The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Rain Boots

By Richard Forbes ⋅ Review Editor
Friday May 1, 2020
Lead reviewer Richard Forbes takes a pair of boots for a spin in Lake Washington  where he's working on his rock-skipping game in between gear reviews.
Lead reviewer Richard Forbes takes a pair of boots for a spin in Lake Washington, where he's working on his rock-skipping game in between gear reviews.

Where We Test


Our testers have spent over two years working in unrelentingly gross conditions — as sheep, cattle, and vegetable farmers, as ecology researchers, and as outdoor guides. In all these jobs, they have to go out no matter how bad the weather is. As a result, they've experienced just about every gross weather condition you can imagine — even thundersnow! They've spent long days counting leaves on aspen trees during thunderstorms, docking lamb's tails in the snow in New Zealand, slogging through the ankle-deep mud to build a rammed earth home in Argentinian Patagonia, and washing carrots in 15-degree temperatures in northeastern Maine. They've also worn (and destroyed) many boots, so they knew exactly how to design these tests.

To decide which boots measured up the best, our testers have designed the most uncomfortable tests they could think of while still avoiding long-term damage to their own feet. The most casual tests involve wearing rain boots on any and all adventures throughout all the Seattle weather they can find, which can encompass balmy (sweaty) 70° temperatures to feet of snow and 20° temperatures up in the Cascades. Our testers also assessed these boots in controlled environments, such as at work, on concrete, and in an ice-filled bathtub.

Testing Weather Protection


To formally test weather protection, they walked around in Puget Sound, Lake Union, and the Yakima River, and waited to see if any leaked. The Puget Sound test proved to be the worst conditions, and our testers were whipped around by 35 miles per hour gusts and 25° temps while wading through the choppy waves. During more casual use in the rainy Seattle fall, they also considered how each boot performed in puddles and muck as testers came across them.

These boots were slowly leaking as we took this photo.
These boots were slowly leaking as we took this photo.

Testing Comfort


To test comfort, we wore the boots on concrete and hard surfaces for 5+ hours at a time (the longest test was the Kamik Icebreaker for 15 hours straight — it was surprisingly comfortable all the way through!). At the end of every session, they took notes on the performance of each boot (and how sore their feet were).

The Madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!
The Madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!

Testing Traction


To test traction, we ran/skidded up and down muddy hills, tried to balance on wet logs, scuffed around on wet concrete, and intentionally tried to slide on snow and ice. If boots were similarly grippy, testers would even wear one boot on each foot as they tried to figure out which boot gripped better.

The big lugs on the Arctic Sport make it the grippiest in our test.
The big lugs on the Arctic Sport make it the grippiest in our test.

Testing Warmth


To formally measure relative insulation and warmth, they started a timer, then wore each pair of rain boots in an ice-filled bathtub (without socks to standardize warmth) until they could feel the cold seep into their bare feet. They also wore the boots in cold weather, ice, and snow to ground-truth the ice-water immersion test.

We loved the way the liner felt as we put these on - like a wool sweater for our feet.
We loved the way the liner felt as we put these on - like a wool sweater for our feet.

Testing Style


To test for style, testers recruited a diverse group of friends to rank each boot according to its looks independently, based on whether these friends would be happy to wear (or have their SO's wear) the boots around on a casual day. Since these rankings often contradicted one another, we mainly concluded that everyone has a different fashion sense, but there was enough consensus to draw some general conclusions once scores were averaged.

These were definitely the most stylish boots in our test.
These were definitely the most stylish boots in our test.

Testing Fit


And finally, to test fit, our testers measured their feet with a Brannock device — to make sure they knew exactly what their own foot size was — then put each boot on and tried to measure its internal dimensions compared to their own feet.

Our tester shows how much "pooch" was left in the heel  which let our feet swimming around in the boots unless we put on ludicrously thick socks.
Our tester shows how much "pooch" was left in the heel, which let our feet swimming around in the boots unless we put on ludicrously thick socks.

These tests were conducted in the fall and early winter throughout Seattle and the Cascades, though some of our favorite boots also traveled with us on climbing and rafting trips to Kentucky, the Grand Canyon, and Tennessee. Once we'd finished testing each boot in the real world, we measured them all with scales and tape measures, then wrote up everything we found.

Trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!
Trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!