From time to time I see big misconceptions on the waterproofing preferences of welted shoes, like how stitched rubber soles lead to water coming into the shoe or how closed channel leather soles are much more waterproof than open channel soles, and similar. This is wrong – here I explain why.
First of all, yes, welted shoes are in general relatively waterproof, compared to regular cemented shoes or Blake stitched footwear. This is due to the fact that the protruding sole edge (which also works as a practical bumper, read more on that here in this article) protects against water and there’s no stitching entering into the shoe. For some reason though, misconceptions on how various types of welted shoes vary in how waterproof they are circulate. There’s two common ones I read and hear regularly. One states that open channel leather soles should lead to water entering the shoe through the stitching to a much larger degree than closed channel stitched leather soles. Following along the same theories, I also often see people stating that rubber soles that are stitched lead to the same issue, with water coming into the shoe through the stitches, and same folks often state that it’s better with rubber soles only cemented on welted shoes since it’s more waterproof.
What those spreading these misconceptions seem to forget is that the sole stitch on a welted shoe does not enter the shoe at all. It goes through the outsole straight into the welt (plus midsole in between there, if double soles), which also is on the outside of the shoe. Potential water sipping up through the stitching (which also this is a bit of an exaggerated issue, gravity tends to keep water from moving up towards a shoe, but sure, if walking in wet conditions for some time this eventually can be the case) would only move from below the shoe to the side of the shoe, which obviously doesn’t affect the amount of water inside the shoe.
So, no, on welted shoes the issue with water coming in from below is more or less non-existent, what is the problem is if it’s so wet that water end up on top of the welt in the area between the sole edge and the upper, here water can sip into the shoe, here there’s no gravity preventing the movement in the same way either. That’s why storm welts are good to make welted shoes more water resistant, or why stitchdown or Veldtschoen constructions with outwards folded uppers are more waterproof, they prevent water to enter from the side. It’s from there or simply through the upper of the shoes that most water tend to make its way into a shoe, not from below.