It stands to reason that keeping your feet dry when hiking isn't just a matter of comfort. In some outdoor situations, wet feet can even be dangerous to your safety.
So it may seem like waterproof hiking boots are a no-brainer, and the right choice for every occasion. However, there are some drawbacks to waterproof hiking boots that may make you reconsider.
Today we'll look at the waterproof vs. non-waterproof hiking boots argument to see which is best.
Advantages of Waterproof Hiking Boots
Most high-quality hiking boots are made waterproof (or water-resistant) in two ways:
- They have a waterproof membrane inside
- They have a waterproof coating on the material of the upper part of the boot.
Hiking boots that have a Gore-Tex lining inside have the distinct advantage of the proprietary technologies that the brand specializes in.
Gore-Tex linings are waterproof, lightweight, and breathable, designed to keep you comfortable in wet conditions, but also in warm and humid conditions where breathability is needed.
Waterproof hiking boots that don't have a waterproof liner, but that only have a waterproof or water-resistant outer coating, will still keep your feet dry.
However you do it, waterproof hiking boots have a lot of great advantages.
Keep your feet dry in unpredictable weather
Even if the weather forecast is clear, forecasts aren't always accurate. If you are packing for a multi-day hike or camping trip, you are even less likely to know what the weather conditions will be in a few days, and it's better to be protected.
Easier to cross creeks, puddles, and streams
Depending on where you are hiking, you may encounter small bodies of water here and there. Even if you are careful, you may end up with wet feet, and it's easier to not have to worry about it.
Deal with wet underbrush
If you are in a humid climate, or if there has been recent rain or just heavy dew, there can be a lot of wet underbrush, dropping water onto your feet. Waterproof boots make this no problem at all.
Disadvantages of Waterproof Hiking Boots
No matter how good your waterproofing is, or how high-tech the liner is, there are still some considerable disadvantages to waterproof hiking boots that are well worth considering. Here are the primary reasons many hikers skip the waterproofing.
Loss of breathability
Even Gore-Tex and other waterproof membranes that claim to be breathable are less breathable than no membrane at all. This means that in humid environments, or when you sweat, your feet are likely to get damp anyway.
Boots are only ankle-high
In serious rain, or when crossing bodies of water, there is a high possibility that water will run down your legs from above or be deeper than the tops of your boots. In really wet conditions, waterproofing doesn't offer as much protection as you may think.
Waterproofing breaks down over time
Depending on your use and waterproofing methods, the water resistance of hiking boots will naturally reduce over time. Waterproof hiking boots need re-waterproofing once or twice a season, which can be time-consuming and not as effective as you may want.
Many hikers feel that, when they are hiking in wet or damp conditions, their feet are likely to get wet anyway, either from sweat or humidity, or rain or water on the ground, and it's better to choose a breathable hiking boot that will dry out naturally, rather than a waterproof boot that will be uncomfortably damp for a long time.
In other words, in cases where wet feet can be hazardous, it's smart to choose the waterproof hiking boots that will best protect you, and keep them well-maintained.
But in cases where wet feet don't pose a hazard, you may want to skip the waterproofing and opt for breathability instead. And it's always an option to not get waterproof hiking boots, but opt for waterproof socks instead.
Waterproof socks are a versatile way to get the advantages of a waterproof membrane when you want it, but with the flexibility to take them off, change them quickly, and dry them when needed.
Keeping your feet dry on a hike is essential, but there isn't (yet) a perfect way to do it, and it's more important to have the boots and hiking gear that work for you.
Every hiker has their preferences, and it's always best to choose the boots that suit your specific needs and the hike ahead of you.