Waterproof footwear - "Do you need it or not?" That's one of the classic decisions when you're picking out your quiver of gear for getting outside. So what are your options?
"Duck Boots" or Rain Boots
Any rubberized footwear that simply prevents water from getting in your shoe/boot. These can be great to have during colder weather when you're not planning on being very active, won't be sweating much and are just trying to stay warm. However, if you're going to be running or hiking significant miles, they're not a good choice for a number of reasons. Even if they prevent water from getting into your boot, that doesn't mean your feet will stay dry. The rubber bottoms on this style of boot trap sweat and that moisture will have nowhere to go except to sit in your socks and at the bottom of your boot.
Shoes or boots with a waterproof and breathable membrane that prevents water from entering your footwear, while allowing sweat vapor to pass through to the outside. This helps to keep the temperature of your feet as regulated as possible while keeping your socks from turning into a sodden mess.
If you'll be hiking through the backcountry and need to be able to face pretty much anything on your trek, a waterproof/breathable pair of boots may be absolutely necessary to protect your feet from the outside while preventing blisters from the inside. If you'll be running on a trail after downpour, a trail running shoe designed to give you traction in mud while also keeping your feet dry could be the key to an enjoyable outing. Or maybe, you just need to get in a bunch of miles on the road for training, but the rain just won't quit. In any of these situations, footwear with a waterproof/breathable membrane can be a lifesaver.
So, why wouldn't you want a pair of waterproof shoes or boots to wear every day? The same reason as why wouldn't you want to wear a rain jacket every day. Because sometimes it's just not necessary. Sometimes you just need a highly ventilated shoe that can keep up with you during a hot day.
What to look for?
The standard for years has been Gore-Tex, most often indicated with a shoe or boot name that ends with GTX. But many of our brands now have their own proprietary materials that they have developed on their own. In this case, most of the model names will include some variation of Waterproof, Dry, or some other variation.
What to know?
A waterproof/breathable pair of footwear will be warmer to wear than a non-waterproof/breathable style. But for days when the sun isn't shining and there is water, water, everywhere, that may be just the thing you're looking for that day.
Waterproof footwear is just like any other piece of outdoor gear - it's a tool to use for a specific purpose. Now that you know what you're looking for, you can make the best choice for how you plan on using your next pair of shoes!