California just ensured one of its wettest winters in state history. I didn’t mind all that rain, though, because it gave me the perfect opportunity to try some of the latest waterproof running shoes.
I aimed for puddles, muddy ruts, and small streams with childlike abandon while out on my runs. I occasionally experienced sore feet—a comfortable upper is hard enough to design, and making it impervious to water only stiffens it. That makes finding a running shoe that feels good, stays dry, and looks attractive a tricky proposition. I tested several pairs—trail shoes, street shoes, even a running boot. Four made the final cut.
Nike LunarEpic Flyknit Shield
I’m no Nike fanboy, but as soon as I opened the box and saw the Flyknits ($120, Rating: 8) I thought, I cannot wait to run in these. They look great, and the woven Flyknit construction makes them by far the most comfortable shoe I tested.
What sets the LunarEpic Flyknit Shield apart is the durable water-resistant coating on the yarn, which makes them suitable for all-weather running. True to Flyknit form, they felt more like rugged socks than shoes. The fabric conforms to the contours of the foot, creating a snug but unimposing fit.
I found just one problem, and it’s a big one: these kicks leaked like no others I tested. Everything I ran in offered solid waterproofing, but the Nikes are merely water-resistant. I soaked them by running uphill, straight into a torrent of rainwater streaming down the street. The water didn’t exactly rush in, but it breached the shoe and my toes got moist. That said, it only effected the front of the shoe; the sides and back held up well.
I knocked the FlyKnit Shields down a point because they aren’t fully waterproof, but otherwise they’re stellar. You don’t want to take them on the trail, but they’re perfect for the street.
Cloudventure by OnRunning
Swiss shoemaker On says running through the Alps informed its footwear design. I ran in the slightly less gorgeous Oakland hills (which can get pretty steep BTW), so although I subjected them to conditions far less arduous than On designed them for, I’d still say the Cloudventure Waterproofs ($170, Rating: 8) were the best pair of trail shoes I ran in.
The shoe’s defining feature is the spring-like rubber sole. Bouncy loops around the exterior provide noticeable oomph when you run, and bottom of the sole boasts four different types of grip. Overkill, perhaps, but it works. I didn’t slip once on dirt. I did however slip on concrete, because these shoes turn into bars of soap on slick streets. Stick to the trail.
The shoe’s waterproof membrane keeps your feet plenty dry without suffocating your feet, and isn’t so rigid that the shoes hurt. I actually enjoyed running downhill because my toes didn’t feel like they were smashing into a wall. It was almost dangerous, because I nothing stopped me from going full speed. My only qualm? The shoes need more ankle support. The shoes excel at up-and-down, Alps-style running, not trails requiring more effort from the sides of the feet. A run on a relatively flat trail with many switchbacks left my ankles sore ankles for days.
Under Armour Verge Low GTX Boots
The Under Armour Verge Low GTX ($105, Rating: 6) was the least shoe-y running shoes I reviewed. They look more like cross training shoes, with a mesh upper layer and padding around the ankles. The Michelin-made undersole highlights the shoe’s true purpose: offroad vehicle. It’s like Under Armour is daring you to test their limits. See a tree? Climb it. Meet a river? Cross it. Want to run long distances on a straight and narrow path? Maybe not.
I found the Verge Low too clunky and heavy (12.7 ounces) for everyday running. That said, you do get a lot of bang for your bulk. They’re like running with pillows taped to your feet—comfortable, but running felt labored. Raise the shoe, lower the shoe, raise the shoe. The full name, Verge Low GTX Boots, nods toward their strength. These are a great pair of shoes for the off-road running adventurer. Not so much for the everyday runner.
At the very least, they proved to be extremely waterproof. They use Gore-Tex to keep your feet warm and dry. I stepped right in the biggest puddles I could find. I soaked my shins, but my feed stayed dry. That waterproofing comes at a cost, though—these shoes offer minimal breathability.
Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX
Salomon enjoys a rep as one of the better names in running shoes. Its shoes typically do well in running magazines’ annual roundups, and the company enjoys a loyal customer base. And they look like the sort of thing you’d see on a runner who clocks 12 miles a day. The Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX ($112, Rating: 6) in particular look pretty intense.
The XA Pro 3D’s use Gore-Tex to keep the water out. They’ll keep you dry for sure, but the comfort leaves much to be desired. Salomon recognizes the shortcomings of this shoe. A rating system on its website gives them a 1 out of 5 for breathability and a 3 out of 5 for cushioning. I’d call that assessment spot-on. These shoes offer minimal cushioning, and your foot all but gasps for air when you take the shoe off. The XA Pros promise excellent stability as well, but I must disagree. If you tend to run on the balls of your feet like I do, on trails with rocks or uneven surfaces like I did, every step is a sprained ankle waiting to happen—especially running downhill.
Still, I found a lot to like. These shoes offer excellent protection. The convenient draw-string lacing system gives you the option of tighten the shoe until your feet turn blue. The grip on the outsole digs into wet ground with a vengeful spirit, leaving an indelible mark and making it nearly impossible to slip in muddy conditions. Plus, they aren’t ugly. They may work well for some runners, especially those with a different footstrike, but they didn’t work as well for me.