What footwear is best for long days in rain?

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Home Forums General Forums Winter Hiking What footwear is best for long days in rain?

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    jeff berkman
    BPL Member


    I’m planning a 30 day winter through hike in Spain where rain is expected at least half the time. I am wondering what i should where to keep my feet protected. My options are:

    1. Wear trail runners and expect wet feet during the day

    2. wear water proof trail runners with rain pants and jacket

    3. wear water proof trail runners with gaiters, rain pants, and jacket

    4. wear high top waterproof hiking shoes with rain pants and jacket

    What would be the best system to keep my feet blister free and feeling good?



    Locale: The Cascades

    Slogging through water all day isn’t that much of an issue (for me anyway). But slogging through icy cold water all day is quite a different story. Of course, as you no doubt know, there is no ‘best’ for all people. What’s best for one just doesn’t work for another.

    How cold are the temps projected to be during the day? How many miles will you be hiking in the rain each day? Are you hiking on snow, or just wet dirt trail? Will you be putting on wet, cold, frozen socks each day? Will your feet be submerged in the water, or is rain from above the only concern? I think these are important considerations that lead to a better answer, FWIW.

    jeff berkman
    BPL Member


    I expect temperatures in the 50’s during the day. i plan to hike 15 to 20 miles a day, mostly on dirt roads but some trails with mud. I’ll have day socks that may be wet when I put them on in the morning. I’ll have dry night socks to sleep in. I doubt I’ll be in situations where I’m walking in streams and the like. I’m mostly concerned with rain from above. I’ll try to avoid the areas of deep mud. There may be some snow in the high passes, but this will make up less than 10% of the trip.

    Mole J
    BPL Member


    Locale: UK

    50s is warm enough

    I’d go option one

    with low gaiters, rain pants and jacket.  It’s what I use in the wet UK down to low 30s. And that’s often off trail in bog.

    Maybe take some waterproof socks for evening wear .

    W I S N E R !


    I’d personally get over the idea of waterproof footwear. It will leak and wet out eventually and/or you’ll wet out from poor breathability and your own sweat. And because it’s a “waterproof” shoe or boot, it will be slower to dry than a lighter, quick-draining, mesh option.

    I say embrace the wet feet and focus on good foot care throughout the day (tending to hot spots, carry leukotape/tincture of benzoin for treatment, perhaps a sock change, etc.), and especially take care of them at the end of the day (clean your feet, let them air/dry them, put on warm/dry sleep socks).

    But I’m just regurgitating information that has worked for me.

    I still think Skurka’s article here is one of the most solid on this topic.




    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    I agree with what’s been said so far and Wisner summed it up well. I would just add that you should try out your wet footwear on some long hikes ahead of time to make sure you like the system you have selected. Start with wet feet from the trailhead. Some shoes have thicker padding that hold more water weight than others.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    Another Alaskan (after Philip) to concur with everyone else.  Option 1 is the only option.

    For an hour?  There are lots of options, but for all day long?  Day after day?  Embrace the wet.  Have dedicated camp socks and perhaps camp flip-flops, but accept that your primary socks and shoes will be wet after a stream crossing, rainstorm or walking through dewy grass.

    Mediterranean climate?  Any non-cotton socks are fine.  Thin nylon dress socks are light, tough and dry quickly if they give you enough padding inside the shoes.  Medium-thickness wool-blend (SmartWool, Inji, and DarnTough being perhaps 90% of the hiking market) if you need some more padding.  Thicker wool socks (ONLY IF you have the volume for them inside the shoes) for more warmth.  Neoprene socks like Sealskinz if you’re doing the crazy northern, cold-water treks Philip and Manfred do lots of and that I dabble in.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    If you have several options of shoes, I’d suggest a test run – stand in water, then start a day hike, noting how well excess water drains out, and how long it takes for them to get to be moist and then fairly dry.  Repeat with a different pair in similar conditions.

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    I disagree with everyone else

    Waterproof breathable mid height boots work best for multiple days of wet in moderate temperatures in the Pacific Northwest

    My merino socks will get damp but not wet. Moderate “pruning”.  No cracking.

    With breathable shoes my socks will get totally wet and I’ll start getting all those problems.

    Sometimes, a waterproof breathable shoe will work for months, then something happens and they start leaking.

    If I have to walk through water that’s higher than the tops of the boots, then waterproof breathable doesn’t work so good.  They take longer to dry.  So, it depends on the trip.

    Also wear gaiters which help keep the water out.

    Try different things and use what works for you

    I’ve been wearing low breathable shoes the last several months – hot, dry, lighter weight, better than mid height WPB

    BPL Member


    “ Of course, as you no doubt know, there is no ‘best’ for all people. What’s best for one just doesn’t work for another”

    “I disagree with everyone else”

    You just have to love that :)

    The best advice you can receive is: Try out all the options and decide what works best for you.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Generally I have gone option 1 fast drying trail runners and dry feet out at the end of the day.  Something that has worked for day length activities in those conditions but haven’t tried on an extended trip was rocky gore-tex socks with ultralight liners or neoprene socks, combined with sandals. Feet got damp from perspiration, but not soaked and more importantly “clean” without bits of material causing friction.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Recommend Option 1 plus daily applications of Vicks Vaporub (or similar) to your feet and toes for a couple of weeks before and during the trip. That kills fungus which causes foot rot, blisters, and peeling in wet, warmish hiking conditions, plus prevents pruning which can lead to other problems.

    On long river trips with many hours of wet feet per day but not so much hiking, we put Vaseline (or similar) on our feet at bedtime so it could soak in, plus sleeping socks to keep from trashing sleeping bags. I treated foot problems for trip mates that didn’t.

    In my experience, “waterproof breathable” hiking shoes are neither in practice. Ankle+ height leather boots are even worse. “Flow thru” mesh trail runners aren’t very warm and won’t keep your feet dry, but they dry out a lot faster. Take extra socks. Keep some dry and clean for bedtime. Clean and dry your feet every night.

    — Rex

    jeff berkman
    BPL Member


    Rex, so for very wet conditions do you use both vapor rub and a balm for your feet?

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Vicks VapoRub at home, then VapoRub or Vaseline in squeeze tubes, whichever is easier to carry on a particular trip.

    There are plenty of alternatives. I’ve switched to Badger Foot Balm with good results. It’s less messy, easy to carry, and more natural. Tea Tree Oil or Camphor seem to be the magic fungus-killing ingredients, while thickened oil or wax improves skin water-resistance and keeps the magic ingredients in place.

    — Rex



    Locale: The Cascades

    Do these things smell like peppermint and such? If so, no concerns about that on your feet in your shelter?

    I’m not trying to say there should be concerns, I’ve never used the stuff (but really could have used some on one trip in PA), just curious. Thanks.

    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    I find that the smell goes away pretty quickly. But my nose has been notoriously insensitive for years, according to someone very close to me :-)

    VapoRub or Balm should go in your bear bag or canister as required.

    I don’t worry about my feet, but I’m not a bear, and rarely travel in bear country. Maybe others can chime in.

    — Rex

    BPL Member


    John Vonhof’s Fixing your feet website and book are the definitive source foot care information anywhere used by a lot of ultra runners, hikers and other endurance athletes.



    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    Yes – Fixing Your Feet is a great resource – highly recommended.

    An additional tip for people going the breathable route. Skurka recommends an expensive foot care cream that’s not available in the UK. I showed the formula to my local pharmacist and he laughed – apparently it’s virtually the same as inexpensive nappy/diaper cream.

    I’ve used nappy cream a few times on wet multi-day walks and have had zero foot problems. Whether the cream has actually helped I can’t say, but as it’s cheap and safe I use it on the precautionary principle.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Sue buys Sorbolene cream by the 1 kg bottle. Costs rather less than a 50 g pot of brand-name stuff, but is just the same except for a few drops of perfume, a lot of marketing, and a huge profit margin. Works as well or better.


    john hansford
    BPL Member


    It all depends how much wet OP is going to encounter. Last year I hiked the 250 mile Kungsleden into arctic Sweden. Temperatures ranged from 37F / 3C  to 60F / 15C. It rained every day, but not all of every day. The ground was sometimes flooded, but never above shoe level, and there was soaking high vegetation in places. There were many rivers and fjords, but with bridges or boats.

    I wore Brooks Cascadia GTX shoes.  The shoes were almost constantly wet on the outside, but my feet were never more than slightly damp inside. I also wore lightweight long gaiters under waterproof pants so the rain could not drain into the top of the shoes.

    I camped every night, and when I stopped I just wiped my feet with my slightly damp socks – no dirt, no wrinkles, no hot spots or blisters the whole trip, just warm dry feet, and socks, and no other care required. I carried some Trail Toes with silicone mixed in, but never needed to use it.

    I’ve done long walks in similar conditions in the 30s and 40s in the U.K. sometimes in snowmelt too, with plain mesh shoes, and having wet, cold dirty pruned feet a lot of the time was simply miserable.  Your shoes will never get a chance to dry out. Warmer conditions are a different case altogether. Pick your gear to suit the trip, and for these wet cold trips on good tracks GTX was without any doubt the way to go for me.  I think conditions in Spain in the winter might be similar.

    The wpb membrane doesn’t last forever. I find after about 250 miles some water will get in, but obviously nothing like the constant flow of muddy and maybe slushy water through normal plain mesh. Another alternative to maintain dry feet might be wpb socks.  I suggest OP experiments with all these alternatives, including the soaked feet one, to find what he is most comfortable with.


    Jeff McWilliams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Midwest

    Whatever happened to using waterproof socks in conjunction with a meshy lightweight boot or trail runner?
    I’m thinking of something like the Rocky Goretex Oversocks.  Gore Bikewear used to sell their own, but seems like they’re permanently out of stock now.

    What I like about socks plus meshy shoes/boots vs Goretex footwear:

    On warm dry days, you can hike without the socks and your feet will breathe better.

    On wet days, you can take off the socks at the end of the day and turn them inside out to dry.  Both the waterproof sock and your meshy footwear will dry faster than footwear with integrated WPB membrane.

    Also, the Goretex over socks usually form a tight seal against your calf, which better keeps out water and keeps your feet dryer when it’s raining.




    Locale: The Cascades

    Agree with @jjmcwill. I’ve used my goretex socks quite successfully in cooler conditions for much of the reasons he mentions.

    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    +1 to insuring that your feet are treated with a balm before putting your wet shoes back on.

    Personally, my family has been “just fine” using coconut oil on our feet (as well as our legs, arms, and face.) I always rub my feet with it before going to bed and before slipping my socks on in the morning.

    Probably not as great a performer as a special foot balm, but its cheap and tastes great!

    David U


    “Waterproof breathable mid height boots work best for multiple days of wet in moderate temperatures in the Pacific Northwest

    My merino socks will get damp but not wet. Moderate “pruning”.  No cracking.”

    This has been my experience as well.  Merino socks are key.  Make sure you lather your feet with Body Glide.  And when you get to camp, switch out to waterproof socks (they will keep your feet warm).



    Jon Solomon
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lyon/Taipei

    I used Joe Nimble Wandertoes during four weeks this summer. First shoes I’ve had that really remained waterproof through deep mud, heavy rain, endless soggy wet grass… Not too hot or stuffy, either. Decisively better than the Altra Lone Peaks I used all last summer and which were wet and often cold all the time.

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