Rain boots have become a necessary item in the wardrobe, especially for those living in seasonal environments and along temperate coasts. With style often contending with comfort and traction, it can be rather difficult to settle on what's best and what's affordable. After having tested all kinds of rain boots side-by-side, we've gathered the expertise to go over the fundamentals for what makes a pair of boots truly worthwhile. A good place to start is to differentiate rain-specific boots from alternative waterproof footwear and how each function in their realm.
Rain Boots vs. Winter Boots vs. Waterproof Hiking Boots
Personally, we don't mind the shoe rack filling up when we know every pair has its purpose. Still, we'll go over how to differentiate functionality and offer advice on how to avoid too much redundancy in the wardrobe. Rain boots are typically a very distinguishable category with their sleek look, rubber shafts, minimal outsoles, and are often bright or have patterned colors. Specific to rain, these types of boots are not made to compete with boots made for the snow or long-distance hiking. Rarely do they encompass all the preferred comforts.
In their most basic forms, they are made to keep your feet dry in wet conditions and to easily slide on and off without the worry of laces. Materials can range from neoprene, such as the Bogs North Hampton, to the most technical resin, such as the Crocs Jaunt Shorty. They are usually made from synthetic rubber and have a simple, thin nylon or cotton lining, or no lining at all. The fancier you get, the more perks or accessories get thrown in. Sometimes you come across hybrids, such as the Bogs mentioned above, where significant insulation is added for colder weather. The majority of the boots we tested were of the traditional, mild-weather construction, ideal for temperatures ranging from 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit, with basic shafts and little to no insulation.
Boots made for trudging in the snow encompass a wide range of activity, from the at-home shoveling duty to heading into the backcountry. Many winter boots carry over into the waterproof hiking boot category, except they have added insulation. Generally rated down to below-freezing temperatures, the insulation is probably the most distinguishing feature of winter boots, with traction being of high priority as well. Basic winter boots are often laced and made of waterproofed nylon, Gore-tex (the two most breathable options), leather, or a combination of leather and nylon (leather being the least breathable option). Again, the Bogs North Hampton is pretty warm, but doesn't fit as a true winter boot due to its lackluster traction on snow and ice.
Waterproof Hiking Boots
For the sake of being fully waterproof, these types of boots will not be as breathable as their non-waterproof hiking kin. They are laced and made with nylon, Gore-tex, or leather, don't have insulation, and are typically no taller than the ankles. Traction is of priority here. Nonetheless, when it comes to long-distance hiking through rainy conditions, such as being caught in a summer thunderstorm, waterproof hiking boots can be lifesavers and keepers of foot sanity. Waterproof hiking boots are ideal for spring, summer, and fall romps through the mountains when the weather is unpredictable yet mild, when slush and mud don the trails, or when snowmelt yields swollen stream crossings.
Different Types of Rain Boots
Coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes, rain boots can most easily be categorized by shaft height: ankle-height, mid-calf, or tall. Ankle-height boots peak around the ankles or slightly above the ankles with a height, as measured from the floor, that is typically less than 9 inches. The height of mid-calf boots typically measure 10-14 inches from the ground; and lastly, tall boots can be anywhere from 14 to over 16 inches in height (or even more in extreme cases). Intuitively, the shorter the shaft height, the less overall weather protection (particularly from puddles and sideways rain). Something to keep in mind, tall boots are sometimes difficult to wear with pants, which make mid-calf or ankle-height boots more appealing and versatile for the wardrobe.
- Bogs SweetPea (5.5")
- Joules Wellibob (6.5")
- Sperry Top-Sider Saltwater Duck Boot (7.5")
- Crocs Jaunt Short (7.75")
- Sloggers Rain and Garden Boot (10.5")
- Kamik Heidi (12")
- UGG Shaye (13.75")
- Kamik Olivia (14")
- Bogs North Hampton (14.5")
- Xtratuf Legacy (15")
- Hunter Original Adjustable Back (16")
The Bogs North Hampton: While the top of the shaft measured 14.5" from the ground, the cut-out handles diminish the effective shaft height to 11", meaning the boot will flood if water levels rise over 11", similar to that of a mid-calf boot.
The Crocs Jaunt Shorty: A similar case, the finger holes in the shaft diminish the effective height from 7.75" to 5.25".
The Sperry Saltwater: Due to the non-waterproof zipper and detached tongue, the effective shaft height is diminished from 7.5" to about 4.25", the shortest weatherproofing of all the boots in the review.
Warmth & Weather Protection
It's important to keep in mind the type of environment you live in and the activities you foresee yourself needing such boots for. For cooler locations, such as temperate coastlines, rain is likely all the inclement weather you'll ever encounter. For these locales, it's best to shop for boots that have little to no insulation, which typically provides more room for thicker socks if the temperatures occasionally require such. Without the added insulation, your feet are less likely to overheat and sweat. You wouldn't want to end up with swampy feet throughout the day, negating the very reason to wear waterproof boots in the first place. In and of themselves, these boots do not breathe very well, so being fully waterproof typically provides adequate warmth for the rain.
The majority of the boots we tested did not have added insulation, the three exceptions being the Sperry Saltwater with their micro-fleece, the North Hamptons with their neoprene liner, and the Joules Wellibob with their synthetic fur. The rest of the boots were either thinly lined with nylon, cotton, or had no liner at all. During testing, these minimally lined boots scored slightly above average in warmth, which is only a measure of how well they kept heat under various circumstances (i.e., snow or warm weather).
Think about the rainy season where you live. When it rains, do temps remain in the mid-50's and 70's F? If yes, skip the insulation. Does rain mean chilly to frigid temps where you live? Then reach for an insulated pair, or at least thick socks within a non-insulated pair.
So when taking climate into consideration, it's good to familiarize yourself with the average precipitation your region receives. What are the most likely conditions? If you live in a four-season mountain community, it might still be advantageous to purchase a mild-weather boot for summer thunderstorms and spring and fall slush — as winter will likely be taken care of via appropriate winter boots. This is an example of how you can prevent too much redundancy with your shoe collection if that's your goal. If it often pours as opposed to a mist and you are likely to encounter huge puddles, a taller shaft should be of priority for you. On the other hand, if the rare drizzle is all you're concerned with, then ankle-height options tend to be more fashionable and easy to dress with, such as the Bogs SweetPea.
Sometimes waterproof rubber boots are also highly appropriate if you work outdoors, such as on a commercial fishing rig, on a farm, or if your hobbies include gardening, or walking the cold shoreline for shells. Easy to clean by simply wiping them down, rubber is a durable material. Rain or no rain, brainstorm your routines and the circumstances in which you'll wear your boots.
Warmth aside, another way for these boots to differ is how they actually fit and feel overall. The hope is that they provide adequate foot support throughout the day. This is especially critical for work environments where waterproof boots are an invaluable asset, such as the examples mentioned previously: from fishing to the farm, etcetera. All-day wear and proper fit is important, often outweighing style entirely. Of the boots we tested, there were two that stood out as technical and comfy: the North Hampton and the Xtratuf Legacy. The Xtratuf, a Top Pick Award winner for those who work outdoors, stood out for its thick sole and incredible flexibility in the shaft. These marine-inspired boots were made for you to work hard in. This particular model was designed in honor of the popular Alaskan Salmon Sisters, who work their commercial fishing rigs in them.
For comfort, something to consider is how stiff the upper rubber is. Read our individual product reviews for specific info on each model, where each model's specific stiffness and overall comfort is discussed.
If you're only in search of boots to wear occasionally, maybe more on the spectrum of very rarely, then comfort may not be a mega priority. In such a case, style is probably a leading factor. Nonetheless, it's always nice when comfort and style are combined into a functional boot, like the Kamik Heidi. Winning the award for Best Buy, the Heidi is a sleek and simple boot. Fashionable and adequately comfortable for all-day wear, these boots are truly one of the top deals with a price tag of only $50.
For a fashionably tall boot, we would either recommend the Hunter Original (if you can afford them) or the Kamik Olivia. While both have streamlined, molded designs, the Hunter is made with much more flexible rubber than the Olivia, which means more potential for sag in the front of the shaft when walking. Another stylish mention is the UGG Shaye, with its unassuming, elegant appearance and a wide selection of colors.
One area of contention, however, is when fashion and function are not balanced, yielding trendy looks with inadequate waterproofing. As mentioned earlier, such was the case with the Sperry Saltwater. It looks great but doesn't protect feet from water as well as other models. On the other hand, maybe you're someone who doesn't necessarily need a boot to be fully waterproof or tall. This is when ankle-height boots and duck boots might be favorable. Ankle-height boots tend to be easier to put on and take off, and you can wear them comfortably with pants. If you're living and working in an environment where there isn't enough rain to concern yourself with wet jeans, then having a waterproof footbox will be plenty sufficient.
Traction over wet surfaces is critical for rain boots as well. Staying upright when walking through a rainstorm, we can surely agree, is a worthwhile goal. Looking at the bottom (the outsole) of a boot is useful here. A smoother, shallower set of lugs on the outsole generally results in more surface area contact. More contact means more friction. This is ideal for wet and smooth surfaces like pavement, concrete, and even tile, and therefore best for urban settings. Deep lugs are suited for walking on uneven and unstable surfaces, such as trails, mud, grass, and rocks.
Consider where you'll be walking in your rain boots, and then look at the bottom of the ones you're considering. Browse photos online and reviews for insight. While tread may be of utmost importance to you, rain boots are typically not the best with traction in rocky, outdoor environments as they are mostly built for the casual, urban setting.
The bane of rain boot existence and a sub-category to overall comfort, fit is one of the most unfortunate drawbacks to any boot. With such basic principles and construction, these types of boots rarely come in half sizes and more often than not will run too small or too large, producing the all-too-common heel lift as you walk. Always read the sizing charts provided by the manufacturers and compare them to user comments. Though, sometimes even sizing charts can be misleading, such as the chart provided for the women's Xtratuf Legacy. There is also a difference in how people prefer to have their boots fit. Some like more room for the option of wearing thick socks or for adding insoles, while others prefer a more snug footbox and thin socks. For the lead tester, her long socks tended to be thin, so she preferred to have boots that fit tighter around the foot.
For the buyer whose feet are between whole number sizes, reading reviews is where you can ultimately gain the most insight about what size to choose. For example, the Hunter boots "run large," according to the internet, so we ordered down to a size 7 (for a 7.5 foot). This boot ended up being one of the best fitting, and we were very happy to have sized down. The same didn't work for the Joules Wellibob, however, in which we also sized down to a 7. The boot still felt slightly too large. If only they had half sizes, right? For the majority of boots we ordered, we sized up to size 8 due to recommendations from sizing charts and reviews. There was only one case where we wish we hadn't sized up and that was for the Crocs Jaunt Shorty.
Are your feet relatively narrow? Then both the Hunter Original and Bogs SweetPEa will be a plus for their slim design. These are nuances that will differ with every person, so take note of any consistent comfort and fit issues you read. For more specific details on how each boot we tested fit, refer to our individual reviews.
A quick note, and another reason to always read product descriptions, pay attention to the materials used in the construction of the boot. If you are allergic to latex, we would express caution for the Xtratuf Legacy, as latex is used in the chemical resistance of the boot. Also, if you are opposed to animal products, especially in footwear, you might steer clear from the UGG Shaye, which uses Australian sheepskin and lambswool in the footbed and for the insole. The Sperry Saltwater Duck Boot, too, uses a rawhide upper and shoelace. Most rain boots are made from synthetic rubber, and some are even recyclable, such any of the Kamik boots. Furthermore, the Sloggers Rain and Garden Boot have soles that are made with up to 50% recycled material.
If it is of interest to know where the boots we tested are made, the Kamik Heidi and Olivia are made in Canada, Hunter Original in Great Britain, Crocs Jaunt Shorty in Vietnam, UGG Shaye (sometimes importing lambswool) and Sloggers Rain are made in the U.S., and the rest come from China.
In the end, the best boot for you is the one that will provide the most function and contentment in the environment where you live and work. Taking price tags into consideration is a must, but more often than not, you get what you're willing to pay for. We hope this article, along with our gear reviews of women's rain boots, helps guide you to understand which pair will fit your feet and lifestyle nice and snug.