Should Hiking Boots Be Waterproof?

Many newbie hikers ask themselves, “Do my hiking boots need to be waterproof or are they fine if they aren’t?” Depending on what end of the spectrum you fall on, you may prefer either the unparalleled protection offered by waterproof boots or the unrivaled breathability provided by non-waterproof footwear.

So, yes waterproof boots for hiking do exist. However, you need to know that the ability to keep water and other elements out is not the only factor to consider when choosing a pair of waterproof hiking boots. Below, we’ll be breaking down other important considerations for selecting this type of footwear.

What to Keep in Mind When Choosing Waterproof Hiking Boots

Assessing certain qualities in your moisture-proof hiking boots will help you know how far a pair can take you on your journey, literally and figuratively. Make sure to evaluate these characteristics in your water-resistant footwear:

1. Waterproof Technology

When a particular pair of hiking boots has a “waterproof” label, it means there is a waterproof membrane lining the underneath of its outer shell. This membrane has expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) and is positioned in the middle of a knit backer and a lining.

To ensure the utmost comfort for the user, all these pieces are sewn together to form a sock-like structure called a “bootie”. This “bootie” is then placed inside the boots’ upper. To ensure that the rest of the sections offer uniformity, we will be focusing on the most common waterproof technology: the Gore-Tex.

To further enhance waterproof quality, the footwear’s upper is typically made of water-resistant material or applied with durable water repellent (DWR) coating. DWR treatment, though, does not last and requires considerable effort to restore.

There are certain products, like Nikwax, that you can use to restore this water-resistant coating on your boots. Like the DWR, they also follow a wash-in or spray-on reapplication process.

2. Breathability

Focusing too much on waterproof technology might mean giving up on breathability. One of the consequences of going for footwear with an unparalleled capability of sealing out moisture is you may end up with one that is less ventilated. That choice would actually turn out to be uncomfortable, as you would find your feet to be damp and smelly by the end of the hike.

On the other hand, breathable waterproof hiking boots not only allow the dampness coming from your sweat to escape, but they also prevent water from entering your shoes. That is all thanks to their breathable mesh liners or ventilated uppers that let air flow freely inside your footwear.

In short, your waterproof boots should be equally as strong in terms of breathability and waterproof technology. Remember that too little of either element could result in your feet either getting damp from foot sweat or getting soaked from the water or moisture entering your footwear.

3. Cost and Weight

Expect to put in more money and effort into waterproof boots since the market prices them higher than their non-waterproof alternatives. A good quality pair will likely set you back around $150 in cash. It could also weigh around two pounds or more.

For non-waterproof hiking boots, expect to dish out just over 100 dollars for them. Furthermore, they will almost always weigh two or four ounces less than their waterproof counterparts.

Thinking about it, a couple of ounces don’t seem like too much in terms of weight. Nonetheless, these figures could easily add up and be felt as you hike up a steep trail.

How Effective Are Waterproof Boots?

On a scale of one to ten, you’re never going to find a pair that’s a perfect ten on the waterproof scale. It would simply be impossible unless you have a pair custom manufactured or wear plastic over your feet instead of actual footwear.

Complete waterproofness would mean sacrificing all breathability, which means your feet will end up wet from foot sweat anyway. In a nutshell, yes, your waterproof hiking boots are going to perform well enough in the water for quite some time. That is until other elements eventually start wreaking havoc on its waterproof membrane, compromising its ability to lock out moisture and keep your feet dry.

To keep your boots as waterproof as possible, make sure to clean them regularly. Of course, you must not overdo this either since constant cleaning could wear out the footwear’s material and affect its performance during your hike.

Final Thoughts

There’s no question that waterproof boots definitely do exist. In fact, a good number of hikers prefer them over their non-waterproof counterparts. What you need to keep in mind when choosing these types of footwear is to go for a model that’s equally superb in terms of waterproof technology and breathability.

In this way, for as long as the footwear’s waterproof membrane remains strong, you can prevent your feet from getting wet from the outside by locking out the moisture caused by the elements. It will also keep the inside dry by providing proper ventilation that prevents moisture from forming.