10 March 2015

Dry Feet/Wet Feet

After this crazy and challenging winter we are benefiting from a change in the overall pattern. There have been no significant storms for at least a couple of weeks, and for the past several days temperatures have been on the high side of 40. In fact, today it topped 50. As a result the snow has begun melting in earnest, resulting in puddles everywhere.

As we transition from winter to spring, waterproof footwear is very much necessary. I have a pair of Merrell Moab "trail shoes" which are basically sneakers with rugged outdoor styling. When I bought them about five years ago I decided to get the waterproof version, which turned out to be a good idea. For the past couple of winters I have been wearing them as my dog-walking shoes in all but the coldest conditions, and also sometimes when I'm out shoveling snow, depending on how much snow has fallen; this year I wore my pull-on boots a lot more, since the snow was much deeper.

Many of the storms we got this winter lasted for two or three days, so often after clearing the deep snow I had to shovel again the next day, and I would wear the Merrells. On a couple of occasions I came in from working outside and found that my socks were wet. I didn't think much about it at the time, knowing that snow could have gotten in around my ankles. But then I noticed the same thing after walking through some puddles which weren't deep enough to let water in at the ankles.

Then last week I noticed a tear at the heel of one of the Merrells, where the pull-on strap attaches inside the back. I figured I would have to replace them next winter, so I started looking around online to see what's available. I happened to be browsing the shoe section on the L.L. Bean website and saw that they carry the shoes (I think I bought mine from Zappos). Then I noticed that several reviewers claim that the waterproofing wears off after a while, which was consistent with my experience this winter. Apparently Merrell's version of waterproofing in this instance consists of some sort of treatment for the materials, but it is not permanent.

A look at the shoes on Zappos showed similar complaints from reviewers. I also noticed that Merrell now offers a Gore-Tex version of the shoe. Gore-Tex is a different, and far more effective, method of waterproofing shoes or garments, in which a membrane is bonded to the materials during construction. It's also more expensive, as the process is trademarked, patented, or whatever; companies that want to make shoes or clothing with Gore-Tex have to pay a fee to the company that invented the membrane, and that cost gets passed on to customers in higher retail prices for those items.

The Gore-Tex Moabs are $30 more than the regular "waterproof" version, which is now about $20 higher than what I paid for mine five years ago, so I'd end up spending almost 50% more to get shoes that are really, truly, and (in theory) permanently waterproof. On the other hand, I suppose five years is a decent amount of time for the lesser form of waterproofing to last, and for the Moabs to last in general. I may still end up buying a pair of the Gore-Tex Merrells, since I like them in general and they are available in wide widths, but I will definitely be looking for other options as well.

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