Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport Review – A water shoe that doubles as a trail runner

As the name states, the Xero Shoes Aqua Sport X poses as a water shoe, but I feel it’s a whole lot more than that.

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Weight

7.5oz / 212g for men’s US9

Stack height

9mm total stack height (3.5mm lugs)
Zero Drop

Made for

Rocky dry trails
Shorter distances

Fit

Medium-Wide Toebox
High volume
True to size

Feel

Very flexible
Maximum ground feel
Great lockdown

Pros & Cons

+ Best Barefoot Trail Feel
+ Great fit + lockdown
– Too deep for some people


The lightweight package of the Aqua Sport X and the amazingly flexible outsole makes it a perfect trail runner. But it’s not without its drawbacks. 

With minimal protection and the possibility of trail damage to the upper, you don’t want to take this shoe on your next mountain trek. 

In this review, I’ll highlight the fit, feel, and durability of the Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport and help you decide if the model is for you! And if not, where to look next.

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Fit

The Aqua X Sport fit is similar to many of the other Xero Shoe models out there. Deeper, medium broad, and a fitted heel. 

What size to order?

Unlike some Xero Shoes models, you should stick true to size. My wife wears a women’s US8.5 and found the fit exactly right. The only thing to consider is sizing up if you have a wider splay and need more toe room.

xero shoes aqua x sport toebox

Is the toe box actually wide?

The Aqua X Sport’s aren’t the widest on the market, so they don’t suit those with a wide splay. Xero Shoes are wider than most conventional shoe brands but not overly wide in the barefoot space. For me, with an average width and toe splay, I love the fit, but for those with a wide splay, you may do better looking at Vivobarefoot or Lems for more room. 

There’s still a lot of depth to the toe box, which is excellent for those who tend to lift their toes. Many forget about the depth of a toe box when looking at shoes. Having a little extra room above the toes allows you to maneuver your toes in every direction. 

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Is the upper forgiving?

Because of the water shoe design, the upper is super thin and flexible. That makes the shoe very forgiving and adaptable to many foot types. A flexible upper is also excellent for optimal barefoot motion, allowing the foot to expand and flex in different directions. 

The lockdown is still great due to Xero Shoe’s strap + lacing design. With such a flexible upper, there needs to be a solution to lock the foot onto the sole. That’s achieved with Xero Shoe’s strapping + lacing system. The straps lead down either side of the shoe and around the heel, which are tightened by the lacing to lock the foot in place. I love the design, as it’s worked well for me in the past and the Aqua X Sport doesn’t seem to be different in this. 

A thin tongue is great for weight reduction but doesn’t add much protection. We’ve not seen the thin tongue on a Xero Shoe model before. While it’s small and lightweight, it offers little protection and can fold on itself quite easily (creating pressure points) if you don’t pay attention to how you lace up or do it too quickly. You also have to be a little careful not to tighten the lacing too much, as the laces can dig through the tongue and cause pressure points. 

xero shoes aqua x sport heel

Does the heel lock in place?

The combination of a flexible heel cup and a perfected strap pattern keeps your heel locked in place. Because the material at the back of the shoe is so pliable, the straps can wrap around the heel and do a great job locking it in place. I’ve run considerable mileage in designs like this and never had any rubbing or blisters. 

The use of a flexible drawstring and the lack of a second eyelet provide limited options if the fit is imperfect. I always like having options, and a second eyelet near the top of the shoe adds the option to change the lacing pattern or use a lace lock to get a great lockdown. The Aqua X Sport has no such eyelet because it’s designed for the flexy drawstring design, so you can do little if you find the fit inadequate. 

You could switch out the drawstring for a pair of thin laces to have more control over the tightness in different areas.

Will they accommodate shallow and deep feet?

I wouldn’t say they’re perfect for shallow feet, but the depth is flexible to fit most. My wife, who often doesn’t fit the vast depth of Xero Shoes, can make the Aqua Sport X work. And if you need that little extra depth, remember all Xero Shoe’s models are made with the option to remove the insole to gain a little more depth.

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport

Feel

Is the flexibility like a true barefoot shoe?

The Aqua X Sport balances protection and flexibility, making it a decent trail option. Although many will not see the Aqua X Sport as a legitimate trail running shoe, its use of the same base as the Mesa Trail II means it’s a prime candidate for a cutback runner. There’s a ton of barefoot feel and some light protection underfoot. Just be aware that the shoe is minimal and lightweight in the upper. Any challenging, rugged terrain could see the shoe break down prematurely. Mellow trails (with river crossings) on hot summer days are where these shoes thrive! 

Because the upper is so streamlined, the barefoot flexibility is second to none. If barefoot trail options are what you’re looking for, this shoe could be for you. The flexibility of the outsole, paired with the forgiving upper, stays right out of the way of foot function to give a near-barefoot experience on the trail. 

xero shoes aqua x sport outsole2

What is the ground feel like?

You feel every rock and crack with only 5.5mm underfoot and 3.5mm of lug depth. As I mentioned above, the sole is the same as the Mesa Trail II, one of my favorite trail shoes of all time! The lug depth is deep enough for light mud, and the low stack height allows you to feel every little rock underfoot. That’s great for barefoot training; just tread lightly!

How well does the Aqua X Sport drain? 

Most of the upper has huge gaps to help any water drain straight out. As this is a water shoe, you want it to drain optimally. With the loose weave upper, all water will flow in and out freely –which is just what you want from a water shoe. 

If water seeps into the midsole, it’ll stay squishy because there are no holes in the outsole. The only drawback with water drainage is the lack of holes through the sole. It could mean water gets trapped in the insole, and you could have a pretty squelchy run! 

xero shoes aqua x sport upper holes

Are the shoes zero-drop?

As with every Xero Shoe, the Aqua X Sport is 100% zero drop, built with barefoot in mind. Coming from a barefoot brand, I shouldn’t have to say this, but yes, all Xero Shoes are zero-drop. Meaning the heel sits at the same height as the forefoot. You want this for barefoot training to achieve an optimal gait.

What type of runs are they suited too?

Because of their minimal nature, they’re best for shorter, smoother trail runs. I would take the Aqua X Sport’s out on shorter, mellow runs. Runs where I want to go slowly and focus on my barefoot gait. Because there’s a lack of protection around the shoe, I wouldn’t be taking it into the high alpine.

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport

Durability

Can the upper withstand scuffs and scrapes?

Compared to other trail options, there’s very little protection. The overlays around the shoe are almost superficial and will not protect the feet. If you kick a rock, it’s going to hurt! Just don’t take these on super rocky routes and you’ll be fine. 

The overlays on the side of the shoe do not extend very high, so be careful on those rocks. It’s not just your feet you’ve got to worry about; it’s the shoe’s durability, too. If you happen to catch a rock or branch, you may end up ripping the fragile upper. 

xero shoes aqua x sport overlays

How long will the outsole last?

From my experience, the outsole is damaged within 500km. After putting over 500km in my Mesa Trail II’s (same outsole as this one), the outsole is looking pretty sad. There are chunks missing and cracks appearing. It’s not exactly “worn”; it’s just damaged. Now, this could be the conditions I’ve had the shoes in, and judging from the older Mesa Trails; the outsole should go further. That’s not to say I will stop running in the Mesa Trails; they’re still runnable, but I wouldn’t rely on them in a race anymore. 

The question is, what terrain will you be using the shoes on? I found the outsole worn down much quicker on rugged, challenging terrain, which I wouldn’t suggest this shoe for, so if you were to stick to soft, sandy-like trails, you’d get plenty more life from the outsole. 

Is the build high quality?

Other than shoe sizing, Xero Shoes have found a quality in the shoes they’re producing. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly impressed with the quality of Xero Shoes. The newer shoes look sleek and well-made. I’d now say the designs and build quality are getting near that of Vivobarefoot, which I’ve long admired. 

Light stitching is used where required, and otherwise, overlays are used to protect the upper. Sticking with the lightweight theme, only delicate single stitching is used around the lacing. Every other section uses glued components. I’ve never had any glue fail on my Xero Shoes, so I’d be confident in this design. 

xero shoes aqua x sport feel

Are there any weak points of the shoe?

There’s little to no reinforcement at the forefoot’s crease point. The crease point near the forefoot is one weak area you often see break down first. In this model, there’s no reinforcement at all, which is worrying. Only time will tell if this was the correct decision.

You should switch out the bungee laces if they start stiffening. If you want to get these shoes wet, the bungee lace will break down quickly. Primarily if used in salt water. It’s often the case that rubber band material breaks down quickly when it goes through wet/dry cycles. But that’s not a huge issue; switching them out with a thin pair of laces will work fine. 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport

Conclusion

The Xero Shoes Aqua X Sport is a unique offering. But the real question is, why would you buy the shoe over the Mesa Trail II? 

I can only imagine if you’re looking to jump in and out of water often during your runs and outdoor activities –and if you’re sticking to mellow trails, the Aqua X Sport would be a great option. 

So, if you’re looking for a minimal option for water usage

If you just want a trail shoe

If you need a wider toe box

And if you need a bit of cushion

Nick
Nick

Nick is a UESCA-certified ultramarathon coach and avid barefoot runner, having over 5 years of experience in barefoot training and has competed in multiple ultra marathons wearing barefoot shoes. Starting his journey in the running industry over 10 years ago in New Zealand, Nick evolved from a running shoe salesperson to a passionate advocate for the transformative power of barefoot running. He believes in its potential to enhance running experiences for all and combines his unique insights from both personal achievements and professional coaching to guide and inspire the running community."

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