Puddle Jumpers The Best Rubber—and Recycled—Rain Boots

April showers bring…the need for waterproof footwear. While rain boots have become a ubiquitous fashion accessory in all types of weather, many are still composed of polyvinyl chloride plastic (known as PVC or vinyl), cancer-causing chemicals that create toxic byproducts during manufacture and use. And PVC products—including rain boots—are difficult to recycle due to the toxic additives (such as lead, chromium, cadmium and phthalates) released in the process. When shopping for rain gear, 100% natural rubber is the rule since, while slow to do so, it’s biodegradable. Another consideration is how sturdily the boots are constructed. Can they keep someone else’s tootsies dry if you tire of the style or when your little one outgrows them? Here are a few pairs up to the task of protecting your feet for many rainy seasons to come.

It’s All in the Design

Kamik’s Canadian-made rugged waterproof boots suit all sizes and lifestyles, from playing in puddles to working in the elements. The Essex line ($60-$80) incorporates natural rubber, while over 40 styles made from synthetic rubber for women, men and children may be returned by mail for recycling. The Slosh ($35), available in an array of high-sheen hues, takes rain boots up a notch for kids, with a removable foot bed and trek-ready treads. For adults, we especially like the free-spirited Janis ($60), a colorful, lightweight and recyclable women’s boot, and the Hunter ($40) in men’s sizes with replaceable liners and a steel toe.

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DIY…rain boots? Seems an odd proposition for a sewing project, but there is a template and instructions for just that at the website of Louie Rigano, who in  2010, while a senior at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), teamed with Waste for Life (a collective seeking to reduce poverty and help the environment) to repurpose plastic bags collected in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The resulting footwear is thin and lightweight, waterproof (of course), and takes roughly 16 bags per boot out of the waste stream.“A professor at RISD organized a studio class around fabricating a hot press to compress recycled plastic bags into a sheet material,” says Rigano. “The intention of the class was to design simple and utilitarian products to be made from the material. A lot of consideration was given to ease of manufacture, material constraints, market viability and the overall cost of the product.”The upcycled boots aren’t yet being mass-produced, but if you have ambitious plans for that stockpile of grocery bags, instructions for fusing plastic bags into a workable “fabric” are available at Etsy.com.

Go Go GaloshesAnother alternative to classic rain boots worth considering are galoshes, or overshoes, which aren’t just for nattily attired businessmen or folks who wear HazMat suits to work. They are lightweight, washable, slip over your shoes or boots and contain far less rubber content than traditional rain boots. I.S.A. Corpor-ation’s PacPoly Rubber Shoe Covers ($12) are manufactured in Salem, Oregon, of 100% latex rubber. While marketed for industrial uses as “disposable,” they are quite durable. The company’s HighTop Boot is lighter weight and therefore not as sturdy, but while you may not be singing in the rain, at $4.50 they will certainly take you through a few rainstorms for a song. Nikki Martin of I.S.A. says they have seen a recent increase of sales, especially in the Flatfoot style ($3 and manufactured at the company’s factory in Mexico); everyone from gardeners to “the everyday bicyclist who wants to keep their shoes clean and dry on their daily commute” are opting for overshoes. “We tested the bicycle market in Portland, Oregon, and with our wet climate we are having a great response!” says Martin.

Kid Picks

For the smallest feet in the household, the family-run, Quebec-based company Hatley makes our favorite PVC-free splashers ($36), with fun, original patterns like “Surfer Girl” and “Robots.” The new “Northern Leopard Frog” design is perfect for your resident herpetologist, and leaps and bounds more sophisticated (and far sturdier) than those cutesy bulge-eyed boots at the big box store. (Coordinating raincoats and umbrellas are available, too.) According to company spokesperson Elin Oldland, Hatley is also seeking LEED certification for its offices and warehouse, and has an “aggressive” waste-reduction and recycling program. “Our green policy is less about any one thing and more about making thoughtful decisions every day,” says Oldland.

CONTACTS: Hatley; I.S.A. Corporation; Kamik; Louie Rigano; Plastic Bags to Fabric.