The shoe looks like it could be a bad idea. When you flip it over, you can’t help but fixate on the holes piercing through the rubber. They look about as watertight as a colander.
But the effect is pure illusion: Rather than allow water to leak up into your shoes, those holes in the sole keep your feet dry. They function similarly to one-way valves, letting stinky foot sweat evaporate out while blocking puddle slush from coming in. That’s the genius of GORE-TEX SURROUND® Footwear, the innovative waterproof technology designed to create shoes that breathe from all sides of your foot—including the bottom.
The GORE-TEX brand has been producing waterproof membranes for boots and shoes for decades but never before has the company made a rubber sole that vents sweat downward. And for decades, GORE-TEX shoes have been most appropriate for colder conditions; these shoes promise to shine in warmer conditions – no more hot feet once you’ve moved inside after your romp in the rain. Truth told, I found the concept difficult to swallow: When I looked at the latticework of rubber running along the bottom of the shoe, I couldn’t help but imagine myself trudging around in soggy socks.
So on a recent Tuesday, I put the shoes to the test. Just after the torrential rain started to fall in New York City, I stepped out onto the wet city sidewalk wearing a pair of Salewa MS Ramble GTX®, low-cut casual sneakers with onboard GORE-TEX SURROUND® product technology. With the rain pummeling my umbrella, I stepped timidly off the sidewalk and directly into two inches of water flowing along the curb. I waited to feel the rainwater tickle my toes. It never came. I splashed around a little, and still my wool socks remained dry. Emboldened, I stepped into deeper water, letting city runoff wash right up over the laces of my suede shoes. The cuffs of my pants touched water, and people raced by wearing the sort of calf-high duck boots that become annoying when you have more than a couple hundred feet to walk. My shoes were lighter and more comfortable; my feet stayed just as dry.
Here’s how the shoes work: The traditional GORE-TEX membrane is produced from a thin layer of stretched polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE), a polymer that contains microscopic pores that let small sweat molecules escape, while keeping larger water droplets out. But the technology was limited by the fact that it didn’t run along the bottom of your foot. GORE-TEX SURROUND® product technology changes that by wrapping ePTFE all the way around the inside of the shoe. It’s a shrewd move: The majority of your foot’s sweat glands are located in the bottom of your foot, says New York-based podiatrist Sherri Greene, DPM. Allowing sweat to exit through the sole promises to keep your foot better protected from moisture and general discomfort.
Since 2014, when the GORE-TEX brand introduced GORE-TEX SURROUND® product technology, the innovation has been rolled out in both backcountry trail boots and city-appropriate sneakers. More than two dozen companies have integrated it into their footwear; among them are Mammut, Ecco, Treksta, Scarpa, La Sportiva, and Salewa. But not every GORE-TEX SURROUND® shoe has holes in the sole. In the case of sturdier hiking footwear, sweat passes into a channel under the footbed and permeates through vents on the sides. The result is the first all-around breathable and waterproof hiking shoe with essential grip and traction.
I received some confused looks as I splashed around in the rain. But when I finally retreated back to shelter, my feet were totally dry. And while some would consider traditional GORE-TEX shoes too warm to wear at home, my GORE-TEX SURROUND® shoes kept my feet nice and comfortable once inside, and long after the storms. And now, anytime I walk through the city with GORE-TEX SURROUND® shoes on my feet, I can’t help but seek out the puddles. If you happen to be in New York, and you see a man stomping through water in suede sneakers, come say hello. That might be me, out for a stroll.