Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Be wary of Gore-Tex running shoes (Knoxville News Sentinel)

Is Gore-Tex the worst material ever for trail running shoes? Apparently Mr. Medred thinks so, but he does raise some good points. If anyone knows of the Gore-Tex sock company he's talking about, be sure to send him an e-mail.

- SD

Be wary of Gore-Tex running shoes


If one more outdoor magazine raves about a Gore-Tex lined trail running shoe, I'll be convinced the city boys who run those publications never leave town.

This time it's Outside magazine's special 2005 Buy-Buy-Buy issue (officially the Buyer's Guide: Outside 2005 Annual) proclaiming the "Timberland Trail Lizard with Gore-Tex XCR" a "Trail Runner of the year."

"Bonus," notes the accompanying copy. "Gore-Tex XCR uppers contribute to all-around environment-proofness."

Now, I don't have a clue as to what "environment-proofness" is, but I'm guessing it's supposed to have something to do with protecting your feet from the environment. Either that or they're trying to say the shoe itself will survive the environment, which for $110 it better.

So we can probably translate "environment-proofness" to mean "it will keep your feet dry."

Only the Gore-Tex XCR won't. It's hard to stay dry when it's so easy for water to get in.

This is part of what makes Gore-Tex trail runners one of the worst uses of technology in outdoor gear. I say this not as some Luddite critic of Gore-Tex. I am a Gore-Tex believer.

I have a Gore-Tex dry-suit for rafting. I have Gore-Tex waders for hunting and fishing. Waterproof-breathable fabrics work.

In fact, they're miracle fabrics, but they are not without flaws.

A big flaw is the inevitable sacrifice of breathability in favor of waterproofness. Gore-Tex might be a wonder material able to stop water and still pass water vapor, but it also remains a compromise.

Try running in a pair of Gore-Tex trail shoes in warm temperatures, and you'll discover the consequences of this compromise. Gore-Tex might breath, but it doesn't breath like mesh. Your feet get hot and sweaty in warm temps.

Warm weather is seldom a problem in Alaska. Wet weather, however, is - and here is where Gore-Tex shoes display a weakness common to all waterproof materials.

They keep water in just as well as they keep water out. Anyone who has used insulated ski gloves with Gore-Tex liners knows what this means. Once you get the insulation in the gloves wet, they are not easily dried.

If you're indoors, you can throw them in a dryer or put them over a forced-air vent or a hair-dryer. But if you're stuck in the field somewhere, you'll discover it's near impossible to dry the gloves.

Much the same goes for Gore-Tex running shoes. They stay wet for a long, long time.

Gore-Tex running shoes are so badly flawed in this regard that I once thought they should be called the worst-ever use of technology in outdoor gear. Then I took a pair for a run on the paved path around Seattle's Green Lake in a light rain. None of the puddles were more than an inch deep.

If this is your idea of a "trail run," then fine, the shoes work. And if Runners World magazine, a publication more devoted to life on the trail than off, wants to declare these shoes sweet on your feet, OK.

But outdoor publications like Outside are supposed to be offering advice to people who actually get Outside - at least out to where the pavement ends and the trails begins to get wet and muddy.

And this is where Gore-Tex running shoes are at their worst. It is only 4 inches from the bottom of a running shoe to the cutout around the ankle. I know; I measured.

It is unbelievably easy to find puddles or mud holes that deep. You step in. The shoe fills up. That's it. Your feet will be soaked for the rest of the day.

Well-ventilated trail shoes made with open-mesh uppers are far better than Gore-Tex in these conditions.

Why? Because even though your feet will get wet faster (maybe), they have a chance to dry. If you get out of the swamps into dry country, your feet will dry out in these shoes.

And the truly sad thing is that there exists a perfectly good alternative to Gore-Tex shoes - Gore-Tex socks.

They have a couple things going for them that Gore-Tex trail runners lack. One is height. Gore-Tex socks are 10-inches high. It's a lot harder to get into a 10-inch-deep mud hole than a 4-inch deep mud hole.

The second plus is that in warm weather you can leave the socks off. Instead of cloaking your feet in hot, sweaty Gore-Tex, you can let them breathe.

The third plus is that they are made of a single layer of material that can be turned inside out to dry. When you get Gore-Tex socks wet in the field, you can actually get them dry again - unlike Gore-Tex trail runners.

The only thing that would make Gore-Tex socks better is even more height. I used to have some Gore-Tex knee highs with Velcro closures for holding the socks up above the calf. They were wonderful. So wonderful I wore them all the time when charging around in Alaska wetlands.

I wore them out. Now, I can't find a company that makes them.

That's too bad, because I'd happily sing the praises of a good pair of Gore-Tex knee highs. They have all the merits that Gore-Tex trail runners lack. People who actually get on Outside trails might find them useful.

E-mail Craig Medred at cmedred(at)adn.com.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)

(Copyright Scripps Howard News Service, All Rights Reserved)

23 comments:

  1. Medred does make some good points about Gore-Tex, especially regarding breathability when it's hot out. But I don't think that means it's time to throw out your Gore-Tex trail shoes. I have a pair of Montrail Hurricane Ridge XC, which have Gore-Tex uppers, that I bought especially to slog through the spring thaw/refreeze/rethaw/repeat in the Mid-Atlantic and they have worked wonderfully. Would I wear them in August? Probably not. My feet may be a little sweaty at the end of my run but so is the rest of me and they are certainly much more dry than they might be without the Gore-Tex.

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  2. I have the same Montrail Hurricane Ridge XC and have used them for weeks fast packing in the Sierras in late fall. I change my socks every few hours but my feet are drier than using leather boots. True, I would not use them to run in temps above 80F.

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  3. personally i'm a merrell stormfront gtx kind of guy, and the truth is that they're soo ('soo' is to 'so' as 'too' is to 'to') light and comfy that i do find them to be an excellent spring-fall shoe. this is because they lack pretty much anything that even resembles insulation. in fact, if one were to take a bit of tyre and toss on a gore-tex upper, that's nearly what we're talking about. fact is that until i punched (or, if you will, kicked (my goodness man, what a horrible technicality to have to point out)) a hole in them, they were pretty much the perfect spring-to-fall shoes. fact: they were completely unacceptable in the winter months. fact: i've had other gtx shoes that wore well in the winter, yet, as pointed out previously, they were not to be worn during the summer. these are accepted limitations on a technology.

    p.s. to say that gore-tex doesn't breathe the way mesh does is like complaining that your rallye car's protective frame doesn't allow for air-flow in the fashion that your miata does: it is beyond rediculous. why not point out that a mesh upper doesn't keep water out in the same fashion that your gore-tex upper does? it's almost as if bush was writing this "critique." look, no one has claimed that water-proof materials have reached their peak, which would (it seems) be something that breathes like being bare-foot and keeps water out like plastic. this is a goal, not the current reälity. so, if we're going to level criticisms, let's try and keep them somewhat reasonable, eh?

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  4. It's like they normally keep water out, but once they do get water in them, drying them out takes a very long time.

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  5. Personally, I have to differ. I think Gore-Tex running shoes are one of the greatest inventions for keeping comfortable outdoors ever. I've been running 5-6 times a week for 25 years, and I go no matter the weather, and about 75% of the time on the trails (and for about 5 years, in Knoxville and surroundings). For every instance Medred complains about water going over the top in his Goretex shoe, I can mention 100 times where a normal running shoe was soaked through in the first minute of a trail run. The real world of running is full of moisture; rain, puddles, dew, snow, ice, you name it. My goretex running shoes have taken me places beyond the trails of Appalachia; I've done trail runs in Greenland, Antarctica, Polynesian Islands...... And I'd rather have my feet mostly dry and warm (yes, with some wet moments) than wet or moist all the freaking time.
    So NO, Goretex is not the worst thing ever. If you're actually going to run in puddles continuously, then go for something totally ventilated, as close to a rubber sandal as possible. But if normal moisture is what you're going to encounter, then Goretex is great. Let different runners chose what works for them, and keep the hyperbole out of it.

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  6. He's way off on the Gortex trail shoes. They are a godsend running through Canadian winters. Come late October here, you simply cannot run wet trails without them. As for retaining water, wear a gaitor and you'll have no water leakage into the shoes. I see no point in wearing Gortex shoes in summer, so I'm not clear why he even raised this in his blog.

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  7. I see where he is coming from though...Yesterday, I sloshed around in 7 inch deep melting snow around zero degrees C for three hours, with just Merrill mesh Ultrasport watershoe with Rocky Goretex socks over thinnish Merino Tec Wool/Olefin liner sock. The socks weren't sufficiently overwarm to induce sweating, and my feet were cozy warm the whole time, with snow in direct contact with the goretex socks. I was quite impressed. Why not make any shoe you own a Goretex shoe, as required, with a removable Goretex sock, without paying for Goretex on each shoe? Plus I can use the socks with my kayak pants to make a half drysuit up to my waist, with latex gasketted ankles and the socks. This is good for SOT kayaks in cold weather, without paying for a full drysuit.

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  8. I just slogged through a mess of wet snow in the rain in an old pair of Nike teocalli's and my feet remained dry and warm.

    Can't seem to find this shoe anymore. But if it weren't for gore tex, I would have had some very cold and wet feet.

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  9. I say that whatever you do, don't run in a rainy or slushy day with Pumas as running shoes; you will have wet socks and feet by the time you get home.

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  10. My experience with goretex has been great. The fabric takes minimal maintenance and when taken care of well it breaths a whole lot better. Maybe some people who have posted hear could have better experiences just by washing their shoes or using some sort of water repellency treatment. For warm weather running, personally I'm from Oregon. If it's warm rain, I don't really mind getting wet. Also I would consider some sort of gator system if you're running through puddles which will inevitably splash water in through the top of the shoe. This could go unnoticed, giving the appearance of the shoe not breathing. One thing to note about goretex is that they have an awesome warranty program. On any goretex tag they say "guaranteed to keep you dry". If your having that much trouble with your shoes, return them, or do the best you can to clean them and restore a lot of breathability.
    Best of luck

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  11. I have to dispute what Mr. Dunlap said in his original post. I will start by admitting that I don't run the length of the Colorado River while bench-pressing a gorilla like he does; but I spend my fair share of time on trails that are sometimes pretty darned wet. I own a pair of North Face Ultra XCR trail runners and was looking for something not quite so hot for summer use. In reading I ran across this blog and decided to try lighter shoes. So I bought the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra M+. I really like them but, as expected, they get REALLY wet. So I did a test. I walked 1 mile in the XCR's in tall, wet grass;switched to the XA's (dried my feet+fresh socks)and walked 1 mile back. By the end of the first mile my feet were a little wet; by the end of the second mile they were soaked. That isn't the test.

    When I got home I put them both on the mat to dry and waited. 24 hours later the XCR's were completely dry but the XA's were still very wet (and cold). Obviously since the XCR's don't get as thouroughly wet, they take less time to dry.

    Don't get me wrong, the XA's are very nice and I will certainly wear them when it is dry out but when it comes to keeping my feet dry and comfy I'm sticking to the XCR's.

    Next test: Gore-tex socks. Test results: They suck compared to gore-tex shoes. Once your shoes get wet you can give up keeping your feet warm. Even if your skin is dry; having your feet strapped into cold, wet shoes just sucks

    imho: keep the water as far from your skin as possible. Outside of your shoe is better than outside your sock.

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  12. So sorry, I just realized that it was Mr. Medred I was disagreeing with, not Mr. Dunlap. My apologies to Mr. Dunlap.

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  14. I think this shoe has strong support balanced with cushioning the Hydro Flow cushioning system 'absorbs shock, stabilizes the foot, and returns energy but what I use in my daily routine for walking and running is k swiss trainers.

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  15. The blog post is very informative. The gore-tex shoes are fine shoes but when u have to go wet and mud then this is waste. But for people who have little work in mud and wet this is for them.

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  16. Rocky is the brand that makes gore tex socks now. Thanks for writing this article btw. It confirmed everything I logically expected about gore tex shoes. I'd love to get a pair of the gore tex socks but unfortunately the smallest size I can find is 5 (they run in men's sizes and advise women to size down 1 to 1.5) and my shoe size is 5 in women's. Dammitall!

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  17. Hi all..... I think this blog and its' comments once again show us there is NO perfect shoe ( bike, kayak, flyrod, table saw, etc ) that will handle ALL situations. Each piece of clothing that I buy needs to be used in as many sports as possible... who can afford all the sport specific clothing and all the room they'd take in my drawers? If I can't wear the polypro top on a run, bike AND paddle... it doesnt get purchased. Therefore, thanks to this blog, I think I'll buy one good pair of non GTX trail shoes that can be transformed with the GTX socks for more serious conditions. Thanks for the info.

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  18. How about normal running shoe, goretex sock and thin merino lining in winter / coolmax liner in the summer? I think this setup would work.

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  19. I like these. I use them more for general day-to-day activities rather than trail running, but they're comfortable and go eight hours at a stretch with no problem.I just bought a new pair of shoes and I was planning to buy a second pair with GTX for rainy days.

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  20. 7 years have passed Scott..what's your updated opinion ? Has GoreTex improved ?

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  21. I have not tried gor-tex shoes, however I am looking for them to try. In Australia at certain times of year grass seeds are a problem to hikers, trail runners and orienteers. From talking to many of them a material like gor-tex can repel them while mesh lets them strait through. I am not sure if the same grass seeds are found across the world, however spear grass here only moves one way through fabric and flesh.

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  22. I think the issue here is not one that can improve: even if Gore-Tex was completely perfect, water will get in over the tops of the shoes in wet environments. Coming from a place with a wet climate I do use them for cycling, walking and trail running, but if I got a pair of shoes only for trail running I'd forget about Gore-Tex for wet environments and also hot ones. The last pair of walking boots I got were leather, non-Gore-Tex ones. The lining wears through between one and two years of use, meaning over several years they let/keep more water in than out. Leather is a naturally water-resistant material on its own so they don't let much water in. They dry quickly and are always warm to wear, even in wet, cold climates, with thick wool socks.

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