The Pros And Cons Of Waterproof Trail Runners

Ecco Biom waterproof trail runners

The case for waterproof versus non-waterproof hiking boots is pretty straight forward, but when it comes to trail runners, it is still a contentious issue. Trail conditions, time of year, and even corresponding sockwear come heavily into play, but in the end, it may simply come down to personal preference.

There are a few different types of waterproof construction used in outdoor footwear today. In the case of Gore-Tex and eVent, the waterproof trail runners are built from the outside-in using the following technique: upper material (usually synthetic), protective knit, waterproof membrane, then finally an inner lining.

In the case of OutDry, the waterproof membrane is directly bonded to the upper material, eliminating any space between the two layers for water or dirt to congregate. P2i’s Ion Mask, used by Timberland and Hi-Tec, skips the membrane and instead applies a thin polymer layer to the surface of the upper, keeping water from penetrating any part of the material in the first place.

Columbia Peakfreak Low OutDry trail runners

Which of these waterproofing technologies is best for outdoor footwear will continue to be hotly debated but what are the pros and cons of wearing waterproof trail runners in the first place?

Pros:

  1. Worn with gaiters, waterproof trail runners can be great for running on snowy trails or even for snowshoe running.
  2. The waterproof membrane is very good at keeping fine dust out of your shoes. As we are at the height of dry season in Northern California, most of the trails around here are nothing but dust. I have been wearing my ECCO Biom Trail GTX (Gore-Tex) waterproof trail runners to hike and have come home with clean socks every time. I wore the Columbia Peakfreak OutDry waterproof trail runners for our Havasu Falls trip and found them the key to days of blister free hiking through dust and sand.
  3. Waterproof trail runners are great at protecting your feet from wet muddy trails, as long as water stays below the shoe opening.
  4. The inherent reduction in breathability can actually help keep your feet warm in cold weather.

Cons:

  1. The presence of a waterproof membrane means your feet are prone to getting hot and sweaty in warmer conditions. In the best case, this will leave you feeling uncomfortable, but in the worst case, overly sweaty feet could lead to blisters.
  2. The waterproofness is only as good as the height of the shoe. As soon as you step in a puddle, creek, mud, or snow deeper than opening of the trail runner, your feet are soaked.
  3. If water does happen to get inside, waterproof trail runners tend to take much longer to dry out than simple mesh upper shoes.

I would love to hear your thoughts. In what conditions do you prefer waterproof trail runners, if at all?

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  1. I use a pair of Innov-8 waterproof trail runners as my go to backpacking shoe. I’ve always thought they did a good job of breathing. Put another way — if I had to choose from a gore-tex shoe versus a jacket knowing I’m going to work up a sweat I would take the shoes every time.

    My one complaint, and this applies to all waterproof shoes I’ve owned without leather uppers, is that the protective knit on the exterior will reach end of life before the rest of the shoe.

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