Gear Closet: Sperry Top-Sider SON-R Sounder Shandal


One of the holy grails of outdoor gear has always been a pair of comfortable water shoes that can be worn both on and off the water. Sure, there are plenty of great shoes out that there that perform well while boating, kayaking or hiking through lakes and streams, but wander away from the water and usually become uncomfortable to wear for a prolonged period of time. But Sperry Top-Sider hopes to change all of that with their SON-R Sounder Shandal, a shoe that looks like a light hiker, is designed like a water shoe and performs somewhere in the middle.

If you’re not familiar with Sperry Top-Sider, they’ve been designing footwear for nearly 80 years. The company has the distinction of creating the first boat shoe and since introducing it back in 1935, Sperry has continued to push the envelope in terms of shoes designed to used in and around the water. Today they have a wide variety of shoes that range from casual slip ons, sandals, oxfords and much more. But company’s legacy remains in water shoes and it is a field in which they continue to chart new territory.

The SON-R Sounder Shandal is one of their newest offerings and features a host of specialized technology. The shoe is made from quick drying and breathable mesh materials that are designed to keep the feet comfortable while limiting scuffing and abrasions. Those same fabrics allow water to drain from within the shoe, helping to further promote quick drying performance. A soft internal lining is made from anti-microbial materials that helps minimize odor while also further protecting the foot. A rubber outsole keeps its grip quite nicely, even on wet surfaces but still allows the wearer to have a sense of feedback from the ground, helping them to feel connected to the ground at all times.

So how do all of those components perform when assembled together to create the Sounder Shandal? Turns out, exceptionally well. For starters, the shoe is extremely comfortable to wear both around the water and on dry land. Soft and flexible, the Shandal feels a lot like a lightweight running shoe that just so happens to be able to shake off water with ease. True to the their word, Sperry has built a shoe that does indeed dry quickly, which is important for keeping your feet happy while transitioning from water to land and back again. These shoes make that transition so effortless in fact that you’ll barely notice when you move from one medium to another.

Of course, you can make similar claims about a other water shoes from competitors as well and what really sets the Sounder Shandal apart from the crowd is its SON-R technology. This aspect of the shoe’s design is meant to keep the foot in touch with the ground, providing good feedback on surface conditions. While wearing these shoes, your feet actually do feel in touch with the surface beneath them, whether that is rocky lake bed, the wet deck of a ship or a dry trail through the woods. As mentioned earlier, the Shandals actually feel a bit like a trail running shoe, which is a major compliment considering their intended purpose.

Kayakers in particular will find the Sounder Shandal to be a particularly good addition to their personal gear closets, especially if they find themselves having to make portages on a regular basis. The shoes are comfortable, quick drying, and drain nicely without keeping all kinds of silt or pebbles on the interior where they can rub blisters onto your feet. I think sailors will enjoy the shoes as well since they have a distinctive look, grip well on a variety of surfaces and are easy on the feet.

Obviously there are better options out there for a pure trail shoe but that isn’t what the Sounder Shandal is all about. However, aas far as water shoes go, it is tough to beat what Sperry Top-Sider has done here. They perform as well as any water shoe I’ve ever worn, they look great and they provide solid performance away from the water as well. If you’re in the market for an excellent shoe for your paddling activities, you owe it to yourself to try the Sounder Shandals. With a price tag of $90, they offer exceptional value for footwear that is built to perform like nothing else on the market. Give ’em a shot. I have a feeling you’re going to like them too.

Kraig Becker