Keeping your feet dry throughout the entire hike is a must. Your outdoor performance depends largely on your feet and how capable they are in traversing a trail. While wearing a pair of waterproof hiking shoes is recommended, it isn’t a guarantee your feet will stay dry the entire time you’re hiking. There are so many ways for water to enter these shoes and cause all kinds of trouble on the trail.
A hiking shoe that can fully hamper water does not exist. There are times when your feet are submerged in a stream, or you’ve been hiking under heavy rain for hours. During these situations, water will definitely enter your hiking shoes.
Unlike traditional hiking boots, waterproof hiking shoes have a short ankle height. A low-cut design makes it easier for water to enter a hiking shoe.
Raindrops trickle down your legs into the insides of your waterproof hiking shoes if you don’t take the necessary precautions. Adding a pair of waterproof gaiters to your footgear help wall off the water.
Hiking under the snowy weather can also overwhelm your waterproof hiking shoes. Snowflakes can also enter a hiking shoe without any difficulty.
Worn-out waterproof hiking shoes no longer function efficiently. Their damaged components allow water to be absorbed easily. It’s much better to get a new pair rather than suffer the consequences later on.
What you need to know about waterproof hiking shoes for men and women
A hiking shoe fitted with an additional layer of specialized fabric in its upper is considered to be waterproof. This fabric should be competent in blocking water from entering the shoe.
Waterproof hiking shoes are the undisputed champion when it comes to tropical environments. Being both waterproof and lightweight, the shoe helps outdoor enthusiasts traverse these places with ease.
Ankle flexibility is another benefit you’ll gain when wearing waterproof hiking shoes. Thanks to its low-cut design, a hiking shoe leaves your ankles exposed. Since your ankles aren’t restricted by the shoes, you can bend and twist your feet to overcome most trail obstacles. The downside is your feet aren’t supported or protected well. This alright if you’re going on day hikes on well-maintained trails.
Waterproof hiking shoes are more expensive than their standard counterparts. The inclusion of a waterproof membrane adds to the overall production cost of the shoe. Even though you’ll be paying more, the peace of mind you’ll gain is worth it.
Waterproof membranes contribute to the overall weight of a hiking shoe. The added mass isn’t noticeable when the pair is used. Even though this is the case, waterproof hiking shoes are still worlds away from hiking boots and backpacking boots in terms of weight. You can still enjoy exploring the great outdoors in a lightweight package without being burdened by wet trail conditions.
The best waterproof hiking shoes not only keep your feet dry, but they also allow moisture to escape quickly. Breathable shoes are essential to help your feet stay comfortable while you’re on the move.
The technologies behind waterproof men's and women's hiking shoes
The main component that makes waterproofness possible is a specialized membrane found in a hiking shoe’s upper. This thin fabric is installed over a significant area of an upper to blanket your foot with water protection. There are hiking footwear brands that produce their own waterproof fabric, but the industry standard is considered to be Gore-Tex.
What’s Gore-Tex and why is it the preferred choice of hikers?
Gore-Tex is a popular brand known for their waterproof fabrics. Their products are used not only in waterproof hiking shoes, but also in jackets, pants, and gloves. The membrane itself was created in 1969 by accident when Bob Gore heated polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE for short, and tugged it afterward. The result was a material that’s capable of blocking out water. Since then, the company has improved their product over the years to what it is today.
Gore-Tex membranes are characterized by their thin nature. Don’t be fooled, though, because the surface of its fabric is filled with over nine billion microscopic pores per inch. These pores are smaller than the ones on your skin, making them useful in preventing water from passing through it.
Can a hiking shoe be both breathable and waterproof?
Yes, it’s possible. The same microscopic pores that deter water also allow vapor to pass through them. Vapor molecules are smaller than those found in water. This means the moisture produced by your feet is expelled out of the shoe to prevent it from building up. By wearing waterproof hiking shoes fitted with Gore-Tex, your feet are protected from excess moisture, foul odor, and formation of blisters.
Gore-Tex produces its Extended Comfort lining that’s made for warm and humid places. This variant’s main strength is its maximum breathability, making it an excellent choice for this kind of environment. The best waterproof hiking shoes are equipped with this fabric to enhance its versatility on the trail.
Aside from a dedicated lining, is there any other component that adds waterproofness to a hiking shoe?
Waterproof hiking shoes are applied with a coating before they are shipped out. A Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish is coated on the shoe’s upper for additional water protection. Take note that this coating wears off each time you use your shoes. It’s imperative to apply a treatment solution to your shoes to preserve the coating. Be careful with some waterproofing treatments though. Use only the ones recommended by the brand because there are treatments that hamper the breathability of the liner.
The best time to use waterproof hiking shoes
For every problem, there’s a corresponding tool to reach a solution. Using waterproof hiking shoes in the environment they’re designed for gives you a lot of freedom outdoors. When used correctly, you can focus more on your adventure and worry less about the challenges you’ll face. Here are the times to use your waterproof footgear:
Hiking shoes are designed for short or moderate trails that span five to 15 miles. They’re also great for hikes that don’t exceed a single day. For outdoor excursions that take two or more days, you should go with hiking or backpacking boots.
Unpredictable weather can dampen your enthusiasm to go outdoors. Waterproof hiking shoes give you more reason to brave the rain without any worries. Your feet stand a better chance of staying dry in this kind of weather.
More often than not, you’ll encounter different bodies of water along a trail. Some of these include puddles, streams, or even rivers. Your feet are better protected from wet terrain with the use of waterproof hiking shoes.
Trails found in tropical countries are the best place to wear waterproof hiking shoes. A mishmash of wet weather and moderate trail difficulty can be overcome by this footwear.
When not to wear waterproof hiking shoes
Waterproof hiking shoes are not made for every kind of trail. In fact, using this footwear in harsher environments can be disastrous for you. Keep in mind to leave your waterproof hikers for a more appropriate footgear.
Backpacking is more taxing than a simple hike. The load you’re going to carry is heavier to compensate for your needs. Waterproof hiking shoes lack the support, durability, and traction to help you. What you need is a pair of burly backpacking boots to support your feet and protect it. The added stiffness is a boon if you’re going to embark on a multi-day excursion.
Setting your trip in a place devoid of water calls for a pair of hiking sandals. Waterproof hiking shoes are detrimental here because airflow to your feet is limited. They’ll sweat faster, thanks to hotter temperatures. If your hike won’t take too long or the trail isn’t that treacherous, a sandal will serve you better.
Even if your chosen waterproof hiking shoes are insulated, they’re still disadvantageous in a snowy environment. The low-cut design of a hiking shoe allows freezing temperatures to affect your foot. Wearing a pair of winter hiking boots addresses this concern.
Qualities of the best men's and women's waterproof hiking shoes
How a shoe fits you is its most important quality. Waterproof hiking shoes should wrap your feet like a soft glove, so your every step feels comfortable. A spacious shoe won’t be great when you’re moving around. Even with the laces tightened, a roomy hiking shoe will slip off. Plus, the insides of a shoe will constantly rub against your foot. When this happens, blisters will form and end your hike on a bad note.
On the other hand, waterproof hiking shoes that suffocate your feet is just as bad. Blood flow is restricted, and your mobility on a trail is affected as well. It’s best if you choose a hiking shoe with enough toebox room. This is crucial for your toes, especially if you’re descending from a high altitude. Giving your toes additional room helps prevent them from rubbing against the forefoot section.
Waterproof hiking shoes should not be a burden to wear. They need to be lightweight since a typical day hike lasts only for more than a couple of hours and you won’t be carrying a heavy backpack. The ideal pair needs to weigh around 800 grams. When this target weight is achieved, you’ll have a far more comfortable outdoor experience.
A good reason to upgrade from trail runners or hiking sandals is to get good traction. Waterproof hiking shoes are equipped with modern outsoles to give you better grip. Their surface contains multi-directional lugs to increase grip and help thwart debris buildup. They’re also made from high-performance rubber to withstand constant bending.
The best waterproof hiking shoes use Vibram outsoles. This Italian brand is known for manufacturing rubber outsoles for popular footwear companies. Vibram is credited for inventing the lug sole to enhance traction and stability. Their outsole innovations are often found in a lot of hiking footgear for their proven performance.
Hiking in warm or tropical settings can be quite a challenge. Most, if not all, waterproof hiking shoes are made with mesh fabric uppers. This choice of material allows air to flow. The same process also gets rid of excess moisture, which can generate a foul odor if left unchecked. It’s essential to wear a breathable pair, especially in places with tropical weather or warm temperatures.
Along with mesh fabrics, breathable waterproof liners are also handy to have. The design of Gore-Tex membranes allows air to pass through its pores, improving the breathability of a hiking shoe.
Frequently asked questions about waterproof hiking shoes
What are some add-ons to complement my waterproof hiking shoes?
Wearing a pair of merino wool socks is a good place to start. Merino wool is great at getting rid of moisture. Not to mention, they’re also capable of keeping your feet warm and snug. Whatever happens, don’t go for cotton socks. They get heavy when wet, trapping moisture in the process. Using cotton socks is a recipe for foul-smelling feet and blisters.
Another piece of gear you should consider are gaiters. They are worn over your pants and are attached to a hiking shoe. They help prevent water from trickling down your legs and into your footgear. Gaiters are a lifesaver, especially when you plan on hiking in rainy weather. Do note that there are gaiters for different activities. Choose the lightweight and breathable ones for your day hikes. Just like shoes, gaiters vary in height too.
What’s going to happen to my hiking shoes when I wade through saltwater?
Early Gore-Tex fabrics had a tendency to be affected by saltwater. Tiny bits of salt clogged up the material and ruined its ability to deter water. Thanks to years of innovation, waterproof hiking shoes with Gore-Tex liners aren’t susceptible to saltwater anymore. The microscopic-level design was revamped to compensate for this problem. As a precaution, you need to wash it down with tap water and soap to get rid of any remaining salt particles in it.
Can I resole my old pair of waterproof hiking shoes?
Seeing your hiking shoe’s outsole decline can be a cause of despair. If you don’t want to go through the whole process of searching and buying a new pair, you can have your old shoes resoled. This process is mainly done on hiking boots, but it can be applied to hiking shoes as well. Vibram launched a special service called Sole Factor to solve this particular ordeal. You can bring in your old hiking shoes, choose a new sole from the wide selection being offered, and have it resoled. After the whole process is done, it’ll feel like you’ve got a brand new pair of waterproof hiking shoes for your next adventure.
I own a waterproof hiking shoe with a damaged upper. Is there any way to restore its waterproofness?
Take a look at the damaged portion of your shoe. Check out the waterproof lining and determine how wide the affected area is. If it’s manageable, you can get a Gore-Tex repair kit to patch your shoe up. It can restore a shoe’s waterproofness but don’t expect it to perform well outdoors. If the damage is extensive, it’s wiser to get new waterproof hiking shoes.
How can I find the best waterproof hiking shoes?
Don’t limit yourself to what the big brands are offering. It’s best to check out various shoes online and what their features are. You can then go to your nearest footwear store to try a pair. Keep in mind to wear your outdoor socks and walk in them for a few steps.
Ordering online is more convenient if you know what you’re looking for. In case your waterproof hiking shoes don’t fit you or they have a defect, you should return them right away. Remember that using a problematic hiking shoe outdoors is only going to ruin your trip.
15 best waterproof hiking shoes
Arc'teryx Aerios FL GTX
La Sportiva Spire GTX
Merrell Moab Edge 2 Waterproof
Vasque Breeze III Low GTX
Adidas Terrex Swift R2 GTX
Merrell Moab 2 GTX
Salomon OUTline GTX
The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX
Arc'teryx Aerios FL Mid GTX
Keen Venture WP
Keen Explore WP
Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX
Keen Targhee III Waterproof
Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof
Vasque Mantra 2.0 GTX
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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