In everyday vernacular, it’s pretty common for people to switch out one word for another- and usually, they can get away with it.
But when it comes to footwear, there is a world of difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistant.” So, while water-resistant and waterproof running shoes might sound similar to you, they’re really not. And the difference goes beyond the name.
So before you go around using those two terms interchangeably, read this article to understand why you might be wrong to do so.
What Are Waterproof Shoes
“Waterproof shoes” refers to all footwear that is completely impervious to water, regardless of environmental factors. These shoes can:
- Prevent water from soaking into the shoes
- Keep your feet dry from external moisture
- Provide protection against the snow
- Keep your feet warm in winters
When companies market their shoes as waterproof, they are giving you the go-ahead to trek in the rain or waddle across streams- all without the worry of wet feet and mushy shoes.
The most obvious example of a waterproof shoe is the rain boot. As the shoes are made from rubber with a snug, shin-high fit, the boots remain dry as water simply rolls off the surface.
Traditionally, only boots were “waterproof.” Even these days, you’ll find that hiking boots and snow boots are the highest tiers of waterproof footwear.
Luckily, technological advancements have allowed for the creation of waterproof athletic gear, such as waterproof running shoes.
What Are Water-Resistant Shoes
On the other side of the spectrum, we have water-resistant shoes. These shoes can:
- Lessen water penetration to a small extent
- Keep your feet dry from external and internal moisture
- Keep your feet cool in the summers
Unlike waterproof shoes, water-resistant shoes are only somewhat resistant to water. So, while a few splashes here and there won’t hurt, they can still quickly get wet.
Usually, the material used in these shoes has an innate water-resistant quality to them. These materials are naturally less porous, so they don’t allow as much water to permeate the shoe.
But apart from this intrinsic water-resistant characteristic, these shoes have no reinforced or added water resistance. This is why they can quickly become heavily saturated, especially when submerged in water or worn in heavy downpours.
If you’re still unable to discern the difference between water-resistant and waterproof running shoes, then a different approach might help.
The IP Rating System
Earlier, we said that water-resistant shoes are “on the other end of the spectrum.” But this was more than just a figure of speech.
As it turns out, there is a standard rating system that determines the “waterproof-ness” of things- whether it be electronic devices, clothes, footwear, or other material items. This is known as the “Ingress Protection” or IP rating system.
For footwear, the rating reads “IPX,” followed by a number between 0 and 8. The higher the number, the more waterproof the shoes are. A completely waterproof shoe will have an IPX8 rating, while a completely non-waterproof shoe will have an IPX0 rating.
Do you see where we’re going with this?
Basically, “waterproof” and “water-resistant” are different terms to qualify the scale. “Water-resistant” refers to ratings on the lower end of the scale, whereas “waterproof” refers to ratings on the higher end of the scale.
In more specific words, water-resistant shoes have a significantly less aversion towards water than waterproof shoes.
There is a third category called “water repellent,” which lies in between waterproof and water-resistant. Water repellent shoes have moderate resistance to water.
So, next time you’re scrambling for the correct term, just visualize a scale. Save for the IPX0 rating, all ratings on the extreme left qualify as “water-resistant.” Similarly, all ratings on the extreme right qualify as "waterproof."
What Makes Waterproof Running Shoes Resistant to Water
While the type of material used is vital in determining its resistance to water, other factors also contribute greatly. These include:
- The Upper. The upper refers to the outer layer of the shoe- minus the sole. The material used in the upper greatly determines the hydrophobic characteristic of the shoe. Most waterproof running shoes use some form of breathable mesh or knit material for their upper. Additionally, many top-contenders like Loom Footwear use GoreTex, which is basically a breathable waterproof material-a combination difficult to come across.
- The Inner Membrane. Some waterproof running shoes have a waterproof membrane lining the inside of the shoe. The membrane is actually breathable, which is especially useful in hot and humid climates where sweating is inevitable.
- The Outsole. Most people tend to overlook it, but the outsole is actually just as important as the upper for making reliable waterproof running shoes. Flexible rubber soles are the best at keeping the water at bay, as well as providing a superior grip on wet or icy surfaces.
- The Design. Laces or laceless, high-ankle or low-ankle, stitched or knitted- all these design decisions end up contributing a lot to a shoe’s overall water resistance.
- Chemical Treatment. Some manufacturers choose to treat their waterproof running shoes with some external water repellent spray.
Now, all of these things don’t need to be included in waterproof footwear. A shoe can have one, all, none, or a combination of all these different factors. Of course, the more characteristics they do have, the more that IP scale will tip towards the right.
Waterproof Shoes Vs Water-Resistantfully waterproof
By now, you already know that water-resistant shoes are less impervious to water than waterproof shoes. But the differences don’t just end there.
Let’s take a look at some of the most salient distinctions between waterproof and water-resistant shoes.
We have already talked about the IP rating in detail. But just to formalize things, allow us to reiterate.
Shoes that have a “waterproof” label on them have a high IP rating, usually greater than 6. This high IP rating means that the shoes are extremely impervious to water. Contrastingly, water-resistant shoes have a low IP rating, usually less than 4.
The IP rating is the most reliable way to determine a shoe’s waterproof capabilities. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find the IP rating for footwear. You might have to dig deep to determine where the shoe stands along the IP scale.
Checking the IP rating is extremely important, especially for shoes that claim to be 100% waterproof. If the shoe is marketed as “waterproof” but has a low IP score, you might want to think twice before buying it.
These days, there’s virtually no limit to the material used in waterproof shoes. Almost any material can be modified for water resistance.
However, you’ll find that waterproof footwear is often made from rubber, neoprene, vinyl, nylon, or polyurethane. But their athletic counterparts, such as waterproof running shoes, use vastly different materials simply out of necessity. These materials are more flexible and breathable than those used in the archetypal water-resistant boot.
In contrast, water-resistant shoes use materials such as leather, suede, or nylon. These materials are naturally water-resistant, but only to a certain extent.
Generally, shoes that are fully waterproof are less breathable. The poor ventilation is an unavoidable consequence of the hard-packed, non-porous upper material.
Some shoe designs, especially for waterproof running shoes, have ventilation along the sides of the shoe. Manufacturers install actual vents in the shoes to allow the exchange of air while keeping the water and dust out.
Additionally, you’ll find that a lot of athletic waterproof footwear uses GoreTex technology. As discussed previously, GoreTex is a waterproof membrane that has a high breathability factor.
Apart from the exceptions mentioned above, however, waterproof footwear is generally less breathable.
On the other hand, water-resistant shoes have better ventilation thanks to the porous materials, making them perfect for those peak summer days.
Generally, waterproof footwear is less flexible since it uses rigid materials and stiff soles.
Once again, however, high-end waterproof running shoes are an exception to this rule. This is because running shoes have to be flexible to allow for rapid and dynamic foot movement.
Contrastingly, water-resistant shoes are noticeably more flexible owing to the type of material used in their construction. This combination of flexibility and breathability makes waterproof shoes more comfortable.
However, keep in mind that these are general observations; not all water-resistant footwear is comfortable, breathable, and flexible. Similarly, not all waterproof footwear is stiff, warm, and stuffy.
Compared to regular footwear, waterproof, water-resistant, and water repellent shoes are noticeably more expensive. This is because they use a variety of waterproof technologies that are costlier to manufacture.
However, the differences in the price point between waterproof and water-resistant shoes are difficult to discuss- at least in such few words. But if we had to sum it up, we would assert that there isn’t a noticeable or consistent difference between the two types of shoes' prices.
The inconsistency of prices is primarily because companies often mislabel their footwear. This mislabelling could, in turn, be because of discrepancies in the definitions of waterproof and water-resistant, combined with rapidly advancing footwear technology.
Can Shoes Really Be 100% Waterproof?
Let’s say that a waterproof running shoe bags an IP score of IPX8- the highest level of water resistance. Does this mean that the shoe is 100% waterproof?
Unfortunately, no shoe can ever be totally waterproof- not even IPX8-rated ones.
No matter how waterproof a shoe is, there is always a chance that some moisture can seep through. There can be multiple reasons for this.
Apart from leather, rubber, and plastic shoes, all other materials will eventually succumb to water. For example, most waterproof running shoes are made from flexible materials that are at least a little bit porous by nature.
Now, manufacturers often use chemical treatments and other external treatments to increase the shoe’s resistance to water. However, these treatments, as well as the shoe material, can lose their integrity over time.
Additionally, many shoe companies will market their shoes as waterproof when they’re really water-resistant. While the intentions are not always malicious, this practice is still very misleading and might be the reason your new waterproof running shoes may not live up to your expectations.
So, the only way to guarantee 100% waterproof-ness is by using an overshoe or securing a plastic wrap around your shoes.
Water Resistant or Waterproof Running Shoes-Which Is Better?
At this point, you’re probably scratching your head wondering which one is better- waterproof or water-resistant shoes.
Don’t worry; your confusion is valid. After all, each type of shoe has its own list of pros and cons. Therefore, there is no straightforward answer to which type of shoe is better.
Instead, it all depends on your requirements and environment.
For example, you might be looking for athletic shoes to optimize your gym sessions. In this case, you should go for a water-resistant shoe as it will offer you a greater range of movement, exceptional lateral stability, and breathability. At the same time, it will keep you safe against unexpected splashes and spills.
Similarly, if you are looking for a winter boot to trudge the snow, we recommend going with a fully waterproof winter boot.
Now, if you were an industrial worker in a hot climate, you need something that is both waterproof and breathable. Waterproof running shoes won’t cut it since they don’t offer that level of protection. So, instead, you’ll have to look for work boots with a breathable inner membrane.
We could go on and on. But at this point, you know more than enough to make a well-informed shoe purchase.
On the surface, the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” might sound similar- almost analogous. But as we saw, there are just too many differences between the two to ignore.
Of course, the most apparent difference is that waterproof shoes have a much higher IP rating than water-resistant shoes. In other words, waterproof shoes do a better job at keeping the moisture out.
However, water-resistant shoes are generally more comfortable to wear; what they lack in impermeability, they make up for in breathability and flexibility.
At the end of the day, however, one is not automatically better than the other. Instead, it all depends on you. So ask yourself this: what are your footwear needs?