Trail running involves various terrain, elevation, and weather. At some point during trail runs, participants will experience rain, river crossings, and muddy trails. Not only can this affect runners’ mental or emotional state, but it can have physical effects like the feet being constantly wet. Many times, wet feet lead to runners with blisters so painful that it can potentially lead to a DNF.
Determining the right shoes for trail running can help alleviate or even prevent possible issues, such as blisters, when the trails are wet. Trail running shoes do not need to be waterproof. Surprisingly, shoes that are not waterproof tend to dry faster and do not have the potential of water getting trapped, which can be much worse.
Waterproof vs Non-waterproof Trail Running Shoes
Waterproof shoes possess a built-in liner or a coating that prevents moisture from getting in. As mentioned before, waterproof shoes can trap water. Water gets trapped because the barrier is as good at keeping moisture out as it does in.
For example, if you were to be running in constant rain, water can still get in through the top of the shoe. Since the liner prevents the water from getting out, runners risk heavy shoes and wet feet for the rest of the run or race.
Some runners choose to wear gaiters to prevent water coming through the top, but even this method is not full proof. Once a little bit of moisture gets into a waterproof shoe it will stay there. Other than your feet being wet, shoes can become much heavier and even hot because of the protective liner.
Non-waterproof shoes tend to have lighter materials, which allow them to dry faster. Another feature to notice is they are not as stiff and bulky as waterproof shoes, adding more comfort. Non-waterproof shoes have more breathability, which can prevent feet from getting hot. Not only does the lighter material dry faster, but they also drain better since there is no waterproof lining.
How to Decide
Even though there are cons to wearing waterproof shoes for trail running, there are also times where they are preferred. When deciding, runners need to factor in weather, conditions of the trails, and the location.
Location can be important because it will decide how fast the shoes will dry. In arid, dry climates shoes tend to dry much faster. In wet, humid climates shoes can take a longer time to dry, leaving your feet wet and miserable.
Types of Conditions to Consider
When the weather is cold, I suggest opting for waterproof shoes. Waterproof shoes do have pros, such as being waterproof, windproof, and the ability to keep your feet warm (as these are also their cons). The shoes keep the feet much warmer because they are not as breathable as non-waterproof shoes.
If running in the snow, waterproof shoes can be especially important because snow can still get your feet wet and cold. The protective lining prevents the water from seeping in, and if you add gaiters this will help prevent snow getting through the top of the shoes.
During hotter conditions, runners should pick non-waterproof shoes. Since waterproof shoes are not as breathable, they trap in heat and can eventually make your feet overheat. Overheating leads to sweating, and a lot of runners comment on their shoes being wet from just the moisture of their own sweat.
Non-waterproof shoes can prevent sweating and overheating because they allow for better breathability. Non-waterproof shoes also tend to have well ventilated uppers and mesh liners that are much more breathable than their waterproof counterparts.
Cool, Damp Trail Conditions
When the weather is still cold and a little wet, waterproof shoes are your best bet for the trails. Since, it is damp the shoes are not going to get soaked with water. The shoes will allow for your feet to stay warm and dry, and runners will not risk the issue of their feet overheating.
Avoid wearing non-waterproof shoes because the damp conditions will leave your feet wet and cold. Also, the non-waterproof shoes are not as good at keeping mud and dirt out. The dirt can get on or in the shoes and still transfer the cold moisture to your feet.
If the trails are full of water or the weather consist of rain, runners should use non-waterproof shoes. This choice will allow for the shoes to drain better and dry faster. Water is less likely to get trapped, which will make your feet more dry than wearing waterproof shoes.
Waterproof shoes trap water, and when they begin to hold water the moisture will not come out. Due to the water being trapped, the shoes become much heavier. Runners do not want to add on any extra weight to their gear as it will slow them down.
My Personal Experience…
Every race I have ran, has had some amount of water. No matter the distance or the amount of water crossings, I always opt for non-waterproof shoes. While racing in the Leadville Trail 100, I knew that there were water crossings in the middle of the race.
Since the water crossings were above my ankles and there were multiple ones, I knew that choosing non-waterproof shoes was the right move. The area was also warm, dry, and arid. I knew that my shoes would dry just as quick, if not quicker, then the time it would take to change into a new pair of shoes after the crossings.
As I had planned, I did not change my shoes the whole race. By the end, I not only crossed the finish line but was able to keep my feet from getting any blisters.
Are Gore-Tex Trail Running Shoes Worth It?
Gore-Tex shoes are insulated footwear that meets specific waterproof specifications and breathability. The membranes of Gore-Tex are designed to allow for moisture and water to still escape, which avoids the issue of water getting trapped.
Like most waterproof shoes, Gore-Tex shoes work well in cold temperatures. Except, most people still report issues of them staying wet for longer periods of time. In terms of keeping the feet dry, they do the job until water gets inside.
At the end of the day, Gore-Tex shoes are usually more expensive than most non-waterproof shoes. When comparing the price and the best type of shoe for running, Gore-Tex shoes are not worth it.
Best Waterproof Trail Running Shoes
Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX
The Salomon Speed cross 5 GTX is the waterproof version of an already popular trail running shoe. The shoes are still lightweight and offer advanced grip for technical, soft trails. Many people agree that for a waterproof shoes they are still breathable because of the upper part of the shoe being much more breathable than other waterproof shoes.
La Sportiva Tempesta GTX
La Sportiva Tempesta GTX are another great waterproof trail running shoe. These shoes characterizes themselves as all weather shoes. The shoes includes features, such as the Gore-Flex strobel board, AirMesh uppers, and scree-guard.
All of these innovative aspects allow for breathability, dryness, and for your feet to stay stable in any condition. The outer sole of the shoe has aggressive grip for all trails and conditions.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 (Waterproof)
The Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 waterproof version is considered more stable and durable than its non-waterproof counterpart. The cushioned foam of the midsole absorbs impact, while the waterproof bootie and gusseted tongue keep water out. They also have the Vibram Megagrip hi-traction outer sole for impressive grip out on the trails.
My Recommendation on Waterproof Running Shoes
My favorite waterproof running shoes are the Altra Lone Peak Low RSM. The RSM stands for rain, snow, mud. The upper part of the shoe is developed with eVent, which is a 100% waterproof. The reason I prefer these shoes is the comfortability.
I have tried other brands in the past, and the shoes tend to be bulky, stiff, and lack breathability. The Altra Lone Peak Low RSM provide the same level of comfort as the regular Lone Peaks, with the added bonus of being waterproof.
When it comes down to waterproof versus non-waterproof shoes, I would always recommend going with the non-waterproof version. Unless you are running in the snow, non-waterproof shoes have better breathability and dry much faster than waterproof shoes.
It is also important to mention that sand, dirt, and even your sweat can break down the protective liner and membrane that make shoes waterproof. The only way to prevent this from happening, is by consistently cleaning shoes inside and out. This is not practical for most people.
Lastly, there is a significant price difference between waterproof shoes and non-waterproof shoes. With all the cons of waterproof shoes, non-waterproof shoes are the best choice for almost all runners.
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Maddie is an avid backpacker, climber, and trail runner. When she is not out on the trails training for ultramarathons, she is exploring with her husband and son in their 1996 F350 and camper. If you cannot find her outdoors she is probably at a brewery drinking a sour.