“Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozie.” Winter weather comes and goes, repeating itself every year. While many of us love layering, wearing coats, heavy flannels, tweeds, and the like, sometimes it feels like it is a Groundhog day every day, every winter. With the snow, the rain, the sleet and ice, we have to be more cautious with our footwear, in order to protect it and ensure it sees its maximum lifespan. As such some shoes are better than others for tempo di merda, so here are some examples of what I consider the best shoes for rainy and snowy weather.
With the recent inclement weather throughout Europe and the US, you are bound to see some wear on your soles, especially if you accidentally wear leather soles out and don’t realize it’s going to seemingly spontaneously hail and rain in the “ever sunny” Los Angeles. Even if you escape the season’s unpredictable rain, you might just step right into one of those puddles that appear shallower than they actually are as you are crossing the street. Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no such thing as waterproof shoes (unless we consider rubber Wellingtons an acceptable footwear option). However, the good news is you can invest in shoes made for inclement weather, like the infamous, and forum favorite, L.L. Bean Boots. Originally designed in 1912, the boots have long protected feet from wet environments for over a hundred years. They are probably one of your best bets for winter storms in the American Midwest or Northeast, seeing as they won’t look completely out of place.
Sometimes, you need or want something a bit more elegant: for this reason, rubber-soled shoes are a popular option since they work reasonably well in winter weather. Although many people might prefer a Dainite sole for a dressier look (when compared to a commando-style sole made by Vibram), Dainite soles are not optimal for wet weather since they provide little in way of increased traction–they are marginally better than leather soles at best. However, the Dainite sole helps to prevent wear to the sole of the shoe, increasing the lifespan tremendously. Because they are rubber, even though they are not high grip on wet surfaces, they work well in light snow or preventing water from getting into the cork bed or upper. I have a pair of Loake 1880 Chukka boots with Dainite soles which is my go-to travel shoe when I’m uncertain what the weather might be, seemingly because they are casual enough to be worn with denim, but elegant enough to go with odd trousers.
If your style leans toward streetwear, you could look for something with more traction: I would consider a Vibram branded sole or a commando-style sole. The commando-style sole has all the lugs to provide extra grip, which add more visual weight to the sole, providing heavier-chunky appearance that belongs with streetwear more than tailoring. However, that isn’t to say you probably can’t find a place in your wardrobe for a pair of Alden with a commando sole to go with some moleskin or corduroy pants. These are excellent for heavier snow and provide the protection and grip that you need when the weather is at its worst. In addition, the higher sole helps provide more distance between your leather upper and the salted ground.
Cobbler Union “Miquel” wholecut
If boots are your thing, but you prefer classic style, you’ll want something that is a bit more pragmatic than leather-soled boots when the streets are wet and slippery. That said, those of us who want something a bit more sophisticated and elegant -but still need grip or water protection- might consider a pair of boots such as these from Cobbler Union that feature studded combination leather and high-density rubber sole. The soles have some minor lugs set into it, which help to break up the flat surface and provide traction; simultaneously, the upper part of the sole and the welt are leather, contributing to the elegant look of the boot.
DRESSIER BOOTS FOR INCLEMENT WEATHER
Not all stitched soles are created equal. The stitching methods favored by the Italians, Blake method stitches the outer directly to the upper and insole, leaving out a welt, and thereby permit more water into a shoe. In Blake-rapid stitching, there is slightly more waterproofing on account that there are two stitches like in a Goodyear welted shoe (separating the stitching channels for the shoes): the Blake stitch that goes between the midsole, outer and insole, with the rapid stitch that stitches the midsole to an outsole. By adding in a midsole, the stitching for the inner part of the shoe is not exposed to the elements from the bottom sole as much as in Blake constructed shoes. Goodyear welted shoes, on the other hand, see the sole attached to a piece (oftentimes made of leather) called a welt, which acts as a medium for stitching between the upper and the sole. Besides allowing for easily repaired soles in the United States and UK, the welting process helps keep water out of the footbed.
You might further consider waterproofing your welted shoes by seeking out stormwelts on Goodyear welted shoes. In this case, the manufacturer puts a storm welt on the shoe when performing a welt-stitch (either handmade or Goodyear welted). The storm welt is a wider piece that bends to create a seal between the upper and the midsole. These are seen oftentimes on shoes from makers like Tricker’s.
A final stitching method that provides the most waterproofing is the Norwegian stitch. You now see Norvegese construction more often on the work of higher end Italian shoemakers (in terms of quality, not “designer” priced). The Norwegian construction features two stitching lines, one which connects the welt, upper and insole, and the other connecting the welt upper and sole. When joined together, they create an even more closed channel, helping to further keep water out of the shoe.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STITCHING
Finally, you might be stubborn and wear leather soled shoes everywhere. If that’s you, I encourage you to invest in galoshes. In environments with snow and salted roads, the galoshes serve to protect your leather from salt stains. Swims makes a good pair of galoshes that can go around the leather soled shoes and provide protection from the elements, helping to extend the lifespan of your shoe. You can keep a pair in the office or in your car so that you’re not caught unprepared in case of unexpected showers. However, I will warn you that they do not have the best traction on slightly slick surfaces. I’ve slipped and fallen walking in them when I was walking over metal grates. A commando sole will be better for traction.
IF EVERYTHING ELSE FAILS, CONSIDER SHOE CONDOMS
In the end, the lesson here–just like when I’ve stepped into that bottomless puddle–might just be to pay a bit more attention to where you step.
Please note that a correction was made to clarify Blake vs Blake-rapid construction.