July 13, 2024

The Case Against Waterproof Hiking Boots: 3 Reasons to Think Twice Before Your Next Camping Trip

Many hiking boots today come equipped with waterproof liners from Gore-Tex and others. But how necessary are these barriers, really?

The benefits are obvious, of course. Waterproof barriers keep your toes dry walking through mud and puddles and fording rivers. On a long hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, wet, clammy feet can lead to issues that might even be cause for turning back.

But there are downsides to waterproof hiking footwear, too.

Heavy legs

First of all, they are a bit heavier and more expensive. For example, one of our favorite light hiking shoes, Danner’s Trail 2650, weighs 24 ounces per pair.

The waterproof version, the Trail 2650 GTX, weighs 27 ounces. (Danner now also makes a lighter hiker for dry climates, the Trail 2650 Ocampo, which is just 22 ounces.)

Variations in fit

They also fit differently than their non-waterproof counterparts (online shoppers beware). And unless you’re wearing gaiters, any stream or river crossing above the top of your cuff will fill your boots with water.

Unless you’re wearing gaiters, any stream or river crossing above the top of your cuff will fill your boots with water.

If it rains, water is getting in through the top. Hiking shoes — which leave the ankles free, like the aforementioned Danners — are even more susceptible.

Wet from the inside out

But the main argument against waterproof hiking boots is sweat. Any waterproof membrane, be it Gore-Tex, eVent or otherwise, will diminish breathability no matter how much their makers describe them so.

In warm weather, that means sweaty feet. No, it’s not the same as stepping into a river but you’ll wind up with damp toes at the end of the day anyway, and breathable, non-waterproof hiking boots will give your feet a better chance to dry while you wear them.

So what’s the best option? As with all outdoor gear, it depends on how and where you’re going to use it. For 30 days in the Norwegian Arctic, a waterproof membrane might be the way to go. But a trip through the desert, probably not.

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