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A few years back, I was preparing for my first trail run and was about to buy a trail running shoe. A question popped into my head, one that many others have already asked. Do trail running shoes need to be waterproof? I asked the experts from a local running shop and here’s what I got from them.
Trail running shoes do not have to be waterproof. In fact, waterproof shoes can be counterproductive. Trail running involves crossing rivers and stepping on mud which guarantees water entering your shoe. Waterproof shoes trap water inside the shoe, making running more uncomfortable.
Ahead, we will get into more details as to why trail running shoes don’t have to be waterproof. In addition, we’ll look at some pointers in choosing good trail running shoes in wet conditions.
Why Trail Shoes Doesn’t Have To Be Waterproof
If you’re like me, you must be surprised to hear trail shoes don’t actually have to be waterproof.
All those years I thought trail shoes needed to be waterproof to prevent your socks from getting wet when trail running.
Turns out, that wearing a waterproof shoe when submerging your feet in water like crossing a river is counterproductive. It actually keeps your socks wet in the long run.
Let me explain…
Trails, especially mountain trails, offer a variety of terrain. There’s mud, river crossings, and wet grass that could contribute to your shoes getting wet. Not to mention, the sweat that accumulates from your feet.
There’s water coming in from all sides including the top of your shoes and inside the shoe itself (your feet).
It’s almost a guarantee that if you run long enough, you’ll get your feet wet regardless of what shoes you are wearing.
Wearing light, breathable, and non-waterproof shoes allow the water to drain out of your shoes and dry faster.
In contrast, waterproof shoes trap the water inside the shoe keeping your feet wet longer. Additionally, waterproof shoes tend to be less breathable.
Related post: Trail Running Shoes: How Are They Different?
What Happens If You Run With Wet Shoes
There are a number of things that could happen when you run with excessively wet shoes.
- You’ll get blisters – wet fabric creates a rougher surface which then results in increased friction leading to blisters
- Adds weight to the shoe – just like wet clothes, wet shoes and socks add weight which could affect your running performance
- Discomfort – running in excessively wet shoes creates discomfort, especially when you start to hear the squishing and feel the water pooling inside your shoe
- Affects the shoes’ breathability – wet shoes affect the breathability creating a feeling of warm, unventilated feet which is very frustrating when you run
As mentioned earlier, getting your shoes wet during trail runs is normal. But regular trail running shoes easily drains the water out of it.
The water can flow right in, but it also flows right out quite easily.
In addition, good trail running shoe tend to have thin mesh uppers that don’t hold too much water, improves breathability, and dries faster.
Waterproof shoes, on the other hand, have zero drains. In addition, they’re more likely to be built thick, therefore, hold more water.
Related post: Is It Okay To Wear Trail Shoes On The Pavement?
How To Reduce The Feeling of Wetness When Trail Running
Stopping water from entering your shoes when trail running is almost an impossible task, but there are several ways to reduce the feeling of wetness when trail running.
Here are some simple tips:
- Wear moisture-wicking socks
- Use a gaiter
- Choose a breathable shoe with a thin upper
Wear moisture-wicking socks
Unlike the typical cotton socks, these type of socks doesn’t absorb water keeping the wetness to a minimum. Moisture-wicking socks are typically made of polyester, nylon, or wool.
One of my favoring trail running socks is the MudGear compression socks. They’re tough, durable, and most of all, comfortable in any condition. I use them for most of my trail runs.
Related post: 7 Best Anti-Blister Running Socks (According To Runners)
Use a gaiter
A gaiter is a gear that you put in the opening of your shoes at the ankle to prevent rocks, mud, and debris from getting inside your shoe.
And although this doesn’t fully prevent water from coming in, it blocks the debris that could cause discomfort.
The ALTRA trail gaiter is one of the popular ones on the market.
Choose a breathable shoe with a thin upper
When choosing a running shoe that you’ll use for wet conditions, it helps if you can choose a shoe that is well ventilated and has a thin upper.
The increased breathability helps dry your shoes and socks faster while the thin upper reduces the amount of water the shoe holds.
I have a pair of Salomon Sense Ride 4 and I’ve used them in trail runs that cross multiple rivers. One thing I noticed immediately is that they are incredibly quick to dry.
For me, they are easily one of the best trail shoes and I highly recommend that you check them out. They’re available on Amazon.
Related post: What To Wear For Trail Running? (Complete Gear Guide)
What About Gore-Tex Shoes, Do They Work?
If you’ve been researching trail shoes for a while, you’ve probably come across Gore-tex shoes.
Several trail running shoes have Gore-tex (aka GTX) versions like the Salomon Sense Ride 4 GTX.
Basically, Gore-Tex membranes are extremely thin layers of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) designed to be completely waterproof and windproof, yet still offer breathability.
They block water and wind from penetrating the shoe while still allowing for perspiration to escape.
The problem is, when trail running there are instances where you completely submerge your foot in the water like when crossing a river.
That leaves an opening for the water to penetrate through the mouth of the shoe. But now water in the shoes escape slower because of the Gore-Tex layer.
That creates the problem of trapping water inside the shoe that we’ve discussed earlier.
Gore-Tex versions, however, are particularly useful in extremely cold weather, like running in the snow.
Because of its waterproof and windproof features, it keeps your feet warm longer allowing you to perform better.
But unless you’re in that situation, I would recommend that you stick with the non-waterproof versions.
Trail running shoes do not have to be waterproof.
Gore-tex versions work really well in extremely cold situations like running in the snow, but not when used in trails where there are river crossings.
There are several ways to keep your foot relatively dry without waterproofing your shoes. This includes wearing moisture-wicking socks, using a gaiter, and choosing thin and breathable trail running shoes.