Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Rain Boots

By Richard Forbes ⋅ Review Editor
Friday June 17, 2022
rain boots - 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.
Credit: Richard Forbes

Where We Test

Our testers have put in years working in unrelentingly uncomfortable conditions — as sheep, cattle, and vegetable farmers, as ecological field researchers, as outdoor instructors, and as environmental journalists. In each of these jobs, our testers go out no matter the weather. As a result, they've found just about every different type of rough weather you can think of — from thundersnow to ice-muck! Our testers spent long days counting leaves on high-alpine aspen trees while hiding from thunderstorms, docking lamb's tails in dumping snow in New Zealand, slogging through and shoveling shin-deep mud while building 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 footwear, so they know exactly how to tell whether a boot is worth the money, as none of their jobs have ever paid very well.

To determine what boots stand out, our testers found the most uncomfortable tests they could endure while trying to avoid long-term damage to their own feet. The most casual tests involve wearing rain boots on every adventure they go on, throughout all the weather they can find, which can encompass balmy (sweaty) 80° temperatures by Californian beaches to feet of snow and 5° temperatures up in the Northern Rockies. Our testers also assessed these boots in controlled environments, at work (indoors and out), on concrete, and in ice-filled bathtubs.

Testing Weather Protection

To formally test weather protection, testers have walked around in the Puget Sound, Lake Union, Green Lake, the Yakima River, the Colorado River (while rafting the Grand Canyon), the Clark Fork, the Bitterroot River, as well as a series of rivers and ponds in rural Maine, and waited to see if any leaked. The Puget Sound test has been the most unpleasant test so far: our testers were whipped around by 35 mph gusts and 25° temps while wading through the choppy waves. During more casual use in the rainy fall, testers considered how each boot performed in puddles and muck as they were encountered.

rain boots - these boots were slowly leaking as we took this photo.
These boots were slowly leaking as we took this photo.
Credit: 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, which proved surprisingly bearable thanks to the boots impressive comfort). At the end of every session, testers took notes on the performance of each boot and whether they’d be happy to keep wearing them.

rain boots - the madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!
The Madson boots are so light and balanced that they float!
Credit: Richard Forbes

Testing Traction

To test traction, we slipped around on soggy hills, wobbled across mossy logs, shuffled around on damp concrete, and skidded on snow and ice. If boots seemed similarly grippy, testers even wore one boot on each foot as they tried to figure out which boot gripped better, which made for a weird look but great science.

rain boots - 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.
Credit: Richard Forbes

Testing Warmth

To formally measure relative insulation between boots, testers started a timer, then wore each pair of rain boots in an ice-filled bathtub (without socks) 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.

rain boots - 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.
Credit: Richard Forbes

Testing Style

While style is subjective, it needed to be incorporated into the test. To keep things as objective as possible, 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 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.

rain boots - these were definitely among the most stylish boots we've tested over...
These were definitely among the most stylish boots we've tested over the years.
Credit: 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 put on each boot and considered the boots' internal dimensions compared to their own feet.

rain boots - 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.
Credit: Richard Forbes

These tests have been conducted from fall through spring for eight years, 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, snowy Minneapolis, the Red River Gorge, Vedauwoo, Olympic National Park, Glacier National Park, Rainier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Teton National Park, Joshua Tree, Red Rock, the Grand Canyon, the Oregon Coast, Niagara Falls, and countless other 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!

rain boots - trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!
Trying to decide which one we like better - they're so different!
Credit: Richard Forbes

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