To evaluate the relationship between the moisture conditions and the water repellency of soil surfaces in situ, we periodically conducted field surveys for more than a year in a humid-temperate forest in Japan. Measurements were made in four plots with varying soil physicochemical properties and under different topographic conditions across a hillslope. Each plot contained permanent quadrats with measurement points in a grid pattern. At each point, we measured the volumetric water content at 0- to 5-cm depths and the water repellency at soil surfaces approximately twice a month. The repeated measurements enabled us to estimate the critical water content (CWC) below which soils repelled water at each point. We defined the representative CWC (RCWC) of a plot as the median of all CWCs in a plot and estimated the representative critical water potential (RCWP) on the basis of the RCWC using the water retention curve. The RCWC values differed among plots, but the corresponding RCWP values were similar (pF = 3.5–3.9). The relationship of the areal fraction showing water repellency against soil water potentials was similar across plots, but the relationship differed among plots against the soil moisture content. These results suggest that soil water potential is more indicative of the spatial occurrence of water repellency than moisture content on a hillslope where soil physicochemical properties vary. Plots located on ridge crests frequently exhibited lower water potentials and showed a higher areal fraction of water repellency, implying a greater chance of generating surface runoff by rainfall events. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.