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Waterproof Boots Waterproof Boots

Waterproof Boots

The Ultimate Guide To What Makes A Boot “Waterproof"

When the weather turns sour and you need to handle slush, snow or rain it’s important to have boots that are tough enough to handle whatever the environment throws your way. Waterproof or water-resistant boots are a staple of most closets because they accomplish the smallest of miracles — keeping your feet dry in nearly any condition.

The Differences Between Waterproof, Water-Resistant (and Neither)

It’s important to first understand what “waterproof” means for boots (and what it doesn’t). On a technical level, waterproof means that water will not penetrate a material or a construction. Usually this is determined by a series of lab tests that involve soaking boots to determine how much time or how much abuse they can take before water begins to permeate the shoe.

Water resistant means footwear that is functionally or virtually waterproof - meaning they keep your feet dry under normal, daily use - even if they aren’t engineered for lab tests meant to simulate extreme conditions. For instance, all Thursday boot leathers are rated water resistant due to the natural oils, waxes and greases contained in the leather itself. Innovations like WeatherSafe™ suede also protect better than traditional oiled suede by introducing waterproof and hydrophobic compounds directly into the tanning drum.

And finally, there are shoes that are neither waterproof nor water resistant, a category that includes most sneakers and inexpensive footwear. These shoes will not keep your feet dry.

The Differences Between Waterproof, Water-Resistant (and Neither)

There are a few primary techniques that make boots able to resist water in the first place. Understanding the technology and materials used, including some of their inherent tradeoffs, will help you select the right pair of footwear for your next snowstorm.

Materials

The upper material is a key component for any waterproof boot. Synthetic materials like nylon or inexpensive leathers coated with rubber can be very effective in keeping out water, but will never look as good as high quality leather. These treatments also tend to lock in perspiration, making it difficult for the uppers to properly breathe.

Leather is a great upper material for its water resistance and breathability. Most leathers are naturally water resistant, the way in which you tan the hides will have a significant impact on how it handles water and moisture control.

If you want fine leathers that will develop a beautiful patina over time, look for those using lots of natural waxes and greases that will naturally resist water, such as Thursday Chrome or Horween Chromexcel. Oil-tanned leathers like those used in Thursday’s Rugged and Resilient boots also strongly resist water and require little upkeep. Other innovations, like WeatherSafe™ suede, introduce water-repellant compounds in the tanning drum that dramatically improve the technical performance of suede.

Materials

Construction

Construction describes how a pair of shoes is assembled and greatly impacts water resistance. While there are many ways to build a shoe to keep your feet dry, two of the most popular methods used for creating footwear to keep your feet dry are cement and Goodywear Welt Construction.

Cement construction takes the upper leather of a shoe and adheres it directly to the outsole, using only industrial-strength glue. With no stitching between the upper and the outsole, you have no channels for water to penetrate, which keeps your feet dry so long as the leather on the upper is also waterproof. Many iconic Timberland boots use this method. The downside of this method is that once the outsole wears down, the shoe is very difficult and expensive to resole.

Goodyear Welt Construction is not technically waterproof, but has been considered a “virtually waterproof” way to construct boots for the last two centuries. This is because the boots are constructed with a leather welt connecting the outsole to the leather upper. That leather welt acts as a very strong barrier to water incursion, almost like a dam holding back the elements. While this will eventually fail if you stand in a large puddle long enough, for 99% of normal use, Goodyear Welt Construction will keep your feet completely dry. These boots may be a little heavier than cement-constructed boots, but they have the additional upside of being easily resoleable, which extends the long-term life of the boot.

Construction

Design Details

There are also a few smaller features that can further improve the water resistance of a boot. While these may be useful for highly technical applications (hunting or hiking, for instance) they are not without some tradeoffs.

Gusseted tongues create a little extra protection from water entering through the tongue of the boot. This is because the base of the tongue is connected to the eyelets, as well as the vamp. Practically speaking, the additional water resistance is pretty minimal, and gusseted tongues make the boots a little bit hotter and a little harder to get into. Waterproof liners can also be sewn into boots. At a very basic level, imagine putting plastic bags over your socks before slipping into your boots. While it can keep your feet dry from the elements, this can also cause your feet to sweat, which can be equally uncomfortable.

While these design details are helpful on the margin, they pale in importance to the upper materials and construction method used.

Design Details

Finishing Treatments

Finally, there are a few things you can do to further improve water resistance after receiving your boots. There are a series of post-application wax-based sprays and treatments that can be safely applied to leather that prevent water from adhering to the leather. While waterproof leathers don’t need additional treatment out of the box, most conditioners will extend the longevity of the leather and help retain its qualities. Waterproofing compounds vary greatly in their composition and effect, which is why they should be tested in small amounts before applying to the whole shoe.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Boot

So what kind of waterproof boot is best for you? If you’re doing heavy hiking down a snowy trail for days at a time, a cement-constructed, gusseted tongue boot, with a high shaft, a liner and synthetic upper may be your best bet. If you’re looking for something that will be more versatile for all types of weather and still keep you comfortable during your daily commute, a pair of boots made with high-quality leather and Goodyear Welt Construction will do the job nicely. There are many ways to keep your feet dry - the key is to match your needs with the right type of footwear.

Choosing the Best Waterproof Boot

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