When it comes to outdoor activities, keeping your feet dry and comfortable is crucial. Waterproof boots are designed to keep water out, but you also don’t want your feet to be soaked in sweat. Are waterproof boots breathable?
Yes, most types of waterproof boots are breathable. Leather waterproof boots use specialized membranes that are designed with tiny pores that are small enough to hold out water droplets, but still large enough to allow water vapor to escape. This creates a breathable, waterproof boot.
However, rubber waterproof boots are not as breathable. Rubber boots do not rely on a membrane because the rubber material itself creates a waterproof barrier, but the rubber material is also non-porous, and therefore not breathable.
Leather boots must have this waterproof membrane to be completely waterproof (waterproofing the leather is not enough to hold out water – the membrane is also needed). Gore-Tex membranes are widely considered to be the best waterproof membrane on the market today, because they are both breathable and waterproof. Choosing a boot with a Gore-Tex membrane is recommended.
In this article let’s take a closer look at what makes waterproof boots breathable, and what types of boots you should avoid if you don’t want sweaty feet.
How Waterproof Boots are Breathable
To prevent water from penetrating inside, leather waterproof boots utilize specialized membranes. These membranes are crafted to keep water out while still allowing for the circulation of sweat and vapor, enabling your feet to breathe freely.
Leather boots must have this membrane or they won’t be completely waterproof. Some boot companies will try to trick you by advertising their boot has “waterproof leather”. Waterproof leather is an important feature for a waterproof boot, but waterproof leather by itself won’t be enough to make the boot completely waterproof.
The best waterproof boots combine waterproof leather with a fully gusseted tongue (which means the tongue is connected to the sidewall of the boot) and a waterproof, breathable membrane. To read more, visit my article that discusses what makes leather boots waterproof.
The most common waterproof membrane used in boots is GORE-TEX, which has billions of tiny pores that are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet but 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule (source). This allows the membrane to be both waterproof and breathable, preventing water from entering while allowing sweat and vapor to escape.
However, wearing waterproof boots in hot and dry conditions is not recommended. While the breathable membrane allows for sweat and vapor to escape, it’s still an extra layer, which means it often retains a small amount of extra heat (making it unnecessary to wear in dry, hot weather).
Best Waterproof Breathable Boot Membranes
As we discussed above, Gore-Tex is widely considered to be the best boot membrane. Gore-Tex has billions of tiny pores that are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet but 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule. This allows sweat and vapor to escape without letting water to penetrate the membrane.
While Gore-Tex is the most well-known and respected waterproof membrane in the market, not all waterproof boots use this brand. There are several other brands that offer similar performance and are often used in waterproof boots.
However, it is important to note that while these alternative brands may be cheaper, they may not be as effective as Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex has established a reputation for high-quality waterproofing and breathability, and many manufacturers are willing to pay a premium for the use of this brand in their boots.
That being said, not all waterproof boots require the same level of performance as those that use Gore-Tex. The choice of waterproof membrane used in a boot depends on the intended use of the boot and the budget of the manufacturer. Not all waterproof membranes are created equal, and some may not offer the same level of performance as others.
Rubber vs Leather Waterproof Boots
Leather waterproof boots use these waterproofing membranes because the leather and boot itself is not capable of holding out water (so the boot relies on the waterproof membrane to shield the foot). Rubber pull on boots are different.
Since rubber boots are able to form a complete waterproof barrier, there is no need for an additional waterproof membrane. However, because rubber boots are impervious to water, they are also relatively less breathable. The solid construction of rubber boots prevents air from circulating, which can result in sweaty feet and discomfort.
Choosing the Best Waterproof Boots
Choosing the right waterproof boots depends on your needs and the conditions you’ll face. If you’ll be dealing with light precipitation or dampness, boots with a breathable membrane (like GORE-TEX) are a great choice.
Rubber waterproof boots, such as work boots or rain boots, are not breathable due to the nature of the material. Rubber is a non-porous material, which means it does not allow air to pass through it. As a result, moisture and sweat become trapped inside the boot, causing discomfort and potentially leading to foot odor and infections.
Rubber waterproof boots are often used in work settings, such as construction or farming, where durability and water resistance are more important than breathability. In these settings, workers may wear moisture-wicking socks to help manage sweat and keep their feet as dry as possible.
Rubber waterproof rain boots, on the other hand, are typically worn casually and not for extended periods of time. While they may provide protection from rain and puddles, they are not designed to be worn for long periods of time or in strenuous activities. As such, breathability may not be as much of a concern.
One thing to consider about rubber boots is that since they are not breathable, if you get sweat buildup inside the boot, it can begin to stink or lead to bacteria growth if not dried properly. To read more, visit my article that discusses how to dry rubber boots.
If you are looking for a boot that is both waterproof and breathable, rubber boots won’t be the best choice.
|Boot Material||Breathability||Protection||Durability||Best for|
|Leather with Waterproof Membrane||High||Moderate||High||Light precipitation, comfort, and breathability|
|Rubber||Low||High||High||Extremely wet and sloppy conditions, easy to spray clean|
Drawbacks of a Non-Breathable Boot
One of the major drawbacks of a non-breathable boot is that it can make your feet sweaty and uncomfortable. If your feet sweat excessively, the moisture can become trapped inside the boot and cause a variety of issues. For one, the excess moisture can make your feet feel clammy and slippery inside the boot. This can lead to blisters, chafing, and other discomforts.
The excess moisture can also create an environment for bacteria to grow inside the boot. This can lead to foul odors and even infections. The growth of bacteria can also cause the boot’s materials to break down more quickly, leading to a shorter lifespan for the boot.
To avoid these issues, it’s important to choose a boot that allows your feet to breathe. Breathable boots are designed to let moisture escape while keeping water out, which can help keep your feet dry and comfortable.
I recommend purchasing a boot dryer if you sweat excessively. This will help properly dry your boots. It also helps to own multiple pairs of boots so you can rotate them if you work in wet conditions.
Antimicrobial insoles are a good combination with waterproof boots. These insoles are designed to help prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi inside the boot. Insoles with activated carbon are also effective at absorbing moisture and odors, keeping your feet and boots fresh and dry.
It’s important to note that while antimicrobial insoles can help to prevent bacterial growth, they are not a substitute for proper boot hygiene. It’s still important to clean and dry your boots regularly, especially after they’ve been exposed to wet or damp conditions.