Waterproof Vs. Water Resistant Boots

Wearing boots offers better protection for your feet. The materials are thicker and more durable than regular shoes. If you wear boots out in the field every day, you need to know that they'll protect your feet even when it's wet outside. Whether you're standing in the rain for a few minutes or tromping through creek beds for a few hours, it's important to keep your feet dry. It can be tough to tell whether you need water-resistant boots or waterproof boots. You might wonder if there's even a difference. There is a difference, and it's quite significant.


Under Armour Valsetz BootThe biggest factor is how much protection you get from water and moisture. Water-resistant styles slow down the amount of time it takes to saturate the material and infiltrate your shoe. Waterproof styles block water and moisture from seeping through and getting your feet wet. It helps to know what surroundings you'll be in to make sure that you choose the right type of boots. If you're never in damp and wet surroundings, you don't need waterproof footwear. It's overkill. If you spend time outdoors in the soaking rain or in swampy conditions, you'll need to protect your feet with waterproof footwear.


The manufacturers of tactical and military boots make sure that their products meet the requirements for waterproof and water-resistant boots. Laboratory tests determine whether products meet the water-resistant or waterproof threshold. There are standard tests called hydrostatic head testing, or HH testing. A column of water is placed on the product or fabric. A measurement is taken after a designated amount of time has elapsed to see how much water pressure it endures without leaking. This determines how much water pressure the product can handle.

  • Water-resistant boots meet a minimum standard of 200 millimeters.
  • Waterproof boots meet a minimum standard of 1,000.

Water-Resistant Materials

Some materials are more porous than others. Untreated porous fabrics can absorb water very quickly and with very little resistance. If they rate below 200, they're not going to help you in wet and rainy conditions. For example, if you're wearing a pair of canvas tennis shoes when you step in a mud puddle, your socks and your feet will be brown and wet within seconds. Water-resistant material is more effective. The moderate protection from water-resistant footwear is fine for damp terrain and the occasional rainstorm. It fails with prolonged exposure and submersion. When that failure occurs depends on the precise product.

Spray-On Coatings – Water-resistant spray-on coatings applied over stronger materials can retard the absorption rate to keep your feet dry longer. Treated canvas might still turn brown when you step in the puddle, but it takes a number of splashes or a long dance to make your socks and feet wet. Water-resistant boots with treated materials soak up moisture much more slowly than your canvas tennis shoes.

  • Polyester – This fabric blend comes in a very tight weave or a cured application that can slow down water absorption. Synthetic blends are more watertight than natural polyesters.
  • Leather – Different types of leather offer protection. Grain-out leather is also resistant to oil and fuel, minimizing the chances of absorbing harmful chemicals into your skin.
  • Insulation – Materials such as Thinsulate are used in combination with other fabrics to help your feet stay warm.

Water-Resistant Drawbacks

If the material is subjected to environmental factors above its threshold, it will fail. It eventually gets wet and soaks through after heavy water pressure or long periods of time, but it can provide the protection you need for some conditions.

  • Cost – Water-resistant materials cost more than standard cloth.
  • Appearance – Water-repellent spray can cause discoloration on certain types of fabrics.
  • Comfort – Water-resistant footwear doesn't offer the advanced protection to block out prolonged exposure to standing or falling water.
  • Seams – The seam where the sole meet the rest of the shoe is susceptible to seeps and leaks.
  • Health – It can harbor harmful microorganisms that are absorbed with unclean water.

Waterproof Materials

There are several different types of materials that can be incorporated into waterproof footwear. Some water-resistant fabrics are used as a base. They're used with other materials to create more intense protection. It's not just about a spray-on coating for the exterior. The materials are heavier, so they're better at resisting pressure. Some are insulated to help your feet stay warm. Some materials are specially developed by the boot manufacturer to ensure maximum foot protection.

Gore-Tex – Some footwear comes with Gore-Tex interior booties that keep water out while letting your feet breathe within the protective shell. They allow moisture vapor to filter out from the inside when your feet perspire, keeping them dry. The outer shell of the boot may or may not be waterproof.

Polyurethane – Manufacturers add removable polyurethane inserts as another layer of moisture protection. This synthetic barrier is durable and lightweight.

Waterproof Drawbacks

Manufacturers of waterproof footwear are constantly competing with each other to improve their products. These special boots aren't as comfortable as the soft canvas of tennis shoes, and they're not as flexible as standard boots.

Some brands that are excellent at keeping out the moisture can also trap moisture from hot feet inside your boot. If your feet sweat, they can get wet and cause health problems as serious as the water soaking through from a mud puddle. Designs that allow perspiration to escape provide better results, but not all waterproof shoes have that feature.

If waterproof shoes are the best, why doesn't everyone wear them all the time? It's simple. They're not always necessary. Waterproof boots can have their drawbacks. What you gain in protection could mean a trade-off in other features.

  • Cost – It takes long and costs more money to make a superior material.
  • Weight – Heavier materials can make your feet and legs get tired.
  • Comfort – Hard and tough materials can also be hard and tough on feet.
  • Flexibility – Stiff boots can diminish your balance, speed and dexterity.

How to Tell

Most boots that are waterproof or water-resistant are labeled. Look for the words in the product description when shopping online. You'll typically find a tag inside the boot as well. Waterproof boots are usually made with rubber, neoprene, vinyl, nylon or polyurethane. Water-resistant boots are typically made of leather, nylon and a variety of coated materials. If they're not labeled, it's best to assume that they're not waterproof or water-resistant boots.


Waterproof Boots and MudThe sole of the shoe plays an important role in footwear. The bottom part that hits the ground is called the outsole. Durable materials are used in boot outsoles to ensure safety.

  • Outsoles on military and tactical boots are molded from a urethane or rubber compound to fit specifications.
  • Slip-resistant materials and coatings offer sure footing on wet surfaces but won't let moisture in through the bottom.
  • Waterproof outsoles are available in a wide range of thicknesses. They are typically constructed with the same types of materials used in the outsoles of water-resistant boots.

Ideal Terrain

What type of terrain you'll be traversing affects the type of outsole you need on your boots. If wet conditions are in your plans, non-skid materials that are also waterproof are critical for your safety. You need strong material that won't become soft and slippery on wet asphalt, cement or rocks. Work boots, tactical boots and military boots all come in a wide range of styles with a variety of outsoles and treads. Thicker soles with more dramatic treads provide better traction and protection, but they may be stiffer and less comfortable.

Know where you plan to wear your boots before you buy them. You may want to buy more than one pair. This allows the boots to dry out in between outings, providing maximum dryness for your feet when you need it.


Wearing boots that don't meet your needs for moisture protection can result in an assortment of health issues. Medical conditions typically begin with minor discomfort and can lead to permanent injury or even amputation. Wet boots, socks and feet can harbor bacteria, creating a robust breeding ground for foot fungi and infections.

Frostbite – Wet feet can also result in frostbite in frigid conditions. Frostbite is when skin and the tissue beneath it is freezes. The skin is yellow, white or gray in appearance and has a waxy finish. Tingling, numbness and discomfort are symptoms of frostbite.

Trench Foot – Prolonged exposure to wet socks and cold temperatures can cause trench foot, also known as immersion foot. It's a very painful disease that begins with tingling of the feet. It progresses to swelling and numbness. Blood flow is restricted, causing nerve damage in the lower extremities. Severe cases lead to gangrene and amputation. Cases of trench foot date back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte and plague soldiers and outdoor enthusiasts even today.

When you're looking for a new pair of boots for work, there are several options to choose. If you plan to be in an inhospitable environment, decide whether you need waterproof boots or water-resistant boots. The right footwear will keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable. You'll be free to focus on other things.