Waterproof. Water-Resistant. Hmm… You may hear these terms and wonder what the difference between them is.
Whether you’re choosing a pair shoes, or a new wristwatch, waterproof vs. water-resistant is an important distinction to make, and one that could affect your comfort, and the longevity of your purchase.
What Does Waterproof Technically Mean?
Waterproof means that an item, such as a shoe or boot can be completely submerged in water, and water would not soak into the materials. Waterproof boots, for example, are often made of rubber or synthetics, such as neoprene or polyurethane.
Even if you slog through wet mud and puddles, and submerge your boots for a while, your feet will stay dry. The outside would simply shed water like a duck’s back. The effect would look something like this…
Beware Of Stiffness In Waterproof Footwear
Waterproof materials are usually on the stiff side, and therefore can be not all that comfortable, although many companies are trying to make waterproof articles of clothing, footwear, and other items more comfortable to the touch.
Theoretically, if your waterproof attire is exposed to moisture of any kind, it should be able to handle it time and again, and you should be kept warm and dry. This is, in fact, the entire reason it was made.
That said, flexibility may be a concern if you are buying waterproof boots or shoes in particular, but of course you’ll just have to pick your battles, or else shop for the best combination of waterproofing and comfort you can find.
With things like hats, or jackets, the stiffness factor doesn’t come into play as much, but you will probably find that even a waterproof coat is still relatively more stiff than one which has not been made using waterproof materials.
Buying a product that is made from waterproof materials is one way to go, but you can also make your own home made waterproofing solution, and apply it to things like boots and shoes, if you are going to be stomping around in the bog.
Watch this video by OutsideFun1, and see how to make your own waterproofing solution, using environmentally safe ingredients such as beeswax, petroleum jelly, and essential oil.
As far as waterproof materials go, they do tend to lack breathability. They hold in moisture from perspiration. In hot weather they can get stuffy, and in cold weather, if your feet sweat, they might make your toes more chilly. This is why finding the best waterproof attire is so important.
Not only that, but the nonporous materials can harbor bacteria that can lead to doors, or foot-health problems. A breathable lining, or socks that wick away moisture, can help with these issues.
Footwear manufacturers use testing to determine water permeability. The test, called the IP test, is also used for electronics. A score of IPX-0 means water will soak right in, while IPX-8 means that the item is completely waterproof.
Here is a great video by TechQuickie explaining these waterproofing ratings. Very helpful!
Water-Resistant – Dry For A While
Water-resistant means a certain degree of protection from water. A water-resistant shoe or boot, for instance, would stay dry after brief submersion, but pretty quickly, water would soak into the fibers.
Here is a side by side picture of two boots that took a dip into some water, with the one on the left being water resistant, and the one on the right not.
Water-resistant items are more breathable than waterproof items, as well as softer and more comfortable, so they are a better choice for day-to-day wear. Canvas and suede shoes and boots, both of which are soft and pliant, are sometimes sold with a water-resistant treatment.
More tightly woven, and less porous, material offers more protection against water.
Polyester and leather are both water-resistant, with different grains of leather offering different levels of water permeability.
When buying water-resistant shoes, take the seams into consideration. This is one area where water can seep in. You may want to be sure to get waterproof soles as well.
You can use a spray to add a thin, water-resistant film to shoes that seals the outside against water, but remember, this is not the same as waterproofing.
The disadvantage to spraying shoes is that it can cause discoloration. Also, you must maintain the spraying regimen…. not often….. but if you forget to spray, it will lose its effectiveness. Water-resistant shoes sometimes soak up dirty water, which can cause bacterial growth.
Shoe companies sometimes use Gore-tex booties as liners inside their shoes, to assure both total impermeability and breathability.
Gore-tex takes a high-tech approach to waterproofing. They stringently test their materials, filling boots with water, and spin them in a centrifuge to detect leaks. They also utilize moisture sensors. Gore-tex wicks away moisture to keep feet dry. This helps feet stay at a comfortable temperature.
Other Waterproof Materials
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.
Waterproof and water-resistant boots are usually labeled on the inside. If they’re not labeled, it’s best to assume that they’re not waterproof or water-resistant boots.
Certain products, like these neoprene swim socks, are clearly labelled as being waterproof, since they are, after all, made for swimming. There ought to be no confusion with items like this.
Watch Out For “Weatherproof”
The term “weatherproof” also tends to mean water-resistant, but also can mean a rugged or warm. Be sure if you encounter this word on some product, that you double-check what you’re actually getting. It can be a bit of a misnomer, as it might mean fully waterproof, water resistant, or simply extra rugged.
Water-Repellent: A Middle Ground
Water-repellent shoes offer the second-highest protection, between water-resistant and waterproof. These shoes are constructed differently, and treated with different substances, than water-resistant footwear.
They are woven with a tighter, less porous weave. Polyurethane, neoprene, and vinyl are often used in water-repellent shoes and boots. Just as it sounds, water does not soak in to these materials, yet they are not completely impermeable.
When it comes to footwear, some shoes and boots are made with a mixture of materials that offer different degrees of protection from moisture, for instance, leather and rubber. These are good if you’re walking in a wet area with no deep water.
Active people want the best of both worlds–comfort plus dryness. When choosing shoes, think of which climate and weather conditions you’re going to be experiencing. You might want a pair of waterproof shoes for very wet days, as well as some water-resistant ones for short trips outdoors in the rain.
Remember – better to be prepared than not, but sometimes no amount of waterproofing can protect you from Mother Nature!