Some boots are made for showers and puddles; others can slog through mud and even floods. Before you pull your boots on to go out in the weather, consider that water resistant boots are often better for everyday, but extreme conditions or outdoor adventures might require waterproof gear.
How They're Made
Water resistant boots are designed to repel some water, based on the weave of the fabric or the fabric treatment. Water resistant fabrics can get wet but will not keep you dry in heavy rains. This includes most leather, vinyl and nylon. Waterproof boots will not be penetrated by water and are made either from fabrics with a very tight weave (some polyester blends) or from nonporous fabrics including rubber and plastic.
How They're Tested
In order to be labeled for sale as either water resistant or waterproof, these boots must undergo testing to demonstrate their degree of resistance to water. This type of testing is known as hydrostatic head testing. Hydrostatic head testing requires a column of water to be placed atop the item or fabric -- the HH measurement is determined by how much water pressure the fabric can take without leaking. To be considered waterproof, the boots must be able to handle at least 1,000 millimeters of water; the soles must be able to handle even more due to their wear. Water resistant boots, however, usually handle around 200 millimeters.
When Less Is More
Water resistant boots are suitable for most day-to-day conditions, including rain, moderate snow and wet floors. Water resistant boots can help you keep dry and warm and may be worn working outdoors summer and winter. For summer, you might opt to go for a lighter weight, more breathable water resistant fabric such as polyester or nylon blends. For winter, leather may be appropriate but should be treated to protect the look of the boot.
When Backup Is Needed
If you work in harsh conditions or outside year round, you should probably choose a waterproof boot, as water resistant footwear will not protect you from heavy rains or snowfalls. Waterproof boots should hold up when submerged in snow or water, and are therefore recommended for adventure or camping activities such as fishing or hiking, as well as for city street work, parks jobs or slippery factory conditions. Rubber boots are particularly versatile for day-to-day outdoor wear.
When It Matters Most
People often assume water resistant and water repellent means waterproof, but this can be a dangerous assumption. If your feet are not properly protected you may be susceptible to frost bite or hypothermia, among other weather-based conditions. Stay aware of the conditions your feet will be exposed to and check the labels of your boots. They should provide an HH measurement that will reveal how water resistant or waterproof they are.