People want waterproof boots for various reasons. Some want protective footwear for farming. Others look for hiking boots capable of keeping their feet out of moisture during long outdoor pursuits. Also, we shouldn’t forget about people who want waterproof boots because they believe the more features their footwear has, the better.
We asked GritrOutdoors.com to explain what exactly makes waterproof boots waterproof, what’s the difference between waterproof and water-resistant, and what suits you best – men’s Muck boots or Gore-Tex shoes, as well as make a list of the best waterproof boots.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant Boots
We see many people using these terms interchangeably, while the water management in these two designs is fundamentally different. Even manufacturers, intentionally or not, use the term “waterproof” to describe boots that are actually water-resistant. Anyway, these two words are not synonymous. In fact, they refer to different levels of water protection.
Water-resistant shoes/boots are footwear that only lessens water penetration. They protect your feet from splashes and maybe short, mild rain. However, they won’t block water when exposed to serious amounts, like when crossing creeks or caught by prolonged/heavy rain.
On the other hand, the concept behind waterproofing is to prevent any moisture from penetrating. At this point, we should note that rubber and well-cared natural leather are the only genuinely waterproof materials. We also have neoprene, which basically is a synthetic rubber, but whether or not it’s waterproof depends on the manufacturing process. Technically speaking, only closed-cell neoprene is waterproof.
So why not just throw a pair of rubber boots on and relax? Why do we have so many boots and shoes marketed as waterproof but, in fact, perform as water-resistant? The answer is that, ideally, we want footwear that is waterproof and breathable at the same time. In real life, however, these two aspects conflict.
No matter what manufacturers say, any porous material is susceptible to water penetration. It also means it breathes. Rubber is 100% waterproof and, consequently, 100% impermeable, which means it doesn’t allow water (and air) from the outside and prevents sweat vapor from escaping. Synthetic materials, like open-cell neoprene and Gore-Tex, have pores, meaning they can transfer moisture in and out. The rule of thumb here is more waterproofing results in less breathability.
So when manufacturers claim their boots are waterproof, don’t instantly fall for it. Instead, consider what materials and what techniques they are manufactured with.
What Makes Waterproof Boots Water-Resistant
When researching different waterproof boots, you should look at the following to determine the balance between waterproofing and breathability.
Upper. In boots and shoes, the upper is the part of footwear that wraps around your foot from above. The material of the upper plays a major role in waterproof performance. Boots like the Merrell Moab 2 with mesh upper combined with cut leather won’t protect you from water but will be the most breathable option. The hyping Gore-Tex shoes and boots resist moisture to a certain extent but won’t hold against prolonged submersion. A combination of neoprene and rubber seems to be the most efficient in repelling water, but boots using these materials tend to be hot under certain conditions.
So, once the moisture is inside a water-resistant boot with a porous upper, it will evaporate much slower than it would in a breathable boot. Take that into account.
Design. Consider the design features of the boots in question to make sure they comply with your needs, which, in turn, should be dictated by the conditions under which you plan to use them, such as weather and terrain. For example, high-cut boots allow you to negotiate higher water levels, while stitched and sealed seams guarantee no leaks.
Treatments. Waterproofing treatments are applied to full-grain leather boots.
Best Waterproof Boots
Our list includes best boots and shoes very different from each other in terms of the intended application. But at the same time, we believe it will give you a better sense of direction once you learn about their designs, builds, and features.
Muck Boot Apex Mid Zip
Muck boots should be the first on your list if you want boots with the best waterproofing. A Muck Boot Company specializes in 100% waterproof designs and uses the mentioned combination of a neoprene bootie and rubber overlays. Neoprene and rubber allow for building comfortable, flexible footwear with the highest protection from water and mud. All Muck boots have their seams cemented, stitched, and rubber-sealed. The Apex Mid Zip is a great waterproof hunting boot providing excellent traction, ankle support, and shock absorption. You can also use them for dog walking, hiking, and gardening.
Muck Boot Chore Steel Toe
The Chore is probably the best waterproof work boot on the market. The basic construction is the same as in the previous Apex, but their overall design is purposed for heavy-duty applications. Besides water and mud, neoprene resists oil, a steel toe protects your feet from the injuries inflicted by fallen heavy objects, a steel shank provides additional arch support, and the outsole has an aggressive tread pattern for traction.
Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid Gore-Tex
The X Ultra 4 is considered the best waterproof hiking boot by many customers. The model uses the Gore-Tex membrane that effectively resists water splashes and rain. The use of Gore-Tex as waterproofing allows the boots to be more flexible and lighter than Mucks. They aren’t perfect for rocky terrains and heavy-load backpacking because of insufficient stiffness and a low-cut design. However, you’ll hardly find something better for moderate trails and light-load travel.
Keen Targhee III
Another great lightweight hiking boot on our list. The Targhee III uses the proprietary Keen. Dry, breathable waterproofing, the working principle behind which is similar to that of Gore-Tex. The membrane pores are big enough to let the sweat vapor out but big enough to prevent water drops from coming inside. The upper is leather and mesh.
Note. We believe Gore-Tex and similar membranes are perfect for cold or slightly wet weather and terrains. Gore-Tex makes no sense if you’re likely to encounter much water on your way or you expect the water level to be higher than the top of your boots. It still will get wet and dry much slower.
Kenetrek Hardscrabble Hiker
These massive boots are for heavy-duty applications like mountaineering, backcountry hunting, and extreme backpacking. The Hardscrabble Hiker uses a full-grain 7-inch leather upper with a one-piece vamp, reinforced double and triple stitching, and the proprietary Windtex breathable waterproof membrane.
Before purchasing one of the mentioned models or similar waterproof designs, consider the intended application very carefully because waterproofing can make or break your experience with boots. Be reasonable and hear your needs.
Featured Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash