So you’re planning on Zion’s famous river hike, and are wondering about the best shoes for hiking The Narrows. You’re not alone. The Narrows is one of the most epic hikes in the United States for good reason: you get to hike between towering canyon walls through the Virgin River. To accomplish this hike, you need to have the best shoes and gear.
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We completed this hike as a family in late June and used a variety of footwear. We also saw dozens of other hikers wearing everything from flip flops to wet suits. Here, we’ll share our experiences and recommendations so that you can select the best shoes for hiking The Narrows. Click here to jump directly to our top recommendations for the best shoes for hiking The Narrows in warm weather, or read on for more info.
The best shoes for hiking The Narrows depends on three main factors: your route, the trail conditions, and your personal preferences.
The Narrows Hike Route
The Narrows can be tackled in two ways: a day out-and-back hike starting at the bottom of the canyon (bottom-up) or a top-down hike covering the entire canyon in one or two days.
The vast majority of people hiking The Narrows do the bottom-up hike starting at the bottom of the canyon, and we’ll focus our shoe selection on this version of the hike.
If you’re hiking top-down, you’ll need a permit from the NPS and extensive preparations. If you’re considering the top-down hike, you should be an experienced hiker and already know what type of shoes to take, so we won’t cover that in this post.
Trail Conditions at The Narrows
The Narrows is a unique hike in that trail conditions can vary tremendously based on the time of year and the weather. It is extremely important that you know the trail conditions before starting your hike. The best place to get accurate trail conditions is at the Visitors Center. Talk to the rangers and get ask for the current the flow rate of the Virgin River and the weather forecast.
The Virgin River flows down the canyon at various rates depending on rainfall and snowmelt. The flow rate has a tremendous impact on your hike.
The most ideal rate is less than 50 CFS. At this rate you’ll be wading through knee deep or less water with occasional pools waist deep. The hike is moderately challenging and you have a wider choice when it comes to the best shoes for hiking The Narrows. Except during rainy years, you can expect a CFS of around 50 from late June to November.
At 75 CFS you’ll be walking through a much higher river, with thigh-deep crossings and frequent pools chest deep. Higher water can also mean colder water temperatures. At a minimum, the water will feel colder, since there is more of it. Higher, colder water will affect your choice of shoes.
At 150 CFS, The Narrows is closed to all traffic. Do not attempt to enter The Narrows at this time. Expect possible flow rates of 150 CFS or more in March through early June as the snow melts. The Narrows is also closed when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning. This risk is real, and several hikers have died over the years in flash floods and high water. Don’t risk it!
Each year is different, with different snowmelt and rain patters, so the above time windows are only approximations. Check current conditions every time you hike The Narrows.
Weather is by and large seasonal, but can still vary quite a bit, so get the latest forecast from the park rangers. In winter expect cold, sometimes freezing weather, with snow possible, with highs in the 40’s and 50’s F and lows in the 20’s and 30’s F. Cold weather hikers have a much narrower range of shoe options. See our cold weather shoe recommendations here.
Spring and fall temperatures can vary year to year, but normally see highs in the 50’s and 60’s and lows in the 30’s and 40’s. Summer is pleasant with highs in the 80’s and lows in the 50’s.
If you’re hiking in the summer, the outdoor temperature and water temperature will be much more enjoyable, and will give you a wider range of shoes to consider when looking for the best shoes for hiking The Narrows.
Best Shoes for Hiking the Narrows in Warm Weather
With all that said, what are the best shoes for hiking The Narrows? If you’re going in the summer, you have a wide range of options. Our family went in late June on a clear day with highs in the low 80’s and around 50 CFM. We wore a variety of shoes with general success. Here are the specific shoes that each of us wore and our results:
Best Shoes for Hiking The Narrows
Trevor (40 year old dad) and Reed (15 yr old boy): Merrell Tetrex Rapid Crest Water Shoe. This shoe did great as it has excellent grip on the slick rock and drains water easily. They were lightweight and showed no ill wear or signs of damage from hiking The Narrows. I tried these initially without socks and did not like the feel, so I’d recommend socks. We wore them with these great wool socks. Wool socks work well because they retain heat even when wet. UPDATE: these awesome shoes are getting harder to find, so consider the All Out Blaze Sieve Water shoe by Merrell or Merrell Hydrotrekker Water Shoe as an alternative.
Mandy (40 year old mom): Chaco X2 Sport Sandal. Mandy liked these as they had great grip and were very durable in the water. I was worried because they didn’t provide toe or side protection, but she didn’t mind a bit and did fine the whole hike. The NPS doesn’t recommend open-toed sandals, so these might not be a good choice for most people.
Emmy (13 year old girl): Kamik Kids Crab. Emmy had no complaints. It drained well and had good grip. At the time, her feet were borderline between kid and adult sizes. We opted for the kids size simply because they were cheaper. She wore them without socks. Her only complaint was that they allowed small pebbles to occasionally enter through the openings on the side and get trapped.
Abby (11 year old girl): Merrell Kids Hydro H20 Hiker Sandal. These worked well for Abby. The mesh kept out rocks and they drained will. She started out not wearing socks but soon put socks on as she was starting to develop a blister. With socks on, they were great the rest of the hike. They experienced no wear or damage as part of the hike.
Will (9 year old boy): Will had a pair of no-name closed-toe hiking sandals that he loved and insisted on wearing. They were probably a $10 pair on sale at Wal-Mart or similar that he’d worn all summer. They did surprisingly well. He wore them without socks and did fine.
Whether or not to wear socks is a personal question. Half of our family did the hike with socks, and half did it without. All were happy with their choice. If you’re on the fence, bring socks; better to have them and not need them than vice versa. Also, be sure your socks are wool (Merino wool is best). Cotton is not a good fabric when hiking in wet conditions.
Renting Neoprene Shoes and Socks for The Narrows
When we started our hike, we saw several individuals “suiting up” with rented neoprene shoes and socks. The rentals seemed to work for them and most were happy with their selection. However, we did talk to a few folks who said they wouldn’t rent next time, since they felt it was overkill or because they didn’t fit right. We haven’t rented gear for a summer hike, so I can’t comment on it other than to say we were very happy with our choice to use the shoes we already had and were comfortable with. And it was much cheaper!
From our experience, if the weather is warm and the flow rate is mild, you can opt for a wide variety of outdoor hiking shoes with good drainage and ventilation. Taking shoes that you know and trust can help you avoid surprises mid-hike. After discussing it with everyone, our favorite pair was the Merrell Tetrex Rapid Crest Water Shoe. They seemed to be designed specifically to be the best shoes for hiking The Narrows. However, Merrell has discontinued the Rapid Crest, so they can be hard to find. A great alternative is the Merrell Hydrotrekker Water Shoe.
We would also recommend taking extra pairs of Merino wool socks. You may or may not use them during the hike, based off your preference, but it’s nice to have extra socks just in case. As a bonus, if you have extra socks at the end of the hike, you can always put on a nice dry pair of socks for the hike back to the shuttle stop.
Best Shoes for Hiking The Narrows in Cool Weather
Our experience was based on hiking The Narrows during the early summer when it was fairly warm. Hiking The Narrows in the spring or fall, when weather is cooler and the water temperatures are colder, is a different proposition.
With water temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s, you need to take care of your feet if you plan to be hiking in the water for any period of time. In those cases, neoprene socks are a good choice. Neoprene traps a thin layer of water between your foot and the sock, which acts as an insulator to keep your foot warm. Some recommend wearing the neoprene socks over a pair of wool socks to make the more comfortable and trap more heat.
I researched the Argos socks which were designed for such hikes, but have not tried them myself.
Knowing that you’ll likely be wearing wool socks under neoprene socks, plan on up-sizing your hiking shoes for cool weather hikes. A popular shoe with the rental companies is the Five Ten Canyoneer. We looked at these on some of the other hikes and they seemed well built, grippy, and drained well.
However, they are a very specialty (and pricey) shoe. If you plan on returning to The Narrows again and again, or exploring other river canyons, they may be worth the investment. You might also considering renting a pair from an outfitter, but then you run the risk of hiking several miles on a shoe that is not broken in to your foot.
That said, if we were to hike The Narrows in a cooler month, we’d opt for Merino wool socks (double pair), neoprene socks, and then rent boots and dry-suits from one of the awesome outfitting shops just outside the park. We made a stop at Zion Outfitters and found them to be helpful and well-equipped.
Other Essential Gear for Hiking the Narrows
In addition to a good set of shoes, there are some other essential items that you should take to have the best experience possible.
- Trekking poles: there are almost a must for ANYONE on the river. They will help you maintain balance on the slippery rocks. They’re also helpful for the kids. This set has proved to be a good budget model for us. We would recommend one set per person, or at least one pole per person.
- Day packs/hydration packs: we snagged a couple of these packs and they worked great. Bring enough water for 1 – 2L per person or more, depending on how far you’ll be going. We used about 1 L per person in our 6-mile round trip hike. We also packed a variety of snacks, and were glad we did – hiking in the water makes you hungry!
- Sun protection: Bring sunscreen and a hat. We didn’t need it for the first part of the hike as we were in the shade in the morning hours, but as the day progressed we were glad we had them.
- Jacket or hoodie: It will be cool in the morning and you’ll be walking through cold water. The kids especially were cold starting out, but soon warmed up and shed their jackets. Keep in mind you’ll be in the water, so synthetic fibers (not cotton!) will dry faster and be lighter.
- Dry Bag : You’ll be walking in water, and there’s a good chance you’ll fall in. We had more than one in our group take a tumble. Pack anything you want to keep dry in a waterproof bag (we used big zip-locks and were fine).
- Camera: The canyon is amazing, and you’ll want your pictures to be amazing too. We took our Canon 6D; even though it was heavy and there was a risk of getting it wet, it was worth it to get great pictures.
- Custom shirts (optional): we knew we had to be wearing something special for this hike, so we designed some fun tees to celebrate the trek. You can check out our designs here.
More Family Adventure Ideas at Zion and the Surrounding Area
We think The Narrows is the best family hike at Zion, but that doesn’t mean it’s Zion’s only amazing hike. We love hiking and have tackled some of the best family hikes in the country. Here’s a few more hikes we highly recommend:
- Angels Landing at Yosemite National Park
- Half Dome at Yosemite National Park
- Fiery Furnace at Arches National Park
- Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
ZION NATIONAL PARK LOGO
Are you visiting Zion National Park and looking for a logo? We have created our National Park logos for you to make custom family road trip T-shirts, hoodies and more. You can download our National Park Logos here.
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