re a really good choice.
Offering exceptional grip to keep you upright during slippery put-ins and tricky portages, plus a super protective sole and a mesh upper that drains quickly while still supporting your feet and shielding you from the sun, the Xero Aqua X Sport are a brilliant option for summer kayakers and people who mix up their paddling pursuits with a range of other water-based activities.