Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Rain Boots

By Richard Forbes ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday May 12, 2021
Lead reviewer Richard Forbes takes a pair of boots for a spin in...
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.
Photo: Richard Forbes

Where We Test


Our testers have put in years working in unrelentingly wet conditions — as sheep, cattle, and vegetable farmers, as field researchers, and as outdoor instructors and guides. In each of these jobs, our testers have to go out no matter what the weather's like. As a result, they've experienced just about every different type of bad weather you can imagine — even thundersnow and ice-muck! Our testers spent long days counting leaves on high-alpine aspen trees during thunderstorms, docking lamb's tails in dumping snow in New Zealand, slogging through and shoveling ankle-deep mud to build a rammed earth home in Argentinian Patagonia, and washing artisanal organic carrots in sub-freezing temperatures in northeastern Maine. They've also worn (and destroyed) many different types of boots, so they know exactly how to design tests to reveal whether a boot is worth the buy.

To determine what boots are the best, our testers designed the most uncomfortable tests they could think of while still trying to avoid long-term damage to their own feet. The most casual tests involve wearing rain boots on any and all adventures throughout all the weather they can find, which can encompass balmy (sweaty) 80° temperatures by the beach to feet of snow and 20° temperatures up in the mountains. Our testers also assessed these boots in controlled environments, such as at work (indoors and out), on concrete, and in an ice-filled bathtub.

Testing Weather Protection


To formally test weather protection, they walked around in Puget Sound, Lake Union, Green Lake, and the Yakima River, as well as a series of rivers and ponds in rural Maine, 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 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.
Photo: Richard Forbes

Testing Comfort


To test comfort, our testers 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, and which proved surprisingly bearable thanks to the boots solid comfort). At the end of every session, testers took notes on the performance of each boot (and how their feet felt).

The Madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!
The Madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!
Photo: Richard Forbes

Testing Traction


To test traction, we slipped around on soggy hills, tried to balance on mossy logs, scuffed around on damp concrete, and tried to skid 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, which made for a weird look but great science.

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.
Photo: Richard Forbes

Testing Warmth


To formally measure relative insulation and warmth, testers 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. Testers also wore the boots in cold weather, ice, and snow to ground-truth the ice-water immersion test and make sure that no boots had been misrepresented.

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

Testing Style


To test for style, testers recruited a varied group of friends to rank each boot according to their looks, based on whether these friends would be happy to wear (or have their SO's wear) the boots around on a date night. 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 we averaged the scores.

These were definitely the most stylish boots in our test.
These were definitely the most stylish boots in our test.
Photo: Richard Forbes

Testing Fit


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 testers put each boot on and tried to measure the boots' internal dimensions compared to their own feet.

Our tester shows how much "pooch" was left in the heel, which let...
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.
Photo: Richard Forbes

These tests were conducted in the fall and early winter throughout the United States, thanks to our testers' itinerant lifestyles. Our favorite boots traveled further afield with us, and have been to British Columbia, Southern California, the Red River Gorge, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and numerous other tourist attractions. Once we finished testing each boot in the real world, we measured them all with scales, tape measures, and steely determination, then wrote up everything we found, so you can make the best decision about what will work well for you!

Trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!
Trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!
Photo: Richard Forbes