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Waterproof Shoe or not?

I'm in need of some new boots for my upcoming trip out west this summer. And I'm trying to lighten my load on my feet, and considering a trail runner, or a mid boot.

My question is, what is your take on the importance of a water proof shoe? I see a lot of good quality water proof shoes, but none of them look very breathable.

I mean, I am not going to be walking through giant puddles to the best of my ability, but what about if it starts heavily raining?

I've been blessed so far, as I've been a long time day hiker, and just over the last year and a half gotten into backpacking and I have never got caught in the rain. But that can't last forever.


Take a lot of extra socks.

Well, one solution is to use VBLs or neoprene socks. But what I have found is that a good pair of full leather boots, properly treated with the manufacturer's recommended waterproofing compound, provides plenty of waterproofness with breathability. Goretex lined boots do not breathe well, although eVent lined ones are slightly better. My brief experience with gtx boots found my socks soaked with perspiration after just a few miles of summer hiking, just as quickly as approaches that used my double plastic boots.

Trail running shoes and other mesh-top footwear let in dust when it is dry and water when it rains. So I only use them when the trails are firm and not dusty (many Western trails qualify, but many do not). Then again, it doesn't rain all that much in the West in summer, so the trail running shoes see a lot of summer Sierra and Rockies usage. And the rains are brief and predictable (every afternoon from 2 to 3PM, lasting for one hour - I am only partly joking on this, since mountain thunderstorms are actually quite predictable in their regularity). Besides, things dry quickly in the Western mountains. Oh, I forgot, this doesn't hold true for the Cascades - it rains there all the time, and everything stays soaked all the time (typical Seattle complexion is pale white and all wrinkly from being continuously immersed in water, like staying permanently in a swimming pool - only a slight exageration, since Rainier gets less than 2 inches of rain during the month of July and during the month of August). You can come close to leaving the poncho at home for the Sierra and Rockies during the summer - seriously. Close, but sometimes it does rain hard enough to get you soaked.

Low gaiters are a good idea to reduce the amount of water coming in the tops of the boots, as well as the dust when it's dry.

Since you said you pack in the East, I would say you are indeed lucky you haven't gotten rained on yet. When we lived in New England, we got poured on at least 3/4 of our summer hikes (day or backpack). When we lived in the Deep South, it was about half the hikes (July and August being the "dry" season - mostly hot and dusty).

Thanks for that great information. I live in VA. =)

For winter I pay attention to waterproof and insulated boots, but come summer, why bother? A water proof shoe might keep your toes dry if you step in a shallow puddle or stream, but hike all day in the rain, your feet are going to get wet. If you wear gaiters, you are going to end up with wet feet, wet shoes and wet gaiters. Gortex is a porous membrane, right? What happens when those pores fill with trail dirt? They will no longer be breathable. That is why you are supposed to keep Gortex jackets clean. Wearing a low cut trail runner means you will have less material to dry out at the end of the rainy spell. Why do leather boots need water proofing? Because, it is not good to get leather wet, and leather takes a long time to dry. Wet boots get water logged and heavier. At the end of the day I look forward to taking off the low cuts, removing the foot beds to let them air out over night,putting on dry socks and dry Crocs, to wear around at camp with my feet dry and comfortable.
Check out the "trail running shoes" at this site. My favorites are Montrails, Merrelles, and Inovs although the Inov's do not fit my feet, so I have never worn any. My wife had a pair of the Golites, but the material over the toe area tore easily. I would not wear them near talus!

I have a Garmont Flash XCR that where used in Costa Rica. Temperature was in 90 and rained dayly, many small streams to cross. Gore-Tex XCR in them worked just fine, at the end of the day I was dry and comfortable. As an added bonus they are really supportive and light. I would be probobly be as comfortable in a leather sealed boots, but they would be heavier. With a new eVent boots that may even be better, but it is just fine in my Garmonts.

I love this topic. All I have seen at a retail store level these days have been backpacking boots with Gortex, they don't even stock boots in the E. caost without G-tex. Here in the E. coast where rain is constant I understand why the market has shifted to this approach. However I couldn't disagree more with it technically. I lived out West for 10 years in Southern California. I was involved in Rock climbing, backpacking & winter mountaineering. In the backpacking, rock climbing arena I started doing exactly what you are doing, going lighter and lighter in the shoe dept. I ended up b4 I left doing a five mile two day trip in old Teva sandles. Armed with some medical tape I did great. "Out West" is a little vague by the way :) But down south most of the backpacking trainls I hiked were soft and forgiving compared to the E.coast sharp, rocky rooty Appalachians. So let me just put it simply. The advantage of a boot verse a trail shoe out "South-West" is mostly in protection from the cactus plants you are always encountering. On a night hike through Joshua Tree you could empale your foot quite easily if you are not wearing full leather uppers. Other then that I found the lightweight shoes worked out fine. The only advantage of a G-tex boot would be what was mentioned above by rambler, matter of fact rambler had some great advice,g-tex would allow you to run a non-leather uppper with waterproof protection. A g-tex all leather upper is redundent. I have been backpacking and winter mountaineering in a all leather upper with snow seal. Works great for me. Now admittedly I have not been on a two long winter mountaineering trek yet...then it might matter. But for everything up to around four days I have been fully satisfied. In winter I run Snow seal, I beat it up and it wears away perfectly for better breathability in the summertime. Lastly in a trail runner you might not have the shank required to keep your arches from feeling every rock if you are heavy or you + your backpack weight is heavy. Consider that if you go the trail runner route. I hope all of this helps although unorganized these are some of my thoughts.

November 25, 2020
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