June 30, 2016

What Makes Waterproof Hiking Boots Waterproof?

Have you ever wondered what makes your waterproof hiking boot, well, waterproof? We'd love to run through an explanation.

After doing a quick Google search for the definition of a waterproof hiking boot, we found things like “impervious to water,” “a garment, especially a coat, that keeps out water,” and “rendered impervious to water by some special process, as coating or treating with rubber.” We also saw what others call pseudo synonyms like water-repellent and water-resistant.

hiking boots in water

You’ll see those terms (waterproof, water-repellent, and water resistant) thrown around a lot if you browse a hiking boot catalog or walk through a store aisle, but what’s really the difference? We asked our Technical Consultant – aka GORE-TEX® hiking boot expert – Jonathan Swegle, and this was his answer:

“There are no agreed upon footwear industry standards for water-repellent, water-resistant, or waterproof footwear. What I can say is that the GORE-TEX® Brand logo is only placed on a garment or footwear after meeting a firm product specification for waterproofness and breathability, which varies depending on the product end use and category.”

So, the terms are thrown around interchangeably, but not with the GORE-TEX® Brand. If you see our tag on anything, it means one thing: that product is backed by our GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® promise.

With a little bit of help from Jonathan we’ll walk through how the GORE-TEX® membrane and footwear came to be, how it’s been used so far, and what’s in store for the future.

The GORE-TEX® Membrane: Where did it come from?

Back in 1969, Bob Gore found himself in the lab trying to heat polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), traditionally used in hookup wires and coaxial cables. Instead of slowly stretching the heated material, Gore, out of frustration, applied a sudden, accelerated yank to the material. Cue the birth of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) soon to be known as the GORE-TEX® membrane.

The rest is history, as ePTFE was found to have low water absorption and good weathering properties. 1976 marked GORE-TEX® fabric receiving its first commercial order, but it wasn’t until 1982 that the GORE-TEX® membrane was used in a hiking boot. There’s some debate within Gore on who used the GORE-TEX® membrane in hiking boots first, but it was either Kastinger or Hartjes. Since then, we’ve been working to keep explorers dry from head to toe.

hiking boots on hiking trail

To create the fabric, the GORE-TEX® membrane is bonded between a high-performance lining and a stabilizing knit backer. The GORE-TEX® lamination package is then sewn into a sock-shaped form called a “bootie”. Seams in the bootie are sealed using Gore’s Seam Tape, and then the bootie is dropped into the boot or shoe. The lining you see in your boots — that’s GORE-TEX®. The outer shell materials — the leather, the textile mesh, or the performance synthetics — these are components provided by the brand to meet Gore’s durable water repellent standards.

You can check out the whole process here:


The end result is a durable, waterproof, and breathable garment or boot.

(See the full history of the GORE-TEX® Brand here).

Where We’ve Gone

The GORE-TEX® Brand hasn’t slowed down since the invention of the GORE-TEX® membrane. We’ve been creating since 1969, always striving to innovate and perfect our work.

GORE-TEX® Insulated Comfort footwear was created to help thru-hikers, alpinists, mountaineers, ice climbers, and hunters keep their feet dry and warm in high elevations and coldest conditions.,.

Being active outside means you’ll run, bike, or trek into snow, rain, and wind. With GORE-TEX® Extended Comfort product, the (mad) scientists at the GORE-TEX® Brand engineered a way to deliver even better protection with a less material. The result? Lightweight hiking, running, and hunting footwear that won’t weigh you down or limit your movement.

The greatest thing about innovation is its constant improvement. That’s why we’re proud to share our latest (and maybe our favorite) invention yet.

What’s New

Meet GORE-TEX® SURROUND® footwear , the first all-around breathable and waterproof hiking shoe for day hikes, thru-hikes, backpacking, and more.

We first launched GORE-TEX® SURROUND® product technology for casual shoes in 2010, after three years of testing and development. It wasn’t until 2013, that we launched GORE-TEX® SURROUND® product technology in outdoor footwear. If you’re wondering what makes it different from our other hiking boot technologies, we asked Jonathan that very question.

hiking boot in water

GORE-TEX® SURROUND® Footwear is our most breathable technology, using a variety of constructions to meet a higher breathability standard.”

So, who’s the ideal user for GORE-TEX® SURROUND® Footwear?

Jonathan described it, “Imagine a hiker caught in the rain on a long day hike in early May­, [the weather is] ­­warm enough where traditional waterproof technologies might have too much humidity inside for total foot comfort. That’s the kind of user this footwear was made for.”

We’ve taken GORE-TEX® SURROUND® footwear all over the country, from Arizona to Washington to Delaware (and that’s just the start) and the breathability is real: Our feet stay dry both from sweat and water. 

How Hiking Boots Stay Waterproof

For every GORE-TEX® jacket, pant, glove, boot, or shoe, we have a GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® promise. But there are certainly things you can do to help ensure excellent performance and extend your garment or footwear’s useful life.

That’s why things like cleaning your hiking boots after going on a hike, knowing how to wash your waterproof garments , and using the GORE-TEX® product for its intended use are critical in extending the useful life of the product. And we know that on many occasion you will test the limits of your GORE-TEX® garment. Our products get that a lot. Almost always, they pass with flying colors. But sometimes under extreme or rugged use, an accident happens and a small tear or puncture is the result.

Not to worry. There are easy-to-use GORE-TEX® Fabric Repair Kits available through major outdoor retailers that allow you to make instant repairs to preserve the waterproof integrity of your outerwear – even when you’re out in the field.

Still want more info on the GORE-TEX® footwear and our waterproof technology? There’s plenty of information on our site, like how we test our footwear and more topics related to hiking boots (and how to choose a pair) on the blog.

And finally, our expert service advisors can answer any questions you might have. Give them a call at 1 800-GORE-TEX (467-3839) or create a ticket right here.

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