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Mention wet feet to any runner, and you’re likely to be met with a cringe. Prolonged wet feet can make the difference between a good run, and a miserable run. Wet feet during long distance running can leave you at risk for things like blisters, hot spots, or worse, macerated feet. (If you’ve never seen or experienced trench foot, consider yourself very lucky. It’s very painful…and will make your stomach turn.) So if wet feet can be a deal breaker for runners, waterproof running shoes must be the solution, right?
There are definitely pros and cons to waterproof running shoes, and they might not be everything you expect them to be. In this post we’ll cover the pros, cons, and what type of runner waterproof running shoes might best be suited for.
What are Waterproof Running Shoes?
Waterproof running shoes feature an upper (the fabric on top of the sole that sits on the top of your foot) either made with waterproof fabric (such as Gore-Tex or NeoShell) or treated with a waterproofing coating. The seams in the upper are sealed to make sure water cannot penetrate the shoe through that fabric. There are a number of different techniques to creating a waterproof shoe, but the bottom line is, the shoe is impermeable to water.
Sounds great, right?
To a point, it definitely is. Let’s first cover the pros of waterproof running shoes.
The “Pros” of Waterproof Running Shoes
Protection Against the Elements (Dry Feet!)
This is the first and most obvious pro: waterproof shoes do keep your feet dry from outside water…to a point (we’ll discuss this further in the “cons” section.) Waterproof shoes are ideal in situations like a rainy or snowy day, or running through small puddles or shallow snow. In these situations, your feet typically become wet over time due to extended exposure to the wet elements.
The waterproof fabric is, by nature, less breathable. It makes sense, as breathable fabric is typically more porous to let heat and moisture escape. But that same fabric will also let moisture IN. Therefore, waterproof shoes cannot, by nature, be as porous (or, the pores must be smaller than the size of a water molecule). The pro to less-breathable fabric is that it can definitely help keep your feet warm in colder weather.
Typically More Durable
Waterproof fabric used in running shoes is typically much more durable. This is great if you are running through gnarly trail conditions, full of rocks, roots, thorns, or other angry plants that want to tear at the fabric of your shoes.
The Cons of Waterproof Running Shoes
Now that we’ve covered the pros, let’s go over the “cons”.
They Aren’t Waterproof in Deep Water
In other words, if you end up in a puddle that is deeper than the height of the shoe, you’re still going to get wet feet. The same goes for snow, if you get snow over the top of the shoe (and you aren’t wearing gaiters to help keep the snow out) water and moisture will enter the shoe from above.
If you get water into waterproof running shoes…it’s not getting out. The same waterproof fabric that was trying to keep your feet dry is going to be your worst enemy. Because the fabric is non permeable for moisture, it’s not going to let the water back out. I’ve definitely had to stop, take my shoe off, and pour out water from a waterproof shoe before.
Trapped water or trapped moisture is the
Not (as) Breathable
Now, the running shoe companies are going to swear that their waterproof shoes are still breathable. In my experience, that is a stretch. I’ve always found waterproof shoes to be much less breathable than standard running shoes. More often than not, my feet actually sweat – and the sweat doesn’t as readily escape, thanks to the waterproof membrane. Of course, it should be noted that I currently live and run in the swamps of South Carolina, not the frozen tundra of New England where I used to live…and where I assume these shoes might come in more handy. But, this is definitely something to keep in mind, depending on how sweaty your feet tend to get.
The process and materials of making a shoe waterproof tend to also make that shoe heavier. On average, waterproof running shoes are upwards of 10% (almost 1 – 1.5 ounces) heavier than the same, non waterproof model. To the non runner, one ounce may seem trivial. But to a long distance runner, those ounces add up over time.
Waterproofing technology comes with a cost. On average, waterproof shoes tend to cost upwards of $20-$50 more than the non-waterproof model of the same brand.
So…Who Should Run in Waterproof Shoes?
While there are seemingly as many (if not more) cons to waterproof running shoes as there are pros, these shoes definitely serve a purpose.
Personally, I would use waterproof running shoes for winter activities, such as running on packed snow or snowy roads. Of course, as mentioned above, if the snow is deeper than ankle height, chances are you’re still going to get snow into your shoes. In which case, a waterproof gaiter might be useful. Similarly, waterproof running shoes would come in handy for an extended run during a rainy day, when ground conditions are moderate (no deep puddles) but your feet may become wet over time due to exposure.
I would not recommend waterproof running shoes if you know that you’ll have stream or river crossings, deep puddles, or any other scenario where your foot will be fully submerged. In that case: your feet are going to get wet no matter what. You’d be better off in a breathable shoe that will allow the water to escape, as well as more ventilation to allow your feet to dry. out.
For those of us who do frequently encounter those deep water crossings: I promise that with the right socks, right skin care / foot lubrication regimen, and time/experience, your feet do become tougher, and accustomed to spending longer times wet while running. In short: wet feet are not the end of the world.
In conclusion, waterproof shoes may not be exactly what you hoped for (magical, dry feet forever!), but they are indeed a helpful tool to have in your arsenal of running shoes. Especially if you can find a waterproof version of a shoe model you already know and love.