Water-resistant sandals, waterproof hiking shoes and water-repellent hiking boots, are just a few of the outdoor footwear options available in the market. Although these three terms offer positive reinforcement to footwear options, understanding their intended function determines the suitable footwear for hiking trips.
The words waterproof, water-repellent, and water-resistant get thrown around casually in the world of outdoor gear without much regard to the differences between the three. However, to be clear about things, there are slight differences between them which, when clearly understood, helps narrow down the available footwear options.
Water-repellent and waterproof footwear differ greatly according to the kind of weatherproofing treatment they received. These materials are weaved and treated with various substances, so they become impervious to water.
Waterproof footwear is on top of the weatherproof game. The upper material used are coated with a rubber or plastic resin that is then vulcanized or baked. The result is a membrane that completely keeps water out. The problem, however, is that it also locks moisture in which makes the shoes too hot for walking during warm days.
Water-repellent footwear is either coated, sprayed, or immersed in different compounds, oils, and chemicals so that water beads up upon contact instead of seeping through. As the weatherproofing chemicals are only on the surface, they retain their natural characteristics. The breathability is not affected, so moisture is not locked in.
The secret of water-repellent men's and women's hiking boots
Water-repellent hiking boots or shoes have properties that lie between waterproof and water-resistant. This footwear can prevent more water from penetrating the shoes than water-resistant varieties, but they still pale in comparison to the impermeability of waterproof models.
Water-repellent hiking boots are coated with chemicals that prevent water from entering the shoe. The material is considered better than water-resistant fabrics since it is tightly woven. The chemical coating causes water drops to form beads when they strike the surface of the fabric.
The secret of water-repellent hiking boots is in the durable water repellent (DWR) treatment applied to them. DWR is a coating added to fabrics to make them hydrophobic. Many of the available DWR applied to finished products are fluoropolymer based. Most of the time, DWR is used in conjunction with waterproof membranes not only to stop water from penetrating the boot’s interior but also to prevent precipitation from saturating the exterior.
The older methods of applying DWR treatments involve applying a solution to the fabric. The garment is sprayed with or dipped on chemicals to acquire water-repellent properties. Recently, application of DWR treatment is done using chemical vapor deposition machinery. This process is good as it eliminates the use of hazardous and harmful solvents.
A fair warning to wearers though, DWR doesn’t last forever. Eventually, it will deteriorate, and the coating can no longer protect the footwear. However, there are ways for wearers to restore the repellency of their water-repellent hiking boots such as reapplication of chemicals.
Different DWR products are available on the market. They come in different application options. The application directions are also indicated on the label. The drawback of these reapplied coatings is that they can only last for a few outings.
Differences between waterproof and water-repellent hiking boots
Shoe stores may offer both waterproof and water-repellent hiking boots and this leaves many outdoor junkies wondering what their differences are. As previously mentioned, waterproof footwear is completely impervious to water and provides a high level of sustained water protection despite harsh conditions.
Water-repellent footwear is coated with a finish like DWR that is resistant but not impervious to water penetration. The footwear with water-repellency will lead liquids to bead up, forming drops on the surface. This can provide protection from limited precipitation but only to a limited amount of pressure.
When talking about protection from liquids, the best waterproof hiking boots top the list. These are impermeable, with an IP rating ranging from 8 and above. This means a finished product incorporated with a waterproof membrane will not be affected even if it is submerged indefinitely in water.
The drawback of waterproof footwear is, while no water gets inside, no water also gets out. Therefore, a hiker who sweats in the midst of a summer hike will have to deal with damp socks and possibly smelly feet at the end of the day.
Water-repellent hiking boots for its part may not be as impermeable but it can keep water out at a certain angle. Unlike its waterproof counterpart, breathability is not sacrificed. This makes the footwear ideal for hiking during warmer days or for hiking during a light drizzle.
Water-repellent hiking boots FAQs
Which is better between waterproof and water-repellent hiking boots?
Between the two, there is really a no better option. Choosing between the two is a matter of preference and need. Hikers need to consider the areas they will be tackling and the kind of weather these areas experience. When hiking in areas with slight dampness or rain, the water-repellent hiking boots will be enough to cover hikers.
Do they have the same price range?
There are different factors that can affect the price of footwear. Generally, between waterproof and water-repellent hiking boots, the latter is less expensive. Less material and technology are incorporated in water-repellent models which make them a little less expensive.
What are some benefits of wearing water-repellent hiking boots?
Water-repellent hiking boots bear little to no difference when it comes to comfort and style. If there is anything that differs it will be the water protection that it offers during inclement weather. The upper is coated with chemicals that can repel water.
Is there a way to know if a boot is a water-repellent?
Shoe manufacturers mostly carry a waterproofing technology as part of its name so, it would be easier to identify them from other footwear options. Some companies also use the patented technologies that they have carried on the labels of shoes. Buyers can check the label of the footwear that they want to purchase to verify the properties and technologies they are made with. And, if in doubt, buyers can politely ask the store attendants regarding the boot’s properties. Alternately, if you already have an idea of which hiking boot model to buy, you can check the product description on the brand website or online shoe retailers to see its features.
Are water-repellent hiking boots easy to find?
Water-repellent hiking boots are not as abundant as waterproof boots but there are plenty of options that hikers can get off the rack or through online stores. There are major outdoor brands that offer the water-repellent versions in their outdoor footwear line.
What are other considerations when buying water-repellent hiking boots?
Just like in buying any footwear, those who are looking for water-repellent hiking boots need to be careful with their choices. Here are a few things to consider when buying a reliable pair for hiking:
Comfort. Look for something that is comfortable. The style, the price, and even the capacity to keep water out mean nothing if the boots are uncomfortable. Comfort is paramount when purchasing hiking boots.
The number of options available. Looking for a pair of water-repellent hiking boots should not feel like searching for the needle in a haystack. Hikers can look around and check the offerings of brands apart from those they have gotten used to. It may be more rewarding to find the right pair in unexpected places.
The terrain. It is also important for hikers to consider the terrain they will be tackling. Water-repellent hiking boots provide ample ankle support for hiking over more technical trails and when carrying a backpack.
The price. Water-repellent hiking boots are more affordable than waterproof options. There is a great chance that hikers can find a pair that will fit their budget.
Will water-repellent hiking boots maintain their water repellency?
Outdoor footwear is exposed to different types of elements that could also greatly affect its look and performance. The water-repellent coating in water-repellent hiking boots are perfect in the first few times they are worn on the trail. Eventually, when the upper wears out, the same thing happens to the protective coating. As a result, water may leak into the boots which should prompt wearers to get a new one or re-coat it.
Are spray-on protectors reliable?
When the coating of water-repellent hiking boots wear off, hikers can use spray-on protectors. The treatment is just a temporary solution to the problem and could only last for two to three outings. Once it wears out, it would be best to re-apply the treatment.
It is also important to use coatings that are compatible with the upper material of your water-repellent hiking boots. Using the wrong product might damage the footwear. As much as possible, use only the coating recommended by the brand. You can look at their FAQs section to see if they have recommended coating products.
10 best water repellent hiking boots
Hanwag Stuiben II
Keen Targhee Vent Mid
Adidas Terrex Free Hiker
Zamberlan 1023 Latemar NW
Inov-8 Roclite G 370
Asolo TPS 535 LTH V Evo
Zamberlan 1013 Leopard GTX
Keen Voyageur Mid
Ecco Exostrike Hydromax
Timberland Field Trekker Mid
Paul loves adventure. Over the past 20 years, he has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He’s summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races. He has worked in the outdoor industry as a whitewater and hunting guide, gear tester, copywriter, and outfitting specialist at places like The National Outdoor Leadership School, No Barriers USA, and Sierra Trading Post. He has been quoted in NYMag, NBCNews, and Business Insider to name a few.
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