Booties, Waterproof Socks or Winter shoes? which do you choose?

As we get back into rainy and winter months we get harshly reminded of our footwear choices. It’s worth a recap for the mind or for those new to commuting / riding in inclement weather.

The three contenders in discussion are:
1) Booties / overshoes
2) Waterproof socks
3) Winter Specific shoes

Booties (overshoes)

These slip over your regular cycling shoes to offer a barrier from the elements. they are available from many manufacturers and cost in the region of $50 to $90

Pros & Cons

Use your normal cycling shoes
Very effective at keeping majority of water out
Good materials don’t soak through easily
Post ride Booties dry out fast
Often accommodate a road or mtb cleat

May wear fast – if you are on and off the bike a lot, then durability can be an issue.
Some bootie designs leave a lot of the underside of your shoe exposed, which may let in some water depending on your riding and bike setup.
Getting on and off the shoe can be tricky depending on design.
Choosing size can be tricky

Bootie Design

Some booties have one large opening on the bottom, these tend to let water in a bit more. Others have two openings, one at the heel and one at the cleat (see images). I find these to be the best balance. The heal opening allows grip and avoids wear. Some designs only have a cleat opening and I find the heel wears through very fast, as I often take some steps off the bike. Walking around in booties dramatically decreases the life / increase wear and tear. If you put them on ride then get to your destination and take then off, then this might not be an issue for you.
Designs often have zippers or velcro at the heal area to get on and off. Neither is better, zippers can fail over time and velcro can wear and become flappy. Some say a velcro one is easier to get on and off the shoe because the opening is larger. I find that a properly sized zipper model is no more difficult.

Bootie Materials

The mainstay are laminated materials, a warm material with a slippy waterproof top material, other materials include neoprene / scuba suit material . Both work well, neoprene tends to absorb some water after time but not let it through until deeply saturated and can be warmer than laminated materials. Laminated and coated materials however repel the water, although the coating tends to wear faster because it’s a coating and there is a lot of stretch required in booties. Some designs use more expensive layered materials with water barriers such as Gore or OuterDry. These can be good as they are waterproof but also breathe, these are often at the high end of the price range.

Bootie Tips (not Booty tips)

Because of tricky fitment and various sizes, it’s recommended to try a pair on with your cycling shoes at your local bike shop or REI rather than buy online. You want a snug fit, but not impossibly hard to slip on. You definitely do not want baggy, as it will let water in and could be dangerous if accidentally caught in cleat while stepping off. Useful links:

Rapha Booties

Pearl Izumi Shoe Covers

heres a quick review of a high end Castelli cover – tempesta, I don’t think these are in production now, but similar things are out there. review

Waterproof Socks

These are fairly new in the last few years and are basically a knitted sock that has a waterproof lining that are worn like a normal sock inside your cycling shoe. They are typically around $40-50 and available from manufacturers like Endura or Showerspass.

Pros and Cons

Uses your normal cycling shoes
Easy to use / put on
Feels normal and natural since they sit inside your shoe

Can feel bulky, as they are thicker than normal socks, if you have a very tight fitting shoe this may be problematic.
Can feel like “rubber” sock
If your feet sweat a lot, your foot will be damp and wrinkly skin at the end of ride.
Shoe will get soaked and heavy, thus shoe will take longer to dry than booties
Require some specific care to keep them waterproof, since they contain a membrane.

Sock Design

The evaluation of the waterproof sock has allowed companies to experiment with the waterproof barrier and the knitting process, such that you can get different thicknesses so to speak. I find the thinner or lighter weight ones to feel better, they fit better in the shoe and feel less like a rubbery sock. The large downside of this system for me is the shoe absorbs all the water, including the insole. In practice this means the shoe can become very mushy, heavy and waterlogged feeling when compared to using a good shoe cover / bootie. In situations of light rain / sorter rides then this may not be an issue.
The socks can be very effective in keeping your feet dry, note that if you sweat a lot, your feet will feel wrinkly and damp, since breathing is not that great.
useful links:

Showerspass Waterproof Crosspoint Socks

and finally…

Winter Shoes

These are cycling shoes specifically designed for winter. Often these shoes provide superior protection to the elements because they are made with high quality waterproof and breathable materials and insulation to keep feet warm. They generally use an SPD mountain bike style cleat. They are available from manufacturers like Lake, 45Nrth and Shimano

Pros and Cons

The ultimate protection
Superb ease of use
Good investment if you plan to ride a lot or multiple years
The most durable of winter protection.
Ideal if you plan to mountain bike in the wet.

Cost – Prepare to spend a few hundred dollars
Can be too warm depending on rider preference , time of year and make of shoe.
Majority are only a mountain bike cleat (this may-not bother you)

Winter Shoe Design

Just like a beefed up regular shoe with more of an ankle cuff, the winter shoe tends to be heavier and less stiff than a performance cycling shoe. That’s not to say they are floppy, but they are a touch more flexy which allows you to walk in them easily. hey often have softer soles which have better grips and are great for walking in. many designs have a neoprene like cuff area which is intended to grip around the ankle to stop ingestion of water. Check the designs in this aarea carefully as some are better than others.

Winter Shoe Materials

Many shoes used advanced materials for waterproofing and insulation for cold proofing. Often lined with good quality goretex or membranes so they are waterproof and breathable. Often the cleat is designed to be more isolated so it stops cold from coming in. The shoes / boots have a higher cuff to keep heat in / water out. They also often have a false tounge or folding flap to make the system even more impermeable.

Winter Shoe Tips

Just like the booties, if you can try them on in person. You will get a sense for how warm they are and also sizing is critical, a too small or large shoe can make them painful and unusable. Also worth thinking about the thickness of sock you will be wearing.

Check out this older review of some Shimano MW7 Boots here

Experience with these? leave a comment below.

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