Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks.

Posted by: Katie

Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 03:23 PM

Hi all, first post here.
I am a beginner backpacker who's been using running shoes for all my backpacking/hiking adventures. As great as they are to outrun rattlesnakes, I'd like something with a bit more support specific to hiking. This brings me to my question of whether to get waterproof BOOTS or just get "regular" boots and wear waterproof socks/liners. I have read a good bit of reviews on waterproof boots that say their feet still ended up wet. What's the point of paying the extra money for the waterproofing if you're going to end up needing waterproof liners anyway? What is your opinion on the matter?
I hate wet feet. I'm sure you feel the same way. So help this newbie keep her feet dry with the right equipment! smile
Thanks in advance.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 04:00 PM

Keeping body parts dry when the surroundings are wet is kind of a holy grail, which is to say no one's found it yet.

My own preference is well-ventilated trail runners or light boots (depending on trail conditions) combined with waterproof socks (Sealskinz). It is possible to use something as simple as plastic bread bags in place of waterproof socks, but of course these are more useful as stopgaps than as reliable equipment.

The biggest difficulty with waterproof boots is that once water enters them they do not dry out very quickly or easily, and this includes wetting out from foot sweat. The breathability of WPB materials is never going to be more than a small fraction of the breathability of mesh.

So, unless you know in advance that you will be hiking in the rain all day, the non-WPB boots combined with WPB socks is easily the most versatile approach - in my experience. Edit; I also wear a thin wicking sock inside my sealskinz, which helps keep my foot as dry as is possible for them to be under the circumstances.

Just realize that no solution to this problem is going to be perfect.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 05:25 PM

My answer is, under 3 season conditions, why bother with either? When I was hiking in New Zealand a while back, I wore full leather Asolo boots with either wool socks or Patagonia's expedition socks. When I came to a river, which is fairly frequent down there, I would just walk across, stop, wring out my socks, dump any excess water out my boots, put them back on and start walking again. After a short while, the socks would dry out. Both the wool and Patagonia socks are warm, even when wet.

In winter (snow conditions), you want to keep your feet as dry as possible to keep them warm, especially in extreme temps, but the rest of the time, that isn't as important. Waterproof socks will cause your feet to sweat anyway, so I'm not sure how useful they are.

btw, the one thing I would never do is cross a river in bare feet or soft water mocs of some sort, too much chance that you will wind up cutting up your feet or slipping and falling.

Another option is to wear whatever you want and when it gets wet, use something like a Neos overboot over them. Some people hike in winter in running shoes inside a pair of Neos boots. I don't have a pair, but have read good things about them.

Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 05:28 PM

I think it really depends where you are hiking. In the Sierra Nevada, we use Crocs as water shoes, and that keeps our feet and boots and socks dry the rest of the time!

But it would help to know where you are hiking, and when, before we give you too much conflicting advice.
Posted by: aimless

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 05:52 PM

It's interesting to note that when you think of wet shoes, you think of creek or river crossings, not rain. That's a Californian for you!

While it is true that wet boots and socks will dry fairly rapidly on a warm day with low humidity, they will stay pretty darned wet on a rainy day.

I'm curious how much it rained on you in NZ? I know they have some mountainside rain forests there that equal the Olympic peninsula for rainfall.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 08:21 PM

Aimless, the answer is a lot, on both islands, North and South. The West Coast of the South Island is especially rainy. I wound up riding in the rain while bike touring a fair amount of the time. I was there in all four seasons. Not to say there isn't some really nice weather there, but count on getting rained on part of the time, especially in the mountains.

For heavy rain, I had a Goretex two piece rainsuit, but it was fairly useless. It was an early generation and not all that waterproof. The locals would wear heavy vinyl rain jackets or just heavy wool. I often just wore nylon shorts (surf shorts) and a wool or fleece jacket while hiking.

Fortunately, there are huts for overnighting along the tracks and pretty much every town had a campground where you could rent a tiny cabin cheaply. I had a tent, but the little cabins were great. Some of them were tiny A frames with one or two bunk beds in them, plus a litle table and chair.

I haven't spent much time in the PNW, but from what I have read, here and elsewhere, the weather on much of the South Island, especially the West Coast, is very similar.
Posted by: balzaccom

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 10:50 PM

Originally Posted By aimless
It's interesting to note that when you think of wet shoes, you think of creek or river crossings, not rain. That's a Californian for you!

Yep. THat's why I asked Katie (OP) where she was hiking, and when!

Waterproof socks in the Sierra sound like a sauna to me!

Posted by: ohiohiker

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/11/10 11:13 PM

I think it's important to know what problem you're trying to solve by replacing your shoes with boots.

Boots vs Shoes

With boots, you get some ankle support and protection. But, you gain significant weight on your feet where weight is more significant. By providing ankle support, boots also reduce ankle mobility. This can affect traction on some surfaces and how your leg muscles are used (some are used more and others are used less than with shoes).

If the problem is that your feet are less stable in shoes, one option is to go the other direction and use shoes which are even more minimal, such as lighter/flatter running shoes ("flats"), or even Vibram Five Fingers. These can cause other issues though, and might not be well-suited for the terrain you hike in.

Another option is to see if using a pair of trekking poles helps.

Waterproof vs Not

I think it's best to have non-waterproof footwear. If the trail is fairly dry, it's nice to have non-waterproof footwear. If things are so wet that your feet will stay wet, it's often better to have waterproofing because sweat wets the socks slower than water or rain from the trail. This is especially true if the temps are cooler (< 60 F or so) The only practical way to have this situational adaptability is to have a pair of waterproof breathable socks. Also, leaks in socks are easy to find and seal at home compared to leaks in footwear.

One issue with wet feet is sock thickness. Very thin nylon or polyester socks (such as running socks or dress socks) will dry much more quickly than thicker socks. But in the cold, thicker wool socks are often needed to retain warmth when wet.

I currently have non-waterproof hiking shoes and all-leather GoreTex-lined boots (Salomon). I haven't worn the boots in a year or two, and then only on 2-5 hour day hikes in colder, wet weather. In wet conditions, the boots keep my feet much drier than if I were not wearing waterproof footwear. I don't think they leak, it's just that they're limited in how breathable they are. I suspect the GoreTex liner has survived unpunctured because they're all leather. I plan to get a pair of GoreTex socks to use instead.

Posted by: Pika

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 01:25 PM

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years and did a lot of hiking while I was there. I worked in forestry and did a lot of climbing so I was out year around. While living there, I used both "waterproof" and ordinary boots and shoes. In my opinion, the only truly waterproof boots one can buy are the rubber boots hunters and winter outdoors people use. These can be blister machines with even a limited amount of hiking if you don't use good socks; for me this was thick wool. And, even these won't keep your feet dry they just keep cold water out and sweat in.

The Goretex® type of boots I had did not keep my feet much drier than did my old, heavy, leather Dolomite climbing boots. But, my old Dolomites would dry out a lot quicker than the Goretex® equivalent.

One thing to be sure of, if you hike in wet country you will have wet feet; you can't prevent it but you can be comfortable. Several pairs of socks drying in rotation are a good start.

I used to dry my socks by wrapping them around my waist under my clothes. This would wake you right up on a cold morning but would get them adequately dry by mid day if I was active. On long trips, I would get a bit smelly though. sick This is not something I recommend but it is one way of tackling sock drying.
Posted by: Katie

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 05:05 PM

Thanks for all the great advice!
To answer some questions: I live in DFW TX, but have trips further west planned (Rockies most of all, as well as Big Bend). I cannot fit anything but a thin pair of wicking socks in my running shoes - which is the main reason I wanted a pair of hiking shoes/boots. Also, we (bf and I) do most of our hiking during the fall/winter b/c it is so miserably hot during the summer here. And not being able to fit any good socks into my shoes makes my feet freeze.
I think that kind of touches on the when and where question!

So the general consensus seems to be taking a minimal approach on footwear (go with trailrunners if possible) and have good socks. Wool, wicking, and waterproof if needed. Sounds easy enough smile
One problem I do have is weak ankles. I ride horses and I'm constantly in paddock boots (which have ankle support). Walking around in those since I was 4 haven't given me much ankle strength at all, something I know I should work on if I want to go on longer backpacking trips.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 05:46 PM

Where in DFW, Katie? I'm in DeSoto.

Lots of good advice already given, but my 2 cents....I only wear boots if I'm doing trail work and mowing in my park, or hiking creekbeds or snow in winter. Trailrunners, New Balance specifically, get the rest of the miles. I don't worry about getting wet. My socks are the thinnest, cheapest nylon socks I can find at Walmart, doubled up. They dry quickly. I hike often in the Big Bend and haven't worn boots there in 15 years.
A pair of "Superfeet" footbeds will give any shoe good support. You'll find those at DFW running stores, along with experts who can fit you properly.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 06:27 PM

I don't buy the minimalist approach to footwear, especially when wearing a pack. This is the minority view here. I prefer a boot that will give me good ankle protection and protect my feet. I wear running shoes most of the time and on day hikes, but not when backpacking. You don't need a full leather boot-those are old school, but I prefer something with at least some ankle support. I badly sprained an ankle years ago while jogging and not being able to walk in the backcountry is potentially a serious problem. Is your BF up to carrying you back to civilization? If not, make sure you have proper footwear.
Posted by: Katie

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 06:42 PM

Originally Posted By Dryer
Where in DFW, Katie? I'm in DeSoto.

I'm in Denton. I had to look DeSoto up on a map - I just moved here from Louisiana. Like it here a million times better than LA, so far. Even though it's almost just as miserable in the summer.

I'll definitely look into the SuperFeet Insole smile!

TomD: I'm right there with you. Like I said, I have weak ankles and through my years of playing basketball sprained both ankles many many times. I am trying to find a lightweight, breathable hiking boot with ankle support that fits my budget (Ebay, here I come!)
Posted by: TomD

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/12/10 08:40 PM

Katie, I've used SuperFeet. They work well for me. I think they have several different models. I have a licensed version made by Heat Factory. Mine will take a small chemical heat pack under the ball of the foot for winter use.

I have a pair of Asolo AFS 95 boots. Not cheap, but a nice boot. Merrill and Vasque are popular as well. There is an REI in Dallas. It would really be worth it to drive down there and try on as many different boots as you can.

If money is an issue, try HiTec boots. Probably won't last as long as the others, but priced right. I used to wear them for work and they were really comfortable.
Posted by: phat

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 09/13/10 12:58 AM

Rockies depends a lot too - My Rocky Mountains (Alberta and BC in Canada) are a lot different than the Rockies in Colorado.

I tend to trailrunners, with a pair of thin wicking socks in warmer weather on established trails.

For anything off trail or more rugged, I wear boots.

I want my trailrunners to be non-waterproof.. if I boot through water in them I want them to dry out quickly.

My boots I want to hold out water. I prefer smaller leather boots - non goretex - properly treated they keep out water just fine. I've worn through my last pair of decent Raichle's and last year sprung for a pair of Hanwag's. with good conditioner and wax I wade in them without getting wet unless I go over the tops. The most common way for me to get wet is pushing through thick wet (or snowy) brush where I get wet enough above my gaiters that it drips down my legs into the boots. Or I just get annoyed and wade in them on a crossing.

In either case, like Tom has mentioned, I stop, wring out my socks and things dry out.

But really I'm one of either two schools - well ventilated trailrunner, or full on boot (usually with gaiters) - what I take depends on where I'm going.
Posted by: stonemark

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 01/07/11 08:57 PM

I'm also a beginner in hiking ~ same with you, my friend, and I have one bad hiking experience for misusing the bad and unappropriate hike shoes, so make sure you have a pair of fit and good quality hiking shoes is definitely important~
Posted by: TomD

Re: Waterproof Boots vs Waterproof Socks. - 01/08/11 01:36 AM

Stonemark is absolutely right. I have had of a brand new pair of boots come apart after a few river crossings and another time, got very bad shin bang from a pair of plastic mountaineering boots and almost couldn't walk out on a climbing trip where we'd flown in to the Upper Tasman glacier in NZ. I was miserable and it took a fair while to get better. You can cut corners on some things, but don't do it on footwear and make sure whatever you get fits before going very far in them.