Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (2024)

While we love waterproof running shoes for protection against rain, wet trails, and splashy creek crossings, many highly-rated models cost $150 or more. That can be a good deal if you’re heading into a rainy training cycle or are in the market for new shoes. But it can also be a high price for adding a pair of weather-specific shoes to your closet, especially if you won’t wear them as regularly as your daily trainers.

Jump to:

  • Running Gaiters
  • Waterproof Socks
  • Sprays and Waxes
  • DIY: Waterproof Spray Method

Luckily, buying a special pair of waterproof shoes isn’t the only way to stay dry out there. For runners living in areas with only sporadically inclement weather, wearing waterproof socks or running gaiters can be a great alternative to a new pair of waterproof shoes. And for the DIY-oriented runners, adding a waterproofing treatment to a spare pair of running shoes is another economical alternative.

These are a few of our favorite strategies for staying dry without investing in waterproof shoes. They’re ideal for climates where you aren’t consistently encountering wet conditions, but want to have a backup for wet days or damp trails.

Running Gaiters

Best For: Runners who want maximum breathability, are mostly concerned with water coming into the tops of their shoes, and don’t often have their feet submerged.

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The Good: Gaiters are easy to take off and put on during a run. They offer a good amount of protection while allowing your feet to breathe.

The Bad: Even the best gaiters still only offer partial coverage, and your feet will get soaked if you submerge your shoes.

Trail gaiters are a lightweight, low-profile option for keeping your shoes (and feet) protected on rainy days. While they don’t offer the full protection of waterproof socks or a waterproof shoe, they’re fantastic for drizzly days or trails where you might be running through ankle-whacking wet underbrush.

Our Favorite Gaiters

Kahtoola InstaGaiter Mid

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Our Favorite Gaiters

Kahtoola InstaGaiter Mid

Pros
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (3)Tall cuff offers additional protection
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (4)High level of water resistance
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (5)Side zippers are easy to use

Many ultralight running gaiters are very low-profile, so if you’re looking for water protection, we recommend a taller pair with dedicated DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment. This will help keep both debris and water out of your shoes. The most protective models cover more of your shoe, shielding more of the upper material from wet brush and moderate precipitation, though the sides and toes of your shoe will still be uncovered.

Waterproof Socks

Best For: Runners in cooler climates who don’t mind their shoes saturating, but want to keep their feet as dry as possible.

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The Good: A zero-maintenance, reasonably inexpensive way to add another layer of warmth and protection for your feet when wearing non-waterproof shoes in the rain.

The Bad: Waterproof socks are bulkier than standard socks, and breathability varies between brands.

Waterproof socks are reliably protective in rain or quick creek crossings, and are a great option during wet, snowy, or cold runs. Waterproof socks are built with three layers, similar to a three-layer rain jacket. They have an exterior face fabric, a waterproof membrane in the middle, and a next-to-skin interior fabric. This already makes waterproof socks bulkier than normal socks, plus the two outer layers have to be even thicker to protect the membrane against abrasion.

Our Favorite Waterproof Socks

Showers Pass Crosspoint

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Our Favorite Waterproof Socks

Showers Pass Crosspoint

Pros
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (10)Offers some breathability
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (11)Not too bulky
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (12)Provides more warmth for winter months
Cons
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (13)Less suited for hot weather
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (14)If water seeps in at the cuff, it can’t drain out

Many waterproof socks have a snug cuff at the top to help keep your feet dry during heavy rain and deeper creek crossings. This offers an added level of protection to prevent water from entering through the top of the sock. Waterproof socks are also less breathable than non-waterproof pairs—something to keep in mind if you run hot or live in a warmer climate.

Sprays and Waxes

Best for: Runners seeking the most affordable, do-it-yourself option.

The Good: This is the only option where you treat the shoes themselves, as opposed to adding accessories to your running setup.

The Bad: Using waterproofing spray on footwear can increase the stiffness of the upper, and you’ll need to reapply the spray at some point depending on usage.

Waterproofing spray allows you to revitalize an old pair of waterproof shoes, or add a high level of water resistance to a standard pair. This will not have the same level of effectiveness as buying a pair of fully waterproof shoes, but for the price and simplicity, it’s a comparable alternative. Waterproofing treatment is reasonably inexpensive, the process is quick, and the treatment can last multiple months.

We recommend a leather-and-fabric spray, but there are also several effective waxes on the market. While waxes can work on running shoes, we prefer to reserve wax treatments for leather footwear like hiking boots.

Our Favorite Waterproof Spray

Nikwax Fabric and Leather Waterproofer

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Our Favorite Waterproof Spray

Nikwax Fabric and Leather Waterproofer

Now 29% Off

Pros
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (17)Ideal for both leather and synthetic fabrics
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (18)Works well on running shoes with overlays
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (19)Feels quite flexible after drying
Cons
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (20)May require reapplication
  • Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (21)Can affect the color of some upper materials

Most waterproofing sprays work by filling fabric pores with a water-repellent mixture. This prevents water permeation while maintaining a decent amount of breathability. It depends on your usage, but if you do a good job with the application, the treatments can last at least a full month. Heavier usage will wear down the treatment quicker. If you have less exposure to the elements, one treatment can be effective for a full season.

Keep in mind that your standard running shoes might not have the integrated tongue sometimes found in waterproof models. If this is the case, you might get water seeping in between the tongue and the upper, regardless of how well the treatment works.

DIY: Waterproof Spray Method

Total Time: 30 minutes, plus 24 hours to dry

Here’s the simple step-by-step process demonstrated on the non-waterproof Lowa Amplux, which have a synthetic upper. I used the PFC-free, water-based Fabric & Leather Footwear Duo Pack from Nikwax, which comes with a gel cleaner and waterproofing spray.

  1. Remove the shoelaces. You want to avoid getting the spray on your shoelaces, as it can make them stiffer and difficult to keep tied.
  2. Clean your shoes with mild soap or laundry detergent diluted with warm water, making sure to remove all dirt and caked mud. I used the cleaning gel that came with my waterproofing spray, but most mild soaps will work just fine. Some shoe-cleaning soaps have hydrophilic properties, which can reduce the effectiveness of waterproofing treatments. If you’re cleaning with a shoe-specific soap, use one that pairs with the waterproofing treatment in a two-step process.

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  3. Remove all residue from the gel or soap with a clean, non-abrasive cloth. Rinse the shoe, then make sure the whole shoe is wet before starting the waterproofing spray.

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  4. Hold the waterproofing spray six inches from the shoe, and spray over the entire surface. Pay close attention to coverage along the seams. Different waterproofing treatments might have slightly varying instructions, so be sure to read the instructions on your own spray.

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  5. Blot away any extra spray with a clean cloth, and double-check for full coverage!

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  6. Stuff your shoes with newspaper or a shoe tree to help prevent creasing or cracking on the newly applied spray. Store your shoes out of direct sunlight to dry for at least 24 hours.

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Jump to:

  • Running Gaiters
  • Waterproof Socks
  • Sprays and Waxes
  • DIY: Waterproof Spray Method

Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (27)

Maggie Slepian

Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer in the outdoor industry and has tested gear professionally for almost ten years—she is an avid backpacker, trail runner, bikepacker, and horseback rider and has thru-hiked thousands of miles on the Appalachian, Colorado, and Ouachita trails, along with backcountry travel on terrain including coastal trails, the desert, and high alpine peaks. Maggie has written for New York Magazine, Huffington Post, REI, and Outside. She is a columnist with Backpacker Magazine and is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com. Contact her at MaggieSlepian.com.

Here’s How to Keep Your Feet Dry if You Don’t Want to Buy Waterproof Running Shoes (2024)
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