Footwear for water sports is not really a new concept but many people wonder why it is used for a sport like snorkeling. As with any type of footwear in general the reason is for protection. Shoes keep you from stepping on things which could potentially do damage to bare feet as well as adding a measure of protection against the elements. In most instances, footwear actually serves the same purpose but there is a lot to understand when one is making a decision as to what exactly they need.
With respect to water sports, manufacturers have a tendency to lump their footwear into one single category which is usually titled "Boots". This can cause confusion when someone is searching for water shoes or even water socks because the words boots is usually associated with footwear whose upper portion extends, at minimum to or higher than the ankle bone. In reality it can actually be broken down into a few very distinct categories which would consist of socks, water shoes, booties and boots.
One of the main purposes of water socks is to prevent or reduce chaffing that may occur when one is wearing fins. Chaffing of the foot will usually happen at the top of the foot where the foot ends and the ankle begins and is caused by the contact of this area to the foot pocket of the fin and or in the heel area for the same reason. This constant rubbing can lead to the development of blisters. Socks have also been found useful to those people who suffer allergic reactions to rubber based products as they provide a barrier between the skin and product.
Socks can be found in either a one size fits all tube design or in the fitted heeled version. The tube designs are usually made of a heavy duty lycra or some other stretchable material while the fitted version usually used a thicker nylon laminate neoprene rubber material. The later style affords a bit more cushion to the foot as well as adding a thermal insulation feature. They are primarily worn with fins that are listed as bare foot styles such as full foot or barefoot strap fins. This is especially true with the non-neoprene designs.
In most instances having the feet covered even with a lycra water sock will add a measure of protection with respect to stings from jelly fish which have to have skin to skin contact in order to sting. Many people who use the shorter booties or water shoes often add the material style socks specifically for this purpose.
These are common in the big box stores during the summer months. While these are great for walking along the beach or in the water, they are not always the best thing to be worn with fins. The reason being that most are designed not to cover the areas wear the fin may cause chaffing. There are, however, exceptions which are few and far between and they are usually manufactured by companies that also make snorkeling equipment. The sole portion of this design is usually a flexible rubber which does add comfort when walking on uneven sand. These add more protection to the feet themselves than walking in socks or in bare feet against scrapes cuts and stings.
These differ from water shoes in that they are designed to be worn with non barefoot strap style fins. They do offer thermal insulation as the uppers are usually made using various thicknesses of nylon laminate neoprene rubber. The uppers do extend to cover the areas where chaffing is likely to occur. These are usually reserved for warm water use. Designs are available in soft flexible soles and hard soles. This particular style is best suited as well as the most popular for snorkeling in warmer waters. It should be noted that these are designed for open heeled fins which require additional footwear for use.
These are what one would recognize as being a boot by a clearer sense of its actual definition. The upper portions extend well above the ankle bone of the foot often to just below the start of the calf muscle of the leg. These are often referred to as cold water boots and often use thicker neoprene material in their construction than do the wet suit booties with sole styles often available in both soft and hard.