If you’re searching for the best waterproof, breathable hiking shoes for your outdoor adventures, GORE-TEX footwear has you covered. But have you ever wondered how GORE-TEX products actually work? No, it’s not magic — though it might seem that way sometimes. Our dry feet have advanced technology to thank, as well as rigorous product testing to ensure quality in every pair of GORE-TEX shoes. This article will explain how GORE-TEX shoes are waterproof — because it’s good to know before you buy.
The GORE-TEX membrane explained
L. Gore & Associates was launched nearly six decades ago by Wilbert and Genevieve Gore in a small city in Delaware. Now, GORE-TEX products are known worldwide, all because of a material called expanded polytetrafluoroethylene: ePTFE for short. ePTFE is a lightweight, strong and porous material that is the basis of the GORE-TEX membrane. It’s what makes every GORE-TEX product waterproof and breathable. Each square inch of this membrane contains 9 billion microscopic pores, and each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet. Rain, sleet and snow can’t penetrate this barrier. On the other hand, each pore in the membrane is 700 times larger than a water vapor molecule, allowing sweat vapor to escape from inside the shoe. This is what it means for the fabric to “breathe.” Breathability is why you can hike in a pair of GORE-TEX boots in the rain without your feet getting wet from the outside or growing clammy on the inside from exertion. The next section will describe the different tests that Gore uses to ensure that each new style of footwear hitting the market is ready for the performance challenges it will see in use. These tests have been developed over many years of observing footwear during extensive field testing, and understanding how lab tests can best predict performance in real life.
Commitment to quality
The GORE-TEX logo means a lot. If you see it on a pair of shoes, or any product for that matter, then that product is backed by the GUARANTEED TO KEEP YOU DRY® promise. After all the testing that GORE-TEX products go through, a guarantee is a no-brainer! To make sure each new style of GORE-TEX footwear is waterproof, breathable, comfortable and durable, prototypes are rigorously tested in Gore labs before they can go into production. Specially designed testing equipment is used to ensure that the design is up for the challenges in the real world. Furthermore, individual components of the shoe are also tested to make sure that all of the materials used can meet high quality and performance standards. Here’s a quick rundown of the different tests that new styles of GORE-TEX shoes have to pass:
- The Walking Simulator: Shoe Prototypes are fitted onto sensored foot forms and subjected to up to 200,000 steps in a water bath. If a leak is detected by a sensor, the shoes must be modified to correct the problem and are tested again until the pass.
- The Centrifugal Tester: Shoes are filled with water and then rapidly spun for a period of time in order to discover even the smallest leak in the design. Defects that can occur during shoe manufacture are quickly detected in this test.
- The Comfort Test: In order to determine whether the shoes will be comfortable in their intended climate, the whole shoe is tested for breathability (not simply the membrane). The ability of the shoe to allow heat and sweat to escape is measured in this test.
If the shoe prototypes can pass all three of these tests, then they are approved for production.
Choosing the best waterproof hiking shoes
When shopping for waterproof shoes for your hikes, think about where you’ll be using them most as well as how you’ll be using them. Will you be running the trail? Light hiking? Backpacking? Different styles of GORE-TEX footwear are designed for different climates, terrains and activities. For example, GORE-TEX Extended Comfort Footwear and Gore-Tex Surround Footwear are designed for optimal breathability in warmer climates and for higher activity levels. For colder climates, opt for boots with insulation. GORE-TEX Insulated Comfort Footwear is made to keep your feet warm and dry in snow or cold rain. Even on a sunny day it’s nice to lace up a pair of GORE-TEX boots, knowing that your feet will stay comfortable and protected since your sweat will be able to escape. Plus, it’s always smart to wear waterproof hiking shoes for impromptu creek crossings, or just in case the weather turns. If you primarily hike trails (rather than run), check out our guide to choosing the perfect pair of hiking boots. The Lowa Renegade GTX® Mid boot for men and women is a comfortable, lightweight choice that’s perfect for long hikes or backpacking on a variety of terrains. If you’d rather trail run, we have a guide for choosing trail-running shoes, too! The Arc’teryx Norvan VT GTX® shoes for women and men can stand up to wet, varied terrain. Another good option for running rugged trails is the Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX®, available for men and women. No matter where you’re hiking or what the weather is like, you can have peace of mind knowing that GORE-TEX shoes can stand up to your adventures.