Decisions surrounding whether or not to acquire waterproof hiking shoes is often one of the most contentious issues when it comes to outdoor gear. Each option offers its own benefits and drawbacks.
Waterproof boots are essential footwear when hiking through soggy conditions in spring, while trail runners make for excellent summer hikes. A comprehensive kit should include non-waterproof footwear to take into account dry dog days as well.
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Waterproof hiking shoes are an absolute necessity if you plan on hiking in wet weather or across muddy trails. Most waterproof hiking boots and shoes available today feature a thin membrane sandwiched between protective liners (also called “booties”). Membranes made of Gore-Tex or another waterproof material such as expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) contain millions of microscopic pores designed to block liquid water droplets while still permitting air vapor escape (“breathable”). Outer layers (usually leather or synthetic fabric) of hiking footwear are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to create a water-repellent barrier on their exterior and protect their waterproof-breathable membrane from dirt, sand, or other grime that could potentially clog and damage it.
Keep in mind, however, that while waterproof hiking shoes will keep water out, they also seal in moisture. When your shoes and socks get wet from rain or stream crossings they can quickly become uncomfortable and hot to wear – particularly when hiking at colder temperatures and wearing socks made of wool or synthetic fabric that wick moisture away quickly.
Non-waterproof hiking shoes and trail runners tend to be better choices for people hiking in warm, dry conditions. Not only will they make your feet feel cooler and more comfortable, they’ll also dry much faster than waterproof boots while protecting socks from becoming damp and damp.
Waterproof hiking shoes are still an effective choice if you plan on hiking in cold, snowy, or icy environments where there may be precipitation or slippery trail conditions. Just ensure to remove them, loosen their laces, and let them air out when stopping for lunch or camp so your feet have time to dry out properly. Brush and wipe down your waterproof hiking shoes regularly with a Nikwax Footwear Cleaner or boot conditioner so that their DWR coating remains protected, thus helping extend its waterproof-breathable membrane durability.
Breathability should be one of the top criteria when selecting hiking footwear. Your hiking shoes must allow airflow so as to prevent hot and sweaty feet during hikes; additionally, their breathability has an effect on how quickly they dry once wet.
Most waterproof hiking shoes feature a Gore-Tex membrane inside their liner to shield from water and moisture, and should be labeled accordingly. Most manufacturers also include their model number on an outside tag on the upper of these waterproof footwear products.
Waterproof shoes don’t breathe well, but they keep water out, correct? Unfortunately, however, this means that their waterproofing also seals in sweat and humidity inside the shoe, leading to uncomfortable conditions inside your feet.
Hiking shoes must be breathable to avoid foot sweating and the buildup of odors that could lead to blisters. In order to achieve good breathability, shoes must provide enough heat and humidity so as to turn sweat into moisture vapor which is then carried away by air movement; this process makes hiking shoes truly breathable.
Waterproof shoes cannot function effectively if they become damp from sweat or rain. To maintain good breathability and ensure effective waterproofing, the membrane must remain free from dirt, sand and other debris which could otherwise break it down over time.
Waterproof membranes can become damaged from debris tracked in by your shoes as you walk, becoming less effective at keeping moisture out and sweat out as the membrane wears down over time.
As such, waterproof hiking shoes are best suited to traverses through mud, rivers, or snowshoeing where there may be water present. In hotter and drier environments like desert environments however, non-waterproof but more breathable shoes could prove more suitable in order to save money and keep feet cool during hotter hikes. Furthermore, using merino wool socks may further ensure comfort during these adventures and ensure your feet don’t become overheated.
As with any shoe, weight is an important consideration when purchasing hiking boots. As weight increases with additional layers like waterproofing or padding, fatigue becomes an increasing problem over long hikes or in hot conditions.
Many hiking shoes are constructed from lightweight materials like textiles or mesh to reduce overall weight; however, this also increases their susceptibility to moisture and heat damage. Some brands provide lightweight waterproof versions of similar designs which may help alleviate additional weight.
Hiking shoes tend to be lighter than boots, yet may not offer as much comfort. Many hiking shoes combine elements from trail running shoes and traditional synthetic/leather boots into hybrid models that feature lower cuff flexibility and lighter weight for trail running while still featuring protective toe caps and synthetic/leather uppers that hold up well against rough, abrasive terrain.
Midsoles of hiking shoes are another area where choosing waterproof or non-waterproof can make a difference in comfort. EVA foam is typically the material of choice for hiking shoe midsoles as it provides high levels of cushioning while still being relatively light, while other materials, like PU, tend to provide greater resistance against compression but are heavier.
Hiking shoes typically feature waterproof membrane liners or durable water-repellent coatings to keep moisture at bay, however these must be reapplied regularly or moisture will eventually penetrate and soak through to the interior of the shoe.
In dry environments where you won’t likely become wet or covered in sweat, waterproof shoes may not be necessary. Instead, choose non-waterproof hiking shoes like Altra Lone Peak 6 or Salomon X Ultra 3 Low Aero to allow your feet to breathe more and minimize moisture buildup. However, in wet and cold environments where water and sweat may be an issue, waterproof shoes will keep your feet dry for longer.
Waterproof shoes offer some protection for wet environments like bogs or streams, reducing blisters caused by socks that rub together against wet socks. But these waterproof footwear options can sometimes be too restrictive on hot hikes. Furthermore, waterproof hiking footwear may take more effort and time to break in than non-waterproof models.
Hiking shoes and boots marketed as waterproof typically feature a Gore-Tex membrane sandwiched between their inner lining and outer shells that features billions of microscopic pores that block liquid water droplets while still allowing vapor escape through tiny vents in its structure. Most waterproof shoes also include DWR (durable water repellent) coating to maintain waterproof performance over extended use; however, over time this finish may wear off, prompting hikers to clean and reapply it periodically for optimal performance.
Waterproof hiking shoes that become waterlogged from within tend to clam up, becoming damp and clammy. To restore them back to breathable condition, loosening laces is often necessary – which may prove tedious in hot, humid conditions.
Non-waterproof hiking footwear and trail runners are generally the superior option in hot, dry environments, as their breathable uppers and mesh liners allow your feet to easily evaporate sweat, helping reduce friction that causes blisters. Adding waterproof features will add both weight and cost; so before embarking on your next hike it is wise to carefully consider whether having extra protection warrants it.
Backpackers and thru-hikers often opt for non-waterproof shoes with trail gaiters over them for extra protection in wetter environments or river crossings, while day hikers may find waterproof hiking shoes overkill on sunny trails; saving weight by forgoing these extra miles or days by going without waterproof footwear can really add up over time!