Keeping your feet dry is one of the most important things you should do out hiking. Wet feet are not only uncomfortable, but can be dangerous in the cold and contribute to blisters. Waterproofing your boots is easy. 20 minutes of work can keep your feet dry and boots in great shape. This article walks you through that process, how to waterproof boots for hiking, step by step.
WHY WATERPROOF YOUR BOOTS?
1. DRY FEET PREVENT BLISTERS
The first, and most obvious reason, is to keep your feet dry. Having dry feet on a hike is far more comfortable and helps prevent blisters.
2. GORE-TEX LINERS WORK BETTER
You might have a waterproof membrane in your boots like Gore-tex. Re-waterproofing helps moisture escape through that layer. In other words, letting the sweat out.
3. EXTEND THE LIFE OF YOUR BOOTS
Another reason to keep your waterproofing maintained is to extend the life of your boots. You probably don’t want to buy new boots every year. They aren’t cheap. Cleaning, waterproofing and drying your boots will keep the dirt out and the leather conditioned, keeping money in your pocket for other gear.
WHEN SHOULD I WATERPROOF MY BOOTS?
You don’t need to waterproof your boots every hike. There are 2 cases to watch out for.
Scarpa, a popular hiking boot manufacturer, recommends cleaning “whenever they get particularly dirty or when water stops beading (turning to droplets) on the surface of the boots.”
This usually means a few times per year if you are hiking a lot.
WHAT TYPE OF BOOTS DO YOU HAVE?
To waterproof your boots, you need to know what material the boots are made of. You may have chosen full-grain leather boots or lightweight fabric boots. Read about how to choose hiking boots if you haven’t got yours yet.
Each of these materials uses a different product for waterproofing. The process is the same but the wax or spray you buy needs to match the material on the boot. Here’s a list of the most common materials.
FULL-GRAIN LEATHER – Many hiking boots are made from this smooth, stiff leather. It’s probably what you think of when you imagine leather.
NUBUCK LEATHER – Nubuck is full-grain leather but has a sanded finish that gives it a furry look. It requires different products to waterproof than regular full-grain leather.
SUEDE OR SPLIT-GRAIN LEATHER – Suede is furry-looking like Nubuck but thinner and more flexible. It usually requires the same treatment as nubuck.
FABRIC – Fabric is a whole different product than leather. If it looks synthetic, it’s likely a fabric of some kind.
If you’re not sure, you can always look it up on manufacturer’s website. They may have specific information about your boot and what it is best for that type of material.
THE PROCESS: HOW TO WATERPROOF BOOTS FOR HIKING
STEP 1. CLEAN BOOTS
The first step to waterproofing your boots is to clean them. Waterproofing waxes and sprays won’t do much if your boots are covered in dirt.
Clean your boots after every use if you can. The less mileage you put on them dirty, the longer they’ll last.
Most of the time, you can wash with clean water and a soft brush. You’re just looking to get all the dirt off the outside.
When you’re going to re-waterproof, it’s time for a deep clean. Take out the laces and insoles and get as much dirt off as you can. If necessary, you can leave them in an inch of water for a couple hours to loosen tough dirt on the sole.
To get boots really clean for waterproofing, outdoor gear retailer REI recommends “running water and a specialized boot cleaner, saddle soap or, if no other options exist, a mild dishwashing soap.”
To prevent the buildup of salt and dirt inside the boot from grinding into the leather or fabric, wipe the inner liners with a damp cloth.
Now you’re ready to waterproof.
STEP 2. WATERPROOF BOOTS
Each boot material is different so you’ll need to buy the product that matches your boot. If you’ve got a full-grain leather boot like an Asola TPS 520, make sure you get a product for full-grain. For a fabric and leather combo like the Salomon X Ultra Mid we recommended in the Ultimate Multi-day Packing List, get a fabric and leather product.
You might have some options here with the waterproofer you get. For example, with full-grain leather, Grangers G-Wax provides good all-around waterproofing and breathability. Or you could opt for their Paste Wax for better waterproofing but less breathability.
If you are worried about changing the color of your boots with a wax or spray, Gear-Aid maker McNett says to “test a small inconspicuous area first.”
For a wax-based type of waterproofer, warm it up with a hair dryer and then wipe on your boots. Make sure to cover the entire boot. Wipe off the excess and then buff to a shine if you want.
Some waterproofers are water based like the creams and sprays from Nikwax. For the cremes, apply with the applicator and rub everywhere on the boot. You can use a clean cloth to get it into the tricky parts.
For sprays, cover the whole boot from about 6 inches away. Do a few thin coats. Some products will need a second coat.
Applying on damp boots will help it soak in.
Whatever type of waterproofer you use, it’s important to get into all the seams, creases and around the hardware. Those are the spots where the material is punctured or bends a lot and are most likely to leak.
This video from Nikwax, maker of some of the most popular boot cleaning and waterproofing products, walks you through the process.
When you are looking around for waterproofers keep in mind conditioners are different than waterproofers. Some products do both. It’s good to condition once in a while but it softens the leather. Condition too often and they won’t be supportive enough.
Now that you’ve waterproofed your boots, it’s time to finish the process and dry them.
STEP 3. DRY BOOTS
Wet leather isn’t as supportive or breathable as dry leather so ideally you should dry your boots before you go anywhere. For some waterproofing products, drying solidifies the waterproof layer you want.
Salomon’s boot care instructions say to dry “without the aid of an external heat source including the sun.” Dry in normal, stable temperatures with good ventilation. External heat causes the glue holding your boots together to deteriorate.
If you need to speed things up, put newspaper inside to soak up the moisture and change every hour. You can also point a plain air fan at them.
The insoles might be holding moisture as well so pull those out to dry.
Store your boots in a dry, well-ventilated area with a stable temperature and you’ll have waterproof boots that last you a long time.