By Rehan Iqbal
Keeping your feet dry on a jobsite is a high-tech industry. You’ve probably not put much thought into how safety boot manufacturers ensure that their products remain waterproof, even though we depend on our footwear to keep our feet dry and comfortable in harsh conditions. There are many trademarked waterproofing systems for outdoor gear and work boots. Gore-Tex is one of the best known of these, used for backpacks, jackets, as well as boots of every description. Though there are many others.
If your job requires the best waterproof technology, it’s a good idea to get up to speed on how work boots are waterproofed. Some manufacturers use their own patented waterproof technology, others use technology developed by companies that specialize in waterproofing materials. Most try to keep their unique methods a trade secret. This means it’s not always easy to determine which work boots you should buy if you want the best, most durable waterproof technology.
Now it’s time to dive in take a look at the many products used in waterproofing process for boots.
Keen is a modern progressive company, founded in 2003. As a relative newcomer to the boot manufacturing industry, their marketing is focused quite heavily on the younger crowd. Their environmentally conscious approach defiantly appeals to millennials with a love for the outdoors. The company is based in Portland, Oregon but source the best materials from around the world.
When it comes to waterproofing technology, Keen.Dry is one of the best. Although the materials used are a closely guarded secret, Keen.Dry appears to be very similar to Gore-Tex. This being a waterproof, breathable membrane that is placed between the soft inner layer and tougher outer layer of the boot. These membranes are generally made from polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) – most of us know this as Teflon. Since Keen is so secretive about their Keen.Dry Technology, I can only assume that they probably use ePTFE for their waterproof membrane.
The membrane has extremely small pores which are too small for water to penetrate, but just large enough to let water vapor from sweat to escape. They also have an anti-odor layer. While the breathable waterproof membrane is very effective at keeping moisture out, it is not 100% waterproof. In very wet conditions, moisture will enter the boot.
For more than three decades, Merrell has been manufacturing high-quality, super-rugged hiking boots. Because of their reputation for extreme durability, Merrell boots have become a huge favorite for people who work in harsh conditions. They are also considered by many to be the most comfortable hiking/work boots.
The Merrell M-Select Dy waterproofing membrane uses similar technology to Keen and Gore-Tex. This being a thin breathable membrane that is bonded to the inner sole of the boot, just above the exquisitely comfortable lining. Like all breathable membranes, M-Select Dry is not 100% waterproof.
When compared to the other high-end waterproof membranes, M-Select Dry does not fare too well. Make no mistake, your feet will remain comfortably dry in most conditions. But the general consensus is that Gore-Tex and Keen.Dry have the advantage in this regard. I guess, the emphasis on providing the best comfort may have slightly compromised the efficacy of the waterproofing material.
The UltraDry trademark belongs to ISKO, an innovative fabric manufacturer, responsible for many products that enhance comfort, water management, and other important factors. In the world of work boots, we are more familiar with the UltraDry name being associated with Irish Setter hunting and work boots.
UltraDry is marketed as a moisture management system and not waterproofing. This is because it has unique properties that draw moisture away from your feet and allow the material to dry more quickly. As a result, products (like Irish Setter) are not actually waterproof. Instead, they improve your comfort in wet conditions and are excellent for preventing sweaty feet from being a problem.
Georgia Waterproof System
Georgia are renowned for their range of Wellington boots and are about the best ranch boots you can get. Their work boots are also highly respected for durability, comfort, and quality.
The Georgia waterproofing system is one of very few that offer 100% waterproofing. Despite keeping your feet completely dry, they also offer a fair deal of breathability. This is because some Georgia work boots combine their waterproof leather technology with a Gore-Tex breathable waterproof membrane.
These boots are also oil resistant thanks to the polyurethane coating. Georgia work boots are made from leather that has been coated to protect them from chemical damage and keep water out. The stitching is als
Ariat manufacture high-end cowboy boots that are also extremely popular as stylish work boots. The waterproof Pro system, used by Ariat to keep their boots dry is highly effective.
Not only are their leather boots coated with a protective water resistant layer, they also use a breathable waterproof membrane, similar to Gore-Tex. This means double waterproofing to ensure that that your feet remain comfortably dry, come rain or snow.
The system ensures a good deal of comfort as it is extremely effective for waterproofing yet allows heat and moisture from sweat to escape.
Gore-Tex is considered by many to be the ultimate product used for waterproof boots and outdoor gear. The product was invented by W.L. Gore & Associates in 1969. It involves using expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) which is made by heating polytetrafluoroethylene rods and stretching them. This means that the material has extremely small pores that allow air and water vapor to pass through, whilst being too small for water molecules to enter. Although some moisture does permeate the membrane.
Most modern waterproofing membranes use the same technology as Gore-Tex. However, since Gore-Tex is the original breathable waterproof membrane, it is generally considered to be the best. For this reason, numerous boot and waterproof clothing manufacturers prefer to use Gore-Tex over any other type of waterproofing material. These include:
Generally, products that use Gore-Tex will advertise this fact, as the trademark is widely recognized as the best.
Leather has always been considered one of the best materials for boots and other products that require a high level of durability. Natural leather can be tough as well as soft and comfortable at the same time. It is porous, so it allows for a fair amount of ventilation. This keeps your feet cool and allows sweat to escape from the boot.
For all its wonderful properties, untreated leather is not waterproof. It can, however, be coated to resist water. This means that leather can be either water resistant or waterproof, depending on what type of coating is used to protect the leather.
Water resistant leather is good for resisting spills but will not keep your feet dry if exposed to rain or immersed in water. In order for leather to be considered waterproof, it has to meet stringent criteria. Essentially, the leather is tested using a variable water pressure. It has to withstand enough water pressure to remain waterproof under normal conditions.
Apart from rubber boots, waterproof leather is one of the only ways to guarantee that your feet remain completely dry in wet conditions.
I spent quite a long time researching how work boot waterproofing technology works. What makes one brand better (or worse) than another? I believe that this will provide with some valuable insight when you set out to buy your next pair of safety boots.
There are several ways that work boot manufacturers keep moisture out. Some will bond a waterproof membrane to the inner sole or on the outside of the boot. Others prefer to apply a waterproof coating to the material. The type of waterproofing material will affect how well the boots keep water out. It can also affect your comfort, as some are more breathable than others. Meaning that if it’s important that your feet have the best cooling, you’ll probably want a breathable waterproof safety boot.