Continuing our quest to cover obscure sub-genres of flat-pedal shoes, we brought together a couple waterproof options, just in time for April showers. Travis Engel took the opportunity during a rainy and snowy California winter to dip his toe in models from Five Ten and Leatt. Turns out he had a hard time picking a favorite, because they’re both very special in their own way.
Two winters ago, I quit my job and bought a boot dryer. Until I went freelance, I never ran out of dry shoes before I ran out of weekend. The atmospheric rivers that passed through California this season upped the stakes even further, making it wetter and colder than I can ever remember. After spending a few rides splorshing for hours in near-freezing rain-soaked socks, I decided it was time to add some waterproof kicks to my flat-pedal collection. Problem is, there aren’t many bike-specific options out there. Sure, we’re all allowed to ride in products that aren’t bike-specific, but very few non endemic waterproof shoes have a tread profile fit for flats. And those that do are likely to miss the mark in shape, durability, and of course, grip. Surprisingly, as of writing this, I could only find two bike-specific waterproof flat-pedal shoes.
I should mention that waterproof pants are a must in this equation. They’re the first line of defense. If your riding pants were given the sheepish “all-weather” designation, they might still allow water to reach your calf and run into your socks. My go-to are the POC Motion Rain pants, because they’ve got zippered ankles, are relatively affordable, and are completely waterproof. Any way to put some awnings over your ankles will do the trick.
Of course, there is another approach: Deal with it. At most, get some waterproof socks. Oddly enough, this is how some of my friends in the Pacific Northwest do it. And maybe it’s how I’d do it if I ever dared become yet another ex-Californian in their midst. But while I’m still down here and my skin is still thin, I’ll do what I can to stay dry until May when I once again beg for winter.
Five Ten Trailcross GORE-TEX
The word “waterproof” sets a very high, very absolute bar. And it’s a difficult bar for a shoe to reach. I open with this caveat because, in extreme situations, I found that the Five Ten Trailcross GORE-TEX doesn’t quite hit that bar. Sustained rain rides or just-below-the-ankle creek crossings would see moisture eventually seep through. Even if it had only recently rained, riding a wet, brushy trail would occasionally leave my socks damp by the time I reached the bottom. But I kinda expected that. These shoes have nearly as many generous mesh panels as the rest of the otherwise stellar Trailcross lineup. This would seem like a clear win for the Leatt 7.0 Hydra Dri which—can confirm—is waterproof. But I still found the Trailcross GORE-TEX absolutely counts as a wet-weather shoe. Repeated puddle splashes and extended snow dustings would rarely get past the gates, and would never get near a saturation point if they did. The Leatts may be my choice if I know I’ll be soaking wet all day, but there’s more to it than that.
The tightrope walked by any bad-weather apparel is how to balance breathability and protection. My POC pants, for example, are not especially breathable. But given the right conditions, I don’t care. They keep me dry. And in my climate, it’s not raining unless it’s cold. Even if I do break a sweat, I’d rather be muggy than soaked. It’s just that age-old gamble of trying to balance the needle inside the comfort zone. What’s remarkable about the Trailcross GORE-TEX is that, even if the day turned suddenly warm and dry, my feet felt fine.
Part of that is the Trailcross lineup’s glove-like fit and Crocs-like flexibility. There was only a bit of added stiffness in the uppers thanks to the layers of insulation. And they wouldn’t ever rise beyond a certain peak temperature. In early spring, many of my loops bounce repeatedly between south-facing sun and north-facing snow. These shoes have the supernatural ability to keep me relatively happy in each.
Of course, they also have the supernatural ability to stay glued to my pedals. If you’ve ridden any Trailcross shoe, you know. They offer the perfect balance of pedal wrap, surface grip, and impact damping. In this regard, they have a subtle but important edge over the Leatt Hyra Dri. Hitting a high-intensity vertical bump will more easily lift me off the pedals in the Leatts, where the Five Tens have a better chance of absorbing some of that energy. It’s just the magic inside that Stealth rubber and EVA midsole that I’ve only seen matched by Ride Concepts. It also gives the Trailcross GORE-TEX respectable hiking skills, even without hiking-focused tread. Despite the more robust, protective warm uppers, the Trailcros GORE-TEX don’t compromise a bit of what makes the entire Trailcross lineup so good at what they do.
- Unmatched Five Ten grip
- Comfort in a wide range of conditions and temperatures
- Signature Trailcross versatility on and off the bike
- Not as waterproof as the Leatts
See more at Adidas
Leatt 7.0 Hydra Dri Flat
It’s refreshing to see a brand poke its head out of the bike-industry bubble and look at how other sports solve problems. Though it was unfamiliar to a bubble shut-in like myself, the approach taken by the Leatt 7.0 Hydra Dri is pretty common in trekking boots. Its zippered shell can be almost seamless, and it doesn’t have to be structural. It’s essentially a normal, lightweight shoe surrounded by a built-in waterproof shroud. And it works.
I did several mostly-rainy rides in the 7.0 Hydra Dris, including one with a bit of brush cutting snuck in. Maybe this is just in my mind, but standing still in the rain always makes me feel wetter than riding in it. But after sawing wet branches over my head for an hour, not a drop made it into my shoes. I was just as impressed when submerging them. As long as I kept the cuff above the surface, I could cross creeks confidently. I wish I could stretch my take on the waterproof-ness of the 7.0 Hydra Dris another few sentences because, like, that’s what we’re here for. But it’s really that simple. Again, it just works.
I do have nitpicks, though. These don’t have the wide-temperature comfort range of the Trailcross Gore-Tex. The Leatt’s minimalist styling didn’t offer quite as much insulation in cold weather, though they do size slightly roomier to make room for thick socks. Regardless, their dryness gave them a clear edge if I had to walk through extended stretches of snow. On the other end, it didn’t take much outside warmth on a dry day before the Leatts started to feel muggy. I stand by my statement, though, that muggy is better than soaked. So it’s a definite win compared to swimming from the ankle down. And on one warm, rainy day in Bellingham, the constant outside moisture seemed to keep things temperate on the inside. But as their unique form factor makes clear, these are uniquely purpose-built shoes.
That unique form factor comes with another nitpick, but a tolerable one given the performance. They’re a bit of a pain to take on and off. The zippered exterior is not that bad in itself. There’s enough stretch that I don’t feel like I’m ever going to jam the zipper teeth. But working underneath that exterior can be a struggle. Leatt does a mostly admirable job at mitigating that with a quick-lace style closure. They can be easily tightened, and the excess neatly tucked into a pouch on the tongue. And midway down, there’s a clever tab to add slack when removing them. There’s also a generous finger loop at the back, but unfortunately it’s not sewn high enough on the inner heel, so the material still bunches up on entry without some shoehorning. So close.
Underneath it all is Leatt’s RideGrip Pro outsole. It’s rarely a fair fight when Five Ten’s Stealth rubber is in the ring, but the 7.0 Hydra Dri holds its own admirably. It only falls short to Five Ten’s class-leading bump-damping. Speaking only of grip and tread shape, Leatt’s compound holds on predictably, wet or dry. Like the 3.0 Flat Pro I recently tested, the soles are just thin enough to allow for some foot wrap without creating hot spots. That also makes them just as adept when hike-a-biking on uneven terrain. Though a thicker midsole like that of the Five Ten Freerider or the Ride Concepts Tallac may make for more stable descending, this category seems better targeted at those rides when you may need to get out and push once in a while. And that’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise to see a shoe like this from Leatt. A brand known for neck braces and moto gear didn’t seem like they’d hit the scene with such an impressive trail-focused, adventure-ready truly waterproof shoe.
- Honest-to-goodness waterproof-ness
- Good value
- Cumbersome to take off and on
- Can get muggy unless it’s wet or cold outside
See more at Leatt
Hopefully, this category will continue to grow. It needs to. My Pacific Northwest friends who don’t just let their feet soak all winter often swap to SPDs simply because there are more bad-weather options on the clip-in market. But these two shoes are a hell of a first start. They make me look forward to next winter even more. Hopefully I’ll still be willfully underemployed.