There are few brands that travelers trust for gear and accessories. When it comes to roughing it out, two names come into play: Keen Dry and Gore-Tex. These brands are part of a fairly new category of rugged outdoor gear meant to be both waterproof and breathable. Waterproof gear has always been around, but they tend to be too hot for the wearer because the materials need to be impenetrable by water. Keen Dry and Gore-Tex both claim that their range outdoor wear has the ability to keep water from getting in and to let sweat out.
The question is: how good are these claims?
In this post, we take a look at how these products compare with regards to shoes (as this is Keen’s focus).
Keen is a relatively young brand known for its range of footwear for men, women, and kids. They’re most popular for their outdoor footwear, but they also have a range of work boots for different industries. Since starting in 2003, Keen has been championing living healthy lifestyles and donating to charities and grass-root communities. They place a big emphasis on sustainability, aligning their company values with the purpose of their products to bring wearers closer to nature.
Gore-Tex, on the other hand, has a broader claim to fame. The company was founded 55 years ago, and their technology has been used in various applications in a diverse range of industries, including the medical, fabric, pharmaceutical and biotechnology, oil and gas, aerospace, automotive, mobile electronics, music and semiconductor industries. In fact, their insulated cables were even used for the Apollo 11 mission. When it comes to outdoor gear, Gore-Tex has applied their technology to materials in the creation of weather-proof clothing including outerwear, footwear, and accessories.
Keen has a strong focus on craftsmanship combined with technology. The products are made in Portland, Oregon, but materials are sourced from all over the world. Depending on the shoe type, Keen combines waterproof and breathable materials with its Keen.Dry Membrane to deliver the Waterproof and Breathable claim.
Aside from that, their footwear is also treated with Cleansport odor control since the expectation is that the products will be exposed to wet climates and situations. There is an emphasis on support for the foot as Keen footwear are meant to manage the roughest terrains.
At the heart of Gore-Tex technology is the Gore-Tex Membrane. It’s an extremely thin layer of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). It has over 9 billion microscopic pores per square inch that are 20,000 times smaller than a water droplet but 700 times larger than water vapor. The membrane gives Gore-Tex fabric its Waterproof and Breathable characteristics. The membrane also has a windproof characteristic to help wearers stay warm. The Membrane is bonded between high-performance lining and outer textiles. Even the seams are sealed with their proprietary Gore-Seam tape to avoid water from leaking through the product.
Unfortunately, the answer is not a resounding yes. In some ways it kinda depends who you ask.
No membrane is completely waterproof and completely breathable. The performance of the products are highly dependent on season and use, but no shoe will survive a long walk in a stream without getting the wearer wet to some extent. Unless you are wearing knee-high boots that is!
Don’t worry though. Both the Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex technologies still perform quite well if you want to rough it. In fact, they are both about as good as you are going to get in terms of waterproof / breathable shoes.
Both Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex use membranes to keep the water out without toasting your feet inside. Both materials give wearers anywhere from 3-5 years of use with little to no issues, depending on how much and often they use them. Compared to coatings, membranes are more breathable and considerably more durable.
The good thing about Gore-Tex is they try to deliver on their “Guaranteed to Keep You Dry” promise. They give customers a 1-year replacement warranty if they’re not satisfied with the performance of the shoe.
Keen, on the other hand, offers more protection and better handling. Since these shoes are created to double as work shoes, Keen footwear has a protected rubberized toe box. The sole is also built with lugs for great traction and a reliable feel. The membrane lets the foot breathe well and does not feel hot for the foot even during hot seasons. Its PU midsole lends great support for the foot and also keeps water from entering the shoe.
Membranes are not meant to be used in rain boots. When constantly subjected to water, both Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex will soak through. No matter how microscopic the pores are of both membranes, they’re simply not meant to be used as rain boots.
Looking for great rainboots? Try Mucks or Bogs
Keen.Dry, according to the reviews, seems to be more breathable and comfortable. When wearing the right size, Keen shoes fit like a glove, allowing wearers to have more control over various terrains. However, Keen doesn’t seem to manufacture consistently.
Gore-Tex, on the other hand, doesn’t deliver on the “breathable” claim as well as it people assume. At least according to all the reviews I have read online.
While it’s great for keeping water out, wearers tend to soak through their socks with heat and sweat. Shoes made of suede also tend to fail a little on the waterproof claim because suede is a porous material that adds to the effect.
Gore-Tex also seems to take much longer to dry, which can be a problem if wearers are going through multi-day hikes. In the long run, the dirt that gets trapped in the lining corrodes the membrane quickly and then you lose the benefit of waterproofness for your shoes.
Check Out These Great Keen Hiking Boots
One hiking boot specialist I spoke to recently said this of waterproof membranes:
If you want to get occasionally wet, they are fine. If you are hiking in hot, humid or very wet conditions – get an all leather boot (inside and out) as they are very forgiving when constantly wet.
Your choice between Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex boils down to your preference. Both are durable materials that don’t really differ in terms of waterproof and breathable performance. Both types suffer from any product using membranes: they will not be 100% waterproof and they will be hot for your feet compared to non-lined shoes.
Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex will perform excellently during light to mid hikes and overnight trips. For as long as you’re not soaking wet throughout the entire trip, Keen.Dry and Gore-Tex will keep water away from your feet even while wading through streams or creeks.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!