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How to Waterproof Hiking Boots: A Step-by-Step Guide for Keeping Your Feet Dry

Learn how to waterproof your hiking boots in four easy steps and keep your feet dry and comfortable on your next outdoor adventure.

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Waterproofing your hiking boots isn’t just a good practice; it’s a fundamental step to ensure your feet remain comfortable and dry. When you know how to waterproof hiking boots properly, you’re investing in your footwear’s performance and durability. 

Key Takeaways

  • Waterproofing your boots is crucial for comfort and durability during hikes.
  • Cleaning and preparing boots is a vital preparatory step before applying waterproof treatment.
  • You should always choose the correct waterproofing treatment product for your boot material. 

Step 1 – Choose an Appropriate Waterproof Treatment Type

It’s crucial to match the right waterproofing product to the type of boot material to avoid damage and maintain breathability.

Full-grain leather boots are robust and durable. For these, you’ll want to stick with:

  • Wax-based treatments like Sno-Seal
  • Cream-based options like those provided by Nikwax for Leather

Suede or nubuck leather boots require a gentler touch due to their softer texture and need:

  • Spray-based treatments, which provide a light, even coat
  • Sponge-based applications also work well. Examples include Grangers Footwear + Gear Cleaner or Nikwax Nubuck & Suede Proof.

For fabric or synthetic boots, which are usually lighter and more flexible, you can use:

  • Spray-based treatments that won’t compromise the fabric structure
  • Sponge applications that allow for precise application without oversaturating the material. Suitable products may be Grangers Performance Repel or Nikwax Fabric and Leather Proof.

If you’ve got boots with Gore-Tex or other waterproof membranes, they generally only require cleaning to maintain their waterproofing.

Here’s a quick match-up to steer you right:

  • Full-grain leather: Waxes & creams
  • Suede/nubuck: Sprays & sponges
  • Fabric/synthetic: Sprays & sponges
  • Gore-Tex/membranes: Just a clean!

Always check the product labels and follow the instructions to ensure the best results for your boot type.

Step 2 – Clean and Prepare Boots for Waterproofing

Photo: ©KevinDyer via Canva.com

How to Clean Your Boots

  1. Remove Laces and Insoles: Take out the laces and insoles to ensure no nooks or crannies are left uncleaned.
  2. Dust Off: Gently brush away loose soil or dust from your boots. If you’re working with leather hiking boots, a soft brush is ideal to avoid scratches.
  3. Washing Up: Dampen your boots with clean water. Apply a small amount of mild soap or a cleaner specifically for boots, then softly scrub away any stubborn dirt.
  4. Rinse Well: Rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove soap residue.
  5. Prep for Waterproofing: Your boots should be damp but not drenched. This is the sweet spot for applying waterproofing treatments—they adhere better and penetrate deeply on a damp surface.

Step 3 – Apply the Waterproof Treatment

Be mindful that the application process varies with the type of treatment and the material of your boots.

Whether your boots are made of leather, nubuck, or synthetic fabric, the key is to cover all areas evenly without oversaturating.

How to apply Wax-Based Treatments

  1. Start by dabbing a cloth or a brush into the wax.
  2. Rub it firmly into the boot, paying particular attention to the seams and the tongue where water can sneak in.
  3. A gentle blast of heat from a hair dryer can help the wax penetrate better. Keep the dryer at a safe distance to avoid damage.

How to apply Spray-On Treatments

  1. Shake the bottle as instructed, then spray evenly from about 6 inches away.
  2. Apply with light, even strokes, to avoid pooling.
  3. Allow each coat to dry before applying the next.

Step 4 – Dry Boots after the Treatment Application

AI Photo: Daniel Borkert/Canva Magic Media™

It’s essential to avoid the temptation to speed up the process, which could damage your boots.

Drying them incorrectly could lead to cracking, shrinking, or deforming them, rendering your efforts for naught.

Here’s how to ensure your boots dry properly, maintaining their shape and effectiveness:

  • Room Temperature: Always let your boots dry at room temperature.
  • Ventilation: Choose a well-ventilated area to foster a steady drying process. Avoid direct sunlight, and do not place boots near a heat source like a radiator or fireplace.
  • Steady Air Flow: A gentle breeze from a fan can help moisture evaporate more swiftly from the boots’ exterior.

To help your boots absorb residual moisture inside:

  • Newspaper or Paper Towels: Stuff the inside of each boot with these materials. They’re excellent for soaking up moisture.
  • Cedar Shoe Trees: They absorb moisture, maintain the shape of your boots, and add a fresh scent.
  • Change It Up: Whether it’s newspaper or paper towels, replace them periodically until the boots are dry.

Tips for Waterproofing Your Boots

Preparing the Boots

  • If your boots are leather, particularly full-grain leather, consider using a conditioner after cleaning to maintain the leather’s suppleness.

Testing

  • Always test the product on a small, inconspicuous area to check for discoloration or damage.
  •  Remember to stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the best results. 

Application

  • Apply a waterproofing agent appropriate for your boot material, avoiding products with silicone or oil to retain breathability.
  • Pay special attention to seams, as these are potential leak points. Consider using a seam sealer designed explicitly for boots with leather uppers.

Maintenance

  • Repeat the waterproofing process regularly, depending on how frequently you use your boots and the conditions they’re subjected to.
  • Consider adding gaiters to your setup for those long hikes where you need extended ankle support and protection. These will provide an extra layer of water resistance and protection from debris.

FAQs

How do I know if my boots need waterproofing?

Your boots likely need waterproofing if:
– Water no longer beads off their surface.
– The material has started to absorb water rather than repel it, leading to a darker crease or color.
– You’ve begun to notice decreased comfort due to dampness, or blisters are becoming more frequent.

 How often should I waterproof my boots?

You should re-waterproof your boots when:
– After roughly every 15-20 hikes, or when you notice water resistance waning.
– More frequently if you frequently hike in wet conditions or have noticeable wear and tear.

Can I use household items to waterproof my boots, such as beeswax, candle wax, or petroleum jelly?

While some hikers use alternative methods like beeswax, for optimal results and to maintain the integrity of your boots, it is recommended to use:
– Products specifically designed for hiking boot materials, such as waterproofing sprays and pastes tailored for leather or synthetic fabrics.
– Follow manufacturer guidelines to ensure compatibility with materials like GORE-TEX or other breathable membranes.

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AUTHOR
Daniel Borkert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Outdoor Footprints, a website that tells you everything you need to know about camping and hiking. He is an avid outdoorsman with almost four decades of experience in hiking, camping, caving, and fishing. Daniel loves to involve his wife and kids in his outdoor pursuits and inspire other families to do the same. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his family and an energetic Boston Terrier named Zion.

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