The terms waterproof and water-resistant can be confusing if you're looking for a shoe that doesn't allow water to enter. You want to be sure you're investing in a shoe that will keep your feet dry and provide you with comfort during the rainy season.
However, did you know that there's actually a big difference when it comes to waterproof vs. water-resistant fabrics?
In this article, we'll compare both terms so you can choose the right option for your needs. Plus, we'll share what we think are the top tips you need to know when choosing a liquid repelling shoe.
So, what's the actual difference?
It is almost impossible to tell the difference between water-resistant and waterproof at a glance. It gets harder to differentiate these two aspects because there are no standardized testing practices that could provide a fair baseline. Most brands just use their in-house facilities to determine if what they're producing will keep water away.
On the other hand, there are some generally determining factors you can look for to know the amount of water resistance something has. For example, checking out the brand's website, looking at their product specs, going through user reviews, etc.
If we had to define it, however, we'd say that water-resistant will keep water away but at some point, the material will soak up enough water that it will start leaking through. Waterproof would indicate that the item will keep water away forever without ever being too soaked to keep working.
One last thing to note is that, even with what we mentioned above, waterproof and water-repellent gear isn't a defined line but rather a sliding scale. Even in waterproof materials, you will find that some things are more impervious to water than others. To know what gear to purchase, make sure you know the amount of water you will interact with to choose what will suit you best.
Waterproof vs Water-Repellent: The Ingress Protection Scale
As we mentioned above, figuring out how waterproof something is can be quite tough. That said there is a thing called the Ingress Protection scale that can help. aims to give some definition when it comes to being impermeable.
So, what is the Ingress Protection scale?
In simple terms, it's a scale designed by the European Union to help give some definition when it comes to how much an object can keep things out of it. It includes dust, and you guessed it - water. It's not used only for footwear or clothing but for electronics as well. On this scale, the higher the number the higher its water repellency property.
For example, if something has a rating of IPX-O that means it won't protect against water and can get wet quickly. On the other hand, something with an IPX-8 rating means it's great for continuous immersion in water - even in more profound depths of 1 meter.
Using that explanation, you should now be able to have a bit more information on how waterproof something is. Most tech specs are included in the packaging of an item or on the manufacturer's website.
What does a water-resistant shoe look like?
Water-resistant shoes give you a lower level of protection from light showers such as rain. They're generally made of a tightly woven fabric that prevents some tiny amount of water from reaching your skin, making it partially resistant. In most cases, you will find many more water-resistant jackets in the market than you will shoes.
That said, it depends on the material of the outer fabric of the shoe. If the fabric is not cotton, for example, it will resist some light rain. That does mean however that when you stay in the rain for long or interact with a lot of water, your shoes will get wet. People tend to choose these fabrics over-waterproof ones because they are more breathable.
As much as they only resist a light drizzle, they do shed water and dry quickly, giving you moisture resilience. Water-resistant type shoes achieve their moisture resilience in two ways:
a) A tight weave
This one is pretty simple. The tighter the weave the harder the water needs to work to make it into the shoes. This doesn't mean that it won't eventually happen, it just means that it will take longer than with looser weaves.
b) A coating applied to the upper
Some brands will such as The North Face will manufacture with materials such as canvas which are not water-resistant on their own. But, they'll coat them with wax so they can resist wet conditions for a while. The same case applies to oilcloth, traditionally a cotton duck with a linseed oil coating to make it water-resistant.
Most commonly fabrics are coated with vinyl, making them more waterproof than water-resistant. Water-resistant fabrics however are more breathable than waterproof ones since they allow the free flow of air through their weaves. Of course, they won't breathe as much as say cotton, but they will breathe better than a material with PVC coating.
What does a waterproof shoe look like?
The fabrics used on these shoes are pretty distinctive since they provide you with a higher level of water protection than water-resistant shoes. As a result, you can stay in the rain for an extended time knowing that water won't seep through the fabric to your skin.
If you're looking for a shoe with durable water repellent capabilities then your best option is a waterproof one. According to certain studies, a fabric is certified to be waterproof when it achieves a high level of water resistance. Waterproof fabrics offer ultimate protection from the rain or any exposure to water. These fabrics are covered in high-tech laminates or coatings that keep water out entirely.
The downside of waterproof fabrics is that they can be uncomfortably warm since they don't allow any water inside. This condition makes the material's breathability to be extremely poor. As a result, most brands have constructed their shoes with a DWR coating, basically hydrophilic materials.
These materials are treated to be waterproof by applying to them a water-resistant fabric with a durable water repellent. The advantage of using a water repellent outer layer is that it makes a superior waterproof shoe because it keeps you dry on the inside and comfortable.
Waterproof shoes have their outer fabrics with polyvinyl chloride, acrylic backing, or PVC to prevent water from passing through the weaves. In addition, some shoes have fabrics woven in a blend of polyester and polyurethane to make them waterproof and lightweight.
Factors to consider when choosing waterproof gear
1. The brand
Names like The North Face, Vessi, Columbia and other massive brands have proven to manufacture products that really work. Given these big brands' reputations you can be sure that if they come up with a shoe and claim it is waterproof, it is.
Now, this is not to say that smaller independent brands are not to be believed. But if you've purchased a waterproof shoe from a smaller brand that has performed well, then there is no reason to not trust them.
2. How the seams are built
When you compare water resistance to waterproof shoe materials, you'll find that waterproofing is on a sliding relativity scale. The material may fail to keep the shoe dry if some parts are not waterproof. That's why waterproof seams done through treatment or coating is absolutely key to keep you dry.
Because waterproof coatings may wear off after some time, looking for sonically welded seams on your clothing is the way to resolve this. It's more durable than the coating and can be applied by combining two fabrics through sound vibrations.
3. What the water resistance rating is
It should be indicated somewhere on the shoe or the brand website how long the shoe can resist water after continuous immersion. The same applies to other things like hiking packs, camping tents, waterproof jackets, etc.
A good example is how most tech items tell you how long and how deep you can submerge your item before it suffers water damage. They give you a rough idea of what to expect if the product is wholly immersed in water for an extended period.
Frequently Asked Questions On Water-resistant and Waterproof
1. How can I tell if something is waterproof or water-resistant?
It can be challenging to differentiate a water-resistant material from a waterproof one at a glance. To help with this, always buy your waterproof jacket, shoes, bags, and camping gear from reputable brands to be on the safer side.
Make sure you buy the original brand so you don't end up with cheap imitation. Check the seams of the material and ensure they are tightly woven to resist water pressure. And, make sure to check the zippers. When they do not have a plastic bag covering, they will let water seep in.