Rain Boots vs. Winter Boots vs. Waterproof Hiking Boots
Personally, we don't mind the shoe rack filling up when we know every pair has its own purpose. We'll go over how to differentiate functionality and offer advice on how to avoid too much redundancy in the wardrobe. Rain boots are typically a very distinguishable category with their sleek look, rubber shafts, minimal outsoles, and often bright or patterned colors. Specific to rain, these types of boots are not necessarily made to compete with boots made for the snow or long-distance hiking. Rarely do they encompass all the preferred comforts. In their most basic forms, they are made to keep your feet dry in wet conditions and to easily slide on without the worry of laces. Materials can range from neoprene, such as the Bogs North Hampton, to the most technical resin, such as the Crocs Jaunt Shorty; but they are usually made from synthetic rubber and have a simple, thin nylon or cotton lining. The fancier you get, the more perks, buckles, and accessories are likely thrown in for style points. Sometimes you come across hybrids, such as the Bogs mentioned above, where significant insulation is added for colder weather. The majority of the boots we tested were of the traditional, mild-weather construction, with relatively basic shafts and little to no insulation ideal for temperatures ranging from 50-75 degrees-F.
Boots made for trudging in the snow encompass a wide range of activity, from the at-home shoveling duty to snowshoeing comfort. Some do carry over into the waterproof hiking category but with added insulation, while others are explicitly designed for heavy duty snow work, mountaineering, etcetera. Generally rated down to below-freezing temperatures, the insulation is probably the most distinguishing feature of winter boots, with traction being of high priority as well. Basic winter boots are often laced and made of waterproofed nylon, Gore-tex (the two most breathable options), leather, or a combination of leather and nylon (leather being the least breathable option). Often taller than the ankles, but not quite up to the calf, winter boots tend to require the aid of gaiters to fully complete the weatherproofing, as trudging through deep snow only collects water at the top of the boot and around the tongue over time. The Bogs North Hampton we reviewed did slightly cross the boundary of the winter boot world. However, these boots did not perform very well with traction in the snow and over ice, thus keeping it as the intended rain boot.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
In the name of being waterproof, these hiking boots will not be as breathable as their non-waterproof hiking sisters. Nonetheless, when it comes to long-distance hiking through snowy and rainy conditions, such as being caught in late spring and summer thunderstorms across the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, waterproof hiking boots are life savers and keepers of foot sanity. The act of hiking will inevitably compensate for the lack of insulation, but traveling across long, icy distances, or continuously working in the snow might not be the most durable idea. Waterproof hiking boots are ideal for spring and fall romps through the mountains when the weather is more likely to be unpredictable, when slush and mud don the trails, or when snowmelt yields swollen stream crossings. Granted, as the joke goes, boots are only as waterproof as they are tall. These types of boots are similarly constructed to winter boots, laced and made with nylon, Gore-tex, or leather, minus the added insulation, and are typically no taller than the ankles. Traction is also of priority here.
There was one pair of boots we tested that had laces, the Sperry Saltwater Duck Boot. Rawhide laces and upper, these boots also had a side zipper. Unfortunately, we felt that these added stylistic features were detrimental to their overall waterproofing. The tongue was detached, the laces did not actually tie, and the zipper was not waterproofed, leaving only the very basic rubber footbox to keep you dry. In addition, the traction was not made for hiking and is another example of how style may blend with a hiking boot, but functionality still remains that of a casual rain boot.
Different Types of Rain Boots
Coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they can most easily be categorized by shaft height: low-top, mid-calf, or tall. Low-top boots peak around the ankles or slightly above the ankles with a height, as measured from the floor, that is typically less than 8 inches. The height of mid-calf boots typically measure 12-14 inches from the ground; and lastly, tall boots can be anywhere from 14 to over 16 inches in height. Intuitively, the shorter the shaft height, the less overall weather protection, particularly from puddles and sideways rain. Another thing to keep in mind, unless you're always wearing leggings, tall boots are sometimes difficult to wear over pants, which make mid-calf boots more appealing and versatile for the wardrobe.
- Joules Wellibob (6.5")
- Sperry Top-Sider Saltwater Duck Boot (7.5")*
- Crocs Jaunt Short (7.75")*
- Kamik Heidi (12")
- UGG Shaye (13.75")
- Bogs North Hampton (14.5")*
- Xtratuf Legacy (15")
- Helly Hansen Veierland 2 (15.5")
- L.L. Bean Wellie (15.63")
- Hunter Original Adjustable Back (16")
The Bogs North Hampton: while the top of the shaft measured 14.5" from the ground, the cut-out handles diminish the effective shaft height to 11", meaning the boot will flood if water levels rise over 11", similar to that of a mid-calf boot.
The Crocs Jaunt Shorty: a similar case, the finger holes in the shaft diminish the effective height to 5.25" from 7.75".
The Sperry Saltwater: due to the non-waterproof side zipper and detached tongue, the effective shaft height is diminished from 7.5" to about 4.25", the shortest weatherproofing of all the boots in the review.
Warmth & Weather Protection
If you live near the equator, then rain boots are likely never on your mind. Thus, it's important to keep in mind the type of environment you live in and the types of activities you foresee yourself needing such boots for. For cooler locations, such as temperate coastlines, rain is likely all the inclement weather you'll ever encounter. For these mild-weather locales, it's best to shop for boots that have little to no insulation, which typically provides more room for thicker socks if the temperatures occasionally require such. Without the added insulation, your feet are less likely to overheat and sweat. You wouldn't want to end up with swampy feet throughout the day, negating the very reason to wear waterproof boots in the first place, right? In and of themselves, these boots do not breathe very well, so being fully waterproof typically provides adequate warmth for the rain.
The majority of the boots we tested did not have added insulation, the three exceptions being the Sperry Saltwater with their micro-fleece, the Bogs with their neoprene liner, and the Joules Wellibob with their white, synthetic fur. The rest of the boots were either thinly lined with nylon, cotton, or had no liner at all, such as the Crocs Jaunt Shorty (which is made with their classic Croslite™ resin). During testing, these minimally lined boots scored above average in warmth, which is only a measure of how well they kept heat under various circumstances (i.e. snow and an icy river). Lower scores in this metric do not necessarily equate to a terrible boot. These average scores are what you should be paying attention to if you live and work in places that only ever rain.
When taking climate into consideration, it's good to familiarize yourself with the average precipitation your region receives. What are the most likely conditions? If you live in a four-season mountain community, it might still be advantageous to purchase a mild-weather boot for summer thunderstorms and spring and fall slush—as winter will likely be taken care of via appropriate winter boots. This is an example of how you can prevent too much redundancy with your shoe collection if that's your goal. If it often pours as opposed to sprinkling and you are likely to encounter huge puddles, a taller shaft should be of priority for you. On the other hand, if the rare mist is all you're concerned with, then low-top options tend to be more fashionable and easy to dress with, such as the Sperry Saltwater Duck Boots.
Sometimes waterproof rubber boots are also highly appropriate if you work outdoors, such as on a commercial fishing rig, on a farm, or if your hobbies include gardening, or walking the cold shoreline for shells. Easy to clean by simply wiping them down, rubber is a durable material. Rain or no rain, brainstorm your routines and the circumstances to which you're most likely to desire this type of boot.
Warmth aside, another way for these boots to differ is how they actually fit and feel overall, with the hope that they provide adequate foot support. This is especially critical for work environments where waterproof boots are an invaluable asset, such as examples mentioned previously: from fishing to the farm, etcetera. All-day wear and proper fit is important, often outweighing style entirely. Of the boots we tested, there were two that stood out as technical and comfy: the Bogs North Hampton and the Xtratuf Legacy. The Xtratuf, a Top Pick award winner for those who work outdoors, stood out for its thick sole and incredible flexibility in the shaft. These marine-inspired boots were made for you to work hard in, and this particular model was designed in honor of the popular Alaskan Salmon Sisters, who have worked their commercial fishing rigs in them.
For comfort, something to consider is how stiff the upper rubber is. If possible, read review comments to search for clues. Of the boots we tested, the stiffest and least comfortable boots were the L.L. Bean Wellies. They provided a very drastic sense of immobility, compared to the others, in addition to being fairly tall, which inevitably made for a very robotic stride, in our opinion.
A tip: You can easily remedy a lack of foot support with your own specialized insoles. The average boots will have very basic and rather flimsy insoles, so if you do end up buying your own, consider how it might affect the fit over of the boot. However, if the insoles do end up being much longer than the footbed, a neat trick is to lightly trim the toe of the insoles back.
If you're only in search of boots to wear occasionally, maybe more on the spectrum of rarely, then comfort may not be a priority at all. In such a case style is probably the leading factor. Nonetheless, it's always nice when comfort and style are remarkably combined into a rather simple, yet functional boot, like the Kamik Heidi. Winning the award for Best Buy, the Kamik Heidi is a sleek and simple boot with a lovely red-wine color and glossy appeal. Fashionable and adequately comfortable for all-day wear, these boots are truly one of the top deals with a price tag of only $50.
For a fashionably tall boot, we would either recommend the Hunter Original Back Adjustable (if you can afford them) or the L.L. Bean Wellies. Both are very different from one another, the L.L. Bean looking most like a classy horseback riding boot with its black color and accessory buckles and finger loops. The Hunter is more of a streamlined, molded design with much more flexible rubber than the L.L. Bean. Another stylish mention is the UGG Shaye, with its unassuming, elegant appearance and a wonderful selection of colors.
One area of contention, however, is when fashion and function are not balanced, yielding trendy looks with inadequate waterproofing. As mentioned earlier, such was the case with the Sperry Saltwater. It's important to dive deep when you read product descriptions, browse photos if provided, and read user reviews. More often than not, drawbacks will appear consistently if they are significant enough, and a lack of waterproofing will definitely be one of them. On the other hand, again, maybe you're someone who doesn't necessarily need a boot to be fully waterproof or tall. This is an example of how low-top boots, such as the Joules Wellibob, might be favorable. Low-top boots are easier to put on and take off, and you can wear them comfortably underneath your pants; and again, if you're living and working in an environment where there really isn't enough rain to concern yourself with wet jeans, then having a waterproof footbox will be plenty sufficient.
If traction is the most important thing for you, of the boots we tested, the tread on the Kamik Heidi was a top-performer, closely followed by the Hunter Original Back Adjustable, UGG Shaye, and Xtratuf Legacy. The outsole of the Kamik Heidi was noticeably deep with enough space between to lugs to let water run through. Even in the snow, we walked confidently. This might also be due to the thinner sole of the Heidi, providing more sensitivity to establish secure footing. With thicker soles or too big of a footbox, it will be harder for you to gain a feel for traction.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, of the boots we tested, the tread on the Bogs North Hampton was probably the most disappointing. Stable across flat surfaces, the outdoor vibe, and marketing of the boot didn't live up to our expectations. We were insecure in the snow and even slipped in the river environment when we didn't think we would. The tread is notably shallower than many of the other boots. Browse photos online and user reviews for insight into tread performace—and definitely weigh your intuition over that of marketing taglines. While tread may be of utmost importance to you, rain boots are typically not the best with traction in rugged environments as they are mostly built for the casual, urban setting.
The bane of rain boot existence and a sub-category to overall comfort, fit is one of the most unfortunate drawbacks to any boot. With such basic principles and construction, these types of boots rarely come in half sizes and more often than not will run too small or too large, producing the all-too-common heel lift as you walk. Always read the sizing charts provided by the manufacturers and compare them to user reviews. Yet, sometimes even sizing charts can be misleading, such as the chart provided for the women's Xtratuf Legacy. There is also a difference in how people prefer to have their boots fit. Some like more room for the option of wearing thick socks, while others prefer a more snug footbox and thin socks. For the lead tester, her long socks are thinner than they are thick, so she preferred to have boots that fit tighter around the foot.
For the buyer whose feet are in-between whole sizes, reading reviews is where you can ultimately gain the most insight about what size to choose. For example, the Hunter boots "run large," according to the internet, so we ordered down to a size 7 (for a 7.5 foot). This boot ended up being one of the best fitting and we were very happy to have sized down. The same didn't particularly go for the Joules Wellibob, in which we also sized down to a 7. The boot still felt slightly too large. If only they had half sizes, right? The majority of boots, however, we ordered up to an 8 due to recommendations from sizing charts and reviews. There were only two cases where we wish we hadn't sized up, and that was for the L.L. Bean Wellies and the Crocs Jaunt Shorty. These two boots apparently run very large, so a size 7 would have been much more appropriate. Despite the size, however, the Crocs were still of fair quality and of course were the lightest pair we tested (they even floated like a bath toy).
A tip: Boots that fit more closely to your foot will inevitably perform worse when it comes to maintaining warmth in near-freezing temperatures, as there isn't much space for air to act as an insulate. Keep this in mind when considering fit if warmth is of high priority. The lesson of all this, is to of course know your feet and how they typically fit in the average shoe. Crocs run wider than the average boot, so this might be a favorable choice. The L.L. Bean Wellies are also had a roomy footbox.
Are your feet relatively narrow like the lead tester? Then the Hunter Original Back Adjustable's streamlined design will be a plus. The Helly Hansen Veierland 2 also had a snug footbox, yet they yielded a stiffer rubber—and the way the boot is designed around the ankle, the front of the boot where it folds as you walk, dug into the base of our shins and was quite uncomfortable after long periods of time. Unfortunately, these are nuances that will differ with every person, yet take note of any consistent comfort and fit issues you read in user reviews online. Don't forget, for more specific details on how each boot we tested fit, refer to our individual reviews.
A quick note, and another reason to always read product descriptions is of paying attention to the materials used in the construction of the boot. If you are allergic to latex, we would express caution for the Xtratuf Legacy, as latex is used in the chemical resistance of the boot. In addition, if you are averse to animal products, especially in footwear, you might steer clear from the classic UGG Shaye, which uses Australian sheepskin and lambswool in the footbed and for the insole; and the Sperry Saltwater Duck Boot, which uses a rawhide upper and shoelace.
If it is of interest to you for where things are made, the Kamik Heidi is made in Canada, the Hunter Original in Great Britain, the Crocs in Vietnam, the UGG Shaye in the U.S. (sometimes importing lambswool), and the rest are made in China.
In the end, the fundamentals of weather protection, comfort, style, traction, and warmth are key to selecting an appropriate rain boot. The main takeaway, of course, is that the best boot for you is the one that will provide the most function and contentment in the environment you live and work in. Of course, taking price tags into consideration is a must, but more often than not, you get what you're willing to pay for. Fortunately for you, one of the highest scoring boots is also one of the cheapest: the Kamik Heidi; and for an even more holistic approach, make sure to read individual reviews for specifics on each boot.